HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

Winter Visit: Hoover-Mason Trestle, Bethlehem

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Bethlehem Steel Stacks

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.

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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 blue fruit and gray green foliage on the Eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginana) match the patinaed metals of the compressor room.

Oriental Bittersweet at Steel Stacks

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.

Paulownia volunteer at Steel Stack

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.

Staghorm Sumac FruitFruit of Staghorn Sumac

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.

 

Winter Visit: Moravian Pottery & Tile Works

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Moravian Tile Works

A Small Section of the sprawling Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, notice the intricate tiles, different, adorning each chimney.

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.

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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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Vulnerability

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The waxy, fragrant blooms of Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox ‘Grandifloras’) in late January at the Arboretum of the Barnes Foundation.

You can change the world again, instead of protecting yourself from it. ~Julien Smith

As I wandered through some gardens recently on some cold winter days, I noticed buds and flowers. That’s right, winter flowers. Blooming their fool heads off with snowflakes tumbling around them seemingly oblivious to the weather and our perceptions of when flowers should be blooming.

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Transition

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The late afternoon autumn sun setting over a meadow. At this time autumn is beginning to look wintery.

“Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathy!!!!” my sister would yell across the 2 1/2 pine barrens acres we called a playground growing up. This bellow could easily take the tone of joy or anger. We often yelled across the yard to each other and, in the silence of the rural pinelands, I am sure the neighbors heard our calls too. When we would do this within ear shot of my dad he would find us and remind us that we had “two legs and one mouth which means you can walk twice as far as you can yell.” I am not ashamed to say I have used this exact same phrase with students and interns in the past. Seems logical to me.

Just the other day I took a gentle walk along my favorite rail trail and instead of having a goal of miles or a time to beat or number of steps to worry about, I ventured on this day with the specific intention of using my two legs and just looking.

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The sun highlights a swath of goldenrod seedheads. Insects and mammals alike will find refuge here, protection from winter winds and snow. Birds find nourishment here in the fluffy seeds.

There have been a lot of words lately, an overwhelming amount of opinions and facts, love words and hate words and one word that keeps popping up: transition. Of course this realization of transition of political leadership coincides with the transition of seasons from fall to winter. It occurred to me, in addition to having two legs, I have two eyes. This means, by my father’s logic, I can see twice as much as I can say. So I decided to quietly witness this transition of fall to winter, during this time of transition for the country and, if I am going to be honest here, during personal transition of my own. Remembering with every dormancy theres comes a rebirth, after every winter follows a joyous spring, that autumn leaves provide the nourishment for next year’s wonderment, and that winter snow sustains us all.

So what follows are some snapshots of my small wander through transition, acknowledging we all are transitioning all the time; sometimes in small ways, sometimes in ways we have never imagined. Remembering none of this is permanent and if we stop talking and start looking, seeing, we will find the beauty and potential in the change.

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Portillo and Valparaiso Chile

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No tree to be found around the Chilean resort of Portillo – the Cruise Ship of the Andes.

“Portillo crazy – that’s what they call it here”, said a new found friend at a tiny bar in Portillo Chile. A bunch of us, some new friends some old friends but now all friends, were sitting around a table, the center of which has a giant plate of meat and all of us were drinking a local beer. We had been taking runs all day and were currently the only folks in this local hangout, which would soon be filled with resort employees, laughter, good music and lots of dancing.

We are in Chile for an August snowboarding trip. For someone like me, not such a fan of the hot humid summers around here, finding snow in August and being able to ride on it in South America was a dream come true. When our new friend was describing Portillo crazy, he noted with exasperation that when things are getting frustrating around the resort, he works the registration desk there, there isn’t even a tree you can go sit under; there is no green and that certainly contributes to the Portillo crazy.

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Plants that Rock

 

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Mystery (to me) plant growing from an old stone wall in historic Harpers Ferry West Virginia.

Succession. A short, terse word for something so fascinating and beautiful in nature. Though it sounds a bit harsh, you are clued into its ecological meaning by looking at the first part of the word – success.

Sure this word has uses outside of the natural world – some things happen in succession and businesses and boards plan for leadership succession, but the ecological definition of succession is this: the process by which a biological community evolves over time.

This may happen slowly over eons or within a lifetime or maybe even within a generation depending on the place and the community. And sometimes it occurs in the most seemingly lifeless locations.

There are three lessons I take away, or think about, each time I see a plant growing, thriving, flowering in what seems an impossible location.

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