The John R. Rodman Arboretum began informally in 1984 as a movement to save surviving indigenous vegetation from demolition by well-meaning academic developers. The movement was begun by Dr. John R. Rodman, Professor of Environmental Studies, other faculty, staff, and students.
The roots of the Arboretum, however, reach back to the culture of environmental awareness and concern that began in the 1960’s and flourished in the 1970’s when Pitzer’s Environmental Studies program was established. The operating commonality among the Arboretum gardens, spread throughout the campus, is that drought-tolerant and native landscaping can produce not only a beautiful and welcoming, but environmentally responsible setting for a college located in the San Gabriel alluvial scrub country of Southern California.
Since 1988 the Arboretum has been an official part of the college, while retaining much of its participatory character and relying heavily on volunteer contributions from within and outside the college to fund its work projects, notably students and faculty in Environmental Studies courses and, since 2001, by Joe Clements, Arboretum Manager, who retired in summer 2015.
Dr. Rodman wrote in 1998: “It’s difficult to sum up the Arboretum in a phrase… Perhaps the core is a search for a third way between the two traditional American paths: the exploitation of nature and the worship of a sacred, untouchable nature … a search for patterns of interaction that are beneficial to both nature and people, patterns of stewardship and restoration that take us beyond ‘social responsibility’ to ‘ecological responsibility.’”
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