Arboretum News

Growing with Richard DeVries

Meet the Arboretum's Richard DeVries, who maintains winter trails, maple syrup production and restoration projects.

Richard DeVries. Photo courtesy of Richard DeVries.

Editor’s note: You see the results of our horticulture staff’s work every time you visit the Arboretum, so we want to introduce you to the team who inspires our organization. Each month, we’ll  highlight a different member of our horticultural team in our new “Growing with” series. This month we’re Growing with Richard DeVries.

As a child, Richard DeVries could be found digging little ponds for tadpoles and turtles as his parents and brothers worked in the garden. This love of nature has extended into his adult life, as he creates habitats for many animals by restoring prairies, wetlands, bogs and woodlands at the Arboretum.

DeVries started working at the Arboretum as an exchange student in 2000, and returned in 2006 after spending four years working at a private ecological restoration company. Today he is a landscape gardener, but he says a more apt description of his work is “natural resources manager,” because he doesn’t garden in the traditional sense. In the winter, he works with a team to maintain the Arboretum’s ski and snowshoe trails. In the spring, he manages the Arboretum’s maple syrup production. Throughout the summer, he creates and maintains restoration areas. He also maintains the hiking trails, allowing visitors to explore and enjoy the beauty of the Arboretum.

What is your earliest memory of  nature?

As long as I can remember, I loved playing outside and hiking around in the woods. We would go on family camping trips and I certainly got exposed to a healthy dose of nature resulting in me wanting to be a Park Ranger.

Why are you passionate about your work here at the Arboretum?

At the Arboretum, we have the opportunity to create and maintain high quality restoration areas in a variety of diverse habitats like wetlands, prairies, bogs and woodlands. 

In the private industry, we would do our work and move on to the next project. At the Arboretum, we can see our projects evolve over time and it is more rewarding. We have the opportunity to start long-term projects that I know we will still be working on for the next 20+ years. 

I work together with a very knowledgeable, passionate and hard-working natural resources team of staff and volunteers.  Our work affects visitors by creating and maintaining beautiful and diverse natural areas, but more importantly it benefits birds, pollinators and other wildlife.  

Photo courtesy of Richard DeVries.

What garden do you work in primarily?

The areas that we maintain include Spring Peeper Meadow, Lake Tamarack, trails, maple and oak woods, prairies, wetlands, abandoned fields and all areas that fall in between the cracks and have invasive weeds.

We remove invasive weeds like buckthorn, reed canary grass and garlic mustard, just to name a few. We improve and restore areas by seeding and planting native plants, and we conduct prescribed burns to maintain fire-dependent habitats like prairie and oak woodland.

We also successfully worked on ravine stabilization and erosion control projects to reduce sediment that ends up in some of our lakes.

In addition to the ecological work, we also maintain the trail system to make all these areas accessible for visitors. Visitors can get away from the crowds and enjoy the peace and quiet and natural beauty that the Arboretum has to offer. 

DeVries explains maple syrup equipment to tour groups in the early spring.
Photo courtesy of Richard DeVries.

Tell us about maple syruping at the Arboretum.

In the spring, I manage the maple syrup production. The maple syrup program is a combined effort with the Arboretum’s  Learning Center. The Learning Center runs a field trip program, and besides educating over a 1,000 schoolkids each season, they tap close to 100 sugar maple trees.

My team of staff and volunteers tap an additional 320 sugar maples. We try to have different displays and demonstrations to enhance the visitor experience. 

In addition to the sap collecting bags from the field trips, we have three different tubing installations. We installed gravity tubing in two different sizes and a more modern vacuum tubing set-up. 

For display purposes, we have two evaporators to cook syrup: our state-of-the-art evaporator in the sugarhouse and a small wood fired evaporator outside. The smaller evaporator we now use to cook small quantities of black walnut syrup.

DeVries works on prescribed burns at the Arboretum.
Photo courtesy of Richard DeVries.

Do you have any favorite gardening trick or tips you’ve picked up along the way?

One of my favorite tools that we use is fire. It seems to solve a lot of problems that we are dealing with. We have a well-trained and experienced burn crew at the Arboretum that has been working very effectively together, and it makes it a lot of fun.

In addition to working with prescribed burns at the Arboretum, I also work seasonally with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on wildfire assignments, mainly in Minnesota but also out of state.

Do you garden at home?

We have a one-acre lot in Chaska. The first thing we did was kill the lawn and make it prairie. Half of the lot is wooded with some nice oak trees, ironwood trees and remnants spots of trout lily, bloodroot and other wildflowers. We created a little trail system and call it “ourboretum.”

5 comments on “Growing with Richard DeVries

  1. Scott Osborn

    “ourboretum”, love it

  2. 👏

  3. Carol Johnson Owens

    So glad to read about you and your passion.I am Albert Johnson’s daughter and occasionally visit MN and the arb when there. Sorry, my life took me to the Tucson AZ area in 2001. Keep up the prairie. If I was there I would be out volunteering with the burns and buckthorn. I got Peter to put up the Leopold benches last year or two so I hope they are weathering properly and getting used.

  4. Erica Johnson

    Thank you Richard for helping to make the arboretum and our world beautiful and wonderful. Thank you also for helping our plant and animal friends. My family particularly enjoys walking the trails and going to the pancake breakfast. Keep up your great and important work which is much appreciated.

  5. matt schuth

    Richard, You must have had a wonderful teacher to show you the finer points of maple syruping. Keep up the good work.

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