The Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens warms up for spring

The Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens in Stamford is ready for a new spring  season with the aid of a newly designed mobile touring app that will guide visitors across the ground’s 93 acres of unique horticulture and history.

The arboretum’s roots stretch back to 1913 when founder Francis A. Bartlett, a well-known dendrologist (one who studies trees and wooded plants), established an outdoor laboratory and training ground for his company, the F. A. Bartlett Tree Co. in the woodlands of North Stamford.

There Bartlett transformed what was once a pig farm into a living museum filled with rare and native tree and plant species.

For several decades prior to his death in 1963, he conducted what arboretum CEO Jane Von Trapp referred to as “interesting experiments,” as he grew and modified vast varieties of plants and trees, the legacy of which can be found across the grounds today.

“We have a lot of champion and notable trees on the property that are worth taking a look at,” Von Trapp said, champion trees being the largest specimens of their species. “We have trees here that are well over 100 years old that are not seen anywhere else.”

The arboretum is also home to rarities and oddities — including a descendant of Connecticut’s legendary Charter Oak tree; relatives of the California sequoia; three acres of hundreds of soon-to-bloom azaleas and other rhododendron plants; a large greenhouse with an array of tropical, desert and native plants, such as a fruit-producing banana tree; and a recently renovated boardwalk traversing the arboretum’s 8-acre red maple wetland.

“It is like walking on water,” Von Trapp said.

Within the greenhouse are hundreds of plants ranging from cactus collections to a more than 100-year-old jade plant and rows of native plants arboretum horticulturist Brian Sachs cultivates before they are distributed across the region or sold at the arboretum’s annual spring native plant sale, scheduled this year for May 14.

Sachs is also largely responsible for the creation of the arboretum’s new mobile touring app, which visitors can download for free from the App Store.

The audio and written guide can be initiated in no particular order at any one of the more than 20 exhibit locations across the arboretum.

But the arboretum offers more than just sights to see, Von Trapp said.

“We offer a safe place to learn about the importance of sustaining the environment for future generations — a place for wellness — a place of respite for people to sit, contemplate, unplug and reconnect with nature.”

While not a secret, many of the those who make up the arboretum’s estimated 20,000 annual visits are not aware that the grounds and its 10 walking trails are open year-round from dawn to dusk with no admission fee, she said.

She added that visitors are also largely unaware that the arboretum is one of the few, if not the only, public parks in Stamford, to permit them to bring their leashed canine companions.

“Luckily, the people who come here that are walking in with their dogs are very respectful,” she said. “They love this place.”

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