HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

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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Jamaica State Park, VT

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The Dumplings in the West River in Jamaica State Park VT

The Dumplings in the West River in Jamaica State Park VT

Welcome to Jamaica. Jamaica, Vermont. No Caribbean for me, but that is just fine. I am happy to be where the days are cool and the evenings cooler. While spring sprinted by in what felt like just a few short days at home in southeast Pennsylvania, happily it is still spring here.  43 degree evenings, days in the mid-70s. Heaven to me.

I am house sitting in this area, the southwest corner of the state, near where Vermont, New York and Massachusetts all come together and attempting to make this an inexpensive bit of time away. Spending lots of time writing and exploring and not spending money. I brought all the ingredients to make my meals and stayed away from places designed to separate me from my money opting for hiking and other botanical explorations.

If you ever find yourself in the area, plan some time to explore (botanize?) Jamaica State Park.

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