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Jonesborough gardens certified as state arboretum

After years in the making, the gardens at Jonesborough’s Pliny Fisk Environmental Services facility have finally been certified by the state as a Level II arboretum.
A state inspector visited the site in late April, making the Level II status official and marking a first for Tennessee’s Oldest Town.
“This is the first certified arboretum ever in Jonesborough,” said Town Administrator Bob Browning. “We are very excited to have it here.”
Local environmentalist Frances Lamberts is also excited about the certification. After all, the longtime Jonesborough resident has been working on the site for more than 10 years now.
“Putting trees in at the site started in 2000,” Lamberts said. “I had a niece visiting and she and I planted the first red cedar trees there.”
The trees, Lamberts explained, were rescued from a construction site and relocated to the property surrounding the Pliny Fisk plant on Britt Drive.
“Years later, I saw information for grants for urban trees,” Lamberts said. “I talked with (Browning) and we decided to apply for a grant and aimed to create an arboretum here. That was around 2006 or 2007.”
That, Lamberts said, is when the effort became more serious and systematic.
“It’s incredible. Ninety to 95 percent of the labor has been done by volunteers,” Lamberts said. “And the town has helped by being generous with money and mulch.”
The arboretum is only the third Level II arboretum in all of East Tennessee, with the others located in Chattanooga and Harrogate.
“This is a place now where you can see and hear birds all the time. There used to be none here,” Lamberts said. “This is a real special deal.”
What makes the arboretum in Jonesborough extra special, Lamberts said, is the fact that nearly all the plants and trees are native to the area.
The arboretum includes 60 different species located within three different collections.
The main bed, located at the entrance to the facility, is a butterfly garden that incorporates a large number of true native, Appalachian plants and grasses.
A secondary bed contains dogwoods and other trees as well as some native shrubbery and a few non-natives such as lavender. And a third bed, located alongside the building, boasts native shrubs and ferns as well as hand-painted rain barrels.
“This arboretum is special, too, because it has all this great diversity of trees in such a small area,” said Lamberts, who estimates the entire arboretum is just more than 1.5 acres. “It’s very, very compact.”
As a certified Level II arboretum, the site is required to maintain at least 60 different species and have them labeled properly for guests to see. A brochure is required to lead people on self-guided tours of the arboretum while opportunities must also be made available for guided hikes of the site.
During the summer, Lamberts said the arboretum will host one hike each month.
“This arboretum is an educational institution basically,” Lamberts said. “It allows people to come and learn about the trees we used to have and might be suitable for them. They can see trees to which our wildlife has adapted and what trees handle this climate the best.”