ArborFest 2010: Trees are the Answer!

Trees are the Answer! That theme was shared by thousands of gardening and plant enthusiasts who flocked to historic Blandy Experimental Farm in southern Clarke County for this weekend’s 17th annual ArborFest fall festival and plant sale.

Over fifty plant, gardening, and food vendors offered their products and services during the two day fundraising event for the University of Virginia’s State Arboretum. Customers pulled little red wagons that quickly filled with tree, flower, and shrub purchases as they moved between rows of vendors.

Visitors tour vendor exhibits at 2010 ArborFest in Clarke County, Virginia - Edward Leonard

Former Johnson Williams Middle School English teacher and cross country coach, Nancy Specht said that her wagon contained about $70 worth of greenery. “When I retired I purchased a small greenhouse,” Specht said. “I’ve always had a green thumb and now I have some time to work on it.”

State Arboretum Foundation Director Martha Bjelland said that the fall ArborFest event is the more family friendly of the Arboretum’s two annual fundraisers.

“ArborFest really tries to promote the family and fun aspects of gardening,” Bjelland said. “The spring garden sale is more about the plants.”

Bjelland, who took over as the Arboretum’s chief fund raiser three months ago, said that typically ArborFest draws over three thousand visitors. Yesterday’s beautiful weather saw a steady stream vehicles and families into the Arboretum’s park-like grounds.

Arboretum Foundation Director Martha Bjelland and Curator T'ai Roulston were among the many University of Virginia staff members that made ArborFest a huge success - Photo Edward Leonard

As adults selected fall botanicals for yards and gardens, children enjoyed hays rides, heirloom apple tasting, alpaca petting, and scarecrow making. Families also enjoyed guided arboretum walks with University of Virginia staff as well as other learning activities including a cooking demonstration, composting with worms, and suet log bird feeders.

White Post elementary student, Sam Brumback spent part of his ArborFest day making a scarecrow with assistance of volunteers Erin Korte, a consultant from Washington D.C. and Christine Dwulet of Alexandria, Virginia.

Clarke County High School junior, Julia Johnston volunteered her Saturday at the event to help satisfy her International Baccalaureate community service requirement.

“It was a lot of fun,” Johnston said.” I really like working with little kids. I also made some new friends from Millbrook!”

ArborFest offers not only a chance for homeowners to spend shopping for plants, it also provides an opportunity to ask questions of University of Virginia plant and tree exerts before buying something that may, or may not, be suitable for a lawn or garden.

“ArborFest is a chance to show off the Arboretum one last time before winter,” said curator and tree expert T’ai Roulston. “A homeowner can come here and see what the tree they are taking home will look like in sixty years.”

The event included both local and out-of-state vendors and exhibitors. The Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners Association fielded gardening questions while Mr. B’s mouth-watering barbeque attracted a steady line of customers for most of the day.

Children's activities included scarecrow making - Photo Edward Leonard

Craig Roberts of “Glove Love”, a company offering specialty gardening gloves and hand protection products, said that he and his business partner had traveled from Florida for the two-day event.

“We’ve participated in this event for years,” Roberts said. “Most of the shows that we do happen in the winter. We like coming here because it happens at the end of the season when things are starting to gear down for the year.”

While ArborFest ends the outdoor season for the year it is by no means the end of the Arboretum’s public programming. On October 21st “Fresh: The Movie” celebrates small farms and the people who are re-inventing our food supply. On October 28th Shenandoah University will present “Forest Trials: Restoration of the American Chesnut” at Shenandoah University. On November 10th “The Art of Bonsai” will be presented and on December 2nd the year concludes with an outdoor walk focusing on “Virginia Birds in the Winter”.

On November 3rd the public is invited to attend the Blandy Sketch Group’s ninth annual show featuring ten artists. Check out Blandy’s website for the latest news and event information at

Barbara Gorham of Boyce, Virginia and Jaxx, a "Doodle" cross between a Poodle and Golden Retriever, at ArborFest 2010 - Edward Leonard

Plastic garden pot recycling station at ArboFest - Photo Edward Leonard

ArborFest visitors had a wide variety of plants and trees to choose from - Photo Edward Leonard

Autumn themes accompanied summer temperatures at ArborFest 2010 - Photo Edward Leonard

Volunteers Erin Korte (l) and Christine Dwulet assist Sam Brumback of White Post with his scarecrow - Photo Edward Leonard