Wakefield Estate Horticultural Partnerships
Like any small non-profit, the Wakefield Estate is often challenged by capacity and staffing limitations. From its conception, Wakefield Estate staff members have worked to develop collaborations with other organizations in order to engage wider audiences in all aspects of the estate's programming and broaden its social impact. This quarter, the journal focuses on collaborations "in the garden." Developing horticultural partnerships has enabled the estate to create new connections, develop volunteer support, and foster new audiences and ideas for the future. These partnerships activate resources otherwise unobtainable to a small organization, enabling it to accomplish its goals more quickly and with fewer resources. This increase in organizational effectiveness enables the Wakefield Estate to more successfully fulfill its mission.
The Wakefield Estate is home to many unique plant species. The ArbNet certification is based on the number of species identified in the garden. This Sunspire Magnolia, one of many magnolias planted in 2018, has lovely long-lasting blooms in the spring.
Becoming a Certified Arboretum: Raising the Bar
Polly Wakefield worked tirelessly to create her gardens that consist of a very special collection of woody plants. It was her wish that people who were interested in plants come visit and see her life’s work. In order to celebrate her legacy, the Wakefield Estate staff felt it was important to apply for arboretum accreditation through ArbNet, an internationally recognized arboretum accreditation program.  ArbNet created its Arboretum Accreditation Program to establish and share a widely recognized set of industry standards for the purpose of unifying the arboretum community. No other international program of accreditation exists that is specific to arboreta. Any arboretum or public garden with a substantial focus on woody plants may apply. Accreditation is based on self-assessment and documentation of an arboretum’s level of achievement of accreditation standards, including planning, governance, number of species, staff or volunteer support, education and public programming, and tree science research and conservation. (Click here to learn more about ArbNet.)
In 2018, the Wakefield Estate qualified for Level ll certification, which means that the organization offers educational programming, has a staff member dedicated to plant maintenance, conducts plant research, has more than 200 species labeled, and has a plant collections policy. Program participation enables staff to access ArbNet resources pertaining to arboretum management, education and public engagement, tree collections, and tree science and conservation. Being on the ArbNet website provides exposure to a national audience that is interested in woody plants. In 2020, the Wakefield Estate aspires to receive a level III certification which requires 500 species to be tagged and the addition of the estate's plant list to the Botanic Gardens Conservation International database - an attainable goal.
Plant identification tags are an important feature of an arboretum
Variegated Liquidambar, styraciflua one of two species of Sweetgum at the Wakefield.
Reviving two of Polly’s Arnold Arboretum collaborations

Symposium celebrates women in horticulture
by Deb Merriam
In March of 2018, I was speaking with Jeff Thompson, then horticulturalist at the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton Massachusetts, about the legacies of Polly Wakefield and Eleanor Cabot Bradley. Both women had strong connections to the Arnold Arboretum: taking classes, developing their collections, and ultimately providing financial support through donations. Like many women horticulturalists of their time, their stories are little known today even though they have opened their properties to the public through organizations including Trustees of Reservations or creating a private trust.
The Arnold Arboretum was one of the few institutions in America that encouraged women to study with and be mentored by established botanical and landscape design professionals. Polly Wakefield, Eleanor Cabot Bradley, Martha Brooks Hutcheson, Marian Roby Case, and Marjorie Russell Sedgwick developed exceptional personal garden spaces and designed outstanding professional landscapes, they were also very active in the conservation and preservation of New England open space. These women created and protected New England landscapes, learning many of their skills at the Arnold Arboretum. Jeff and I decided that we should approach the Arnold Arboretum’s program and education director Pam Thompson about a possible collaboration to celebrate these women. Pam readily agreed and put me in contact with Lisa Pearson, the archivist at the Arnold. We assembled a list of speakers and on March 9, 2019, held a symposium to a sold out room celebrating these women. The event was hugely empowering and inspiring and so it was decided at that moment to make the celebration an annual event, coinciding with International Women’s Day to share the stories of the countless women involved in horticulture in the past and present. To read more about the symposiu m, click here .
Women in Horticulture symposium at the Arnold Arboretum.
Lane Diesa, Grant Hughes and Tiffany Enzenbacher collecting samples from a Cornus kousa at the Wakefield Estate.
The Tale of Two Dogwood Collections
The Wakefield Estate is home to Polly Wakefield's extensive collection of woody plants, its highlight being more than 300 kousa dogwoods (Cornus kousa). Polly passed away in 2004 and left her property in a private trust to be used for education and community engagement. A formally trained landscape designer, Polly developed an interest in plant propagation and took classes at the Arnold Arboretum with staff propagators Roger Coggeshall and Donald Wyman . Her interest in the kousa dogwood (native to Asia, a tree small in stature with lovely red fruit and creamy-white bracts -false leaves surrounding inconspicuous true flowers) started at the Arnold Arboretum, where she collected seed from the same three kousas at the top of Bussey Hill for 34 years. The collection Polly developed all show unique characteristics that include lovely bracts, bark, leaves, fruit, and bark. In 1990, Polly Wakefield published an article in Arnoldia entitled " A Fascination with Dogwoods " that explained her interest in kousa dogwoods and the role the Arnold Arboretum played in the development of her collection. Polly remained committed to the institution, serving on the visitation committee and bequeathing financial support to the Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library.
This past winter while reviewing Polly Wakefield's papers, Debbie Merriam, Wakefield Estate Arboretum director, discovered Arnold Arboretum greenhouse propagation cards for Polly’s kousas. These propagation cards were dated between 1960 and 1970 and were for several of Polly’s patented cultivars. Interested in rekindling the collaboration between the Arnold Arboretum and the Wakefield Estate, Merriam contacted Tiffany Enzenbacher, Arnold Arboretum Manager of Plant Production, about propagating some of Polly’s trees. Enzenbacher—intrigued after reading Polly’s Arnoldia article—agreed to propagate some of the kousas from the Wakefield Estate collection.
On June 18, Enzenbacher came to the Wakefield Estate with Hunnewell interns Lane Diesa and Grant Hughes and seasonal gardener Lee Toomey to collect kousa cuttings for propagation. Merriam and Erica Max, Wakefield Estate program and education director, selected 10 kousas from the Wakefield Collection for propagation. Their selection was based on several factors that included the original seed plantings, DNA matches to Polly’s patented cultivars, and unique characteristics including brilliant fall color, unusual bracts, and double bracts. Enzenbacher and her team moved through the collection to the marked trees, selecting cuttings from new spring growth, offering the best results when propagating. Wakefield staff members were enthusiastic to see the Arnold Arboretum interns and staff collecting cuttings and reestablishing this fascinating connection between the two institutions after so many years. By noon the collecting was complete: almost 500 cuttings for propagation. Enzenbacher and her crew headed back to the Arnold Arboretum with the fresh cuttings to be “stuck” in growing medium before the end of the day. Back at the Arnold Arboretum greenhouse, the cuttings were sorted, cleaned and prepped for propagation. Enzenbacher explained that the rate for survival is higher if the cutting is processed immediately after harvesting. Because many of the trees in the Wakefield Estate collection are older, the rate of the cuttings’ survival decreases. However, we are all hopeful that this collaboration will yield a new crop of kousa dogwoods for replanting, or even patenting. Most importantly, we are pleased to re-establish this longstanding connection between two Arboretums: the Arnold Arboretum, one of the oldest in the United States and the Wakefield Estate Arboretum, one of the youngest. (click here to read the Arboretum's complete post on ARBlog.)
Grant Hughes and Lane Diesa, Arnold Arboretum interns, sorting dogwood cuttings in the Arnold Arboretum greenhouse.
The Establishment of a New Plant Collection and Collaboration: The Dwarf Conifer Garden
In September 2018, Wakefield Estate staff members broke ground on a new dwarf conifer garden. The decision to create a dwarf conifer collection was grounded in three ideas:
1. Polly Wakefield was interested in dwarf conifers and studied with Arnold Arboretum director Al Fordham, one of the experts on dwarf conifers at the time, (click here to read Al Fordham's 1967 Arnoldia article, " Dwarf Conifers from Witches'-Brooms ") and had planted several dwarfs in her gardens.
2. The steep hillside behind the mansion house had been a problematic spot for growing other plants due to the slope and strong sun exposure.
3. This garden would provide a showcase for visitors that have limited growing area. Dwarf conifers are an ideal way to create a lovely garden in small spaces.
The conifer garden took more than 300 volunteer hours and 150 staff hours to build. Volunteers included Dunkin' Brands staff, YOUB (Youth Opportunities Unlimited Boston) summer interns, Thatcher Montessori students and Massachusetts Master Gardeners. The process involved removing existing plant material, building a drainage system to drain run-off from the roof of the mansion house, moving large rocks, selecting plant material, planting more than 30 specimens and mulching the garden. Signage and a brochure were added in mid October. (click here to view page 1 of our conifer garden brochure, or here to view page 2.)
Christie Dustman, a member of the American Conifer Society, gives a lecture on maintaining dwarf conifers in the Wakefield Estate's Dwarf Conifer Garden.
Now with this incredible new resource, the question remained how to spread the word to the general public about this unique feature. Deb Merriam contacted the American Conifer Society ( ACS) for some help. ACS is a national organization with 50,000 members. After speaking with an ACS representative, it appeared that the new conifer garden could qualify for ‘American Conifer Society Reference Garden’ status. As a reference garden, the Wakefield staff work closely with ACS to plan workshops, acquire new plant material, apply for grants, seek advice and gain national exposure through the ACS website. ACS also offers Wakefield staff the opportunity to attend conferences to connect with other reference gardens around the country. Earlier this year, Christie Dustman, landscape designer and conifer expert, gave the first workshop in the new garden. Well attended, the participants were all fascinated and inspired by the variety of conifers represented in this new collection and Dustman’s wealth of knowledge on the subject. New plantings will be added to the collection each year to create a fascinating garden with year round interest. Want to learn more about the American Conifer Society? Click here .
YOUB (Youth Opportunity Boston) volunteers were instrumental in
building the Dwarf Conifer garden.
Master Gardeners: Providing Support While Mastering Horticulture
In 2010, Milton resident John Cronin suggested the Wakefield Estate get involved with the Massachusetts Master Gardeners. An active supporter of the Wakefield Estate and a Master Gardener himself, Cronin felt the Master Gardeners might be helpful in providing qualified volunteers to work in the Wakefield Estate garden while affording the opportunity for the Master Gardeners to learn important horticultural skills. Master Gardeners is an active and robust organization in Massachusetts. Students in the Master Gardener Training course (MGT) receive extensive horticultural training and volunteer under the guidance of experienced Master Gardeners. Students graduate as fully certified Master Gardeners and benefit from the collective experience and wisdom of other members, as well as their peers and professionals nationwide. That said, the benefit mentioned most often by Master Gardeners is simply becoming part of a large community of like-minded individuals with whom they can share knowledge and experience. Want to learn more about the Massachusetts Master Gardeners? Click here .
Deb Merriam, Wakefield Estate arboretum director, lecturing on invasive species to a group of Master Gardeners.
As an little-known garden, the program at the Wakefield Estate was slow to take hold until 2017 when Tucker Smith, a certified Master Gardener and Wakefield Estate ambassador, volunteered to be the liaison between the Wakefield Estate and Massachusetts Master Gardeners. The Wakefield Estate had our champion! Smith worked tirelessly for two years to engage new gardeners and make connections between the Wakefield Estate’s Arboretum Director Deb Merriam and members of the Master Gardener community, arranging lectures on various subjects including invasive species, pruning and phenology.
In the spring of 2019, more than 100 hours of Master Gardener hours were spent at the Wakefield Estate creating a new ground cover garden, doing outreach at events and potting up more than 50 kousa dogwoods for the spring plant sale. Megan Sekhar, a certified Master Gardener has now teamed up with Tucker to help with administrative and on-site tasks involving Master Gardeners. Volunteer collaborations like these are mutually beneficial. Master Gardeners learn about different plant species, pruning, and planting practices and the Wakefield Estate gets much needed knowledgeable support in the landscape. These new relationships also inspire others to become involved in the Wakefield Estate’s wider educational programming. When "ambassadors" like this tell others about this incredible garden, it helps raise awareness of the Wakefield Estate and its mission.
Arborist Greg Dorr in full climbing gear speaking with young visitors.
Individual Collaborations: Outstanding Service
Each April, MAA (Massachusetts Arborist Association) celebrates a statewide volunteer day. MAA's Arbor Day of Service gives tree care professionals a chance to make a direct impact in their local communities, drawing attention to the importance of proper tree care and tree planting. Hundreds of arborists volunteer annually, working collaboratively on independent projects at sites such as community parks, schools, town commons or conservation lands. In 2015, the Wakefield Estate hosted a group of arborists to work on the collection. One arborist, Greg Dorr, was at the event. Greg, a Certified Arborist, ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualified climbing arborist, and Certified Tree Care Safety professional, fell in love with the tree collection at the Wakefield Estate and has been an inspiring collaborator since. Greg is what you might call a tree and equipment “Geek.” A former history professor, he has turned his full attention to understanding everything there is to know about woody plants and the equipment required to maintain trees up to and over 100 feet. He is a truly special partner for the Wakefield Estate. A climber dependent on a series of ropes to work in the trees, he has a unique relationship with each tree, understanding disease and pest issues for every tree he climbs. He knows the complex details of each species' strengths and weaknesses, allowing him to climb safely and conduct evaluations of tree health.
While the Wakefield Estate’s tree collection is unique, it is aging. Polly challenged every aspect of a tree’s ability to survive by planting them close together. Greg has climbed many of the Wakefield Estate’s special trees including the four Dawn Redwoods, the Black Tupelo trees and the signature Tulip tree. Every tree that Greg climbs allows the Wakefield Estate staff to understand the collection from another level: the tree canopy. Staff member Jason Keegan has worked closely with Greg on several projects and has had the opportunity to learn from Greg’s expertise. These skills are important aspects to managing the trees at the Estate. Qualified arborist services can be very costly and hard to source. Having Greg share his knowledge is beneficial for the collection, the visitors, and the staff. 
The Garden Conservancy: Opening new doors to visitors
The Greater Boston region is home to many very special private garden spaces. In an effort to bring new visitors to the Wakefield Estate, staff members Deb Merriam and Erica Max decided to partner with the Garden Conservancy Open Days Program. The mission of the Garden Conservancy is to save and share outstanding American gardens for the education and inspiration of the public. Since 1995, Open Days has welcomed more than one million visitors into thousands of inspired private landscapes—from urban rooftops to organic farms, historic estates to innovative suburban lots—in 41 states. Thanks to the hard work and generous support of hundreds of volunteers, Open Days highlights regional horticultural and stylistic expressions in a national context, celebrating the rich diversity of American gardens.

In 2015, the Wakefield Estate became a ‘host’ garden site. The host site works with local private garden owners to open their gardens for one day to the general public for a small fee. Erica Max visited local gardens, and encouraged owners to join the program. Over the years more than 14 very special gardens have been on tour for the Garden Conservancy Open Days in the Greater Boston area. Through this program, the Wakefield Estate has expanded it geographic impact, gaining national exposure with the Garden Conservancy membership with a broad range of visitors from as far away as upstate New York, Southern Connecticut, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. This program also generates income for the Wakefield Estate through the collection of entrance fees and exposure to new visitors.