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Local eco-activist prepares for next chapter

Frances Lamberts’ vision and commitment are credited with creating Jonesborough Ardinna Woods Arboretum.


Associate Editor

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Seated at a desk at the Ardinna Arboretum in Jonesborough, Frances Lamberts, for many years a columnist at the Herald & Tribune, quoted the Roman philosopher Cicero: “Sic hortum et bibliotheca habes, nihil deerit.”

That means, she explained, “if you have a garden and library, nothing will be wanting for happiness and satisfaction.”

Despite plans to return to her native Germany, Lamberts continues to work on her beloved local green spaces.

Lamberts recalled this same phrase being used in 955 A.D. by the German emperor Otto the Great. After decades of strife, war and suffering by the people of Saxony and the east Germanic tribes, Otto had felt that his subjects would see the philosopher’s wisdom, demand peace and be happy, if given the essential goods of gardens and books.

He made good on this notion, bringing monks from the western part of the empire to make transcriptions toward “libraries,” teach horticultural skills and develop gardens and farmland around the city of Magdeburg, his residential capitol.

One might well see gardens and books as a motif in Lamberts’ life. She spoke somewhat wistfully about all of  this, as she looks toward her planned retirement and return to Germany later this year.

Lamberts grew up in a village in the Eifel, close to Germany’s border with Belgium, where the forested landscape and deeply eroded mountains and river valleys supported many small farming communities.  She recalls the self-sufficiency of her parents’ farm, as well as memories of the war’s danger and oppressive atmosphere at the end of World War II. 

For example, seeing the city of Cologne burning again during an Allied bombing raid, Lamberts remembers her father urging the family not to talk about the sighting.  Merely expressing what was deemed a “defeatist” attitude toward the war for the “fatherland” was known as sufficient reason to get one executed by the Nazi government.

Her mother kept three gardens close to the home.  Fields and pastures grew grains and other crops the family and its many animals lived on. What was not needed at the farm was sold.  A mill on the village creek ground their flour.

All the children – Lamberts had seven siblings – helped on the farm, clearing weeds and rocks from the fields, spreading molehills in the meadows before spring mowing, guarding the cattle, stacking hay in the summer and foddering the animals.  This work and the parents’ example gave Lamberts a lasting awareness of gardens’ and nature’s sustaining gifts and ever-renewed beauty.

During the winter months her father worked for the regional forest service. With his horse team, he pulled the logs of trees, individually marked by the forester and cut and trimmed by local forest workers, out of the forest.

Lamberts came to Washington, D.C. in 1962 with a wish, she said, to “spend some time in an English-speaking country.” A nearly nine-year stint of secretarial and abstracting work there, for a bibliography being developed at the Center for Applied Linguistics, saw her attend night school at the University of Maryland, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.  She vividly remembers seeing President John F. Kennedy, as well as her enjoyment of many of the city’s cultural events, museums and monuments and the National Arboretum.  She also became aware of the work of the League of Women Voters at that time.

In many ways, however, it was the lure of America’s wide-open landscape and great natural beauty, as seen in Shenandoah National Park nearby and the Blue Ridge Parkway, that caused her to seek and adopt U.S. citizenship.

Lamberts settled in Jonesborough in 1979 for teaching in East Tennessee State University’s Department of Human Development and Learning, following masters and doctoral studies in special education and educational psychology.  Receiving psychologist licensure for Tennessee after several years at ETSU, she worked and became the psychology director at the Greene Valley Developmental Center, until retirement in the late 1990s.

Small gardens had given Lamberts leisure enjoyment and fresh food during graduate study days (Penn State and Northern Illinois universities) but in Jonesborough, space for a much larger garden allowed many native trees and wild flowers to support a Monarch Waystation, as well as give all kinds of vegetables and work satisfaction.

She joined the League of Women Voters here, adopting its natural-resources portfolio as her area of responsibility and serving for 25 years. The League’s position on the management of air, water and other natural resources “is so common sense,” she said, reflective of most citizens’ desire that they be preserved for the children.  Its advocacy for citizen’s ability to participate in the government’s decisions about them inspired Lamberts’ long conservation-related public work.  It also made her accept an invitation by the Herald  & Tribune publisher, 15 years ago,  to write regularly on conservation issues – as she did in her “Eye on the Environment” column.

Soon after her retirement, Lamberts began the volunteer work toward Jonesborough’s Ardinna Woods Arboretum. With encouragement from Mayor Tobie Bledsoe and town officials, planning assistance from landscape designer Ken Soergel and continuous help from other volunteers, this task also was accomplished.  The roughly 3-acre space at the town’s Environmental Services site – badly infested with invasive weeds before – became certified as a TN native-plants arboretum in 2011, and again in 2016.  Containing more than 70 species of trees of the Southern Appalachian – Ohio Valley region, and numerous native shrubs, wild flowers and other plantings, it now serves as an attractive, new park for the Town.

For Frances Lamberts, gardening and care of nature, and a “library” containing favorite writers like Aldo

Leopold and Henry Thoreau, Wilma Dykman and Teddy Roosevelt, Wendell Berry, Rachel Carson and many others have been values in life that leave “nothing wanting,” just as the medieval emperor surmised. She hopes to continue them in her remaining years in Germany.