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.

 

Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden

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Hare Sculpture

The Hare Sculpture at Stoneleigh has been an icon of the Villanova neighborhood for decades before opening to the public. This sculpture is made from a white oak trunk and features two adult rabbits and 5 young rabbits representing the Haas family. The rabbits frequently dress up for holidays and special occasions. Haas means Hare in Dutch and German.

Mother’s Day weekend, the southeastern PA region, already teeming with more than 30 public gardens, welcomed the newest public horticulture space to the map.

Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden is a property of Natural Lands.

Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden is also under threat of eminent domain.  Perhaps one of the biggest blows to a public garden is a letter just prior to a grand opening regarding a school district’s intention to condemn a portion or the entirety of the gardens for ball fields and a new middle school.

Save Stoneleigh Banner

The current rallying cry for Stoneleigh as it’s future is threatened by eminent domain.

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One Park, Two Champion Trees Susquehanna State Park

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Susquehanna State Park Sign

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
― William Blake

Susquehanna State Park in Havre de Grace, MD is home to two Maryland champion trees.  In addition to waterfalls and wildflowers I am always on the hunt for large trees.  I mean I planned a road trip and vacation solely to visit a large tree. So on this weekend camping trip we happened to set up the evening’s nylon shelter in a park with some big trees. We honestly didn’t realize it until we read the trail map.

While 15 miles of trails wind their way through the forested 2,753 acres, you need only to take one of them to see these two enormous trees.

Hop on the Deer Creek Trail and follow the green blazes. The well-worn trail will lead you to the trees.

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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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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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Caterpillary

Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima) flowers in Spring. Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore College PA

Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima) flowers in Spring. Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore College PA

Everywhere I go people are sneezing.  Spring seemed to happen all at once and the pollen from everything is coating cars, pavement and, apparently, nostrils in a dusky green film.  Funny how people lament the late start to spring wondering where all the flowers are and then almost as soon as they show their cheerful colors people are wishing the blooms banished from the face of the earth.

It is true in the earliest weeks of spring there can be a lull in blooms. It is the time when the crystal magic of winter has passed but the jewel tones of spring haven’t yet exploded onto the scene. People are desperate for something that shows life will go on. This is when it is important to get out and look for the details. Once you start looking closer you start to notice the beauty in the subtle details of leaves emerging and of flowers that don’t need any extra attention.

Of course by now that lull has passed. Virginia bluebells, violets, trilliums and marsh marigolds are all but screaming their presence in their showy way. Plants with catkins remain quiet and subtle, letting the showoffs attract the pollinators – who needs them?! And until the pollen starts blowing in the wind no one notices them.

Catkins are wind-pollinated flowers. Catkins have emerged on the oak trees around here right now and many many people experience nostril distress with all this pollen floating in the air. Just like Ragweed, these flowers aren’t showy. They don’t need to be. They can reproduce every time the wind blows (I think I know some people like that…) Showy flowers are showy because they need to attract pollinators. Catkins are strictly functional, unless you are desperately looking for signs of spring and then they become quite lovely in their unique caterpillary way.

White Oak (Quercus alba) catkins and newly emerging leaves.

White Oak (Quercus alba) catkins and newly emerging leaves.

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A Unique Relationship

Snow and Lichens in Tuscarora State Park PA

Snow and Lichens cover a boulder in Tuscarora State Park, PA

Seems as though spring is taking a bit longer to sprung. As I write this temperatures are dipping into the twenties. Though the tried and true late winter/early spring bloomers are slowly and cautiously making  an appearance there is still barely a sign of green bud or yellow flower around.

This is when I get antsy. Snow is gone, well, almost, snowboards have been packed away and the gardening tools have emerged. But the ground is still frozen and the soggy soil means I can’t even plant my peas yet. What is a plant person to do, sit and twiddle my thumbs until it Spring actually arrives?

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