Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 30
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
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Local Scout Calls for Volunteers to Help Restore Flemer Arboretum

Linda Arntzenius

Before Greg Varga, a 17 year-old Life Scout from Kingston, leaves for West Virginia University next month to study industrial engineering, he has one project to complete: restoration of the Flemer Arboretum that is part of the Mapleton Preserve/Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park.

Mr. Varga, who lives just a quarter of a mile away from the arboretum, was cycling through the area thinking about a project he needed in order to achieve Eagle Scout status when the Park's Interpretive Naturalist Stephanie Fox, enlisted his support for the arboretum.

"Over the years, native trees have sprung up around the plantings," said Karen Linder of the Friends of Princeton Nursery Lands, a non-profit preservation group established in 1997 that has worked to support ongoing efforts of local and state partners to safeguard this historic landscape. "Many specimens of dogwood, redbud, and witch hazel have already been 'liberated,' but there is more to be done."

After surveying the site last winter and dividing the area to be cleared into sections, Mr. Varga began removing brush, hand pruning, and pulling out stumps under Ms. Fox's expert supervision.

"Greg raised $500 for tools and drinks for volunteers," said Greg's Dad, Mark Varga, who is lending a hand and hand tools to the effort. "He's put in a lot of effort on this and we are very proud of him. We hired a high brush mower from Friendly Rental in Kingston and when Greg told them what it was for, they gave us a discount."

Now the lifelong scout is asking others to help him finish the job.

According to Ms. Linder, the arboretum is a valuable record of the history of what was once the largest wholesale tree nursery in the United States. "Princeton Nurseries played a role in the kinds of trees that were planted across the country, especially after World War II with the expansion of the suburbs. With some 300 employees at its peak, it specialized in hardy, robust trees with comely shapes, selecting cultivars that would do well in city environments."

Princeton Nurseries was established in 1913 by the Flemer family who maintained the business at the Kingston site for 82 years before relocating to Allentown, Pa., in 1995.

Princeton's famous Washington elms, selected in the 1920s by the original founder, proved to be resistant to Dutch Elm disease and have since been planted on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.

"The core of the Flemer Arboretum is made up of trees that were planted by Princeton Nurseries when they were headquartered in Kingston," said Ms. Linder. "Since then, the land has been protected as open space and for the past few years on Arbor Day, the Princeton Nurseries has donated specimens to help build up the arboretum in the hope that it can become a botanical record of key Flemer introductions."

Hundreds of trees remain, both as showpiece specimens and as tree rows and windrows, a characteristic feature of the property.

"This is a really worthwhile project," said Ms. Linder.

The reclamation work will give Mr. Varga Eagle Scout status. "I've already logged in over 125 man hours in addition to many hours of paper work, organization, and fund raising for supplies," said the Kingston resident and volunteer firefighter.

To qualify for the distinction, it normally takes 150 man hours of work, but Mr. Varga's scout leader at Troop 220, demands an extra 150 man hours above the standard requirement.

"I could really use the help of some more volunteers to complete this project before I go away to college mid-August. My goal is to get at least 10 volunteers to start work at 8:30 a.m. Even if someone can lend a hand for just half of the day, it would be a great help."

Flemer Arboretum

The arboretum is part of the history of the tree nursery that in its heyday encompassed 1,200 acres in Plainsboro, Kingston, West Windsor, Princeton, and South Brunswick.

According to the Friends of the Princeton Nursery Lands website, the tree nursery was one of the world's most innovative, achieving international renown for the selection and distribution of improved cultivars of shade and flowering trees such as October Glory red maple, Princeton Sentry ginkgo, Shademaster honeylocust, Green Vase zelkova, and Greenspire linden.

The late William Flemer III planted the forsythia hedgerow that lines the entrance to Princeton on Washington Road alongside the elms planted by his grandfather. Twice chairman of the U.S. National Arboretum Advisory Board, he served on the board's White House Grounds Committee for many years. A fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society, he was president of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association from 1956 to 1966, and the author of a number of books and articles on plants and nursery work, including Shade and Ornamental Trees in Color (1965) and Nature's Guide to Successful Gardening and Landscaping (1972).

The Princeton Nurseries land has been known as the Mapleton Preserve since the land was acquired in January 2005, following more than five years of negotiation between Princeton University, William Flemer's Sons, Inc., the State of New Jersey, and South Brunswick Township.

Greg Varga has all the necessary supplies on hand for the volunteers he hopes will "pitch-in" at Mapleton Preserve/D&R Canal State Park, 145 Mapleton Road, Kingston, on Saturday, July 28, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a rain date on Sunday, July 29.

For more information, call (609) 683-0483, or email

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