HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

Roots: Tripping Hazard or Erosion Control?

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Muddy Boots and Exposed Roots

Spending 2 full days watching the E! Sex and the City Marathon has me reading the title above in Carrie Bradshaw’s voice and imagining it being typed across a pixelated computer screen. Not that Sex and the City ever focused on nature or that Carrie Bradshaw would be caught dead in hiking boots. But thinking about the duplicity of something in a particular circumstance certainly was Carrie Bradshaw’s forte. This binging happened to coincide with the 10th anniversary of me moving into my home sweet home.

Roots and the Reservoir

This anniversary of setting down roots, my surprise at being in one place this long and recent reflections on impermanence had me thinking differently about the roots I encountered on a recent hike in Maryland and along a trail I was walking for my annual participation in the first day hike. Really I cannot think of one trail I have hiked that didn’t have exposed roots along the way.

A particularly root-filled section of trail along the Gunpowder River in Maryland

No one has ever accused me of being graceful. Like most hiking humans, I occasionally trip on the trail (no, not that kind of trip, I can’t walk and do that at the same time, I have trouble enough simply walking) failing to raise my hiking boots above random rocks and roots in the trail, perhaps caught deep in thought, perhaps lost in conversation with a hiking buddy, perhaps tired after the miles. On this solo hike, I tripped on a root and stopped to notice the network of roots crisscrossing the trail which ran along a reservoir.

Roots holding a bank of soil along a trail.

Those tripping hazards are so much more than annoyances. They are keeping the soil from falling into the reservoir through the process of erosion. Erosion, of course, is the process through which water and wind move minerals and soil. Through an intricate network of tap roots, lateral roots, feeder roots, fibrous roots, minerals, water, organic matter, microorganisms, macro-organisms, fungi and bacteria soils are being created and held in place. These roots provide more than a sturdy place to hike. They support an ecosystem while keeping the reservoir clean for the recipients of the drinking water stored within.

What’s left of a massive root system of a Coastal Redwood

These roots are also providers, storing nutrients and water in the winter. When the leaves are gone and the tree cannot produce its own energy, it is okay, the roots will provide when the time is right. When the temperatures rise and sap starts to flow it is from these roots. They provide exactly enough sugars and water for the tree to grow new leaves so it can create its own food once again.

Roots used as steps up a steeper part of the trail.

There is a saying about roots and wings we were given as young people, that children should be provided both roots, for a sense of place and grounding and “home”, and wings ,to explore and find freedom and make their own way. Whether or not they were provided, we are able to create our own roots.

It is roots breaking through rock that is the genesis of soil and a foundation of life.

It is true that our roots, whether given or created, can be tripping hazards. They can be complicated. Much of the good they do happens out of sight, below ground and mysterious, often revealed only with trauma. Sometimes they are severed, intentionally or not. Roots alone cannot stop all erosion. Sometimes the roots that trip you, maddeningly or embarrassingly, may not trip another single soul on the journey.

Roots of a beech tree find their way over a boulder.

But those roots can also prevent the erosion of connections you make and the happiness you create around you. They are sources of stability, they can become part of a network that nourishes, even when we are not able to nourish ourselves.

The roots that may cause us to stumble along the trail are reminders that what may cause us problems may also be beneficial in ways we will never see.

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.

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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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Defense

“No matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all the salient facts about any one of them.”

― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There

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Prickles and tendrils of our native Greenbriar (Smilax rotundifolia) along the Appalachian Trail on the way to the Pinnacle.

With the many types of media that surround us, the goings-on around the world filter into the everyday, and sometimes the every moment. Heartache and heartwarming happens with stories of how humans decide to interact with the world and people around them. Rarely do stories making the news include tales of people-plant interactions, yet these stories happen every day as well. Each second plants are interacting with the world around them whether it is with animals, humans (we are animals, yes?) fungi, or other plants they are constantly on the defense. Sort of like people lately, it seems.

Unlike people, plants cannot just get up and remove themselves from a situation (makes me wonder since people CAN do that, why don’t we do that more often?). But just like people, plants have developed a variety of ways to protect themselves from harm. And other residents in nature have found ways to exploit these defenses for their own survival.

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“Hortisculpture”

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Frog at Morris Arboretum

“American Bull” by Lorraine Vail at the Morris Arboretum, Philadelphia PA

While I tend to find the fall colors of the native trees and shrubs here in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region something I cannot live without and something that makes me endlessly happy and at peace, others see the changing colors as the sure sign that winter is coming. They can’t enjoy the autumn display because all of those falling leaves depressingly morph into falling snowflakes as they watch them twirl down from the canopy.

As fall proceeds into its second month some lament the end of the growing season, putting away gloves and cleaning tools. Seed catalogs and garden magazines are piled up next to the couch for winter reading. People start to prepare for winter hibernation.

When it is time to sculpt pumpkins, people tend to think less about gardens and gardening as the changing of seasons leads us to think less about watering and weeds and more about turkey stuffing and present wrapping.

Turkey at Gray Towers Milford, PA

Turkey at Grey Towers Milford, PA

But for those of us who enjoy the seasons, who want to explore wherever and whenever, I encourage fall and winter visits to gardens. Perhaps you have a friend or loved one who isn’t so much into gardening but likes to get outside. Drag them to a public garden or museum with outdoor sculptures. You as a gardener, or plant admirer, or nature admirer will find sculptures that will fill the gardening void in the fall and winter months. Some of my favorites from my horticulture travels are here.

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