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Greenbelter Richard Olsen is the National Arboretum Director!

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Richard Olsen, Director, National ArboretumThe 446-acre treasure that is the National Arboretum has seemed down on its luck these last few years.  It had a short-term director (not a plant person), then several acting directors, and worst of all, a two-year cutback on public hours to just four days a week since a congressional event called a sequester. (I worked in Congress for decades and don’t actually know what that is.)

But I’m happy to report some great Arboretum news in just the last month or so. First it opened back up to the public seven days a week, thanks to its terrific friends group. Then came the long-awaited announcement of its new director, who just happens to be the person everyone in the plant world seemed to be rooting for – one Dr. Richard Olsen of Greenbelt. Here’s why he’s the guy everyone wanted for the job.

True-Blue Plant Geek

Quoting from the Bonsai Federation’s congratulatory announcement, ”Dr. Olsen has a bachelor of science degree in landscape design (NC State University), a master degree in horticulture (University of Georgia) and a doctorate in horticultural science (NC State University).” Plus, he studied with the much-admired J.C. Raulston, and his specialty is breeding urban trees.

I recently heard Richard speak to members of DC’s geekiest garden club about his tree explorations in China and collaborations with plant geneticists there, after which he distributed some of the collected seeds to growers and enthusiasts like Tony Avent of Plant Delights, who praised the choice of Richard for the job.

Adding to consensus opinion are the facts that Richard came up through the ranks and is young, personable, impressive at the podium, and so on.

Back in the ‘hood

Front garden of Richard Olsen, Director, National Arboretum

While others can recount Richard’s scientific achievements, my perspective is as a fellow GHI member, especially as members of its Woodlands Committee.  And when I solicited Richard and Erin to let garden-tour-goers see theirs during our Less Lawn Garden Tour, they agreed, so take a peek! (And thanks to Washington Gardener Magazine editor Kathy Jentz for her photos.)

Bold statements in garden of Richard Olsen
Bold statements in the Olsens’ front yard.
How to hide a rain barrel with something beautiful.

I see from a story in the News Review that the Olsens have lived here since 2006. So while people at the Arboretum and plant geeks everywhere are praising the USDA’s decision to tap Richard Olsen for the top job, people in funky and proud Historic Greenbelt can rightly claim him as one of our own.

So congratulations to Richard on his new job, which I understand officially starts today.

Now for some eye candy

Scenes at the National Arboretum

We’re showing off how fabulous the Arboretum is throughout the year here on Flickr, and there’s more on DC Gardens. Greenbelters are lucky to be so close to this amazing place.

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com.

  1. Tiegh Thompson
    | Reply

    This is such good news. My wife, daughter and I have loved the Arboretum for decades. Our backyard garden – wildflower, wildlife and Forest sanctuary was inspired in large part by Fern valley. At one point, about twenty years ago, we visited the Arboretum weekly for a year. What an education and reward that was. We didn’t know it was open for seven days a week, again. Hoorah!

    Richard Olsen sounds like the long-awaited perfect match for the Arboretum. We wish him the best of success and satisfaction.

    Thank you, Susan Harris, for this information. It was sent to us by Greenbelter Mary Ann Baker, a dear friend of ours.

    Tiegh Thompson
    (Hopefully, the newest member of the University Park Tree Commttee)

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