Monday, September 20, 2010

Starhill Forest Arboretum: Inspiration from the Land for the Future

(The top of the champion Sumac with a Starhill Forest sunset.)

By Noah Sabich for HHB
Images otherwise noted are courtesy of Starhill Forest

Mankind has always felt the need for a link with the past and yet a need for renewal. It is a natural instinct that allows both tradition and progress to exist alongside. On a 48 acre spread in an unpretentious region in southern Menard County of rural Illinois there exists an edenic setting of custom and evolution. I recently had the pleasure to meet with Guy and Edie Sternberg, world renown arborists, landscape architects and environmentalists, who decided to use the most ancient and abundant woody plants on Earth to change how we perceive what is use both possible and useful. They created a personal arboretum called Starhill Forest.

Established in 1976, the idyllic spot boasts upland and floodplain habitats, streams, ponds, varied soil types and slopes to foster trees, vines, shrubs, plants and, inevitably, a myriad of wildlife. In all, over 600+ taxa have been either transplanted or propagated on the land with each one being carefully documented with provenance information, breeding method and year, and location. Perhaps the most important attribute of the arboretum is the fact that Starhill Forest maintains the most inclusive compilation of oaks in the Midwest.

(Photo: Noah Sabich for Happy Healthy Balance)

Guy and Edie told me that trees are natural teaching creations that vary so profoundly in their age, form, dimensions, color schemes and usefulness that their purpose and continual growth should amaze anyone. They teach that trees are essential constituents of purified air, water, soil and our world is indebted to their existence. For them, with every tree we cultivate, we are bettering our surroundings and ourselves. The inter-connectivity of healthy trees, air, water, soil and humans is undeniable and, just as Guy and Edie exemplify, this connectedness is in our hands; we are the caretakers.

(Blueberry Bliss and Silverado,
two of the award-winning tall bearded Iris
from our Pocklington Collection)

The spread of trees cultivated by Guy and Edie at the arboretum of Starhill Forest is a beautiful reminder of the authority we, as stewards of the soil, have over our terrain. We could let our lands remain barren out of sloth. We could pollute them out of disregard. We could simply ignore them out of indifference. But, what if we imitated, even in a small way, the actions of Guy and Edie? What if we dared to believe in our ability to beautify landscapes with woody plants no matter how small our space? What could happen? Perhaps we could establish the foundations of clean new environments bursting with leaves, woods and shrubs?!

(Guy with a typical leaf from Quercus Dentata)

The value of the trees in providing shade, remedies and shelter was recognized by ancestors (i.e. “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” ~John Muir) and we must respect their sagacity for both the past and advancement of the future. The arboretum at Starhill Forest is a concrete example of what we can accomplish should we heed this advice.

For more information or to make a contribution to the Starhill Forest arboretum, please visit: Should you hope to visit the arboretum, you will need to arrange a personal visit with the estate by emailing either or

No comments:

Post a Comment