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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Q&A with Barnes Arboretum head gardener, Jennifer Walker

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Walker uncovers newspapers which she is using to keep moisture in the ground during unusually warm temperatures this winter. PHOTO: LUKE MALANGA ’20/THE HAWK

Jennifer Walker, head gardener for The Barnes Arboretum at St. Joe’s, oversees a variety of more than 2,500 plants and tree species over the 12-acre property since August 2019.

Walker, originally from North Carolina graduated from North Carolina State University with a bachelor of science in landscape horticulture and received a masters in landscape architecture from the University of Georgia.

According to Walker, the difference between an arboretum and a typical garden is the health of the plants instead of how the plants look. She monitors the plants, never applying pesticides. Another advantage of the arboretum is that they collect weather and climatic patterns so that they can see what has performed well and what has not performed well in the past. According to Walker, Philadelphia has been at the epicenter for finding, discovering and growing plants.

While The Barnes Foundation oversees the property,St. Joe’s bears financial and managerial responsibilities, per the long term lease the university entered into spring 2019. Walker said students, faculty and staff are welcome onto the grounds anytime, as long asthe gates are open.

Walker on the grounds of the Barnes Arboretum. PHOTO: LUKE MALANGA ’20/THE HAWK

The Hawk spoke with Walker about her future vision for The Barnes Arboretum.

Can you describe your background and your initial plans for The Barnes Arboretum?

“My background is in project management and federal consulting. I come from a world that is a lot different. This is my first love, dealing with plants, and I am really excited to be able to use that skill set. However, I bring a level of organization, project management and oversight. Kind of like the relationship between The Barnes Foundation and St. Joe’s.”

Have you received any push back from the residents who live behind the
arboretum?

“They have been pushing back since 1920. ‘They’ is a hard word because it is a mix of people. They didn’t like it when Dr. Barnes was alive and the art was here because people would come through and they didn’t like the traffic. Then when the city wanted to take the art downtown, they were upset and felt like the township was being robbed. They were upset with the Barnes Foundation either because of the maintenance of the place or what was happening, and then St. Joe’s took it over and that’s not okay with them either.

By and large, especially when I am working along that edge and people are walking by, we are getting really positive comments.They like seeing activity here and the more they know they can come in anytime, which since its inception they have never been able to come onto the arboretum grounds. I think that we have good relationships, St. Joe’s has been really agreeable with things like keeping the gate locked so it isn’t a cut through and so people do not park along that street. For the arboretum one of our long term goals is to make it accessible. Right now the only gate is
through the parking lot. The township would like us to keep the gate on Latches Lane closed, I think it’s not a cut through for people to park but as the university develops the Maguire campus we would really like to have ways that students and faculty could come in and make it more permeable so it’s not like a separate place.”

Are you given a monetary amount or budget so that you can maintain as well as accomplish goals for the arboretum?

“We have a separate budget just for the grounds of the Barnes Foundation. I don’t just ask for stuff. They see that I have thought a year ahead and planned out what I may need. For tree work I need more money than what I have in my budget, so we just work it out.

I have worked with a lot of other organizations, and this is by far, the least oppressive. Part of my work in consulting, I did a lot of work in Flint, Detroit and Appalachia and places where there was really no budget. Communities where cities have actually failed, like Atlantic City, just do not have any money. And everywhere I worked, the one thing they named is the biggest stumbling block as that they did not have any money. Honestly, I can say that is never the biggest problem. Really it is organization and thinking long term and short term and planning and getting the right people. You need money to do stuff obviously but a lot of places focus on the money. They think once they get the money they will be okay, but more money…more problems.

I am a little bit crunched right now for labor, since I don’t have a staff. I have a budget so I can hire in contract help if I need it. I am a really thrifty personally so I try to keep that to a minimum. One of the wonderful things, is that I can empower these volunteers and students and other people to do stuff because I need so much help and there is so much happening. When SJU took over a lease and this property they also took that educational program, which I think was really good for them. That is where a lot of the volunteers come from, having been enrolled in the program and wanting to stay to help out.”

Walker’s bike which she uses to quickly get around the grounds and campus. PHOTO: LUKE MALANGA ’20/THE HAWK

Looking ahead Walker is interested in how climate change affects plants and living organisms.

“Our job is to be really clear about what is failing and how it is failing,” Walker said.

One of Walker’s goals is to try out plants that may do well in the future, look at how the climate’s changing and what could happen then.

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