The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum is located at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The arboretum is home to 125 acres of land, which include 33 acres of botanical gardens, 92 acres of wooded lands, a bike path, foot path and nature trails. The Frances Plecker Education building houses the arboretum’s botanical library, offices, and event spaces for meetings and workshops.
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An open-air pavilion at the John Clayton trailhead is home to performances, lectures, classes and events. The Ann O’Connor Jurney Stage Garden acts as a trailhead for the wheelchair accessible trail, and is also the site of concerts and live performances. Gardens include the Hall Garden, which is home to a legacy green ash tree, as well as native shrubs, ferns and jack-in-the-pulpits. A Wetlands Garden features a coastal plain swamp tree as well as cattails and other plants favoring acidic soil. The Ballard Planting features a maidenhair tree, otherwise known as Ginko Balboa, a species that existed at the time of the dinosaurs. The Drury planting includes flowering trees such as the magnolia, Japanese maple, dogwoods and Forest Pansy redbud. The Daffodil Garden blooms in April and offers a wide variety and color of daffodils, planted in natural groupings. The Sinclair Garden flowers between May and July and is home to a variety of perennials. Fern Valley is found on a steep slope under the John Clayton Trail bridge. In this damp area shielded from sun, ostrich and other sensitive ferns thrive. The Smith Shale Barron is considered the most unique garden at the arboretum. The manmade shale barren flowers from spring through summer and offers several eccentric species that thrive in the harsh, rocky conditions under direct sunlight. Multiple Rhododendron and Azalea gardens include experimental plantings of large, winter resistant varieties, old growth plants up to 25 years old and over 15 feet high, and hybrids native to the mid-Atlantic area. Wooded areas offer wildflowers, an Oak Hickory forest, and a children’s garden that invites play among the trees. The Monarch Waystation is a pollinator’s garden that provides haven for a variety of insects, chief among them host plants for Monarch caterpillars. Statues are placed throughout the gardens to enhance the beauty of each site, and benches offer places for visitors to rest and observe. A labyrinth just off the nature trail to the west of the gardens provides a space for quiet contemplation.
History: The arboretum takes the name of Edith J. Carrier, the wife of Ronald E Carrier, who was James Madison University’s president from 1971 through 1998. The arboretum effectively began in 1964 when faculty in the natural sciences and botany began using the “college woods” as an educational site for their students. Throughout the 1970’s the university began planning in earnest for a true arboretum on the campus. The plan was put into action in the 1980’s when a board of directors was formed and a water feature was put in place with help from the US Soil Conservation Service. The forest acreage was acquired in 1993. The John Clayton Botanical Society, which fundraises for the arboretum and its maintenance was founded in 1990, and named for John Clayton, a famed self taught botanist who lived in Virginia in the early 1700’s. The nature trail and the Claytonia Virginica “Spring Beauty” plant are named in his honor as well. The arboretum is affiliated with more than 15 local and national botanical and conservation societies, including the American Public Gardens Association. A master plan includes a future Visitor’s Center, children’s garden and expanded herb and rose gardens.
Ongoing Programs and Education: The Frances Plecker Education Center is home to a gallery which hosts rotating art exhibits. A robust birding program is in collaboration with James Madison University, Eastern Mennonite University and local bird clubs. Members have identified over 115 species of birds in the arboretum. Ongoing community programs include yoga, outdoor painting workshops, and story time for children. The arboretum hosts a variety of educational workshops and lectures. Recent topics have included “The Dirt on Bacteria” and “Tagging for Migratory Monarchs.” The Museum is host to National Poetry Month activities, and several of the trees in the forest offer hanging baskets where guests can place their own poems year-round. Monthly photo contests take place on the arboretum’s Facebook page, winners are voted on by the public. The arboretum is open for free from dawn to dusk daily, self-guided audio tours are available through the website.
780 University Blvd, Harrisonburg, VA 22807, Phone: 540-568-3194