New bench seats on the Arboretum council ring keep it hyper-local
By Joseph Mooney
Take a seat on the new bench slabs that top the council ring in the Heathdale section of Nichols Arboretum. Recently installed by Matthaei-Nichols Collections and Natural Areas Specialist Tom O’Dell with the help of staff and students, the wooden slabs replace the old planks laid down nearly 20 years ago.
What makes these seats special is their origin. They were cut from a 130-year-old red oak growing on the edge of the Heathdale in the Arb, toppled by a spring gale in 2018.
The tree was cut into logs, set aside for seasoning, then milled. After storage at Matthaei the U-M Cabinet shop finished the milled wood into bench slabs. In all, it took nearly two years from fallen tree to restored bench seats.
Matthaei-Nichols Natural Areas Manager Jeff Plakke and then-staffer Jeff Walters installed the original council ring almost two decades ago along with its solid granite supports. In case you’re wondering how the benches stay put, a landscape construction adhesive is used to hold them steady.
Before the original council ring was installed 20 years ago, former student intern Jim Lempke built one of packed snow. Adjacent photo: a view of the old council ring with benches in need of replacement.
A Place to Gather
For a historical perspective we talked to recently retired Matthaei-Nichols Director Bob Grese. Bob explained that the Arboretum council ring was inspired by landscape architect Jens Jensen’s use of the circular structures as places to gather in wild areas and gardens for conversation, storytelling, and similar activities.* “One of our former student interns—Jim Lempke—who shaped much of Heathdale, first explored the idea of a council ring, building one of packed snow with some of his volunteers,” said Bob. (See photo.)
Catriona Mortell-Windecker, Matthaei-Nichols university outreach coordinator (left) and April Pickrel, former staffer, sit on the original council ring around 2005.