HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

Art, Plants and a Historic House: Hamilton NJ

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Seward Johnson's Sculpture "Down to Earth" Grounds for Sculpture

Seward Johnson’s Sculpture “Down to Earth” Grounds for Sculpture – Hamilton, NJ

Grounds for Sculpture and Sayen House and Gardens

One of my most favorite trees (and contrary to popular belief they are not ALL my favorites) is the Katsura Tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum). Typically I focus on native plants and their role in our ecosystem and place in plant communities. I like to explore faunal associations and examine their potential for ornamental use. This tree, native to Japan, captures all of my attention because of its fragrance. Katsuras don’t emit their perfume when flowering like most trees do. Katsura give off the most wonderfully sweet fragrance just before their leaves start to change into their apricot splendor of autumn. The scent is distinctive enough that you will smell it before you even see a Katsura and just know one is around, somewhere.

Fall is my favorite season. We are so lucky here in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic that we get to experience the changing of the seasons through riotous colors thrown together painting hillsides, roadways and mountaintops. As I look out my window Red Oak (Quercus rubra) leaves are just starting to show the crimson they are known for and the cat-faced shaped leaves of Tulip Trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) are turning golden. The only thing that makes this show better is the addition of fragrance and that’s where Katsura comes in.

I, accidentally, timed my visit to Grounds for Sculpture just perfectly for a stunning sensory experience. The place is loaded with Katsura trees and they were all alerting their presence on the breeze. Sculptures you can get up close to and touch, ornamental gardens and Katsura perfume in the air. I was in heaven. A little early for fall color, but if there was fall color, there wouldn’t have been any perfume on the wind. Some compare the scent to cotton candy, others liken it to brown sugar or a cake baking. In fact, according to Michael Dosmann, curator of living collections at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, “Germans call this tree ‘kuchenbaum,’ which translates to ‘cake tree’.”


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Bloom of Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens)

Bloom of Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens)

“Oh sweetie, not you, what are you doing here?”

said the security guard behind the desk in the campus security office. It is the night before graduation and I am being escorted with my then boyfriend, now husband ex-husband, by local police into the security office for on-campus drinking.

The fact that we are both of-age and the campus wasn’t a dry campus when we both started school (I mean shouldn’t there be a grandfather clause?) and that we didn’t even have anything to drink (honestly!) – we were leaving campus – cooler in tow – for an off-campus party – doesn’t mean anything to these uniformed fellas. I am trying to keep calm and tell the officer that in fact I WILL be graduating tomorrow regardless of what he thinks. He’s telling me I am not going to walk. This is the first time I have been in trouble at college (unless you count the whole outdoor holiday lights inside the dorm debacle) in the 4 years I have been there, and it is the next to last day of school.

The reason the security guard was so surprised to see me was because the only time I’ve been in that small structure was to buy my parking pass. My relationship was fairly new at the time, but I was fairly sure this was not his first run-in with security.  A few hours and a confiscated cooler later, (they decided we weren’t doing anything wrong after-all) we’re allowed to go and I graduated the next day.  If it hadn’t been for the company I was keeping, would I have been in that situation? Probably not, I probably would’ve been reading a book somewhere quiet. But I also wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun, met as many terrific people or had stories to tell.

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Closed Gentian

Flower colors can range from pale purple to deep sapphire depending on age, light, time of day.

Flower colors can range from pale purple to deep sapphire depending on age, light, time of day.

It’s hard enough for me to get my kayak down a whitewater river upright without being distracted by flowers along the way. I am happy to say on my latest voyage, it was not the blooms that tripped me up but my own inexperience. (I’m still learning the basics when it comes to whitewater kayaking and as the two River Zen Masters in my life constantly remind me “Kayaking is what you do between swims”… it is my own mantra now.)

Paddling with other horticulturally-minded people means extra time on the water, paddling back upstream to get a closer look at the flowers along the bank. This trip was no exception. Today’s distraction – Closed Gentians. I don’t know if it is the seeming simplicity of these flowers, the intense color or their apparent rarity that makes me stop (or paddle back upstream) to look at them, closely, and for a while, every time I see them. This day these were blooming along with White Turtleheads (Chelone glabra), and Red Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinals).

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