My usual go-to guy for how one should view the natural world is John Muir. He has all kinds of cute apothegms like: “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness,” and “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” My parents both have forestry degrees, so these are the types of ideals I was exposed to and still seek to imitate today. However, I get it: not everyone thinks that camping in the middle of nowhere or trudging up a mountain is a good time. Yet there is satisfaction and peace that is bred from a familiarity with nature, a sort-of rugged self-reliance and confidence in the outdoors. And I would argue that you don’t have to be as religiously invested in nature as John Muir to reap these rewards. You may find them closer than you think, in a place like Ellicottville’s Nannen Arboretum.
In 1958, William O. Nannen, a local businessman and conservationist, donated land to build the new Cornell Cooperative Extension building. The eight-acre site was originally part of the Nannen farm, and construction of the Extension building was completed in 1961. To show agriculturally-minded people good pond construction and the benefits of having a farm pond, the Soil and Water Conservation Service constructed a pond on the site in 1965 known as Lake Nipponica.
While the Arboretum would never have existed without the Nannens, in many ways the project was the brainchild of John Ploetz. John Ploetz was an employee of Cornell Cooperative Extension after retiring from Davey Tree of Ohio. With community support and prodigious landscaping experience, John designed and developed an attractive use for the marshy land behind the Extension building. Through his hard work, the Nannen Arboretum was created in honor of William and Sadie Nannen. Having not only donated the land, but also served as instrumental fundraisers during its development, the Nannens are commemorated today with two Colorado Blue Spruces. Ownership of the Arboretum has since passed on to the Town of Ellicottville and is overseen by the Nannen Arboretum Society.
Upon this transfer of ownership in 2013, the Nannen Arboretum Society was formed. This society is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization dedicated to maintaining and improving the Arboretum whenever possible. Membership to this society is open to anyone willing to support the Arboretum’s mission.
The mission of the NAS is simple: “to provide home garden and natural resource education and an opportunity for nature appreciation and leisure.” Within the confines of the Arboretum, nearly every tree or shrub has a plaque detailing information about said species. Through the plaques, any curious visitor can learn things like a flora’s Latin name, area of origin, edibility, and much more. But beyond practical education, the Arboretum offers a variety of unique architectural features.
The original Ryoanji Temple Stone Garden was built in Kyoto, Japan over 800 years ago, but the first replica in the United States was built at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. As fate would have it, John Ploetz was in charge of planting trees behind this site. Using the BBG’s garden as inspiration, the Nannen Arboretum’s Zen garden was constructed in 1980 and is meant to be a quiet place for meditation and contemplation. Granite grit is used as a ground cover as a heavier substitute for sand and the ripple raking resembles water. The large stones mined in Akron, New York are meant to be evocative of islands and encourage peace through isolation.
The Amano Hashidate Bridge was built at the far end of Lake Nipponica in 1981. The name translates to “a bridge in heaven.” The stones in the water mirror those in the Zen garden and subtly change the look of the lake as one walks around it. While standing on Amano Hashidate Bridge, you get a beautiful view across Lake Nipponica set against the ski slopes of Ellicottville.
The Lowe Herb Garden was designed and planted by Mrs. Carolyn Lowe in the early 1980’s. The original 13 specialty gardens were: Medicinal, Dye, Dioscorides-Medicinal, Early American, American Indian, Culinary, Industrial, Fragrance, Oriental, Beverage, Biblical, Silver & Gold, and Children’s Zoo Garden. Revitalization efforts are being made to help restore the original thirteen gardens.
The NAS hosts a variety of events during the summer, typically at the Northrup Memorial Nature Hall (where they also occasionally perform weddings). While the Society has yet to finalize a schedule for this summer, information on events should be upcoming on their website at nannenarboretum.org. Even if you choose not to donate or volunteer, I would encourage you to check out the Arboretum and see the best nature has to offer.