Wednesday, January 15, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/9/2014)


          The first thing I noticed were the eyes, piercing blue-green, no nonsense eyes, eyes that mean business.  And what better place for those eyes than to head up The Arboretum at Flagstaff.  The Arb has several missions, each with its own advocates, and someone has to allocate its resources to accomplish those various missions. 


          Lynne Nemeth’s eyes reveal a complex and single-minded human being.  She hails from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, one of the most charming places in the United States.  She comes from people who were steel workers, farmers, and gardeners with the toughness of blast furnaces and rolling mills and the earthiness of people who till the land, reap its harvests, and turn the harvests into food.


          With a master’s degree in music from the University of Maryland, she is amongst other things the cantorial soloist at the local synagogue Heichal Baoranim (Temple in the Pines) which means that she leads the signing and chanting in services of worship.  The skills required of a cantor and those of an executive director are pretty much the same, pulling together different voices and skills into a harmonious union to fulfill a purpose.  As any musician can tell you, conducting voices means dealing not only with the voice but also the person behind the voice.  So the conductor, as with the executive director, deals with organization as well as people.


           The big difference between the two is money.  The cantor doesn’t have to raise money, the executive director does.  In short, Nemeth needs the strength of a steel worker and the touch of a gardener.  As we sat down to lunch at Café Daily Fare, she handed me a folder containing various promotional materials and an envelope for contributions and pledges.  She said, “You might like to give something to The Arboretum.”  I thought, “The Arb’s in good hands.”


          Nemeth has been associated with “Non Profits” for a long time, really working for “Non-Profits” has been her career, so she understands the need for money.  “Non Profits” need money.  Working for “Non Profits” also means something else.  She has been putting her shoulder to worthwhile wheels, wheels that carry a moral weight.  Her life has counted.


          As I listened to her, I concluded that she’s still making her life count as the executive director of The Arboretum whose purpose is “the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of plants and plant communities native to the Colorado Plateau.”  Since Flagstaff sits near the edge of the Plateau, The Arboretum can tell us a lot about where we live.


It does two things, research and education and some crossovers between the two.  The research is varied, beginning with collaboration with various governmental agencies and private foundations familiar to Flagstaff. 


          As the caretaker of 31 rare and an endangered species and a seed bank for native plants, The Arb is involved in the restoration of the Schultz Fire devastation.


It’s participating in the Southwest Experimental Garden Array with NAU by hosting two separate gardens.  By establishing ten different experimental gardens at various altitudes, the project plans to study the effect on the genetics of plants due to various elevations and thereby mimic the possible effects of changes in climate.


          Of course, The Arboretum hosts several well known educational programs for both children and adults, such as hikes and camps for children, and bird walks, raptor shows, and wildflower walks for all ages.     

However, it is not all serious stuff.  There are celebrations and festivals for herbs, mushroom*ms, and penstemons along with concerts and wine tastings.  What better way to taste wine and listen to music than in the midst of a beautiful garden?


          However, The Arboretum is up to something else.  In partnership with National Weather Station in Bellemont, it’s developing “Flagstaff Habitat Profiles” which will be maps of growing conditions in the Flagstaff area.  These maps will include types of soil, precipitation averages, wind speed and direction, and temperatures.  Now, gardeners will know what’s best, and with The Arb’s knowledge of flora that works in Flagstaff, the maps will make more likely that elusive goal of successful gardening in Flagstaff.


          I paid up.  

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily News.  Smith emails at and blogs at

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