You might fondly recall Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine as a place you and you family visited during tulip time, your class took field trips, or your cousin Sally got married. But less than a decade ago, the turn-of-the-century masterpiece once touted as the only mature arboretum between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains was in overgrown disrepair. In 1997, a Texas teacher traveling across Kansas happened upon a for-sale sign and saw through the prickly brambles and broken spirit of a once-proud forest. Robin Macy didn't know Bartlett Arboretum in its glory days, but she saw something in it that locals had become blind to – its unique promise and towering soul.
Though she's best known as a singer and founding member of the Dixie Chicks, Macy's calling is as the current steward of Bartlett Arboretum, 20 miles south of Wichita. Born perhaps 50 years too late, Macy is known for her distinctive, other-era voice and love of all things old, including Ferguson tractors, Martin guitars and vintage gardens. She's still true to her bluegrass roots and performs regularly around Wichita and Kansas. A math teacher by day and a gardening enthusiast by night (and most every other minute she can spare), Macy is dedicated to restoring, preserving and renewing the Kansas jewel that is Bartlett Arboretum. She doesn't do it alone, of course. Various Kansas characters have wandered into her life and onto the property: an old-timer to fix a chainsaw, a master gardener to prune the roses, a craftsman to build a Garage Mahal. But like any businessperson, Macy has a bottom line to consider. She's looking at ways for the Arboretum to sustain itself. She is re-instituting weddings in the gardens and has added concerts among the trees. She hosts an annual Great Gatsbyesque croquet benefit and corporate events and garden clubs. Recently Sunflower Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Area Inc. adopted Bartlett Arboretum as a deserving project; under their 501(c)3 umbrella patrons are now able to make tax deductible contributions through the organization to enable the continued restoration of the historic property.
In great American tradition, Macy draws upon Henry David Thoreau and Bill Monroe for inspiration. "The first line of Walden suggests that we go 'to the woods to live deliberately,' " Macy says. "Mr. Monroe is credited with 'the high, lonesome sound.' For me, to create music and to live deliberately among trees – and teenagers – is the essence of my being."