“Like a flea hugging its dog” Richard Powers writes about touching a Coastal Redwood in The Overstory, I am certain no more accurate a description for anything has ever been written. Had I picked up this book prior to my visit to see these behemoths in person I may have thought this sentence pure hyperbole. After visiting I know now this phrase is as accurate as any scientific description.
The Bethlehem Steel Stacks is a phenomenal place to visit and see just how well a place that has outlived its original purpose can become something completely different and equally important to the surrounding community.
According to their website: “Steel Stacks is a 1-acre campus dedicated to arts, culture, family events, community celebrations, education and fun. Once the home of Bethlehem Steel, the second largest steel manufacturer in the nation, the site has been reborn through music and art…”
While you can find comedy acts, art exhibits, concerts and all kinds of other events here, in the summer of 2018 you could also get an up close look at the industrial complex that was Bethlehem Steel as well as take in some horticulture.
The Hoover-Mason Trestle (HMT) began its life as a narrow-gauge railroad to carry materials needed to make iron from the yards to the blast furnaces.
Signage along the 2,000 feet of elevated walkway takes you through the history and the process of making steel in Bethlehem from the foundry’s opening in the early 1900s and making it’s last steel in 1995. In addition it walks you through the types of plants you would find naturally in an area like this – where nature is taking over what man controlled for a relatively short amount of time. The interpretive signage also explores colonizing plants known as ruderal species – those that thrive in disturbed soil locations; native plants that would have been here prior to the building of this factory, and non-native and naturalized plants. Interestingly, I did not find anything referring to plants as invasive, though many of those ruderal plants have proven ecologically problematic.
There may be an inclination to compare this elevated walkway with plants to the Highline in New York City. Both being free, urban green spaces making use of abandoned industrial facilities, the interesting aspect of this place that sets it part for me from the Highline in New York City, is that the Highline is very intentionally planted and meticulously maintained, squeaky clean and entirely accessible. There are certainly nods to the garden’s beginnings as an elevated railway, but they are akin to museum works – beautiful but often lacking context of their original home.
The HMT blurs the boundaries of garden and industry. Strolling this elevated walkway you hear the wind causing gentle squeaks, chirps and groans, tiny sounds like the end of the echo of a scream. What once was loud made quiet, less harsh, but still there. You can still feel the industry, you can still very much imagine what used to happen here. When you look around there are some places you know have been planted and can even see the labels on the plants, but other places you look – into the dormant nooks and crannies of a once bustling factory – you see similar plants as those in the beds and wonder if they were planted there deliberately by people or haphazardly by birds and mammals and time. The plant palette echos the colors of the quiet facility.
You notice how the deep reds and rusty oranges of the two-tone berries of the Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) (I’m sure planted by birds) vine twining up where men once tread echo the colors of the empty tanks and still pipes.
The tawny flower buds of Paulownia tomentosa (Princess Tree) – another planted by wind and rain and time – echo the corroded metal of a towering stack.
The rusty red fruits of a planted Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) echoed in the oxididation of the Blast Furnace components behind while those fruits of another volunteer Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) reflect the brick of the compressor building wall.
It is tempting to stay inside on cold days, to postpone garden visits until the days warm up and rainbows of flowers emerge from soft green buds. But winter wanders among the plants can show you beauty you may miss when tender leaves and colors flowers obscure the bones and structure of a place.
The wonderful thing about horticulture and being interested in and looking for all things plants is you find them where you least expect them. On this day we ventured to a place I have driven by countless times in my many years spent in Doylestown but have never ventured inside.
The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works is located in Doylestown, PA. Registered as a national historic landmark, this sprawling concrete structure still produces hand-made tiles using the methods and molds from when this factory began in the late 1800s. After a welcome and paying a very reasonable admission fee, we entered the studio and watched a video about the history of the place and of Henry Chapman Mercer – the pottery’s founder and builder. I am particularly fond of Mr. Mercer, him having the same affinity for and appreciation of the powers of concrete as I grew up witnessing in my father. If you are wondering just how that is represented all you need to do is look closely at the construction of Henry Mercer’s pottery works, home – Fonthill Castle – and the Mercer Museum all of which are built of the slurry of cement, water, sand and cast over structural supports such as rebar and wire mesh, some of which you can see in the nooks and crannies of the pottery works.
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.
The Tyler Formal Gardens are the public gardens of Bucks County Community College in Newtown, PA.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.