Updated March 25 at 6:26pm

Five Questions With: Lilly Dick

President of the Newport Tree Society talks about its call for supporters to plant an “urban forest.”

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Five Questions With: Lilly Dick


Lilly Dick is the president of the Newport Tree Society. She is also co-owner of Belgravia Imports, which imports organic and natural foods. A former Newport city councilor, she founded the Newport Gas Light program and served as chairwoman of the Washington Square Advisory Commission for the restoration of Washington Square. Here she describes the mission of the nonprofit Newport Tree Society and its plans for growth.

PBN: The Newport Tree Society's website call for supporters to “plant an urban forest.” What exactly does this charge mean today?

DICK: Cities across the globe are responding aggressively to severe tree canopy losses suffered over the last century, and many are asking citizens to become directly involved in extensive replanting efforts.

The Newport Arboretum initiative takes this important idea of citizen-centered urban forest renewal and raises it to the next level. In Newport, citywide replanting will happen on both public and private land, and it will be guided by ambitious strategic objectives that go well beyond the typical goal of canopy expansion or number of trees planted. We’re asking citizen foresters to not only replant an ailing urban forest — but to help us create a citywide arboretum of unparalleled scope and diversity.

During the Gilded Age, our predecessors planted for the thrill of experiencing for the first time the full range of flora the natural world had to offer. Today, our goal is to bring to life Newport’s singular history as a center for exploratory horticulture and landscape architecture through successful partnerships with the institutions and private property owners who hold Newport’s horticultural legacy in their hands.

Together we will celebrate Newport’s singular heritage by planting rare and exotic trees and restoring historic landscapes and plantings. Volunteers will also contribute to the global effort to increase the genetic stock of endangered species, and we will work together to restore remaining areas of natural forest that have the potential to be rich ecosystems and self-sustaining reservoirs of life. Finally, we are working to increase our forest's overall health and resiliency in the face of impending climate change and invasive pests that have decimated American forests over the past decade.

PBN: How many members and supporters does the Society have and what are your plans for future growth not only of membership but as an organization?

DICK: We have more than 150 active ‘Friends of the Newport Arboretum,’ and that number is growing rapidly due to our new awareness campaign, “Beyond Legend.” In addition, hundreds of Newporters attend Newport Arboretum Week educational events each year.

Since its inception, the Newport Tree Society has operated as a lean organization that achieved its mandate with minimum operating and overhead costs. However, it has become plainly evident that we must leverage the experience of our board of directors and advisers to a much greater extent than we have in the past if we are to properly protect our urban forest. Encouraging and directing the participation of citizens across the city in planting and maintaining our city’s forest, which resides largely on private property, necessitates a greater investment in operational infrastructure.

In 2013, the Newport Tree Society conducted its first-ever comprehensive strategic planning effort through the support of the Alletta Morris McBean Foundation and the van Beuren Charitable Foundation. Both foundations have recently followed this crucial planning support with an additional $200,000 in operating grants toward staff salaries, office space and utilities, and other related expenses.

The society’s strategic plan envisions a complement of programs anchored by a citywide arboretum that convey an understanding of the historical context of our urban arboretum, the impact of a healthy tree canopy on the overall health of our community, and the vital importance of continuous cycles of planting on both public and private property. From the establishment of the Children's Arboretum at the Pell School, to the Student Propagators Program at the University of Rhode Island, to the creation of an interactive citywide tree map, all of the programs that have emerged from our recent planning process will also be designed to meet the shared objectives of multiple organizations across the city and state. All efforts have been focused toward a far-reaching vision of Newport’s urban forest, positioning us for a serious effort to build our capacity to carry out our mission over the long term.

PBN: Brian Maynard, chairman of the University of Rhode Island’s Plant Sciences Department and Newport Arboretum special adviser, launched a student specimen plant propagation program for the Newport Arboretum this spring. How's that going?

DICK: Truly unusual specimen tree varieties cannot be directly sourced from large professional nurseries. Seeds and cuttings must be gathered from other arboreta, plant collecting organizations and niche specialty growers and carefully nurtured over multiple growing seasons until they are ready for planting. This difficult and labor-intensive process is understandably impossible for the average municipal forestry department.

Brian Maynard met this spring with members of The Newport Arboretum Living Collections Committee to begin the development of a list of special trees that students at URI will propagate from slips (or cuttings) and small immature specimens.

Some of the species targeted to be grown on by students for The Newport Arboretum include the Quercus glandulifera (Konara Oak), a small, elegant tree with apple green leaves, native to Asia, and the Quercus lyrata (Overcup Oak), a white oak native to the wet lowlands of the southeastern U.S.

Many of these specimens will be sourced from a nonprofit, Forestfarm, located in the Oregon nature preserve Pacifica: A Garden in the Siskiyous. Some seedlings destined for planting in Newport have already been planted at URI’s East Farm, home to the university’s Plant Science Center.

An important initial goal for the Newport Arboretum Propagators Program is the creation of a system to smoothly and efficiently engage potential propagators, large and small, and provide them with the knowledge and guidance they need to become long-term growing partners for the arboretum.

PBN: Who came up with the interactive tree map and what is the value of this type of inventory?

DICK: The current online interactive tree map found at newportarboretum.org was created using the Google Map API coupled with a Google Fusion Table. Fusion table data was populated from recent citywide public (street and park) tree surveys conducted by Davey Trees, Inc. Professional surveys and inventories are crucial to better understanding our forest and how best to care for it over the long term.

This is also a wonderful resource because it allows citizens and visitors to explore our city's tree collection at their leisure, learning more about species that they may want to plant in their own backyards.

Our ultimate goal is to implement a more sophisticated collaborative online tree map such as opentreemap from Azavea Software. This type of mapping tool and sophisticated public interface will further blur the line (which should essentially be non-existent) between public and private trees. It will allow anyone to map a tree growing anywhere in the city – or to add new data to existing mapped trees.

PBN: How is the partnership with the Newport division of Forestry going to lengthen the lifespan of some of the beech and elm specimen trees? Are there any quantifiable results?

DICK: Our Beech & Elm Treatment program, begun in 2011, has been modified to currently include only protective treatments for key elms. The efficacy of preventative elm tree treatments has been proven over time; elm protection efforts will preserve these grand trees for as long as we can sustain funding.

Current treatments available for European beeches, on the other hand, have not proven to successfully halt or slow the progression of root disease. This is heartbreaking news as we continue to witness the steady, ongoing decimation of our Gilded Age-era collection of massive specimen European Beech trees.

We will continue to direct treatment efforts to those trees that can reap the highest benefits from treatment. When Emerald Ash Borer reaches our region, for example, we are prepared to launch a proactive management program that has proven effective at saving ash trees. The Newport Tree Society has a long and valued partnership with Newport’s division of Forestry.


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