An ode to trees

Arbor Day is celebrated at Planting Fields


Spring fully surrounds our senses now. As Mother Nature displays some of the grandeur of the season, “Earth Month” culminates with plenty of hoopla at Planting Fields Aboretum in Oyster Bay.

The more than 4,000 trees in the state park are a fitting backdrop to activities honoring the park’s remarkable verdure this weekend, April 29-30.

Planting Fields has commemorated national Arbor Day since 1987 with fun-filled educational activities and entertainment. This year brings back the festival in all of its natural glory, following a slimmed down pandemic version last spring. That means there’s plenty to interest all ages: tree climbing for the kids, plant clinics, tree plantings with Smokey Bear, a Bonsai exhibit, plant sale, and so much more — along with self-guided tours of that grand old estate, Coe Hall.

Yes, the focus is on having fun, but the festival is about more than simply a good time. With climate change and the continued pressures on the environment at the forefront of our daily lives, park staffers recognize the need to keep this vital park in the public eye.

“We celebrate conservation while drawing attention to the importance of our green spaces,” says Katie Walsh, Planting Fields’ community engagement manager. “I encounter so many people who are visiting us for the first time. Many people think we’re a private estate.”

Not so. Planting Fields — the name references the fertility of the land and its rich agricultural value originally recognized by the native American Matinecocks, and later Dutch and English colonists — is a former Gold Coast estate with more than 400 acres of rolling lawns, gardens, woodlands, and nature walks deeded to New York state in 1949 to become a state park.

Since then, the park has thrived as dynamic and vibrant site that’s known for its numerous historic structures, Olmsted Brothers-designed landscapes, and world-class art and horticultural collections.

The annual Arbor Day festivities are a time when the park is at its best. There’s always something for everyone at this family festival — concerts with that festival staple Peat Moss & the Fertilizers. A self-guided tree scavenger hunt, courtesy Wonderland Tree Care and Landscapes. A children’s nature craft, involving tree “slices.” The all-important tree planting ceremony. And, new this year, a visit from “NYC Tree” (aka actor Joe Whelski). He’ll wander about telling jokes and regaling everyone with tree facts.

“It’s so important to connect kids to nature at a young age,” Walsh says. “Kids are overwhelmed with their tech. We need to get them involved outdoors with nature and our green spaces.”

Smokey Bear joins in to do just that. The “park icon,” as Walsh refers to him,  is the focus of attention when it’s time for the annual tree planting. Two trees will be planted each day.

“It’s a big deal, almost like a ceremony,” Walsh says. “Everyone gathers around and parades to the planting location.”

Educational and environmental organizations also participate, including the aforementioned Wonderland Tree Care and Landscapes, Cornell Master Gardeners, the state’s agriculture department, Long Island Native Plant Initiative, and North Shore Land Alliance, among others.

Befriend a tree. Planting Fields is surely the place to do just that.