HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

Goldenrod

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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, 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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Blueberries

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Many Stages of Blueberry Fruit

Many Stages of Blueberry Fruit

“Girls, can you run outside and pick some blueberries for the pancakes?”

was a question common in our house each June and July Sunday. We would grab a cup and head out to the woods, not the garden, the woods, to pick as many blueberries as the cups would hold, presenting them proudly to mom and dad who were in the kitchen whipping up pancake batter while we stalked the wild berries. If I remember correctly, it was “2 for the cup one for me”, or maybe the other way around. I think about this during a recent visit to western Maine as I squat down to examine small blueberry bushes, with diminutive fruit on them. These are similar to those we harvested beneath the oaks and pines in NJ but are a far cry from the behemoth berries I picked a week ago from a friends farm in Northern NJ.

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About that tree in Brooklyn (or… Adventures in Finding Free Things to Do in the City…)

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Lily Pond at the Narrows Botanical Garden

Lily Pond at the Narrows Botanical Garden

Perhaps you read the Betty Smith novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  {{Spoiler alert}} The tree in the story was an Ailanthus altissima or Tree of Heaven. This tree is known for its ability to thrive in even the harshest of conditions, hence its use as a metaphor for the strength and tenacity of the main character in the book.

“There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps.  It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree  that grows out of cement. It grows lushly…survives without sun, water, and seemingly without earth. It should be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.” Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The “ghetto palm” (as my inner-city high school interns once described it to me) has become a bit too successful dominating roadsides and vacant lots in all but 6 of the states. Introduced from China as an ornamental plant Ailanthus was planted widely throughout the Northeast in the first half of the century. It fell out of favor with the horticultural crowd but despite its lack of popularity continued to insert itself into devoid and neglected areas of our landscape.  In his book Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast Peter Del Tredici asks us to take a different look at these weed plants colonizing waste spaces.  He suggests that these “weedy” and “spontaneous” plants benefit the cities by creating forests and the ecological benefits associated with forests, at no cost to the residents. Hmmm. Del Tredici says these are as important part of the urban landscape as the native plants restricted to protected natural areas and the highly maintained cultivated gardens on display throughout the city.

I am still digesting this point of view as it flies in the face of everything familiar to me. While I appreciate the sentiment, science and statistics, it is still hard for me to promote the embrace of invasive, weedy plant species to the detriment of native plants and the wildlife they support.  As I continue to consider and explore this topic, I visit those highly manicured cultivated garden spaces that are also an important part of the fabric of a city. This trip takes me to Brooklyn.

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Viper’s Bugloss at 60MPH

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Viper's Bugloss

Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare)

Wait…what was that?!

Frequently my lead foot (it’s genetic I swear!) and my want to enjoy every plant around me are at odds.  At my speeds, you have to have a pretty impressive display to catch my eye! Such was the case with this stunner.  I zoomed past it, noticing a flash of blue as I hurried down the back road I had opted for over highway travel.  I know, what’s the point of taking back roads if I am just going to fly past all the scenery at warp speed? I don’t have an answer for you.

I continued on a little ways but that blue flash was really nagging me. I slowed down, because at Mach 10, you can’t stop on a dime in case you see another batch of beauty, planning to stop at the next patch I saw. But I only saw one plant here and one there, nothing like the spot of blue that managed to pierce the blur of trees and shrubs that was my adventure home. As is often the case with us speeders, U-Turn it is! I swung around, backtracking, more slowly this time, to get a closer look at this mystery flower.

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The Sweet Smell of Strangulation

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Japanese Honeysuckle Flowers

Japanese Honeysuckle Flowers

Seems no matter where I go these just-before-summer days I smell the sweet fragrance of warm days spent playing in my backyard. One of our favorite spots was a rose thicket with an opening just large enough for my sister and me to get through and just small enough for my parents NOT to be able to get through. Our thorny fortress was a quiet place of shared secrets, thoughtful conversations, and resting on our backs, hands clasped over stomachs, gazing through the leaves, planning the future. Giggling as our parents looked for us, yelling our names, walking past our private get-away, not stooping down to peer into the prickly wilds of our secret place. For a couple of weeks our castle was engulfed in fragrance. Two scents dominated these early summer days… rose and honeysuckle. When our timing was just right we would carefully pick honeysuckle flowers by the handful, tuck them into the folds of our t-shirts and crawl into our white-flower covered fort. Once inside, we would carefully remove the inner workings of each honeysuckle flower for the one tiny drop of sweetness it provided. Repeating this again and again until our stock of flowers was a tattered pile on our rose-fort floor and our mouths coated in the nectar of this wild vine.

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Nature’s Toilet Paper

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Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) in the wilds of a fallow agricultural field.

Whenever I am headed out on an extended hike to experience primitive conditions (read no electric, no running water, lucky if there is an outhouse… but usually we aren’t so lucky) I look longingly at these plants before heading out into the wild, knowing that once I am in the woods, I won’t be seeing them again. Those soft velvety leaves sure look like they’ll come in handy once the inevitable occurs on a multi-day hike.

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Road Trip! Grey Towers

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Grey Towers Welcome

Grey Towers Welcome

“Without natural resources life itself is impossible. From birth to death, natural resources, transformed for human use, feed, clothe, shelter, and transport us. Upon them we depend for every material necessity, comfort, convenience, and protection in our lives. Without abundant resources prosperity is out of reach.” ~ Gifford Pinchot

Today I take you to Grey Towers. Have you been? For those of you who aren’t familiar, Grey Towers was the home of Gifford Pinchot. Who was Gifford Pinchot? Twice the governor of Pennsylvania and before that the  first chief of the US Forestry Service. It is said that Gifford Pinchot is the ‘father’ of the conservation movement. Located in Milford, PA, “The Birthplace of the Conservation Movement”, Grey Towers stands upon a hill looking east towards France, a nod to the family’s French Huguenot heritage.  Originally a summer home of his parents, this sprawling estate became the permanent home of the Gifford and wife Cornelia in order to establish Pennsylvania residency so Gifford could eventually run for governor. Conservation, horticulture, historic architecture, politics, a dining room table where you float your food to the guests…who could ask for more from a road trip stop?

 

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