Eileen Elliott and her sister Marlene Wilson stop and examine one of the species of trees they have planted in the Trenton arboretum at Shady Acres Park.
PAM DIETZ/The Jackson Sun
Written by Dan Morris
What to know
Anyone who is
interested in making a donation
for the arboretum at Shady Acres Park in Trenton may contact Eileen Elliott at
It began as a simple project to enrich the
Trenton community and earn “two little old ladies” the right to be called
Master Gardeners. It blossomed into an exceptional effort that produced one of the most diverse
tree exhibits in Tennessee.
Since autumn of 2011, Marlene Wilson and her
younger sister Eileen Elliott have planted 151 different species of trees at
Shady Acres Park in Trenton.
This year, the project was certified as one of
only nine Level IV arboreta in the state. Level IV is the highest ranking and
requires a minimum of 120 different species of trees.
The Tennessee Urban Forestry Council defines
an arboretum as “an area with a significant amount of woody vegetation in tree
form that is cultivated for educational, scientific or aesthetic purposes. To
be certified, an arboretum must be open to the public, the trees must be
properly labeled for educational purposes, and they must be properly protected
and maintained during the period of certification.”
Wilson and Elliott are delightful senior citizens who aren’t afraid of hard work. But Elliott blames her older sister for causing this sustained period of sweat, sore muscles and fatigue in her life.
“This was Marlene’s brainstorm,” Elliott said,
laughing. “You have to know my sister is a Type A personality. This started out
as a Level I project and ended up a Level IV.”
All the ladies wanted to do at first was
complete 40 hours of community service required to earn the title of Master
Gardener. They were attending Master Gardener classes
in Dyersburg but wanted to do their community
project in Trenton, where they live.
“I was walking through Shady Acres Park ,
looking at the beautiful trees, and wondered, ‘Why isn’t this an arboretum?’”
Wilson said. “There were already 20 different species of trees, and all it
takes is 30 to be a Level I Arboretum ... I wanted our project to be something
that would impact a lot of people, and it seemed like the park would be worth
So the sisters went to work in the fall of 2011, canvassing
Trenton businesses and asking owners to consider sponsoring a tree.
“When you said arboretum, most of them looked
at you like you were from outer space,” Wilson said, laughing. “But they became
wonderful supporters of the project, and we’re still educating people about it
by speaking at civic clubs and different places.”
“It’s important to note that we did this
without federal grants or any kind of city, county or state tax money,” Wilson
said. “It’s all been done through donations in less than two years. People
started hearing about it and donated money for trees or tags.”
Volunteers have assisted, but most of the
labor is provided by Wilson and Elliott. And their husbands have done their
fair share of toting water and mulch.
“We plant the trees and have a six-foot
diameter built up around each tree,” Wilson said. “We water them, weed them and
mulch them. We were required to have 40 hours for the Master Gardener program,
but we have both put in at least 200 hours a year.”
Each tree has a tag that provides the
botanical and common names for the tree and information on who donated the
tree. Many are planted in memory or in honor of individuals. There is also a
brochure available for walking tours, thanks to assistance from Lynn Tucker.
“The first two years you have to really keep
the trees watered, so last summer was spent watering the baby trees,” Elliott
said. “It took my husband Paul and I six hours to water them all, every seven
days, five gallons per tree.”
They tried to use water hoses, but they proved
cumbersome. So the Elliotts filled four 55-gallon barrels with water and used
two 2½-gallon containers to carry the water to each tree.
“I’ll admit there were a few times when it was
so hot or the city mowed some of the saplings down that I questioned why we
were doing this,” Elliott said, laughing. “But I really enjoy watching the
trees grow ... The trees are pretty well established now, but we spray and
top-dress them once a year and make sure they have enough water.”
James Wick, owner of Peach Grove Nursery in Martin and nursery
manager at Morris Nursery and Landscapes in Jackson, is the sisters’ mentor. He
studied the park and determined the wet and dry areas, the sunny and shady
areas and which trees were best suited for each location.
“He’s been a tremendous help,” Elliott said. Wick orders the trees and is able
to provide a vast variety that he feels will survive in the local climate.
“We have planted 151 different species, and we
have some trees here you will not find anywhere else in the state,” Wilson
said. “An example is the tri-colored maple.”
“We have probably 50 different evergreens, and
no two are alike,” Wilson said. “We planted them on a slope so people can walk
through and compare the differences ... We’ve put in a lot of work, and we’re
very proud of it.”
Wilson and Elliott were born and raised in
Pennsylvania. The Elliotts served as missionaries in Brazil before moving to
Trenton in 1977 to care for Paul’s parents. Eileen was the food services
director at Trenton Elementary School for 25 years.
Wilson worked as an emergency flight nurse in
Florida before she and her husband Bob retired and moved to Trenton about eight
Both sisters marvel at what they have
accomplished at Shady Acres Park.
“I didn’t know anything about trees when we
started this project,” Elliott said. “So I really enjoy trying to learn the tree names.
“There’s a walking path all the way around the
park, and we’ve positioned trees along the path. Our main goal was to have
something in bloom all the year round.”
Elliott said trees are still being planted if
someone is interested in making a donation. She can be reached at (731)
“In two or three generations, this arboretum
is going to be awesome,” Wilson said.
“A hundred years from now, people will look at
these trees and say, ‘Oh, those two little old ladies — this is what they
did.’” And they did it exceptionally well.