Since 2008, the Arnold Arboretum and the Norfolk County Agricultural High School (NCAHS) have partnered to offer students a practicum in the care of plant collections and public garden landscapes. Initially a two week experience, the program now includes four weeks on the grounds of the Arboretum with an interim week of biotechnology studies at Massachusetts Bay Community College.
The plant and environmental science program at NCAHS allows students to specialize in urban forestry, landscaping, floral design, environmental technology, ornamental gardening, and natural resources management. Students divide their time between the classroom and the laboratory, in this case growing and tending plants in greenhouses and in the landscape, climbing and felling trees, practicing plant identification, drafting landscape plans, and installing their designs.
Interested juniors in the environmental science program apply for the Arnold Arboretum practicum and are interviewed by Arboretum staff and their teachers. Ten students are selected to participate in this experience which combines education and employment skills development with horticultural practice.
Beginning in late May, after having completed their various school requirements, students leave the classroom to spend the remainder of their academic year in hands-on horticultural learning. The focus of their efforts is the Peters Hill section of the Arboretum, primarily the crabapple collection. Working cooperatively with horticultural technologists and accompanied by their instructor, students practice horticultural and curatorial techniques with a variety of resources and tools to remove invasive vines, redefine planting beds, and improve access to accessioned plants. They prune, mulch, and plant, learning by example the importance of teamwork in accomplishing tasks and the depth of collaboration that is required to manage collections. Arboretum staff provide lectures and walks that expose the students to the broader Arboretum landscape, special topics such as mapping and sustainable horticulture, the importance of record-keeping and the role of an herbarium, plant propagation and greenhouse and nursery management, and career pathways to horticulture and plant science.