Dear Friends and Patrons of Bayard Cutting Arboretum,
This Saturday will be the final chapter of my ten plus years as Executive Director at Bayard Cutting Arboretum. It is bittersweet, as BCA has been such a great part of my life. I’ve been asked to give an overview of the last ten years, so here are some of the highlights! 

When interviewed for this position, I stated that I wanted to “make BCA a world-class public garden”. Although some may have been skeptical, this has been my goal from the start. With the support of the Board and our talented, motivated staff, we got to work.

We toured many other arboreta and public gardens to educate and inspire ourselves. Public Horticulture is a generous field, and everyone was willing to share ideas, plants, knowledge. From plant labeling, collections management, and tree care; we learned from the best and developed the vision that I had for the arboretum. 
One of the first priorities was to create an entrance garden that would wow visitors, and showcase new and interesting plants to the arboretum. My first call was to noted public garden designer Lynden Miller, whose background and experience were a perfect match for the arboretum. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Lynden had a strong affection for the “Cutting Arboretum” as she called it. Lynden, working with Ronda Brands, created a stunning “4 Seasons Garden” using the existing landscape of conifers and trees as a backdrop. The design provides color and texture throughout each season; reflecting a diverse collection of woody and perennial plants as visitors enter the Old Pinetum. 
Jen Campbell, a new trustee at the time, approached me with the idea of implementing a Community Sponsored Agriculture Program (CSA) at the farm complex. With a business plan in hand, we approached the board for a three-year grant to create the first CSA farm in NYS Parks at the arboretum. Nine years later the farm is home to 80 CSA farm members, 150 chickens (a kid favorite), and a new children’s education program.

Westbrook Garden, the area surrounding the Manor House, was long overdue for a facelift.  Garden designer Wendy Fehse collaborated with staff, borrowing elements of the original Olmsted design and revealing the wonderful ceramic-capped brick wall cap. Vibrant colors introduced into the garden of this design provided a great view for patrons sitting on the deck or strolling to the Weeping Beech Tree.
Across the pathway, the Woodland Garden was taking shape. One lone staffer, assisted by brave volunteers, waded into the meandering streams of the pond area. Excavating and chopping out years of leucothoe, a beautiful woodland garden path has taken shape with shade and moisture loving plants. The Woodland Garden area has become a favorite respite to spot wildlife and enjoy the view.

Concurrently, we waded into the Holly Walk, removing years of overgrowth and discovering some great specimens of Ilex latifolia and Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox’. A redesign of the pathways provided a better experience through new plantings and holly maze. A happy coincidence of the project was the new “borrowed landscape” of the Old Pinetum, previously obscured by the overgrowth.
From this point we realized the Shrub Glade, the garden to the rear of the Manor House, was in dire need of attention. Created in the 1970’s, this area was now home to overgrown, nondescript shrubs and a world-class mug wort collection! With Board support, a Conifer Collection similar to Adrian Bloom’s garden in Bressingham England was initiated. We accumulated mature conifers in preparation for installation the following spring. Fortunately, our impressive plant list prompted Lynden and Ronda to return and make sense of this tractor-trailer load of plants. This was very much a design build, with staff working long hours to ensure we could have our “grand opening” at our June fundraiser. Serpentine paths winding through these rare and hard to find conifers has enhanced the area around the Manor House and been a great resource for conifer-lovers. More recently, we were fortunate to add the dwarf conifer collection of Edward Rezek to the garden.
A long-standing wish had been to recreate the Tea House on Breezy Island. Mrs. Cutting once hosted tea parties on Breezy, but the building had been torn down many years earlier. When Richard Remmer offered to help fundraise for it in memory of his son Max, I gratefully accepted. We navigated many challenges due to its waterfront location: a maze of DEC permits and countless trips across the bridge in a Toro cart.  We had no idea what the Tea House design should resemble until a volunteer found the one remaining photo of the original building in the archives. Although we were unable to recreate the building exactly, the new structure is in keeping with the natural feel of the location. The Breezy Island project drew on many different talents; from the woodworkers carving out a romantic garden structure, the massive boulders artfully placed and a native plant design that stands up to the elements. So many people-staff, volunteers, friends and artisans, came together to make this a magical spot.

To navigate the arboretum and new gardens we realized we needed to become more user-friendly. New signs were designed and installed, a new brochure was created, the website updated and we now have the “Tree Explorer” our GIS Mapping Program with over 5000 trees and shrubs. 
Our winter work inevitably turns to (the endless) restoration of the Manor House, a key feature of the arboretum. Fortunately our talented staff and volunteers are passionate and adept at historic building restoration. Projects have included restoration and replacement of the café ceiling, dining room ceiling, Library ceiling (Ceilings leak!), bedrooms, the “fan room”, the 2nd floor of the annex, and most recently, the kitchen. Capital projects include the restoration of the porch, and conservation of the Tiffany windows in the front hallway. Whew! 

For the past six years, the trustees, NYS staff and I have worked on the design of the proposed Visitor Center and expanded parking lot. Our attendance has grown 300% to nearly 350,000 people and parking has become an issue. The Visitor Center project addressees that need, and will provide a more dynamic way for visitor orientation and interpretation to the arboretum. Accessible bathrooms will also reduce stress on the 1886 Manor House.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, my goal was to make BCA “a world class public garden”. This Spring brought news that we had in fact accomplished this goal. We were awarded a Level 4 Accreditation by The ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program and The Morton Arboretum, for achieving particular standards of professional practices deemed important for arboreta and botanic gardens. Currently, there are only 31 internationally accredited level 4 arboreta in the world, an incredible achievement.

The future is very bright for Bayard Cutting arboretum as we continue to add plants to our collection, expand programming, and attract more patrons eager to see the wonders of the arboretum. I have been so very fortunate to have had the help of an incredible staff, volunteers, BCHS, LIDS and especially, the trustees of the Olivia Cutting Trust.  

I have been riding a perfect wave for my tenure and it’s time for someone else to start surfing!

Nelson W. Sterner
Help Support Bayard Cutting Arboretum!
Tax deductible donations can also be made by check payable to
Natural Heritage Trust and mailed to
Bayard Cutting Arboretum, PO Box 907, Great River, NY 11739