Ron Brown, October 23, 1929 - December 22, 2018
Ron Brown was an integral part of the development of the gardens and plantings in the Arboretum over many years of the Arboretum's early history. He was a consummate plant lover, plant propagator, and giver of plants. He volunteered with Dr. Norlyn Bodkin in the early years of the arboretum in the 90’s, and eventually was hired for three years from 2000 to 2003 as a garden assistant to Dennis Whetzel. Ron’s contributions to the gardens here includes planting and spreading the wildflower plants, especially Trillium and Virginia Bluebell, via seeds collected from his own garden collections, locally and from his property in WV. Today bluebells cover the upper and lower wooded areas of arboretum due to Ron’s early work here. He also brought plants here from his WV property and transplanted them into the arboretum.
It was Ron’s membership in the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society and connections there that enabled the Arboretum to acquire our current rhododendron and azalea collections. Ron, Noryln Bodkin and Dennis Whetzel clocked thousands of miles on the road between the valley and Tidewater to dig over 500 donated mature rhododendrons and azaleas, some over 20 years old, from Le-Mac Nurseries, owned by Ken and Sandra McDonald. This gift represented almost 70 years of Le-Mac Nursery history and four generations of McDonald family history. Some of the Le-Mac land was being sold so this was a rescue operation of these cultivated beauties. The rescue included a large collection of Rhododenron prunifolium, plumleaf azalea, the rarest of the eastern native azaleas that continues to grace our gardens in early to mid-summer, sometimes lasting into fall, as the latest blooming rhododendrons found here. The entire collection here, now 20+ years old, is home to rhododendrons that are over 40 years old!
Ron assisted with the construction of a many tiered rock wall hillside in the open sunny side of the Arboretum, currently The Sinclair Garden, to provide a holding nursery for many of these plants newly dug out of the sandy soil from the coast. The McDonald Azalea and Rhododendron Garden was created in 1994 and dedicated in 1996 due in large part to the vision and efforts of Ron, and Norlyn, and other rhododendron society members, and the many volunteers who helped them plant them. The MAC-ARS even awarded Ron a bronze medal on Sept. 12th, 1996 in Richmond for his many years of service to the Arboretum and for this project that was such a huge rescue of so many species of rhododendrons. He was recognized as Honorary Arboretum Director that day.
A tree peony lover and propagator, Ron also started many new peony plants here in the Arboretum that he’d raised from seed in his own gardens. When one stops to gaze at one of these enormous voluptuous spring flowers in their prime display here you can be sure that it is due to Ron Brown’s dedicated attention to the Arboretum’s landscape and gardens.
Ron planted many other plants not mentioned here and many likely lost to overgrowth and shade as the gardens matured over the years. At least one row of straight species redbuds were planted by him that now line the service road to the nursery, and many other herbaceous perennials and bulbs were planted that continue to spread as groundcovers here in the woodland understory.
We nod our head to Ron’s passing and send him our gratitude and thanks for the countless hours in labor and knowledge that he gave for so many years in service to the beautification of these grounds. Hats off to Ron for his generous nature and for openly sharing his love of plants with so many for so many years here and at his home! Visitors, students, and faculty of all ages continue to enjoy these gardens created long ago as they stroll, learn, and tour the grounds and gardens here.
Thank you to everyone who has kindly donated to the Arboretum in Ron's name!
Thank you to Sandra McDonald and Emily Branscome for contributing to this piece.
Thank you for your kind words!
"The staff was so friendly and helpful! This visit was our first time and we loved all that the arboretum had to offer. Even in the off-season, when most of the flowers are not in bloom, it's a lovely walk. We especially enjoyed the opportunity to hang an ornament on one of the trees for the holiday season - how fun! Looking forward to seeing it all in bloom someday!" ~ Victoria
"What a lovely arboretum. The plantings, walking trails, art-in-place, and natural spaces all delight." ~ Kirsten
"So beautiful that I proposed to my wife here. The arboretum does a great job of focusing on native plants and the sales are a great opportunity. The landscaping is enchanting and regularly updated." ~ Steven
Houseplant Swap & Clinic
With Sustainability Matters
Wednesday, February 13 | 12 - 1:30 PM | Free
Just in time for Valentine's Day, fall in love with a new houseplant. Join us for a brief presentation on houseplant care, tips and tricks, followed by Q&A with experts and the SWAP! Bring plants, divisions or cuttings to share, and go home with new and exciting finds. Meet at the Frances Plecker Education Center. Advanced registration required.
Valentine's Carriage Rides
Saturday, February 16 & Sunday, February 17 | 1 - 4 PM
Tickets | $18 Adult | $12 Child | $75 Private Carriage
Celebrate Valentine's Day and the winter landscape with a horse-drawn stroll through the Arboretum! Our friends at Classic Carriage LLC will be providing rides on two dates. Reservations are highly recommended as this event is often sold out in advance. Please call us at (540)-568-3194 during our business hours, Monday-Friday from 8:00 am – 4:00 pm to reserve your space! Carriages depart from the Frances Plecker Education Center every 20 minutes.
13th Annual Frances Litten Botanical Lecture
No Tree is an Island with speaker, Joe Murray
Tuesday, February 19 | 7 - 8:30 PM | Festival Ballroom | Free
This year, in celebrating our 30th year as the Year of the Trees, the Frances Litten Botanical Lecture will focus on a special tree-themed topic. Discover the Wood Wide Web, and its interacting communication systems as you come to see the forest as "organism". Learn how trees can become more resilient to stress factors and climate change when humans assist them in establishing their interconnected webs, above and below ground, creating a more sustainable landscape.
Holistic Tree Care Workshop
Instructor, Joe Murray
Wednesday, February 20 | 9:30 AM - 11:30 AM | $20 Registration
Continuing with the previous evening's presentation learn strategies for deciding what kind of care is most needed and beneficial for your trees, and when mulching, pruning or irrigation are in the best interests of your trees. Learn some basics about soils, organic matter, and permaculture as it relates to tree care, and how to replicate the "forest" habitat so that your trees will not just survive but thrive in place for many years to come.
**For a comprehensive educational experience, we strongly recommend all workshop participants attend the Frances Litten Botanical Lecture the night before.**
Winter Tree ID: Walk & Talk
With Sustainability Matters
Wednesday, February 27 | 12 - 1:30 PM | $10
They all look the same without their leaves, don't they? Join Sustainability Matters and Edith J. Carrier Arboretum for a guided walk and ID primer by Virginia State Forester Jordan Herring. We'll learn how to recognize trees by bark, buds, leaf scars and other characteristics. There will be time for Q&A and chat in the Frances Plecker Education Center afterward. Bring your own lunch if you would like (can be left in the FPEC during the walk); light fare and beverages will be provided. Dress for the weather!