Newsletter of the Foundation of the State Arboretum                 Fall 2019
Children made necklaces from tree cookies and created fairy houses in the Enchanted Forest.

Nature Nurtures Welcomes Nature Lovers - and Sunshine
Fairy houses sprang up in the Enchanted Forest during Nature Nurtures. 
By Koy Mislowsky
Volunteer & Events Coordinator
Scores of beekeeping enthusiasts, hundreds of children crafting fairy houses, scads of curious "she shed" shoppers, and lots of lovers of craft brews all came out September 14 for FOSA's second annual Nature  Nurtures. The weather cooperated and allowed Arboretum visitors to enjoy honey-tastings and delicious locally grown food, as well as to shop more than 20 vendors selling all types of natural products. Families reveled in making mud pies, joined our popular scavenger hunt, and delighted in Native American games and storytelling.
Mother Nature made an appearance and brought sunshine with her.

Nature Nurtures offered more than 25 walks, talks, and demonstrations ranging from how to make healing teas for your pets to brain-healthy cooking to a worm workshop. 
"She Sheds" provided by Winchester Amish Connection and decorated by MakeNest Interiors were a big hit at Nature Nurtures this year.
What fun!

Special thanks to our "she shed" providers and designers: MakeNest Interiors, Winchester's Amish Connection, and Barrett's Horticultural Services. And a heartfelt thank you to this year's event underwriter, Bank of Clarke County, sponsors Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury, Monroe and Crocker, PC, State Farm's Powers Insurance Agency, and our media sponsor, iHeart Media.
Learn to Take Better Photos With Your Phone
Fall Public Programs Will Enlighten and Inspire
By Steve Carroll
Director of Public Programs
With the arrival of fall in the rear-view mirror, here are some public programs to look forward to:

* Admit it -- you now take most of your photos using your phone. Learn to take great images in this workshop offered by award-winning photographer Sharon Fisher (Saturday, October 5, 9 a.m.-Noon).

* Michael Steele, from Wilkes University, will share his research on the interdependence of acorns, squirrels, and other seed-eating animals in his illustrated talk, " In a Nutshell: Animal Dispersers of Oaks," (Wednesday, October 9, 6-7:30 p.m., in Stimpson Auditorium, Halpin-Harrison Hall, Shenandoah University).

* Have you been promising yourself to join us on a full moon walk? Your last chance for 2019 will be the 40th we've offered  (Sunday, October 13, 6:30-7:30 p.m.) . Space is limited, so don't procrastinate! 

* Life can be stressful. Join Shell Fischer as she leads her final guided walking meditation workshop at Blandy (Thursday, October 17, 5:30-7 p.m.).

* If you have a garden, lawn, or land, you've got weeds. Learn how to manage invasive species in the fall season in this workshop presented by the Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) (Tuesday, November 5, 1-5 p.m.).

And watch for winter programs on tree identification, the night sky, and art and nature, the last two aimed at the entire family.

Programs begin in the Blandy library unless otherwise indicated. For details and registration, check us out at
Interested in a Private Tour of Blandy?
FOSA Offers Exciting New Member  Benefits 
By Robin Couch Cardillo
Director, Foundation of the State Arboretum
Would you like access to the insider's quarterly Director's Notebook, a look behind the scenes written by Blandy Experimental Farm Director Dave Carr? Or how about a private tour? Or a members-only invitation to the popular Garden Fair Preview Night? Or, if you represent a business, a free space rental at Blandy for a client meeting or corporate retreat? These and other wonderful perks are part of the revised list of benefits when you join or renew your FOSA membership.

After recently re-evaluating membership levels, FOSA restructured its offerings to include additional pricing levels and more exciting benefits. (Two new categories: student memberships for $20 and dog memberships for $25!) See below. Visit for the full list of membership levels and the benefits you earn! Then join today at!

Too Early to Talk Holidays? Nah
Join us in decorating our community tree!
By Robin Couch Cardillo
Director, Foundation of the State Arboretum
At the Foundation of the State Arboretum, we think it's time for a community holiday tree to be decorated for the community and by the community - and for the birds, who will love any natural, edible décor as food sources become limited.

Who better to supply the tree than the State Arboretum? We're narrowing our tree choices now and soon will place a red bow on the top of the selected tree. That's where you, our visitors, come in. Share the joy by gathering your friends and bringing natural "ornaments" and garland to the State Arboretum. (No plastic please.) For the birds, favorites are strings of dried cranberries, pinecone feeders, small suet balls, birdseed ornaments, whole or sliced apples, and strings of air-popped popcorn or unsweetened cereal, for example. But any natural decorations are welcome!

Decorating begins Thanksgiving day. Clubs, classes, teams, and other organized groups are encouraged to join in the fun! Watch for more details as we get closer.

Winchester's Oscar Manheimer was our very first dog member, registered by his "grandmother" (and FOSA member) Ilona Benham. At right, he enjoys the ginkgo grove and takes a break with his owner, Isabella Manheimer (above).
It's the Latest Canine Craze
Who Let The Dogs In?
We love our canine visitors to the State Arboretum at Blandy Experimental Farm. In a fun twist on FOSA membership, we've added a category for your dog friends.

For only $25, the membership includes a FOSA dog tag; an annual Fido Photo Day at Blandy when we take portraits of you with your dog on the beautiful grounds; access to more than 700 acres of trails and terrain to explore (okay, you already have that); and free doggie waste bags. Visit the FOSA Membership page to help your dog join!

Steve Carroll at the Community Garden he created.

Steve Carroll to Retire as  Public Programs Director
12 Years of Programs, Book Club, Community Garden, and More
By David E. Carr
Director, Blandy Experimental Farm
Dr. Steven B. Carroll, Director of Public Programs, will be retiring effective October 24 after more than 12 years of service to the University of Virginia, Blandy, and our public program audience. Steve arrived at Blandy in 2007 from Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, where he had worked up the faculty ranks to become a tenured Professor of Biology. An M.S. graduate from the University of Alberta and a Ph.D. graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Steve was a plant ecologist specializing in the evolution and ecology of plant reproduction. 
During his time at Truman State, Steve became increasingly interested in the  extension of science beyond its traditional academic audience. He co-authored a popular book in 2004 ( Ecology for Gardeners, Timber Press, 2004) and created a solar clock garden on campus. Presumably, this evolution of his passions prompted Steve to answer Blandy's ad and eventually begin a new career as our Director of Public Programs. 

"I loved teaching and Truman offered me the opportunity to teach classes I loved, including botany and ecology," he said.  "But I suppose I was getting restless and was looking for new ways to share my love of plants and nature with a wider audience."
Steve and a young visitor at Blandy Summer Nature Camp.
Steve's scientific background and desire to bring science to new audiences were a perfect match for this new position. In addition to continuing a long tradition of serving audiences of all ages with quality lectures and workshops, Steve diversified the ways in which Blandy interacted and related to the public. Steve helped launch and later expanded Blandy's Community Garden. He started the Blandy Book Club, full-moon walks, and mindfulness programs. He worked with Shenandoah University to create an annual joint lecture series. He started the Science Café series in Winchester with Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum, and Handley Regional Library. He created and promoted Blandy's network of walking trails. He oversaw the creation of the new GIS-based maps of Blandy and much, much more.

"Blandy is such an amazing place, and working here gave me the opportunity to try lots of different ways to reach the public and bring in new audiences. It's been a privilege to be part of the success we've had over the past dozen years," he said.
What I am most grateful for is that Steve created programs that built on Blandy's strength in ecology and environmental science. From the Young Naturalists Programs in the winter to the Summer Camps, Steve developed creative ways for Blandy to increase our audience's understanding of the natural world. I am also grateful for the many relationships that he helped build and foster. These include relationships with organizations like the Master Naturalists and schools like Shenandoah University, relationships with volunteers, and the relationships with the thousands of people who have enjoyed and learned from his programming over the past dozen years.
It is always sad to see a friend and colleague move on, but we should all be thankful for Steve's contributions to Blandy and wish him well in this new phase of his life.
Neil Myers takes a break in the wetland area.
FOSA Volunteer of the Year
Look for Neil in the Native Plant Trail
Neil Myers was named FOSA Volunteer of the Year at the recent volunteer appreciation dinner. Neil has been a volunteer since 2016. She has spent most of her time on the Native Plant Trail.   

She has been here just about every Wednesday since 2016. Also this past year, Neil has volunteered to keep the Native Plant Trailers Facebook page. The page is interesting and pretty and we thank you Neil for that. She also helps Steve Carroll with public programs and leads tours from time to time. Neil is always informative and friendly! We are so lucky to have Neil as part of our Blandy Family. Congratulations Neil! We love you! 
Native Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) offers dramatic color and texture and benefits wildlife.
Fall in the Native Plant Trail
Big Bluestem Shimmers in the Meadow
By Jack Monsted
Assistant Curator, Native Plant Trail
Turkey's foot. Cattle's ice-cream. The king of the prairie. The folk names given to big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) belie its status as the most recognizable and charismatic of all our native grasses. This North American grass is perhaps the tallest on the continent and can grow up to nine feet tall, each stem topped with a three-pronged flower that - as one of its names suggests - resembles a turkey's foot. Below ground, it can send roots more than 13 feet into the soil, ensuring its access to water even in the harsh, dry plains in which it thrives.
Big bluestem also has a long and storied history. At one time it was the dominant grass of the eastern U.S. and the Great Plains. It stretched for hundreds of miles across the prairies of the Midwest, providing food for massive herds of migrating buffalo and a tough, reliable fiber for the Native  American tribes that hunted them. Even where there weren't buffalo, big bluestem supported a medley of birds, deer, and other wildlife, which use its tall and clumping growth to construct nests and shelters. Its fortunes have changed in the last few centuries, due to the settlement of the plains. Rows of corn and pasturelands of non-native grasses that can better withstand the intense grazing of modern cattle production have ousted our stalwart big bluestem from much of its range, but it lives on in isolated pockets throughout America - including the Native Plant Trail meadow right here at Blandy.
Photo: University of Connecticut 
Big Bluestem can reach up to 8 feet tall. 
There is a great deal of big bluestem throughout the meadow section of the Native Plant Trail, becoming very dominant at certain points. If you look out over the rolling hills at this remarkable section of the arboretum, you can begin to imagine what the Great Plains must have looked like hundreds of years ago. It is really a stunning sight, and there is no better time to see it than early autumn. The four- to eight-foot tall stems take on a dazzling variety of colors this time of year, ranging from gold to bluish green to coppery red, depending on the time of day and the life stage of each individual plant.
The reason for the striking appearance of a stand of big bluestem is that each individual plant can contain half a dozen different colors, the prevalence of each waxing and waning throughout the year. Earlier in the summer, the leaves retain their bluish hue, giving them their common name "bluestem," but as summer progresses into fall the leaves gradually turn a mottled red, and the stems transition from green to red to yellow gold. If you look closely at a stem, you'll see 7-10 joints on each plant, and the space between each joint can fade from green to red seamlessly, creating an uneven pattern of color change along the entire eight foot stem. These changes, though subtle and unremarkable in a single plant, create a sensational display of shifting color when writ large across several acres.
The specific colors vary not only based on time of year, but also on the time of day. I've found that in the mid-morning with the sun almost overhead and the grass blowing in the cool autumn breeze, the stand as a whole takes on a brilliant gold that is somehow deeper in color than other tall grasses. Visit the same spot in the early evening while the sun is low in the sky, and the coppery hues take center stage - the meadow looking for all the world like a sea of fire.
Now, early fall, is a good time to see big bluestem. As its seeds fully ripen and the green in the stems gives way to gold and tan and red, it's sure to put on a lovely display. Regardless of when you decide to come see one of America's most unique and beautiful grasses in all its glory, you're sure to be left with a greater appreciation for the natural beauty of our world.

Gardener's Note
If you've ever considered planting your own patch of native grassland, consider mixing in some big bluestem to bring the prairie to your own backyard - it can handle dry soil and requires very little maintenance, making for  an excellent centerpiece even in a small planting. It is native throughout Virginia, and is a host plant for several species of caterpillars. 
Ed Team Leads Outdoor Learning at Blandy
Winning Strategy Lets Students Be Scientists for a Day
By Candace Lutzow-Felling
Director of Education
Our Blandy Education department functions as an outdoor school. We collaborate with public, private, and homeschool educators to extend instruction outside the classroom walls. All of our programs immerse students in age-appropriate authentic learning experiences that mirror the professional techniques an expert would use in his or her field. Students become young scientists and historians while observing, exploring, inquiring, gathering data, and problem-solving as they use professional tools to investigate the natural world and history at Blandy.

This series of paired photographs, showing professionals at work and student participants in our programs, illustrates our educational strategy.

Professional and student bird scientists use binoculars to observe birds at Blandy. Findings are recorded and submitted to citizen science projects.

Dr. T'ai Roulston, Blandy Research Professor, and student insect scientists use nets to capture, observe, and identify insects at Blandy.

Virginia state soil scientists and high school agriculture students use Blandy's soil pits to learn techniques to identify and characterize different types of soils.  

History teachers and student historians investigate Blandy's woodland chimney. Investigative questions include: What type of rock is the chimney made of? What might have been its use? How old might it be? Was there a structure built around it?

What do teachers think about our education programs? 
Here are some of the comments they have written to us:

"Everything we experienced was very positive and a learning experience. The students absolutely loved interacting with the staff and experiencing nature. They especially liked the magnifying glasses, the dissection of the bean, the planting of the seeds, and looking for the buttercups...really everything. Thank you for making science learning and investigation so intriguing and fun."

"Thank you so much for allowing us the opportunity to do actual field ecology at the beautiful Blandy Experimental Farm. Invasive species are a big part of the environmental biology curriculum. Having to develop thoughts and methods on studying them out in the field is not something I am able to do in a meaningful way in the classroom, so I am grateful for the experience that you all provided for our students. Thank you!!!!"

"My students had a wonderful experience, especially working with the microscopes (a scientific instrument they have never had an opportunity to use). They were highly engaged and continued their conversations and observations from the field investigations after leaving Blandy. Thank you for providing them with this opportunity."

"Blandy is the best for hands-on learning with plants and animals."
You can help these vital environmental programs to continue! 
Support our "outdoor laboratory and living museum" at the State Arboretum of Virginia at historic  Blandy Experimental Farm.