BTG works with Institution to maintain Chautauqua’s tree canopy

Greg Funka | Staff Photographer
A close-up of a flowering dogwood branch and leaves, wet with Aug. 8 rain.

Trees and the BTG

“Let’s take it to the woods.”

With these words, Chautauqua co-founder Lewis Miller established the importance of Chautauqua’s setting; a forested environment was chosen as ideal. More than 100 years later, the Bird, Tree & Garden Club continues to add to the beautiful surroundings that are so important to the ambiance of Chautauqua.

Early plans by the club called for the study of trees for their beauty as well as for their value in the conservation movement. BTG members researched tree diseases and planted trees that were suitable to the locality as well as appealing to birds.

Early History of Tree
Population at Chautauqua

As recorded in 100 Years of Beauty: A History of the Chautauqua Bird, Tree and Garden Club, by Chautauquan and Daily reporter Mary Lee Talbot, it was estimated that in 1892, there were 10,264 trees in Chautauqua.

In 1914, B. H. Paul, a professor of conservation at Cornell University, said that trees were Chautauqua’s largest natural asset, estimating that there were about 10,000 trees on the grounds, many of which were between 150 and 200 years old.

The next tree census for the BTG was conducted in 1957 by George C. and Dora Nelms. They put the number of trees at slightly more than 7,000. They accounted the decline in the tree population to the growth of the Institution; buildings were being constructed and streets were being laid out in a way that would reduce the space available for trees, and the rich soil was being drained.

The newly formed Bird and Tree Club, later known as the Bird, Tree & Garden Club, held its first tree-planting project during the winter of 1913, when it planted a row of maple trees in front of the post office.

Trees on the grounds began being labeled in 1914, though they are no longer labeled today. The most significant effort to label trees took place from 1934 to 1936: Chautauquans “bought” trees that were already on the grounds to help buy the Institution from its creditors. Labels from this effort can still be found on some trees on the grounds.

Replacement Trees

Each year, the BTG donates funds to plant new trees to replace the old. As noted in 100 Years of Beauty, more than 400 trees have been planted on the grounds since 1995. From 2008 to 2012, the BTG approved the spending of $17,460 on replacement trees.

Ryan Kiblin, the Institution’s grounds, gardens and landscaping manager, said she is most appreciative of BTG’s efforts and dedication.

“BTG members have done wonderful things,” she said.

Kiblin said that new trees are planted in late October and November.

“The fall is when most trees like to be planted,” Kiblin said. “Anytime you transplant a tree or plant, it will go through transplant shock. Shock it in the fall, and it wakes up in the spring happy.”

She said trees need less water when planted in the fall, and by the early winter and spring, they will have already put out some feeder roots. Trees planted in the spring experience more stress and will require more water than those planted in the fall.

Kiblin said that the replacement trees are cared for by the Institution, not by homeowners, though she works with the homeowners to make sure they can be a part of the tree replacement process.

“We plant replacement trees in the same location, or in as close as possible to the original spot, to maintain the tree canopy in that general area,” Kiblin said. “I look for open spaces, and if I see a spot that would be a good location, I’ll work one-on-one with homeowners to make a decision of what tree they would like.”

Naturalist Jack Gulvin works with Kiblin to mulch, prune and care for the new trees for the first two years after they’re planted. In this way, he can correct branch growth on the young trees and keep branches from rubbing together. In 2012, Gulvin inspected 468 trees, pruned 248 and mulched 348.

Honor and Memorial
Tree Dedications

Memorial tree dedications on the grounds began as early as 1919, with a ceremony honoring Grant Norton, who had been killed in World War I.

Kiblin works with the Chautauqua Foundation for those wanting to plant a tree in honor or memory of someone. Records are kept in a memorial book in Smith Memorial Library. Each year, Kiblin provides the BTG with a written report of the tree memorials.

She said that she doesn’t use chemicals on the trees on the grounds, but does use an organic spray that keeps bugs away. Sometimes she will select a different type of tree if insects become a problem in certain locations. That happened earlier this season, when Japanese beetles attacked the American basswood planted in Miller Park in honor of Doug Conroe. It was replaced by an October red glory maple.