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Get to know Murray arboretum

MURRAY — Sometimes the hardest part of landscaping your home is deciding what trees to plant. More than 40 years ago, the Murray Shade Tree Commission decided the best way to encourage residents to plant better-adapted trees was to establish an arboretum to show trees at their mature size.

The arboretum, located in the heart of Murray Park, was championed by Joan Hardle, who in 1963 initiated an fund-raising campaign to build a donors monument in the arboretum. That monument, which includes a drinking fountain, was completed in September 1963. Hardle continued her involvement with the arboretum until her death in 1981.

The arboretum was officially dedicated as the Joan M. Hardle Memorial Arboretum in 1982 during Murray's Arbor Day celebrations.

The arboretum features a cacti garden, hybrid iris beds, water ponds, shrub beds, seasonal flower plantings and many different and unusual varieties of trees. Maps of the arboretum are available at the parks office in Murray Park.

While not the largest local arboretum, it offers an impressive collection of plants ranging from Abies cephalonica — or the Greek fir — to the Zizyphus jujube — or Chinese date. In between are dozens of trees and shrubs; some are common and some are the only specimens in the valley.

The arboretum features nine species of pines, five species of spruces and three species of fir, including an impressive Abies pinsapo — or Spanish fir. The most unique tree is the Halfelm, or Hemiptelea davidi. Although it is related to elm trees, it is not a true elm, so Halfelm is one word. It is native to China and Korea, and the arboretum's specimen is a near-record size for North America.

The current caretaker of the arboretum is Becky Hansen, who, along with other staff of the Murray parks department, keeps this educational resource looking good. Hansen has cared for the arboretum for the past 11 years.

Hansen grew up in Holladay on part of her grandparents' dairy farm. "I always wanted to be outside. I was the oldest, and we had a large garden growing up that I helped take care of. When I was barely old enough to push the lawn mower, I started mowing the lawn. I also took care of my mother's large rose garden," she said.

After getting married and moving to Murray, she and her husband raised seven children. To learn a little more about gardening, she took the Utah State University master gardener course and then decided she would volunteer at the park.

"I really fell into the job," she said. "When I went to the parks office to volunteer, they gave me an eight-page application and I decided I was not going to fill that out just to volunteer. I went home and set the application on the shelf and forgot about it."

"Later, my husband came home and saw me doing some silly craft and said I had too much time on my hands. That made me mad so I filled out the application and took it down and dropped it off. They called me back and said the person who had the job had moved to St. George, and the job was mine."

'I told them I needed to run past my husband what I had done. He said if I wanted it, to go for it — and I have been here ever since."

Hansen's responsibilities have expanded to include more than just the park. The Jordan River Parkway landscape is another responsibility, and the flower beds on State Street are also an important part of her job. However, the trees have a special spot in her life.

"The arboretum pretty much goes along by itself unless we get some money or someone gives us some trees. Many of the trees are 40-plus years old, and some of them need replacement, so we try to replace them with exactly what we take out. I also try to add some new varieties that some of the professors from Utah State University recommend."

Her view of the arboretum goes beyond just a nice place to visit. "One of the reasons for the arboretum is so people can see how large these trees really get. That way they won't plant a huge tree that is going to completely overgrow their yard."

One tree Hansen recommends is ironwood or Parrotia persica. She said the slow-growing tree doesn't have many problems, and it has some of the longest-lasting color in the fall.

Hansen also likes the Spanish fir. A few years ago someone suggested she plant a Zelkova as a potential replacement for the American elms that were destroyed by Dutch elm disease.

"One of my very, very most favorites," she said, "is the bald cypress. I love the nice soft foliage, but it is not a good tree for a home yard because it gets so big. We are also trying several oaks. The swamp white oak is good for the wet areas, and we also have a nice bur oak."

Two large upright trees in the garden are the columnar English oak and the giant sequoia. Both are best suited to a larger park setting.

Before buying your next tree, visit the Hardle Arboretum and get acquainted with some new and unusual trees. The next one you plant might the best you have ever planted.

Larry Sagers is the horticulture specialist for Utah State University Extension at Thanksgiving Point.