Update on the plans for the Holcomb Farm arboretum

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By Eric Lukingbeal
As was noted in the most recent issue of the Drummer, the notion of an arboretum at Holcomb Farm is now under study. This is not a new idea. Rather it was the idea of Tudor and Laura Holcomb as expressed in the terms of the deed by which they gave their farmland to the University of Connecticut. They stated that an arboretum would be among the uses that they approved. Now, the town owns the land without restrictions.
The idea of an arboretum captured the interest of several residents, and in turn, the Friends of the Holcomb Farm. Earlier this year, the Friends of Holcomb Farm asked the Board of Selectmen for permission to allow a UCONN landscape class to study Holcomb Farm as a potential site for an arboretum. The board agreed, and in April, the class (all juniors) along with their professor, visited Holcomb Farm, reviewed available soil maps and made other investigations. In late May, the class presented an illustrated report containing many maps, summarizing their findings and suggestions.
The most important conclusion was that the Holcomb Farm east fields (on the east side of Simsbury Road) had suitable soils, moisture and sunlight for planting and growing trees. As such, the fields would be an appropriate site for an arboretum. It also concluded that the fields offered a number of varying microclimates suitable for a variety of trees. Last, the report said that an arboretum could proceed in incremental stages.
An informal team of longtime Granby residents—Barry Avery, Peggy Lareau and Eric Lukingbeal—has been making further investigations of the potential for an arboretum. These have included in-person meetings with retired or former officials of well-known arboreta (the Arnold Arboretum in Boston and Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford).
Other topics of investigation include the following: the feasibility of rehabilitating former wells on site used for watering livestock; developing alternative plans if rehabbing proves unfeasible; determining the best strategy to control extensive invasive plants in the fields and edges by periodic mowing or removal; deciding or assessing the selection of tree species appropriate to the site, considering affordability, as well as providing esthetic enjoyment for the public; identifying all the financial aspects of funding the purchase of trees, planting and ongoing maintenance, in perpetuity; determining the best strategy for linking an arboretum to the existing trail network, which includes mowed, grassy paths as well as marked wooded trails. These investigations involve talking to knowledgeable people at UCONN and elsewhere, as none of the three team members are arborists or have training in arboriculture.
All of these investigations remain incomplete, but under way. The goal is to present a concrete plan in the fall to the Board of Selectmen. The plan would cover proposed tree species, exact locations on the site, and details for planting and water provision, ongoing maintenance, invasive plant control and funding strategy. The plan will also promote the benefits to the town and its citizens that would result from having an arboretum at Holcomb Farm.
It is worth pointing out that the idea for an arboretum was not the idea of any member of the team or anyone else now living. Tudor Holcomb was a successful and scientific farmer, and along with his sister, Laura, a successful investor as well. His idea ought to be acted on. The plan will have to start small, and do those things necessary to enjoy broad community support. There is a saying among arborists—”The best time to plant a tree is 100 years ago. The second best time is now.”