Out of Home Range: The Arnold Arboretum’s Magic Trees and Trails

As many know, the Owl is a bit obsessed with trees and trails and nature. There is not a day when she is not on Weston’s trails–but yesterday was a day to fly over to the Arnold Arboretum, a 281-acre tree, shrub and plant paradise just 30 minutes from Weston (depending on how Route 9 feels about you–it was feeling good yesterday). The Owl was meeting up with a friend she made during the pandemic, who made it through the shut-down by walking six miles almost every day through and around the Arnold, photographing and documenting the changing seasons–and there are no bad seasons at the Arnold.

Most famous for Lilac Sunday which attracts hordes of sniffers (and the Owl studiously avoids given her low tolerance for crowds), the Arnold is celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year–my friend showed me a 5-foot tall paperbark birch they had planted (with children in attendance–hmmm, just like a Weston 5th grade tree) on April 28. On our walk through towering rhododendrons, under a gorgeous East Asian dove tree and past riveting dawn redwoods, we met a number of Arboretum workers, all ready to answer questions, smiling at Katie Puppy who was on her best behavior. Because yes, the Arboretum does allow your leashed dog which is a stunning thing and quite a fantastic walk for my semi-rural semi-old dog.

Tulip tree: we have those in Weston!

Highlights included the giant rhododendrons, the purple still starting to bloom, the light lavender on the way out. An azalea with multi-color sherbert colors, a walk in the conifer forest. Tree peonies are also on their way out, just a few still with magenta blossoms. The two towering tulip trees near the Hunnewell Building are stunning–as we walked out, there were two classrooms of kids studying the leaves and flowers. Why don’t Weston Schools field trip to the Arnold? I have no answer. Why don’t we all field trip to the Arnold? Also a mystery–it’s now on my bi-monthly planning agenda. In a lovely coincidence of life, an Owlet’s second grade teacher now works at the Arboretum. Lucky person.

In this 150th anniversary year (yeah the sesquicentennial, heaven save us all from spelling), there are a number of events and special tours. I can’t wait to go back for some of them–though I would argue that just walking the wood chip and asphalt paths and roads with a friend is the best way to see it. Bring your kids. Bring other people’s kids. Marvel. This jewel in the Emerald Necklace park system was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, in case you didn’t know, but you can find a way to explore the back hillside trails if you want a little less planning and a lot more…well, Weston.

My only two issues with the Arnold are not loving their lead-in phrasing of a “museum of trees teaching the world about plants” (academics should not do marketing, trust me on this) but no one but no one can equal Morton’s “Champion of Trees.” The Arnold is not a museum, it is an ode. There, copyright it. And secondly, the Arboretum screams for a beautiful cafe like at the Morton, where you can sit on a patio and drink your Arbor Oak ale. It’s a money-maker, Harvard, get on it.

While Morton Arboretum outside of Chicago lives in my heart as my favorite arboretum (obviously), the Arnold is a close second and of course “close” is the big deal of it. In fact, the Arnold’s roots are closer than you know–if you are a recent transplant (haha) to Weston, you may not know that Harvard was once the owner of the Case Estates, after Marian Case willed it to them. And if you must know, I wish that Harvard did still own it–it was used as a test planting site for yes, dawn redwoods, golden larches and magnolias–you can see some of them still fighting for attention at 40 acre field near Land’s Sake’s new animal barn. The Owl will state here once again that Weston needs to care for those trees, especially the Magic Tree, the beech suffering from too much love. You can read more about some of Weston’s best (and Harvard-pedigreed) trees in this Owl. But I digress… the Arnold…

The Arnold is free and open every day.I was shocked to hear from my friend that they count on fewer than 200 members (fewer than even WFTA) because people assume that either Harvard (hardly suffering for cash) or Boston Parks fund it all. Be a member. Trees rule. Learn more here: the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.


  • A best friend worked at the Arb (and Harvard Forest) for decades. He planted a lot of what you see (and traveled in China many times to collect plants). He loves it…but he says that Mt. Auburn Cemetery my be one of the best “arboreta” in the country. He also consults for them. Full of birds.

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