Leslie Urgo Advocates for a Beautiful Campus with the Arboretum Society


This past month, the St. Mary’s Arboretum Association sent a campus-wide email asking students, faculty, and staff what they would like to see in terms of Arboretum projects in the future.

The Association decided to conduct this survey because they want the entire campus to have a say in the types of projects they will be taking on in the future. “We want the arboretum to be responsive to everyone in the campus community, students, staff, faculty, alumni, and neighbors—everyone! We thought that now, just as we’re getting seriously under way, would be the best time to see what kinds of new plantings the community was interested in,” said Professor of Biology William Williams. The questionnaire generated 29 returns, seven from faculty, five from staff, 15 from students, one from Historic St. Mary’s City, and one from an unidentified source.

The questions asked were generated by the collections and acquisitions committee of the Arboretum. This subcommittee consisted of Williams, Professor of Biology; Holly Gorton, Curator of the National Arboretum Herb Garden; and Christine Moore, a St. Mary’s alumna. According to Williams, the groups created a draft of the questionnaire which they then sent to be approved by the Arboretum Committee as a whole.

Leslie Urgo, a volunteer and committee member of Arboretum, stated that a majority of the responses received from the questionnaire were positive; however, one response that was received from an unknown responder suggested that the committee “spend the goddamn money on scholarships for smart people…” A student also suggested that the Arboretum was a waste of funds for the school. “These are separate pools of money [scholarship funds vs. Arboretum funds]. All we are trying to do is spend that [Arboretum fund] money as smart and as inclusive for students, faculty, and staff as possible,” said Urgo in response to these criticisms.

As for the suggestions that were received, many of them are initiatives that are either already on campus or planned by the society in the upcoming year. Some of these suggestions were to plant hybridized American chestnut trees which is planned for Fall 2012, plant edibles for students to “snag,” i.e. apple trees, which is in process this Spring. While all of the suggestions were helpful and appreciated, according to L. Urgo not all of them were practical given the practices of the Arboretum. She stated that the Arboretum wants to show the beauty of the St. Mary’s campus without using invasive plant species and while still being cognizant of the river. “We have to be really good stewards of this Earth…we won’t plant anything that requires pesticides or spraying,” said L. Urgo.

With the creation and expansion of the Arboretum, L. Urgo is glad to have the help of the grounds-keeping staff and their expertise. “To me it’s very exciting. One thing I love about this is our grounds department and power plant. They are kind of our unsung heroes in all of this,” said L. Urgo. Not only have these staff members been planting and up-keeping the current projects, they have also attended events held by the Arboretum.

For students who wish to get involved in the workings of the Arboretum, the committee is always looking to sponsor student projects like they have with senior Jessica Ditillo’s healing garden and the Eco House project being set up this spring. There will be committee seats for students opening up this upcoming fall and those interested should contact Leslie Urgo.

Upcoming Events held by the society are as follows: March 28 there will be a planting in front of Alumni House, April 4 edible plants will be planted in the Daugherty Palmer Commons area, and May 3 there will be a native plant workshop held in the library.