Thursday, August 3, 2017

Adventures in Ithaca; Following the Liberty Hyde Bailey Trail

John at Bailiwick (Bailey's Summer farm home)

This past week I had the wonderful opportunity to visit my son John in Ithaca, New York.  He is doing research on Liberty Hyde Bailey while working on his dissertation at a small cabin on one of the many finger lakes near Cornell University.  Cornell is where Liberty Hyde Bailey founded the New York State College of Agriculture and served as its Dean for many years.  He was a well loved professor, researcher and writer.   He wrote both scientific books and books with a more philosophical  and educational bend.  Ithaca is steeped in the life and work of Liberty Hyde Bailey and John was a wonderful tour guide.  John has visited Ithaca several times and has been walking in the path of Bailey for several years now, making friends and discovering details of Bailey's life and work that seemed destined for him to find and to share with others.  The following photos highlight a few of the places John and I explored on my two day adventure.

Elevator to the Hortorium

One of the many thousands of plant samples

Our first stop was The Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium.  It was here we met Peter Fraissinet, assistant curator.  Peter showed us around the many vaults with layers and layers of plant samples, all filed and sorted and consisting of over 869,000 specimens.  The Hortorium houses the largest palm collection in North America, consisting of 30,000 specimens.  When Bailey started his hortorium collection they were housed in a building next to his family home (Sage Place).  Now the collection is in a beautiful, well lit library at Cornell with Peter and staff who continue to care for and add to this amazing collection.  Peter was both generous and helpful.  It's wonderful to know that the hundreds of thousands of plants are in good hands!



Titan Arums (Amorphophallus titanum)
Our second stop was the Bailey Conservatory.  The Conservatory includes a greenhouse with a collection of plants from around the world.  It is home to the world-famous and endangered Titan Arums, which produces the largest inflorescences in the world.  The conservatory also includes many species of palm plants.  Bailey's last major work was researching and recording palm plant samples from around the world.  

Bailey Standing in doorway

Here I stand in roughly the same spot Bailey stood on the campus in front of the College of Forestry building.  (If you look closely at the bricks you will recognize the building in both.)  (If I had known I was going to be posing, I would have worn my Johnny Cash outfit.)

Botanic Gardens

Cabbage White on Lavender 
One of Bailey's field journals, book and gloves 

Our next stop on campus was the Botanic Gardens.  These are amazing outdoor gardens with a lovely indoor display devoted to Liberty Hyde Bailey.  Throughout the campus there are deliberate plantings (many planned and designed by L. H. Bailey) that include trees and wandering nature paths.  It's a lush and beautiful "plantation," as Bailey called it.

A partial view of Cornell from the Bell Tower

After lunch, we headed to Bailiwick.  Bailey summered at Bailiwick while he was a professor at Cornell.  He gave this property to Anna Botsford Comstock (a colleague of Bailey's) who in turn, donated the property to the Girl Scouts for a summer camp, which continues to this day.   

L.H. Bailey sitting outside at Bailiwick

Sage Place
After our Bailiwick stop we went to the campus and the former home of L. H. Bailey and his family.  Sage Place is now a resident hall for students.  Right next door is the site where Bailey's hortorium was housed before it was given to Cornell in 1935.  It's a beautiful home with lush trees and plantings around the buildings.  In the backyard, the garden plots that Liberty Hyde Bailey worked and experimented in are still maintained as garden plots today.

Our next stop was dinner with Bob Dirig, a former assistant curator of the horitorim, entomologist, natural history educator, illustrator, writer and editor of Solidago (a newsletter of the Finger Lakes Native Plant Society).  Bob was a delight to meet and a wealth of knowledge.  He shared stories of the moths he has studied, frogs he has captured and his life as a child growing up in the Catskill area.  He also shared articles he has written for teachers to use with students.  I look forward to using many of the resources he shared with me.  One of his latest pieces he wrote is entitled, The Sassafras Path.  It is found in the recent (March 2017) issue of Solidago (  In this article, Bob shares his story growing up in the Catskill area of New York.  It is clear that he has been a naturalist ever since his early days in the beautiful upstate New York landscape.  Near the end of our meeting, he reminded us that there is a weed garden at Cornell and so that became our next stop in the journey.

Spotted Knapweed
Sensitive Fern, Weed Garden
"Little Children love the dandelions, why may not we."  -- Liberty Hyde Bailey  

The above photos were taken at the Muenscher Laboratory and Weed Science Teaching Garden.  Although all the plantings throughout Cornell are beautiful, this weed garden was especially interesting to me.  Our very first planting, during the groundbreaking ceremony at the Liberty Hyde Bailey Outdoor Learning Center in South Haven, was a weed garden.  Students were invited to bring in dandelions collected from their own yards and plant them in our first raised bed.  Although we have since dedicated that bed to native plants and pollinators, I still refrain from pulling any dandelions in honor of that groundbreaking day. 

Lakeview Cemetery sky 
Liberty Hyde Bailey's final resting place

Our final stop was the Community Mausoleum at the Lakeview Cemetery.  It is here that Liberty Hyde Bailey (alongside his wife and daughter) was laid to rest.  We went into the building at dusk.  The Mausoleum is in disrepair and the smell of crumbling cement and bird droppings filled the stale air.  We needed our cell phones to light the way to Bailey's simple marker and tomb (it was dark and creepy).  John and I placed a dandelion on the rim below his name.  As we left the decaying building we pondered the choice of Bailey's final resting spot.  Why didn't he choose an outdoor site on the hill (like Carl Sagan, who is also buried at Lakeview) overlooking the lake?  Why didn't he choose a family mausoleum (like the Cornell family, who have a small more ornate site)?  Why such a simple, obscure place that is now growing trees out of the roof, and slowly crumbling apart?  It seemed like a sad place; surely he could have found a more public and scenic resting spot.  We will never know the answer to these questions, but to me this place seems strangely fitting.  Liberty Hyde Bailey clearly did not rest much in his lifetime and he is certainly not resting here.  Bailey lives on in the work that he did and the lives that he touched.  If you want to remember him, you can hear his voice in his many writings, see his vision in the many paths and plantings throughout Cornell and feel his spirit in the winds and the wilds of this holy earth.  He lives in all of us who take the time to appreciate the wonders of this world.  The following is a short video from the bell tower at Cornell and of John Linstrom, one of the many people keeping the spirit of Liberty Hyde Bailey alive and well.

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