The Springsbury Arboretum

Paul Kelsch and Nathan Heavers


orchard view final

Perspective of the proposed Heritage Apple Orchard in the Springsbury Arboretum


This presentation discusses the design of the Springsbury Arboretum at the Casey Tree Farm in Berryville, Virginia, as an inquiry into the changing role of arboreta over time. At its simplest, an arboretum is a place to grow a variety of trees, but the role of arboreta has shifted over the past two centuries. In the 19th century, arboreta served as taxonomic and economic laboratories for trees, but with the rise of ecological science in the 20th century, environmental issues around trees came to the fore and arboreta increasingly focused on conservation. Throughout, arboreta have been important for education and recreation. Within this broad changing context, what new roles might an arboretum serve?


Designing the Springsbury Arboretum at the Casey Tree Farm provided a specific opportunity to explore the question of the changing purposes of arboreta. Casey Trees, whose mission is to restore, enhance, and protect the canopy of the nation’s capital, owns the 730-acre 18th century farm with a 19th century thoroughbred horse complex. They currently use about 30 acres of land as a nursery for their urban tree planting, while the rest is in forest and field—active cow pastures and hay meadows. Casey Trees’ desire to create an arboretum to inspire a greater love of trees and to support their urban work was our actual beginning point, but conceptually we concluded that on this site the notion of an arboretum could evolve.


Our design for the Springsbury Arboretum combines the agricultural operations of the farm with botanical diversity, develops new trees for urban cultivation, and heightens the importance of the site and its history through the design. It suggests that this and future arboreta might pursue productive agendas beyond those previously wrought, while preserving and perhaps enhancing existing the characteristics of a site. Creating a place for trees that mixes with existing uses and multiplies the relevance of new sylvan landscapes seems quite possible.




Paul Kelsch is an Associate Professor in the Landscape Architecture Program at the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center. He has professional degrees in Architecture and Landscape Architecture and a PhD in Cultural Geography. His research focuses on the cultural construction of nature and its expression in designed landscapes, specifically looking at the interrelationships between ecological understandings of nature and discourses of nature grounded in landscape history, art, experience, and social theory. These issues come to bear especially in urban forestry projects and community relationships with nature. He teaches foundation design and advanced design studios, site construction, and landscape architecture history.


Nathan Heavers is an assistant professor in Landscape Architecture at Virginia Tech in Alexandria, VA. He holds a B.A. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University and an MLA from the University of Pennsylvania. His research explores how we can increase the productivity of landscapes through tree planting. His projects, such as the Prince Street Arboretum, often repurpose historic concepts, practices, materials, and places for contemporary use. Seeing landscapes as evolving phenomena, he has been an integral member of a design team charged with re-imagining the Casey Tree Farm in Berryville, Virginia, as an arboretum.