New inventions are always exciting when they first come out, but in time, newness wears off and we take them for granted. For instance, growing up in the 1960s we had one telephone and it was a party line. There were seven other families on this line. We never called it a landline back then it was just “the phone."

With cellphones the landlines are starting to fade and someday will be history. But not everything fades. Some things grow and improve.

Fortunately there is one thing that does improve with age and I hope will never fade and that is our natural conservation system. In 1887, Aldo Leopold, the father of conservation was born in Burlington. At a young age he developed an interest in the natural world and started sketching and keeping journals of the land and woods. He graduated from Yale in 1909 and began working for the newly formed U.S. Forest system. In 1924 he was transferred to Madison, Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin was so impressed with Leopold that it established a position for him in game management in 1933. His popular wildlife ecology course was “to teach the student to see the land, to understand what he sees, and enjoy what he understands.

Aldo, a prolific writer wrote over 500 articles for professional journals and magazines and three books. His most noted publication "Sand County Almanac" was finished in 1948. Unfortunately, just one week after receiving word that this almanac would be published, he died of a heart attack while fighting a neighbor’s grass fire that threatened his farm. It was published in 1949.

With more than 2 million copies sold it is one of the most respected books about the environment ever published. It includes essays and quotes like “Conservation is a state of harmony between man and the land” and “I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness.” Leopold’s "Land Ethic" defined a new relationship between people and nature and set the stage for the modern conservation movement. Photos and paintings of his farm he was restoring in Wisconsin included a simple shack with wooden benches circling an outdoor fire pit.

These benches became know as Leopold garden benches. Simple, sturdy and functional they have become a popular addition to outdoor patios and gardens. Past workshops at the Bickelhaupt Arboretum included making his sturdy garden bench called the Leopold Bench. Several of these benches are scattered around the grounds at the arboretum and have stood the test of time.

Our plantings have also stood the test of time. Robert and Frances Bickelhaupt wanted to showcase plant material that, once established, would survive the harsh winters and the hot summers of the area. They wanted a collection of trees and shrubs properly planted, maintained and labeled so visitors could see what a wide variety of choices we have to plant in our landscapes.

Does everything survive and look good? The answer is no. There have been conifers which suffered severe winter die back, linden trees severely attacked by Japanese beetles and now the Emerald Ash epidemic. Trees have been damaged by storms and some hit by disease. The Director of Horticulture David Horst has on occasion had to remove these damaged trees and shrubs. The good news is that new, exciting and stronger varieties can them be planted in their place.

An extensive plant list which includes more than 2,000 different plants is maintained by the arboretum. The list includes both common and scientific names, where the plant came from, where and when it was planted. This list and planting grid is available by Googling Bickelhaupt Arboretum.

Art work of V Skip Willits and Robyn l Smith can be viewed on the grounds through the month of September. The grounds are open to dawn to dusk every day of the week. Come and enjoy.

Margo Hansen is a horticulturalist and the Director of Programs at Bickelhaupt Arboretum in Clinton.

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