Landis Arboretum in Esperance adds meditation garden and more during pandemic

The pond and fountain featured in the meditation garden at Landis Arboretum in Esperance. Inset left: Pavilion in the meditation garden, featuring benches that can convert into picnic tables. Inset right: Emergency shelter and addition to the meeting house. (Indiana Nash)
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The pond and fountain featured in the meditation garden at Landis Arboretum in Esperance. Inset left: Pavilion in the meditation garden, featuring benches that can convert into picnic tables. Inset right: Emergency shelter and addition to the meeting house. (Indiana Nash)

ESPERANCE — While much of the world slowed down this past year, things at the George Landis Arboretum only seemed to pick up.

“In the middle of this crazy pandemic, we . . . got more things done than normal and we had more visitors turn out than ever before too,” said Fred Breglia, the executive director.

One of the most obvious, and perhaps timely changes, is the addition of a meditation garden. Located right next to the greenhouse, it features a pond with a small bridge stretching across it, leading to a pavilion with benches that convert into picnic tables.

A fountain on the edge of the pond fills the garden with a steady and calming sound. The garden overlooks a new birch tree collection, along with the rolling hills surrounding the arboretum.

Like many projects at Landis, the addition came about after a community member reached out with the idea. Vijaya Luxmi, who owns Vijaya’s Clothing Boutique in Cobleskill, asked about creating a meditation garden at Landis that could be open to the public. With her funding and ideas, along with help from Jim Palley, the president of the board of trustees, the meditation garden was completed earlier this spring.

“It worked out really well because it was a piece of real estate that wasn’t being utilized in any capacity,” Breglia said.

The new birch collection, which surrounds the garden, contains about 30 saplings, including river birch, paper birch and others. The garden also includes a small labyrinth, adjacent to the pavilion.

During what’s been a turbulent and chaotic year for many, the meditation garden provides a peaceful respite, surrounded by the soothing sounds of the fountain and temple bells, featured on a neighboring tree.

Further along on the arboretum’s property, its traditional meeting house, which has been the site of many concerts and educational programs over the years, got a facelift and an addition. Working with the Town of Esperance, a sizable emergency shelter has been added to the meeting house.

It includes several restrooms, a kitchen and two conference rooms which double as sleeping quarters during an emergency. There is also a ramp “which links directly in as a hallway, and it makes our building 100% handicap accessible, which is great. The meeting house has always been our main clubhouse for concerts, educational programs, etc. So this was just a huge asset for us to be able to have that and also a great thing for the community in the event that they need it in case of an emergency,” Breglia said.

The addition is also climate controlled and will soon have wifi.

“It links pretty seamlessly with our programs so we really have a cool thing, potentially, going on here. We also have the concert series, which is also taking place in here and, now, instead of [having to use] the porta johns with the flashlight, you walk down the hall and you’ve got the bathrooms,” Breglia said.

Help from Scouts, students

The building overlooks the rolling hills of Schenectady County and, with the recent addition of a patio, visitors can enjoy a picnic or a break from walking the trails at one of the picnic tables. The patio was part of a local Eagle Scout project and students at SUNY Cobleskill helped complete construction in a single weekend.

The last major change at Landis is not quite as obvious as the others. Starting at the farmhouse, several small signs have been installed throughout the property, offering an audio tour of the arboretum.

Through an app called UniGuide, visitors can learn more about the history of the arboretum, as well as the founder, Fred Lape, and about the collections. There are six different stops along the UniGuide Interpretive Trail and it starts at the farmhouse and stretches about a mile long.
Landis volunteers like Anne Donnelly started working on the project two years ago, but the pandemic slowed things down.

“We have interpretive material . . . that we’ve added the last few years to the native plant trail. We’ve added some of the QR codes to the old-growth; we’ve added QR codes to some of the signs for insects and diseases but we’ve never had a trail that was going to be an audio guide to the Fred Lape stuff,” Breglia said.

Even with all these changes, there are no plans to slow down. In the coming months, they plan to install a letterboxing system, where people can leave treasure hunt clues in weatherproof boxes around the arboretum. The idea came once again from a community member who approached Breglia earlier this year.

“This place has that ability to let a lot of people who really have the gumption and have a good idea; it enables [them] to express their creativity and be able to actually get a project going,” Breglia said.

More community members have certainly taken advantage of the arboretum over the last year.

“Last year, based on the visitors during the week, I’d say our yearly visitation was probably close to double,” Breglia said.

If you go

Sunday is the last day of Landis’ spring plant sale, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and includes perennials, trees, shrubs, bulbs, seeds and more. There will also be books and baked goods for sale. The arboretum is located at 174 Lape Rd, Esperance. For more information visit landisarboretum.org.

Categories: Life & Arts

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