Last updated: 3/27/2011
174 Lape Road
Esperance, NY 12066
PO Box 186
Esperance, NY 12066
Grounds open daily from dawn until dusk year round.
Free although a free-will donation of $5/person, $15/family is encouraged to help defray upkeep.
Fred Breglia, Director, Horticulture and Operations
Patty Redlin, Office Manager
Judy Puddester, Volunteer Coordinator
John A. Sanchirico, Executive Director
The Landis Arboretum may well be the northern Catskill’s best-kept secret. With centuries of history and the riveting beauty inherent in the Arboretum’s world-class, global collections, generations of extraordinary plantings continue to impart their secrets to its visitors.
Long a destination of horticulturalists, environmentalists, “earth watchers”, and birders, the Arboretum most often “rings a bell” of recognition because of its extraordinary plant sales – Spring and Fall -- that have become signature events. The Spring event occurs each May and an abundant display of more than 6,000 out-of-the-ordinary trees, plants, shrubs, and perennials create a seasonal clarion call to gardeners.
Old Growth Forest Beckons
Those familiar with the Landis Arboretum know that it is many things. The Arboretum's most recent land acquisition, for example, almost doubled the size of the site and contains a horticulture bonanza. Last summer, a team of old-growth-forest experts surveyed the site and found species of trees ranging from 150 to 350 years old. One parcel of land near the Montgomery County line contains one of the oldest forests in the area.
This ancient forest is approximately 30 acres in size and is located in the northeast corner of the Arboretum. “This is a forest that has been untouched since the Revolutionary War,” said Bruce Kershner, an ancient forest authority and author of The Sierra Club Guide to Ancient Forests of the Northeast. The newly acquired ancient forest and a smaller stand of old growth located near the Great Oak make Landis Arboretum an old growth forest headquarters. According to Mr. Kershner, the Arboretum is now one of three arboreta in eastern North America that have old growth forests. The other two are the New York Botanical Garden and Rutgers University.
Fred Breglia, Head of Horticulture and Operations at the Arboretum notes that “a fairly diverse range of species comprises the old growth forest. The dominant trees are American beech, sugar maple, hemlock, yellow birch, black birch, and red ash. Other species include striped maple, basswood, black cherry, paper birch, butternut hickory, American elm, and a few massive grapevines that are hundreds of years old and more than 85 feet tall.”
Several stands of large American beech make this forest even more unique. Big beech trees growing in the wild are uncommon today due to a fungus disease known as the beech bark complex, which often kills beech trees before they can attain their mature size.
“Why has this forest been overlooked by loggers and developers over the years?” Mr. Breglia asks rhetorically. “The main reason,” he offers, “is that topography – the trees are growing on a very steep hillside – helped to protect the site over the past 250 years. A new trail overlooking the ravine will give visitors a chance to see what our forests looked like hundreds of years ago.”
The old growth forest is accessible to visitors by walking the Great Oak/Woodland Trail, starting in the corner of the field behind the Arboretum’s greenhouse to the Great Oak. The route, approximately three miles round trip from the parking lot to the Old Growth Forest area and back, is clearly marked for visitors to the Arboretum. The Landis Arboretum is now one of only three arboreta in eastern North America that have old growth forests. The other two are the New York Botanical Garden and Rutgers University – neither of which can compare to Landis’ natural collection and pre-revolutionary flora.
Multifaceted, Natural Jewel
The arboretum also contains hundreds of outstanding trees and shrubs from around the world assembled on a 548-acre, privately held former estate of its founder Fred Lape on his family farm in the Northern Catskills. It encompasses expansive grounds with imaginative and well-maintained collections and gardens and many acres of natural areas, considered excellent for viewing wildlife in their native ecosystems.
It offers more than eight miles of walking and hiking trails, and public access 365 days a year. It is home, too, to dozens of species of birds and other wildlife that delight a range of visitors from casual observers to researchers. It is a half-century of horticultural history and more than 100 years of the Lape family presence. It is an historic farmhouse and barn, a greenhouse, a library and meetinghouse, all amid unmatched views of the Schoharie Valley countryside.
Today, the Arboretum is a multifaceted gem along the Route 20 Scenic Corridor between Albany and Skaneateles, and central to the New York State Wine and Spa Trails and in close proximity to historic Sharon Springs. And, it is a natural stop for those traveling to the high-volume tourist attractions between the Albany, Cooperstown, and Finger Lakes Regions.
Like the venerable 500-year-old Great Oak that captures the sight and imagination of every visitor to the Lape Estate, the Arboretum itself is a mighty oak evolved from an acorn of inspiration and nurtured by passionate people united in their love and respect for nature.
Fred Lape set out to grow every species of woody plant that would survive in the hills of the northern Catskills (Schoharie County). His desire grew from a fascination with the variations of trunks, limbs, and leaves. To fulfill his goal, he started planting trees on his 19th century homestead, Oak Nose Farm. He believed that others would soon share his interest and would come to see his “garden of trees and shrubs.” This has been the case.
George Landis, an academic colleague, plant collector, and friend of Lape, was an early enthusiast who helped bring about the creation of the Arboretum. George Landis passed away in 1950, leaving most of his estate to Fred. This bequest allowed Fred to focus his energy on planting an arboretum – a place for the public to learn about and enjoy plants. The Arboretum was established in 1951 and named Landis for the “friend who had made it all possible both in life and in death.”
Fred Lape earned a degree in English at Cornell and started a teaching career at Stanford University before he returned to the farm to pursue a career in freelance writing in 1928. He taught for a few years in the late 1930s at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. While at RPI, he began his collecting by helping George Landis search for unusual trees and shrubs to landscape Landis’ new house near Troy. He collected plants from nurseries and other arboreta and participated in a seed exchange with arboreta and botanic gardens around the world. His enthusiasm for collecting and propagation continued until his death in 1985.
Levan Loveland also was instrumental in the early stages of the Arboretum’s development. A banker and financial advisor, Van, as he preferred to be called, was primarily responsible for the incorporation of the Arboretum as an educational institution. Loveland is remembered for his skill in and enthusiasm for flower gardening. Some of his original perennial beds in front of the farmhouse bear his name and continue to attract large numbers of visitors year after year.
The Landis Arboretum includes a nationally recognized collection of oaks and is registered with the North American Plant Collections Consortium (NAPCC). The Arboretum also is included in the New York State Route 20 Bluebird Trail, bringing even more birdwatchers to the site. The Arboretum’s vast dark sky and wide horizons attract area astronomers to its meeting house and parking field for sky-watching events.
Walk ‘n’ Learn
Visitors to the Arboretum arrive at its headquarters in the historic farmhouse of what was the Lape family’s Oak Nose Farm. The farmhouse contains the Arboretum’s administrative offices and the Acorn Shop, the Arboretum’s gift shop. Beyond the farmhouse is the recently renovated 1830s English barn. Further along the driveway is the Harkness Library, housing the Baim Herbarium, followed by the William T. Raymond Greenhouse that plays an active role in the plant propagation for the Arboretum. At the top of the hill is the meeting house, constructed in the early 1980s for larger meetings, cultural events, educational programs, and jumping-off spot for the children’s outdoor programming. All of the Arboretum’s buildings have sweeping views of the Schoharie Valley.
Among the Arboretum’s horticultural features are its collections of Notable Trees, the Flowering Ornamental Tree and Shrub Collections, Tough Trees for Tough Sites and the Conifer and Oak Collections. The signature Great Oak is one of the largest plants of its species in the Capital Region. The Van Loveland perennial garden, located in front of the farmhouse, is a seasonal favorite with visitors.
The Arboretum’s varied terrain provides ideal conditions for an easy walk or an extended hike. Natural trails wind through mature and near mature forests, past ponds and wildflower fields, and through the collections and gardens. The natural areas of the Arboretum provide a wonderful opportunity to enjoy and study native plants, open-field succession, effects of invasive species, endangered plants, and forest communities of the Northeast.
The educational curriculum is a major component of the Arboretum’s program. The Arboretum offers classes, workshops, guided and self-guided nature study, and is working toward providing meeting space in its bucolic setting for special events, lectures, and demonstrations. Events and workshops are designed for elementary school classes as well as the general public and focus on the flora and fauna of the Arboretum. Activities include botanical drawing classes, garden tours, astronomy nights, and bird and owl watching sessions. Workshop subjects include hawks, moths, birds, amphibians and reptiles, and arthropods. Ancillary workshops have focused on photography, basket making, botanical illustration and landscape painting. .
Horticultural interests are the focus of classes in pruning, tree identification, daylilies, and plant propagation. And, the Arboretum offers two very popular and coveted certificates in Horticulture In conjunction with the State University of New York (SUNY) Cobleskill campus plant-science department.
The Landis Arboretum is open to all. A Suggested Donation of $5 per visitor/ $15 per family helps to defray basic costs for this multifaceted operation. For more information on programs and membership, or to volunteer your time or talent to the Arboretum, call 518-875-6935. www.LandisArboretum.org
Visitors to the Landis Arboretum will find themselves within minutes of the adventures of Howe Caverns (518-296-8900, www.HoweCaverns.com), the 25-acre Old Stone Fort Museums Complex (518.295.7192), the horseback acrobatics of JD Winslow (518-875-6506; www.jdwinslowequestrianentertainment.com), and historic Sharon Springs (www.sharonspringschamber.com).
Quarterly Members' Newsletter and various publications
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