Story and photos by Mary Martin.
Starting on Saturday, September 21st, the Peanuts Gang and the Great Pumpkin are on display with 90,000 pumpkins, squash, and gourds at the annual Autumn at the Arboretum festival. For its 14th year, a team of landscapers, horticulturists, and artists designed a pumpkin-filled wonderland, set to attract over 300,000 visitors.
“I have seven grandkids and this is one of the go-tos for fall in Dallas. They look forward to it every year,” said Alan Walne, the current Chair of the Arboretum’s Board of Directors. “Seeing the pumpkins is one thing, but this year Charlie Brown is stealing the scene.” Charlie Brown, along with his friends Peppermint Patty, Linus, Lucy, Pig Pen, Franklin, and Schroeder, are sculpted by using wire frames covered in moss and acrylic paints.
The center display features the Great Pumpkin, created by VP of Horticulture Jenny Wegley and Horticulture Supervisor Misty Nixon, who is an artist, alongside her duties at the Rory Meyers Children Adventure Garden. The Arboretum’s mix of creative display work coupled with detailed attention to plant life, makes for the perfect introduction for recently graduated landscape students. “We are a training ground for future landscape designers and architects, and we see those young professionals go on to careers in plant design or nursery work with a good foundation from the Arboretum,” explained Dave Forland, VP of Gardens.
But it is not only the garden staff that make Autumn at the Arboretum possible. Volunteers like Mike and Judy McIlwain help to create an inviting atmosphere for guests, serving at the information table and answering questions about membership. Together Mike and Judy have volunteered over 7,500 hours over 15 years, and they have found their home away from home in the Dallas gardens. “I’ve never been very good with plants,” admitted Judy. “But after I retired from my job as a speech pathologist for Richardson schools, I wanted to volunteer my time somewhere beautiful.” Judy spends most of her volunteer hours these days at the Arboretum’s info booth, while Mike takes on various horticulture projects or captures photos in the Children’s Garden. “We’ve enjoyed meeting people and could easily volunteer here all 362 days that the Arboretum is open each year,” said Mike.
This year the pumpkin display will close on October 31st, earlier than in previous years, in order to make space for the upcoming Christmas Village display. Starting November 1st the pumpkin displays will be dismantled and the pumpkins will either be composted or given to the Dallas Zoo for animal food and enrichment.
If you are looking to get involved at the Dallas Arboretum, you can fill out a volunteer application on their website. You can also purchase tickets online for the Autumn at the Arboretum festival, which is included in general admission.
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