HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden

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Hare Sculpture

The Hare Sculpture at Stoneleigh has been an icon of the Villanova neighborhood for decades before opening to the public. This sculpture is made from a white oak trunk and features two adult rabbits and 5 young rabbits representing the Haas family. The rabbits frequently dress up for holidays and special occasions. Haas means Hare in Dutch and German.

Mother’s Day weekend, the southeastern PA region, already teeming with more than 30 public gardens, welcomed the newest public horticulture space to the map.

Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden is a property of Natural Lands.

Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden is also under threat of eminent domain.  Perhaps one of the biggest blows to a public garden is a letter just prior to a grand opening regarding a school district’s intention to condemn a portion or the entirety of the gardens for ball fields and a new middle school.

Save Stoneleigh Banner

The current rallying cry for Stoneleigh as it’s future is threatened by eminent domain.

As a public garden professional myself as well as a person who holds in high regard the value and importance of access and preservation of these places, I decided to show support. My hunny and I donned “Save Stoneleigh” T-shirts and headed to the school board meeting.

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Because I do not pay taxes in that district, I wasn’t able to speak about the importance of public garden spaces as classroom and connector and contemplative space. Many others did speak. Until nearly midnight, dozens of supporters voiced their praise for the value of the space and their dismay that a school board was not able to connect the educational and community value of this public garden to the benefit of their students.  It was encouraging to see so many people there to support the gardens and to admonish the school board’s tactics. The building was awash in red shirts, frustration and determination.  It was inspiring and encouraging to see all of these people supporting the protection of a public garden.

The standing-room only crowd filling small dimly lit rooms and institutional hallways was a stark contrast to the experience of being in the gardens just days before.

Vista Stoneliegh

A portion of the mansion, some of the new native plantings and one of the many large trees.

Rain seems to be a theme with our garden visits so far, and this one was no exception. But the gray made the colors pop and the wet bluestone around the grounds glistened highlighting new paths to explore and leading the way through gardens and to vistas.

Stately Ginkgo at Stoneleigh

Stately Ginkgo overlooks the lawn, a dogwood and some azaleas at Stoneleigh

The new native plantings, not yet filled in and full of potential, compliment the large old trees around the grounds. These native plantings have stories to tell. Some are from unique wild collected populations, some are from the area, some you may not see anywhere else. There are ten of some of the largest trees of their kind in the state here on this former estate of the Haas family. They stand like sentinels guarding the property and watching over you as you explore.

Trunks on a wall

Allowed to live in their own form, Arborvitae trunks drape over a garden wall.

The willingness to embrace the nature of the place is what struck me the most. Throughout the 42 acres large limbs are allowed to flow over walkways, crooked trunks are relished for their charm and highlighted rather than cabled and braced into submission. There is the combination of strict formality and casual grace that is quite compelling and draws you through the space.

Pergola at Stoneleigh

Each corner you turned led you to another place you wanted to explore more closely.

As of this time Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden is still not protected from the grasp of eminent domain. Despite being given by the Haas family to Natural Lands at no cost for free and open access to the public, despite being under conservation easement, despite the fact that the Haas family has supported the community in many ways, the school board is refusing to take this property out of consideration for building ball fields and a sports complex for middle schoolers.

Bog in the Lawn

A circular bog in the lawn at Stoneleigh complete with carnivorous plants and pine straw mulch

The Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architecture firm was one of the designers of the grand estate. Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of the brothers, philosophy is evident in their work and important in the discussion regarding protection of this space.

Whimsy at Stoneleigh

Whimsical design offers a sense of the contrast between the formality of design and ease of natural spaces.

“Frederick Law Olmsted himself had an ambition conception of the role landscape architecture could play in improving the quality of life of Americans…Olmsted had great faith in the ability of his art to improve society and in particular to promote a sense of community in the rapidly growing urban centers of the country…Olmsted believed that scenery could have a powerful, restorative influence. He was convinced that the spacious, gracefully modulated terrain of his parks provided a specific medical antidote to the artificiality, noise and stress of city life.” ~from The Olmsted Firm – An Introduction

Of course Stoneleigh provides all of these things. It is a quiet haven in a bustling suburb. It is welcoming and peaceful. With its towering trees and diminutive native flowers it is somehow grand and unassuming at the same time.

River Birch at Stoneleigh

Enormous River Birch

Most importantly this medicine for the hustle and bustle of the every day, unlike much of the medicine available and prescribed to us, is free and effective. Let’s be sure to keep it that way.

Let’s also not take our access to these public, open, green spaces for granted. Let’s not assume they will always be there. Let’s support them. Let’s connect others to them. Let’s show adults what children can learn in them, let’s encourage children to learn in them. We all need access to this type of free education as well.

The Tyler Formal Gardens

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The Tyler Formal Gardens are the public gardens of Bucks County Community College in Newtown, PA.

Tyler Mansion BCCC

The Tyler Mansion depicted in the logo above.

Like the Henry Schmieder Arboretum, these gardens are open and free to the public to explore year-round. Unlike the gardens at Del Val, these gardens began as the gardens of a residence , that was later turned into Bucks County Community College and public garden space.

Tyler Mansion BCCC

Another view of the Tyler Mansion

This formal garden features multiple levels or formal displays and the art work of Stella Tyler, the owner of the home and an avid gardener herself.

Tyler formal garden BCCC

The tiers of the Tyler Formal Garden

Though I went to school not far from here and worked in the area for a couple of years, I had not been to this garden  before.

Iris along Wall

Irises soften a stone wall at the Tyler Formal Gardens

The formality and the artwork surprised me. You must walk past the front of the mansion and wend your way to the back where you turn a corner in a stone wall and are greeted with the bubbling of fountains and immediately find a number of sculptures framed by formal hedges of boxwood.

Sculptures in the Tyler Formal Garden

Boxwood hedges frame the sculptures in the Tyler Formal Gardens

I instantly fell in love with the art work ands it’s placement throughout the gardens. I always love a place where you can get up close to the art and touch it.

Sculptures

Boxwood hedges frame the sculptures in the Tyler Formal Gardens

The sculptures in this garden inspired me and caused me to pause in the gardens, examining the sculptures and their use and contribution in the space. I think all gardens should include art – to me it is a way of reminder people that horticulture is not just something you do after your visit to a big box store on a Sunday morning. Horticulture is an art in and of itself, the most accessible combination of art and science.

Espalier BCCC

Espalier softens the walls at Tyler Formal Gardens

These sculptures in these spaces remind me of the art in the science and the science in the art. Without the surrounding gardens the sculptures and gardens each would be the same but the effect much different.

Peony BCCC

Peony bloom at the Tyler Formal Gardens in Spring

My favorite part of the gardens was posted with the most ominous of signs:

Caution BCCC

Some rough terrain in this formal garden , if you choose to take the path less traveled.

This property used to be called Indian Council Rock because local Indian tribes would hold counsel on the cliffs above the Neshaminy Creek in this area. You can follow the direction of the Native American chief’s pointing finger and find a trail that snakes around a metal gate underneath the caution sign and down on to the cliff and rocks above the Neshaminy. It is quite a view and a lovely place for a rest. The rugged cliffs, the bubbling creek and the dark woods are a welcome relief to the rigid formality of the rest of the gardens.

Council Rock BCCC

Points the way to Council Rock and encourages one to consider the history of the space before becoming a summer country estate.

Cliffs at BCCC

The cliffs above the Neshaminy Creek

Henry Schmieder Arboretum in Spring

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National Farm School

What is now Delaware Valley University began as the National Farm School in 1896.

Forty acres of the main campus of Delaware Valley College (ahem… I mean UNIVERSITY, old habits, I am an alum) comprise the Henry Schmieder Arboretum.  As are many college and university arboreta and botanical gardens, this is open for exploration throughout the year and free of charge and serves dual purpose as public garden and living classroom.

Delaware Valley University

The Entrance to Delaware Valley University

One of the 36 garden members of Greater Philadelphia Gardens, the gardens are a mix of landscapes around historic and new campus buildings and specific garden spaces around the grounds.  As you wander through campus you will find a Peony and Iris Garden. It seems we had perfect timing to see irises and tree peonies in bloom on our May 12 stroll.  You will also find here a Winter Walk, Annuals Garden, the Oak Woods, the Martin Brooks Conifer Garden, an Herb Garden, Beech Collection and a Rock Garden.

Peony Del Val

A Tree Peony blooms in the Iris and Peony Garden

While named for a 40-year faculty member from the early 1920’s in 1966, the Arboretum was an important part of the campus from its inception 70 years prior.  As a student earning my BS in Ornamental Horticulture I valued the opportunity to learn about the plants by feeling them, smelling them and observing them in many seasons.

Dogwood Allee

An allee of Dogwoods line a path to Ulman Hall

I also benefitted from being on campus and able to study the plants regularly because I lived in the outdoor classroom, my dorm was surrounded by study plants. This enabled and enhanced my understanding of horticulture and my knowledge of plants significantly.

Aesculus pavia

Aesculus x carnea blooms on campus.

As a woody plant identification instructor myself now, the experiencing of learning in a living classroom and experiencing the value of hands-on education has instilled in me an understanding of the necessity of making living plants available to students. They must see, touch, smell, observe these plants to learn them. It is essential.

Strobili Picea omorika

The colorful strobili of Picea omorika in the Conifer Garden

This visit back to the Arboretum was certainly a trip down memory lane. Some gardens and plants I remember learning and becoming attached to are no longer there, while new buildings and gardens and paths are now there to explore. Just like nature is always changing, so too, is the university campus.

Campus Chapel Del Val and Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding Hearts grace the front entrance of the campus chapel

Experiencing a college or university garden is different than experiencing a garden whose sole-purpose is to be a public garden. These places serve so many functions – a teaching and learning space, campus beautification, event space, research space and a regional resource. Often these spaces are open to the public, all the time, at no charge which is unique and certainly presents a unique set of challenges when it comes to maintenance of existing gardens and funding new ones.

Beech at Del Val

The surprisingly soft, ciliate edges of newly emerging Beech Leaves.

The campus is more than a garden of course. It is a community resource. The day we were there the local YMCA was hosting a 5-K throughout the campus. The lovely scenery of the gardens is almost enough to tempt me into running… almost.

Red Oak Del Val

Red Oak

 

Just a final note, sharing a story that was shared with my Woody Plant ID class and I pass along to the students I teach. I have no idea if this is a myth or there is truth to this story:

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This is the bark of a Ginkgo tree.  Notice the lines in the bark?  If you know anything about Ginkgos you probably know they produce a fruit that smells. It smells like (apologies to the weak stomached…) vomit. These trees line the main walkway from the dorms to the classroom buildings. Every fall the female Ginkgos produce fruits that don;t really smell until they are damaged hitting the ground or by students walking their paths to class. The entire campus becomes engulfed in a stench I am pretty sure can be smelled in downtown Doylestown. While we found the smell putrid, we did see people harvesting the nuts from the ground, as they are considered a culinary delicacy in some Asian cuisine.  This is not the part of the story I am not sure is true…this I know for fact and from experience. (Some of us may have taken these stinky fruits and rubbed them on dorm door knobs and put them in work boots… the truth of that will remain a mystery!)

Back to the bark, those lines are rumored to have been created by a chainsaw. People on campus did not like the smell of those fruits and thought the trees must go. But they were old, majestic and healthy not to mention a significant landscape feature and so they remained. Someone decided to take it into their own hands to kill the trees by girdling them with a chainsaw. So they cut around the bark of the tree, hoping to stop the water and nutrient flow in the tree, killing them. However, whoever did this, did not know enough about the trees, merely scarring them and scaring the trees into thinking they may die. When trees are stressed or think they may die they tend to produce a bumper crop of fruits to ensure their next generation. So a lot of fruit on these trees in subsequent years, many are still living, the smell is a tradition at Del Val and the horticulture students were told that the culprits must have been those animal science students, because all of us would know better.

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Want to explore the public gardens in your area? Check out the American Public Garden Association’s Garden Finder.

What College and University gardens have you explored? What horticultural tall tales have you heard?

 

One Park, Two Champion Trees Susquehanna State Park

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Susquehanna State Park Sign

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
― William Blake

Susquehanna State Park in Havre de Grace, MD is home to two Maryland champion trees.  In addition to waterfalls and wildflowers I am always on the hunt for large trees.  I mean I planned a road trip and vacation solely to visit a large tree. So on this weekend camping trip we happened to set up the evening’s nylon shelter in a park with some big trees. We honestly didn’t realize it until we read the trail map.

While 15 miles of trails wind their way through the forested 2,753 acres, you need only to take one of them to see these two enormous trees.

Hop on the Deer Creek Trail and follow the green blazes. The well-worn trail will lead you to the trees.

White Oak (Quercus alba)

228″ in circumference, 99′ spread, 94.5′ tall

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Are you able to resist hugging a giant tree? Or reaching out to touch a special tree? I am not. Besides being able to walk right up to these trees and marvel in their magnificence, access to these tree also provides the opportunity to reflect on all of the American history they have been a part of.

It’s fascinating to see the size of this tree in comparison to all of the forest around it. It indicates, along with the Beech below, that these trees were solo specimens in a field at some point. This accounts also for the width of the trees. Competition in a forest situation forces trees to grow upwards towards sunlight resulting in narrow trees. Trees out in the open can grow wide without the competition for sunlight.

American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

190″ circumference, 108.5′ wide, 97′ tall

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Carvings Kill

A nice feature near these trees is the signage they have for the trees. While there is no other educational signage along the trail, these two trees are well interpreted.  I especially appreciated the signage explaining why people should not carve into the tree bark. Beeches seem to be especially vulnerable to this with their smooth gray bark acting as canvas for so many tree maulers.

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Both of these trees are in decline. The white oak has evidence of a lightning strike and the Beech appears to be struggling as well. But for now, they are here in their magnificence, continuing to provide ecological services and continuing to inspire and instill awe.

As you work way to or from these massive specimens, you will also find yourself traipsing through a large patch of Pawpaws (Asimina triloba) They were in bloom while we were there and the grove we were walking through went on for as far as the eye could see.

Pawpaw Flowers and new leaves

Pawpaw flowers and new leaves

I never know just what I will encounter when venturing into a new park or forest or garden. The trick is to keep the eyes and the mind open, keep wandering and keep wondering.

Fairmount Park, Philadelphia – Shofuso Japanese House and Garden and Fairmount Park Horticultural Center

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A View of the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden

A View of the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden

With more than 30 public gardens within 30 miles of the city, Philadelphia is America’s Garden Capital. My hunny and I have a goal to visit them all this year. We began this adventure with an early spring visit to Fairmount Park.

West Fairmount Park in Philadelphia is home to Shofuso Japanese House and Garden and the Fairmount Park Horticultural Center.

Our first stop was Shofuso. The area occupied by this house and landscape has been dedicated to Japanese Culture and garden design since the 1876 Centennial Exposition. Both the garden and the house are open for exploration.

After a tour of the house interior in our stocking feet we put our shoes on to roam around the gardens. While at 1.2 acres the gardens are small they are packed full of interesting design and delicate attention to detail.

Bamboo against a wall at Shofuso House

Bamboo against a wall at Shofuso House

There is not a lot of signage related to the garden plants or design in the garden, but their website is full of information. It may be helpful to read up on the intent and history of the space prior to visiting making it a more rewarding experience.

According to their website:

A Buddha sculpture in the garden

A Buddha sculpture in the garden

“Three traditional types of Japanese gardens comprise our 1.2 acre site: a hill-and-pond style garden which is intended to be viewed from the veranda; a tsubo-niwa, or courtyard garden in the style of an urban 17th century Kyoto garden; and a roji, or tea garden, which is a rustic path to our tea house.”

We were there in time for the late blooms of Kwanzan Cherry.

Kwanzan Cherry

Kwanzan Cherry

There were not a lot of other flowers in bloom, which made it a great opportunity to see the structure of the garden and appreciate the role of evergreen conifers in the garden as screen and backdrop.

Shofuso Garden

Shofuso Garden

The Shofuso House and Garden is within walking distance of the Fairmount Park Horticultural Center. This is a greenhouse with surrounding gardens and really speaks to the horticultural past of this city park space.

Pink Flowering Dogwood

Pink Flowering Dogwood in Fairmount Park

The trees in the open spaces between the two gardens are large and diverse.

An Enormous Sweetgum in Fairmount Park

Enormous Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) in Fairmount Park near Shofuso

The Japanese Maples were just starting to leaf out and had their sinewy skeletons on full display. The dogwoods were in full bloom and chartreuse new leaves were bursting out on trees all over.

Japanese Maple Structure

The extraordinary structure of the Japanese Maples are evident before the leave emerge.

There was a community event going on inside while we were there. This is not uncommon as this space is frequently rented out for various events. I don’t think there is always beer available in the greenhouse, but there was on this day and that is my kind of greenhouse!

This is my kind of greenhouse

Philly Beer in a Philly Greenhouse.

Bermuda for 26 Hours (including sleep)

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Around Palm Island Nature Reserve Bermuda

Around Palm Island Nature Preserve Bermuda

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How do you spell the sound your bicycle tires make as they skid to a halt on a gravelly path? That is the sound I would like to spell now. This onomatopoeia is the sound my sister and the tour guides heard as I braked to a sudden stop on my rented mountain bike on a rail trail in Bermuda.  “Don’t worry”, my sister said to the guide, “she will catch up, she probably found a plant.”

I have been on a couple cruises in the past. My trip to Alaska and one to Belgium and Holland were aboard smaller ships. This was my first cruise on an enormous ship (though the smallest in this company’s fleet) and our destination was Bermuda.

This five day August cruise had us out on the open Atlantic for 2 days out and 2 days back and just over one day in Bermuda. This included sleeping time. So we had about 16 hours of time on the island.

In this time my sister and I managed a bike ride along the Bermuda Railway Trail National Park and enjoyed the aquatic wonders of a kayak excursion, to do some window shopping and a eat nice meal off-ship. Not bad for a few short hours.

Find plants I did. This is the one that had me screeching my tires:

Night Bloomuing Cereus Flower

The incredible fading bloom of a night blooming cereus

Sure I have seen plenty of night blooming cereus in greenhouses and conservatories and even bright sunny windows of friends’ homes. But the flowers on this plant were enormous, far larger than I have seen any in person. And they were just hanging out there over a wall for the entire world to see. Glorious cactus flower.  I believe this is a type of night blooming cereus flower just finishing up its bloom, but am unsure of the scientific name.  Notice the bee – pollinators seem to like it as well.

We biked to Heydon Chapel. The smallest church on the island dating back to the 1600s.  (We also checked out the world’s smallest drawbridge along the way) We toured the chapel’s interior and the walked around outside. Like on most islands, residents have to conserve water and catch fresh water where they can and even this small church has a rain water catchment system and a cistern.

Heydon Chapel Cistern

Water conservation at the Heydon Chapel in Bermuda

This stunning White Spider Lily (Hymenocallis) was blooming at the front of the chapel.

White Spider Lily Heydon Chapel Bermuda

White Spider Lily, Heydon Chapel Bermuda

But what fascinated me the most was learning about the Bermuda Cedar (Juniperus bermudiana).  It looks familiar at first glance, resembling our native Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Upon closer inspection it certainly is different.  This evergreen tree is endemic to Bermuda, only occurring on this island. A horror story of invasive species, what used to be a dominant species all over the island and vital to island society is now decimated to a small population due to the introduction of a juniper scale insect.  The decimated Juniper population led to a decline of the native species who depended on it. A native cicada is now extinct and a native bluebird is in decline because of the missing junipers. Rarely have I been on tours where every guide I encountered wanted to make sure we knew the consequences of an invasive introduced insect. It is a sad tale and not so unfamiliar here – think Emerald Ash Borer, Hemlock Woolly Adelgid and the latest, Spotted Laternfly, in the United States. Because Bermuda is a small island I am sure the effects were felt more immediately and dramatically than we tend to notice declines in the United States. Rest assured however that the repercussions are no less significant just because there is more land, or more diversity. There is also hope in this story and a model for moving forward after this type of ecological devestation. Bermuda encouraged the propagation of this species. Seedlings of surviving trees, due to an inherent resistance to the scale insects, were made available to residents and planted in parks and preserves. Though the population no longer resembles the dominating forests that used to occur on the island, they are present and thrive when protected from invasive plants and insects. It is a lesson we should all heed and start taking a closer look at our native plants, their associated wildlife and threats to them looming on the horizon.

Bermuda Cedar Fruits

Fruits of the Bermuda Cedar

Bermuda Cedar Leaves

Leaves of the Bermuda Cedar

Bermuda Cedar Bark

Bark of the Bermuda Cedar

Our travels also took us to Scaur Hill Fort which offers protection in a different sort of way today. Here you can find large specimens of the Bermuda Cedar.  More about Bermuda’s native plants and those endemic to Bermuda.

Scaur Fort Bermuda Cedar

The view of Bermuda Cedars and Ely’s Harbor from Fort Scaur

Finally we headed back towards the tour company’s home base. Back on the rail trail, through a tunnel created by a Banyan tree.

Banyan Tunnel on the national rail trail bermuda

A Banyan Tunnel on the Bermuda Railway Trail

Though we saw a lot in our short amount of time there. I am anxious to go back. To stay a while and explore even more. After all, there are the Bermuda Botanical Gardens to explore.

Transformation

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Honey bee on Dandelion

A honey bee forages for nectar in a dandelion while gathering pollen.

A man told me a story about his friend, a new homeowner with a yard for the first time. He said his friend called him to ask some help with lawn maintenance. He asked about the yellow flowers popping up throughout the grass. They are dandelions the man told his friend.  They chatted about options and pros and cons of not doing anything about them at all. The following week, his friend called again. He tells the man he didn’t do anything and all of the yellow flowers disappeared! But now he says there are white puffball plants all over the place!

I am not sure this isn’t an urban legend being repeated to me, but it is a good story and not completely implausible.

This got me thinking about transformation. In a past post I explored transition, the process of changing, but here I am thinking about the actual change.

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