by Beth Bogie, editor of Medford Leas
from the April 2012 issue of the newsletter
As we celebrate the
beauty of our Arboretum in April, we can only feel wonder at the
vision of Lewis W. Barton, one of Medford Leas’ founders,
better known as Lew – farmer, expert horticulturist and
man of action. What he accomplished as a horticulturist in Medford
Leas’ first decade, 1969-1979, laid the groundwork for the
creation of the Arboretum and its beginnings in the following
decade, 1979-1989, the period of the Early Arboretum.
1969, with the aid of Tak Moriuchi and Tom DeCou, fellow members
of the Estaugh Board, Lew, its president, acquired the Mickles
farm in Medford – “uncultivated, chest high in weeds,
largely wooded, some of it swampy” – as the site for
Medford Leas [MLLife, Oct. 2005]. By 1975 the Landscape Horticultural
Award of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and the
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society was presented to Medford Leas.
And by 1979, Lew had turned the completed main buildings and early
landscape into a setting that residents today might well recognize.
managed the transformation because he not only knew plants, he
was also an engineer who built water systems worldwide for such
projects as golf courses. Nancy Barton Barclay, Lew’s daughter,
recalls that he “went all over collecting plants for Medford
Leas with nurseryman and farmer Brad Snipes.” And he laid
out the roads. One story has it that he was seen riding in the
bucket of a front-end loader while giving directions as to the
path that Medford Leas Way should take. By 1979, the stage was
set for the Arboretum.
In April 1979, Lois Forrest, who had been director of the YWCA
in Philadelphia, became executive director of Medford Leas. She
immediately caught Lew’s enthusiasm for the landscape and
made it her first order of business. Together, they began to seek
advice for a way forward. “Although the setting was attractive,”
Lois reports, “the plan was unstructured. It became apparent
a more detailed and focused scheme was required.” Lois invited
her friend Ernesta Ballard, president of the Pennsylvania Horticulture
Society, to visit. As they strolled about, Ernesta told Lois,
“Medford Leas has the finest landscaping in South Jersey.”
She promptly advised the creation of a registered arboretum. She
then put Lew and Lois in touch with the University of Pennsylvania’s
Morris Arboretum and Paul Meyer, a member of its staff later to
become director. Morris Arboretum has one of the country’s
top staffs, expertise and collections.
As a result of meeting with Ernesta, the year 1980 saw Medford
Leas’ landscape become the Lewis W. Barton Arboretum and
a long-standing and valuable relationship begin with Morris Arboretum.
The Arboretum Committee of the Estaugh Board was created, with
Nancy Barclay as chair and Paul Meyer a member. It held its first
quarterly meeting in August l981. From the beginning, it was made
up of board members, staff, residents and a representative of
Earlier, in May, Paul Meyer had presented a paper, “The
Arboretum of Medford Leas: Guidelines for Development.”
That same month, at an MLRA gathering on the 10th anniversary
of the opening of Medford Leas, Coles Roberts, a member of the
Estaugh Board, was among those paying tribute to Lew’s expertise
in achieving a setting that led to the creation of the Arboretum.
That was just the beginning. One piece of advice from Ernesta
was to begin recording the species already in place and their
location on the campus.
Miriam Evans wrote about “Cataloguing an Arboretum,”
[MLLife, Jan. 1983], a task she undertook on 5x8 cards, long before
there were computers.
She wrote, “By definition an arboretum is a plot of land
where trees are grown for scientific or educational purposes,
or popular interest. One or all of these purposes make it necessary
to keep a record of all the trees and shrubs, including their
scientific, family and common names.”
Arboretum divided the Medford Leas Arboretum into quadrants, and
quadrants into grids. A chart of each grid listed its trees and
their scientific names as well as identification numbers. In explaining,
Miriam wrote: “The trees planted this fall along the walk
to Midge Ilgenfritz’s daffodils are American Sweet Gums,
the evergreens at the south end of Parking Lot A, Oriental Spruce,
and the trees in the meadow opposite A and B, Black Gums. These
are just three samples of the more than 200 trees in Quadrant
of the Arboretum led to major volunteering by residents. Tina
Mecray, chairman of the Nature Committee, kept everyone doing
what they were supposed to be doing. Members of the “Residents’
Arboretum Volunteers” did species labeling and acted as
trail and tour guides. On arriving in 1989, Ray and Kitty Katzell
were among the very active volunteers. Ray became leader of the
tree-tagging effort before computers and the GPS system emerged
in the late 1990s and 2000s. Later, Ray and Kitty gave $100,000
for the creation of an Arboretum Fund, to provide for useful projects
that could not be justified in the regular landscaping budget.
In the 1980s, leaflets with six different self-guided tours were
also developed by residents.
and Wayne Marshall, who had come in 1987, brought their birding
expertise. Wayne, a bird bander since 1929, soon founded the Bird
Club and introduced bird censuses. Gertrude, who is now approaching
100, wrote for Medford Leas Life for 15 years about birds and
Birders have found that the Arboretum provides a varied habitat
for different bird species.
Committee was the predecessor of today’s Nature Coordinating
Committee, which was chaired by Howard Kriebel, a nationally known
arborist, in the late 1990s. The Medford Leas GPS system was established
in his honor after his death. Don Horton, a paleontologist and
naturalist, joined the Arboretum Committee in the 1980s and eventually
assisted well-known naturalist Ted Gordon in 1993 in surveying
the arboretum. Don headed the Trails Committee, now known as Woodland/Trails.
of the Arboretum has been enormous.
• Immediately, it gave Medford Leas a wider exposure to
the world of horticulture, more than ever imagined;
• At the outset, the Estaugh Board stated that the open
campus space and attractive environment were essential to the
quality of life of residents;
• The unique situation of a Continuing Care Retirement Community
in an arboretum has been a major attraction for prospective residents;
• In the words of Paul Meyer, the Arboretum in a major way
has engaged the interest and involvement of existing residents;
• It has given Medford Leas an opportunity to interact with
the wider community – local garden clubs, Burlington County
Master Gardeners, horticulture professors and students and distinguished
• It offers residents benefits for a healthier quality of
life; enhances their sense of well-being; nurtures them physically,
psychologically and even spiritually;
• It continues the long Quaker interest in plants and nature.
In an article entitled “A Nature Walk by Wheelchair,”
in Medford Leas Life, February 1983, Lew Barton wrote: “Let
us go out and look at the miracles of plant life which lie right
at our feet.” On returning, he wrote, “We’re
back in an hour, having noted the colorful greenness of our campus
without leaving the pavement…. And there is lots more all
over our campus.”