This presentation is part of the International Cemetery Preservation Summit, October 8-10, 2014 Niagara Falls, NY.

Returning the Forest to Forest Lawn: Tree Planting Strategies for Historic Landscapes by Matthew Quirey

Matthew Quirey:  Good afternoon. Thanks for having me. Today, it’s my pleasure to talk about the Forest Lawn landscape renewal plan and returning the forest to Forest Lawn. I hope today that the methods and approach we’ve taken at Forest Lawn is something you all can use at your site and your work as well.

I’d like to talk briefly about Forest Lawn, it’s history in the region and in the nation. Specifically about the plan, how we came to this point in our history at Forest Lawn, and then really again cover what is tree renewal? What does that mean and what’s the tree replacement methodology we’re using, and hopefully even briefly talk about the phase of the project that we’re taking which I find is equally important to the methodology.

Once you have a great plan, how are you going to put it to use? Forest Lawn as Jason said is a 269 acre rural cemetery in Buffalo, New York. Rural meaning we’re very much a part of the rural cemetery movement. I apologize in the back if it’s too small. I just hope to show the context at which Forest Lawn falls in. There right in between Spring Grove in 1845 and Central Park, an important landscape in America. As many as you know, Mt. Auburn cemetery being the first rural cemetery in America in Cambridge, Massachusetts and from there, major cities, major economic hubs decided to have their own rural cemetery for all the reasons that came along with it.

The changing view on death and the concerns for public health, etc. I just wanted to show the context for where we are in that timeline. Forest Lawn is currently 269 acres. We started out as 80 acres, founded by Charles Clark, a lawyer in Buffalo who had visited these other famous, or what have become famous cemeteries. Beautiful places at these other cities. He decided that Buffalo very much needed a rural cemetery as well.

These imagines I’m showing are from engravings from 1855. He purchased the land from a local family, a well-establishedf[ family. The Granger family. This very much was on the edge of town. It was a rural part of outside of the city limits. For those who are coming to our workshop on Thursday, you’ll see very much that today we’re in the heart of Buffalo, but at the time, again the context of where we started in 1849, it took some time to get there.

1939 View from Delaware Ave Entrance


Charles Clark had his work cut out to get people to come to his cemetery. As you can see even from these early images, the name Forest Lawn that Charles Clark chose was very much because of the site that he found. That he selected. It was an intentionally chosen on the edge of Scajaquada Creek. A very important creek in the history of Buffalo, along with being adjacent to a number of springs. Water is a continuing theme throughout our landscape and the creek actually runs through the middle of our landscape.

Something that I believe is very unique to our site. All rural cemeteries have a connection to water, typography, how they’re laid out, the beauty that they’re trying to encourage in nature. Forest Lawn very much is doing that as well. Here’s just an image of one of our main entrances. Again, this gate was there in 1849, but George Carey made improvements in 1906. This is a view that I’ll use throughout the presentation to show change over time on our landscape.

Here’s our main office. Again, by George Carey and updated by E.B. Greene. I mention their names. You might not know them by name, but again, a major part of our history and our landscape is the built environment. Not just the trees, but the built environment and I just want to mention that to tell you more about us. We have very many famous residents so to speak, and are home to many great pieces of art.

This is a view again, the gate is behind us, and in the distance you’ll see Red Jacket. A statute, a sculpture in his honor and we’ll learn more about that particular piece later on today in a second talk. Finally, just in wrapping up our history, I had to include the Blue Sky mausoleum. It’s the only family mausoleum in the world. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was designed for the Darwin-Martin family and we feel very lucky to have it on our site. There’s a history behind all that as well.

Tree renewal. What is tree renewal? How did we get here? The theme returning the forest to Forest Lawn means we lost the forest or it changed or something happened. The big thing that happened is in 2006, in October there was a surprise snow storm that dropped 24 inches of heavy, wet snow over the course of 12 hours when all the trees still had their leaves and Forest Lawn lost almost 700 individual trees in that one event. This is a picture from just a day or two after and the snow’s already gone.

It was a surprise lake effect event. The sun came out, the snow melted and we were left with all this devastation. It was all over the region and Forest Lawn wasn’t the only person hit with that damage, but FEMA gave lots of support in the area, but they did not give support to cemeteries. Cemeteries were specifically declined funding. We had to clean this up. We had to be active to our families who have loved ones where and who were bringing them there.

We very much did that, but it also made us pause and think, “These trees are important. How are we going to plant them back?” What we did is we went and through granting from the John R. Oishei Foundation in Buffalo and worked with Heritage Landscapes in working out a plan. That is what we have today. The Landscape Renewal Plan.

The damage … I’ll just show you the plan. If anyone wants to look at it after, feel free to take a look. What we realized in that is that this isn’t the first time that the Forest Lawn’s landscape has changed. Here’s a view. You can see Red Jacket in the distance and this is 1905, but here’s 1939. Here’s 1941. The point I want to make in telling the story of tree renewal and working in a historical landscape is it all starts with documentation.

I think I’m preaching to the choir when I say that, but it’s very important to remind ourselves that before we start working, we have to know what we have, what the history is, and the landscape renewal plan very much does that. This is a great image for us because you see the towering elms and you see the scale of Red Jacket to the trees. It was majestic.

Again, we’re not the only landscape in the north east that had majestic American elm, and like many of those, we no longer have that view. This is 2011. There’s Red Jacket again. There’s change. We’re working in changing landscapes. How do we manage that change? How do we renew that landscape? I wanted to take a minute to talk about renewal. It’s not a term that’s in the four treatments that are widely talked about in preservation. The Landscape Renewal Plan with it’s title, I just want to say is very much like a cultural landscape report if you’re familiar with those.

The plan, our plan, the landscape renewal plan has two parts very similar to a part one and part two of a cultural landscape report. With the emphasis of our plan going to how we specifically restore the tree canopy. We have selected restoration for the trees based on our documentation, but again, with our history we have many designers who have come to our landscape. Not Frederick Law Olmsted, but Adolf Staruch and Earnshaw and other cemetery engineers or landscape architects before they were called that.

1941 View from Delaware Ave Entrance


We have that history, but we don’t have a lot of specific planting plans. What does that mean for us? You go to aerials and we very much looked at aerials. We are confident with this approach for restoration for trees. It’s very much needed for our integrity in our landscape, but I prefer and we chose renewal because it’s really connection to plans. Rejuvenation is another word.

I guess I just wanted to take a minute to say you can get outside the box of the four standard treatments a little bit when you think about landscapes and plans, and especially trees. I was reminded of that when I put together this presentation. Thinking about the devastation in ’06, but here’s ’05. There’s change throughout our history. This isn’t the first time it’s going to happen. It will happen again.

When we think about what we want to put back, what are we going to replant with? We very much looked at what the impact the trees have in our landscape. They’re not just there because of our name, they’re there intentionally amongst all of the graves. You have to think about the views and view sheds. When you think back to that image of 1941 and towering elms and the arching cemetery drives. We set targets based on these different characteristics, especially deciduous and evergreen.

We very much have a deciduous, hard wood canopy at Forest Lawn and that came out in our study of the site. We also wanted to consider these other components because Buffalo, being in western New York has windstorms, ice storms, snow storms. As I manage the tree collection moving forward, how can I best put the best plant in the right place? Are there trees that we want to stay away from? Are there trees that aren’t suited to be along the fence?

I also wanted to take a minute to talk about in working in a historic landscape and we’re looking to the past, it’s very much appropriate to look to the future and what’s best today. We know that we shouldn’t have 50% of the trees be one species because when that happens and Dutch Elms disease comes along, you no longer have 1,200 American elm towering along your streets and roads in your cemetery. You have 7. Today we have 7 of the American elm, whereas we know from an inventory we had over 1,200.

That’s another change in our landscape and when you visit today, you don’t see empty spaces in all of those 1,200 sites. You see silver maple, Norway maple, and Christine Buseman. They replaced them when Dutch Elms came through. Are those trees doing what the original trees and what the elms were doing? Were they the forest at Forest Lawn? When you see a roadway of Norway maple, do you feel that you’re in a forest or do you see a short, dense, invasive tree?

Can we do better than that? We’ve got to that point through this effort in the landscape renewal plan. I point to this 10/20/30 rule for those who might not know of it. It’s a good rule of thumb. It’s definitely not the only way to go and there are sometimes when it’s just not possible, but it’s a good goal to have in thinking about your overall collection or your overall landscape.

Again, for the idea of it’s not if, it’s when a bug or disease is going to come along. Dutch elms wasn’t the first one. There was Chestnut blight and now we have Asian Longhorn Beetle and Emerald Ash Borer and Oak Wilt was just discovered in Albany. You have these very destructive forces that aren’t always a 24 inch snowstorm in 12 hours. You can only do so much, but in thinking of diversity, you can help lessen the impact. At least that’s the hope.

Again, I want to say, what the implications of this 10/20/30 rule on the design intent? There are many places where this just isn’t possible. That there is a clear design intent of uniformity and uniformity is paramount. Within uniformity can you go back to the characteristics of tree height? A vase shaped tree versus a pyramidal tree? You can get to uniformity especially along roadways not using the same species, but maybe even using different cultivars of the same species or different species of the same genus.

“October Surprise” snowstorm of 2006

I just want to encourage you to think about these things when you’re renewing your landscape. Another important part is how you’ll plant them. Money and time and energy are always a factor that we all have to deal with, so you can be creative in how you implement this. There’s a different between a balled and burlapped tree and a bare-root tree. If you’re not familiar with bare-root trees, there are certain species that do very well being planted without a root ball.

A two inch caliber tree with a standard root ball usually weighs two to three hundred pounds. A standard bare-root tree of that same size weighs about 25 pounds. The implications to your project are huge in terms of safety concerns or being able to … the logistics of getting them out and getting them planted. Container is something I also mentioned in terms of size. You can plant small when you’re thinking of renewing your landscape.

It doesn’t have to be big and studies show that if you plant a large tree and a small tree together and they’re both B & B which takes off 90% of the roots, the smaller tree with out compete the bigger tree in 10 years. Balled and burlapped is a very invasive process to a tree in the nursery. It’s growing in the nursery just fine and the you put it in a little ball and you cut off all of its roots.

Now it has to reestablish itself. It’s very enticing to go with large material, but there are implications to that. Sometimes it’s appropriate and sometimes it’s not. In working with volunteers, we’re very much utilizing the bare-root method. We’re planting 2 and 300 trees over a day or two, all with volunteers knowing that it’s safe for them to carry that 20, 25 pound tree and they’re not wheeling around a 2, 300 pound tree trying to get it in the hole.

That’s just another aspect to think of in your methodology. For us at Forest Lawn when we thought about the landscape as a whole and the need to get trees back in the landscape, I don’t think I’ve mentioned I apologize, we have about 3,500 trees today and from our intensive study, we know we need about 6,200 trees. How do we double this canopy and restore that forest? Return the forest to Forest Lawn so to speak. Where do they go?

This methodology we’ve broken down very much ties into the study of how our landscape has changed over time. We started at 80 acres, we’re at 269 acres. When did that happen? Why did it happen? Who were the designers? Then just planting locations. This is really driven by is it along the cemetery drive? Is it in a section? Is it on the perimeter? At Forest Lawn today, we’re very much part of the city and while from the beginning we wanted to be welcoming and we were out of town, even though we’re in town today, we still want people to see in to our cemetery.

How we plant along the perimeter is very important. Under each of these three headings, there are three or four even different headings. This is a plan. This is a plan in the landscape renewal plan and to zoom in on it, that list of typology as we call it, where trees are planted, is demonstrated and this is just a zoomed in corner. When I go to these sections to think about what trees need to go here, this is one of the first places I start.

Corresponding to this color coded typology is a species list of suggested things that will work. There are certain things that will not work well in a dense interior area. There are things that are appropriate for along a formal drive that just aren’t appropriate along a sectional drive. Again, it’s managing change, it’s recognizing the uniqueness of each place, and taking the time to see how that is based on documentation so that we can get to the end result.

Tree Replacement Metholdology

As we go to phasing, it’s … if you have the money and you have the time, I wouldn’t even recommend doing it all at once. If you think again, back at the pictures from 1905, 1941 and the change in the landscape, those were all planted in a short period of time. When you think of your collection as a whole and you want diverse species, I would recommend you also attempt to have diverse age so that in 50 years when these trees are getting to hopefully their prime, but the reality is, again this study is based on street trees, but the average life of a street tree in a tree pit is only 7 years.

Even though you plant an oak there, it’s not going to be there 50 years from now. It’s not. That’s a street tree and we’re in a protected cemetery and we very much want to have the best, healthiest, tallest, oldest trees in town, but every new tree has the same struggles of being established. Making it through the first summer season with water, not getting hit by a lawnmower, not having a little kid rip the limb off. There are all those things that still happen in our site that happen along a street tree.

We phased it into four phases and only planting at most 330 trees per year over the course of 12 years. Again, we’re only talking about a decade and maybe relatively speaking that’s not a lot of time, but also given our limitations of staff and budget, this is an appropriate way for us to tackle this large task of essentially doubling our canopy in a meaningful way with volunteer planting projects to engage the community and develop more support over time.

The diversity of species, I would encourage you to also think about phasing of the planting as well. Again, this doesn’t work every time. If you have a view or vista or one important road, you might want those trees to all be the same age to a certain extent. You might not want half the road to be short and half the road to be tall. Again, can you do that road together and the section differently? Just think about those options and what is appropriate for you.

Here’s a chart. A section of the chart about phasing. If you go down the year, you see it steps down and there’s a color difference because also in thinking of getting the trees planted, it’s also about taking care of them. The plan also outlines a very intensive set of maintenance tasks and goals that in a perfect world, for the first three years of this tree’s life, it will get water every week in the growing season and summer.

From years four to ten, it should be established and I’m going to let it establish itself where it is and not necessarily baby it along. There’s mulching, staking, pruning schedules. Again, getting it in the ground is great, but the point I want to make is you equally have to take care of those trees if you want them to be that 60, 80, 100 year tree in your landscape which so many of our sites have and what make them so special.

It’s a challenge dealing with mature trees and it’s a challenge thinking of the future of these trees are really not for me, they’re for my children or my children’s children. The saying I always heard is the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today. When you think about your landscape, we definitely have the future in mind and we want to take care of these beautiful landscapes. This is a picture of a grove of bald Cyprus [inaudible 00:23:01] at Forest Lawn that were planted in 1901.

Moved from the Pan American exposition grounds to our site because the superintendent and our superintendent were friends and the landscape there had to change. You can see these today. Sadly I don’t have very many more examples of trees of that age and significance and story, but the hope is through our landscape renewal plan for these next 12 years we’re making ties to our community.

We’re encouraging people to plant their tree. We’re telling them the GPS point. We’re wanting them to follow up and make a connection to that tree so as we move forward in 50, 100 years, people can come back and have a connection to that tree as well.

I think that’s all I have for now. I’d be happy to take questions.



This oral presentation will use the framework outlined in the Forest Lawn Landscape Renewal Plan (completed in 2012 by Heritage Landscapes LLC and Forest Lawn) to discuss how renewal of a historic tree canopy can take place. With the direction of a comprehensive plan that is grounded in documentation and research, a systematic approach can be implemented to restore and maintain the important aesthetic beauty of the trees in your cemetery landscape. The following pages break down the presentation into the following areas: Discussion of the Forest Lawn Landscape Renewal Plan (FL?LRP), Introduction to Tree Renewal, Tree Replacement Methodology, and Phases of Tree Renewal.

The FL?LRP describes clear targets and priorities for the 3,500+ tree collection and the development of the collection over the next twelve years to reach 6,200 trees and thereby over time return the forest to Forest Lawn.

The particular focus of this project is restoration of the historic tree canopy in response to devastation from the “October Surprise” snowstorm of 2006 and successive losses over the years from  weather events and disease. Extensive damage throughout the cemetery in 2006 was caused by heavy  snow accumulating on the leaves of grand old trees, bringing them down. With the storm as a catalyst, Forest Lawn and Heritage Landscapes LLC developed, in 2011, a collaborative approach to  this detailed research and planning project, supported by a generous grant from The John R. Oishei  Foundation. Heritage Landscapes has 25 years of experience in preparing comprehensive, achievable  plans for significant historic landscapes throughout the United States, and is an able partner in  this undertaking.

Speaker Bio

Matthew Quirey is currently the Horticultural Manger at Forest Lawn, a 269?acre historic cemetery in Buffalo, NY. His focus includes management of the plant collections that feature over 3,500 trees, the mapping and records program, and oversight of the landscape renewal volunteer program. A native of Blackwell, Oklahoma, he received his B.S. in Horticulture from Oklahoma State University in the spring of 2007 and then attended the University of Delaware as a Longwood Fellow where he focused his studies on historic preservation and collections management and is currently finishing his master’s thesis. Previously he has worked  at the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation in Boston, MA as well as the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Dallas, TX.