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City-by-the-Sea now also known as arboretum

It’s not often that a city can say its trees are part of its historical significance, in addition to its charm.

Newport, with its range of specimen trees brought here by Gilded Age property owners to complement their “summer cottages,” is one of those cities.

Now it officially is being recognized as such.

Newport has been accredited as an arboretum by the Illinois-based Morton Register of Arboreta, a listing of all known arboretums in the country. The City-by-the-Sea is one of the few communities in the country to receive such recognition.

There are four levels of accreditation. The city achieved Level I and organizations now are working toward Level II, Rob Currier, co-chairman of the city’s Tree and Open Space Commission and a board member of the Newport Tree Society, said during a recent public forum sponsored by the Alliance for a Livable Newport.

“It is a huge deal for a whole municipality to achieve this recognition,” Currier said.

The Morton Register lists only two other arboretums in Rhode Island: the Blithewold Mansion Gardens & Arboretum in Bristol and the University of Rhode Island’s Dr. Everett Christopher Memorial Arboretum in South Kingstown.

Supporting the effort to further develop the Newport Arboretum — the city’s unique and varied collection of trees and shrubs — will be $200,000 in grants awarded recently to the Newport Tree Society. The Alletta Morris McBean Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant and the van Beuren Charitable Foundation awarded a $50,000 grant plus a $50,000 challenge grant that requires matching donations.

The Tree Society is on track to make the match, Currier said.

The grants will allow the Tree Society to hire a full-time executive director, Currier said, as well as cover the cost of office space and other expenses.

University of Rhode Island professor Brian Maynard, chairman of the Plant Sciences Department and special adviser to the Newport Arboretum, has launched a student specimen plant propagation program, which will serve as a model and testing ground for the Newport Arboretum.

The city commission and the nonprofit Tree Society joined forces four years ago to start Newport Arboretum Week, which spans the week of Earth Day, and Arbor Day, which is Friday, with events including walking tours, public lectures, art exhibits and, of course, an official tree planting.

The Tree Society also has joined with the city’s tree warden, Scott Wheeler, and the School Department to establish a new Children’s Arboretum at Pell Elementary School. Currier said about five dogwood trees have been chosen for the first planting, on the median strip across Dexter Street from the school. A tree planting ceremony will take place in early May.

“From handwritten records of expansive colonial-era hothouses that held specimens from all over the globe, to the scores of Gilded Age landscapes still in cultivation on our island today, Newport is a truly a jewel of American horticulture and landscape architecture,” the Tree Society said in its announcement of the accreditation.

Efforts such as these will help to ensure it will continue to be for generations to come.

This editorial appeared Tuesday in the Newport Daily News.

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