Most senior living campuses have trees, sometimes lots of them. Luther Crest is special, however, in that the Allentown, Pennsylvania, campus is now officially recognized as an arboretum, one of only 14 in Pennsylvania.
The campus was accredited as a Level 1 Arboretum by the ArbNet accreditation program. The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, Botanic Gardens International, and the American Public Gardens Association sponsor this program.
“Two years ago, the arboretum was only an idea. Today, it’s a reality,” says Frances Jennings, chair of Luther Crest’s environment committee. “We have identified 45 different species and have labeled them.”
The effort to be accredited as an arboretum, Jennings says, was done with the guidance of resident Dr. Marion Kayhart.
'This is a contribution not only to Luther Crest, but also to the region'
After receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and specializing in genetics, Kayhart took a position at Cedar Crest College in the biology department. “A graduate student of Marion’s told me recently, ‘Miss Jennings, you have no idea how many women Dr. Kayhart has helped to become professionals,’ Jennings related at the June dedication of the arboretum. Kayhart received a standing ovation.
Luther Crest’s arboretum consists of a mixture of coniferous, deciduous, and ornamental trees. Kermit Roth, also a member of the environment committee, established the memorial tree project. There currently are 25 memorial trees on the campus with more arriving in the fall.
This is “a phenomenal accomplishment,” says Scot Medbury, president of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, who served as featured speaker for the opening ceremony. He has been involved with the curation, cultivation, and interpretation of botanical collections for more than 30 years and currently serves on the governing councils of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, the Center for Plant Conservation, and the International Dendrology Society; he also serves as advisor to four American public gardens.
Creating an arboretum is “hard to do—and to have done it with such a small group of volunteers!” Medbury notes. “That is pretty special.”
Medbury has given the Luther Crest Arboretum three cultivated magnolia trees from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which created the first yellow-flowering magnolias in the world. By hybridizing Asian species with big white flowers with North American species that had really tiny, almost-didn’t-see-them yellow flowers, they eventually created large yellow-colored cultivars.
The trees, Medbury says, have “a very rich golden-yellow flower with a purple throat and are probably really well-suited to the Lehigh Valley because [the tree] flowers in late May as the leaves are emerging. Magnolias in colder climates can get frost-nipped if there’s a late frost.”
The arboretum “is a remarkable achievement,” says Donald Moore, Luther Crest resident and also a former president of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “The arboretum is a big benefit to retired people who love good landscaping and attractive flowers and all that sort of thing,” adds the Rev. Dr. Paul Buehrle, another Luther Crest resident and former head of The Lutheran Home at Topton, whose ministries Diakon continues.
“I thought having an arboretum would be very nice for the community,” says Kayhart. “We have specimen trees that have come from various origins actually, but all of them now are grown here in this country. My favorite tree is the Korean Mountain Ash.” In the spring, the tree displays long shards of white petals, while in the summer it produces small green berries that turn red in the fall. She says the birds love those berries.
“We will make the arboretum available for educational purposes to schools and local garden clubs and organizations,” she adds.
The arboretum includes three walks featuring 42 labeled trees. Booklets provide instructions for the walks as well as notes about each of the labeled trees. “We’ve given a little historical, biological, and ecological background for each tree,” notes Kayhart.
Highlights of Walk One are the Ginkgo trees, says Kayhart. “They had been around since the dinosaur era,” she says. “The highlight for Walk Two would be the Hawthorne over near the cottages and Walk Three is where we could come to that Korean Mountain Ash.”
“And along the periphery, there is a Shagbark Hickory, which is very old and part of the original forest of the area,” Jennings adds.
Trees found on the each of the three walks are identified with a metal stake supporting an engraved plate with the common name of the tree and its scientific. These labels were purchased with the help of the community’s gift shop and assembled by Luther Crest's maintenance staff, who also provide routine care.
“The arboretum is another contribution you’re making not only to this community, but also to this area and we’re very, very thankful for it,” says Mark Pile, Diakon president/CEO. “I want to thank the committee and everyone at Luther Crest for helping to support this important project.”
“We are so fortunate to be at Luther Crest to begin with, but now we’re even more fortunate because of this wonderful arboretum,” adds Georgia Baldrige, president of the Luther Crest residents association.
Members of the environment committee responsible for the effort are Jennings, Buehrle, Janet Coringrato, Barbara Godshall, Kayhart, Marlene Marsh, the late Sue Moore, Pat Rinehart, Bob Rinehart, Roth, and Bruce Wagner.