The Nichols Arboretum is a huge span of natural space that is up kept by the University of Michigan in an effort to connect people with nature.  Together with the grounds at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, the University hopes to use the land to promote sustaining environments, caring for the earth, and develop a love of nature.

But that’s not why you go.  You go because the Arb, as it is locally Arb TrailCredit: Jennifer S. Johnsonreferred to, is beautiful year round. During the winter months the snow covered trees are breathtaking and the hills are perfect for sleds – be they bought from Target or lunch trays smuggled from university cafeterias. Come spring, the flowers bloom around ever corner, the birds sing, and the weather is perfect for a game of Frisbee or a run on the various trails that criss-cross the park.  When the summer heat becomes too much, the Huron River that winds through the north end of the park is perfect for wading in. Or swimming if the water is high enough.  Look out for canoes and kayaks though!  I once saw a whole bunch of nuns go by on a field trip.  And in the Fall, there is no place in the city that can rival the oranges, golds, and reds that fill the treetops with vibrant color.

With 123 acres of space, there is a spot for everyone.  Most people in Ann Arbor have a favorite bench or spot where they like to relax and read a book.  Or just listen to the whisper of the wind. The Arb is an Ann Arbor jewel and landmark.

Sections of the Arb

  • Gateway Garden – the garden surrounds the Burnham House, otherwise known as the Urban Environmental Education Center, and serves as a rain garden to prevent water erosion
  • Alex Dow Field –  a prairie and savanna ecosystem, also known simply as ‘the Prairie’, and the surrounding oak woods.  It’s up keep is managed through controlled fire during early Fall, but not before it grows taller than those who visit the area
  • Centennial Shrub Collection – the elevated part of the Valley near the Geddes St entrance that is best known for its large collection of lilacs that bloom in May
  • Heathdale –  located in the wooded cove east and below the Peony Garden, it's here where you can sit among azaleas and mountain laurel on log benches
  • The Valley – the large grassy area with gentle slopes at heart of the Arb, this is where visitors come to lay out on the grass to picnic or study or perhaps toss a Frisbee around, the trees surrounding it come from all over the world
  • Magnolia Glen – an almost swampy area, the magnolias in this part of the Arb are known for their large, fragrant flowers
  • Oak Openings – open woodlands near the Washington Heights entrance to the Arb, a threatened habitat with less than 1% of original land remaining, the wildflowers here bloom in mid summer
  • Peony Garden – with over 800 peony plants, the flowers are almost overwhelming when they bloom and a great introduction to visitors who enter from the Washington Heights entrance
  • River Landing –  a project in river bank stabilization, the landing follows the Huron River where it passes through the Arb and is a great place for bird watching, wading, canoeing etc.
  • School Girls’ Glen – a narrow valley with severe erosion from street runoff and flash floods that’s known for its trilliums
  • Fairy Grove – a small piece of open forest where children are encouraged to build homes for fairies out of natural building materials

Arb RosesCredit: Jennifer S. JohnsonYearly Events

  • Charity Runs – there’s too many to name, three alone between the last weekend in March and the first weekend in April. Most are 5Ks, but a few 10Ks take place too.  While runners do go through the unpaved Arb trails, the routes are well maintained and who doesn’t like running through a field of flowers? 
  • Peony Festival – the Arb has the largest collection of antique and heirloom peonies in North America, which bloom between early and mid-June.  The festival spans ten days, and includes tours, live music, a peony sale, and a drawing flowers workshop.
  • Shakespeare in the Arb – occurring every June, the SITA troupe puts on an outdoor performance of one of Shakespeare’s plays, moving around the Arb so that even the park has a role to play
  • Music in the Arb – a free outdoor concert series that starts mid-July and finishes in mid September 

As a public garden, the Arb is great to visit even if you are not going for a particular event or to see the blossoms of a particular plant. It’s the perfect place to sit and relax, enjoy your surroundings, regardless of the time of year or your company.  It also makes a great place to star gaze and watch summer meteor showers.