HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

Winter Visit: Hoover-Mason Trestle, Bethlehem


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.


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.


Seeds Travel

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Ouch! That was definitely an acorn that just hit me on the head. There seems to be a bumper crop of them falling from our trees this year.  When a slight breeze blows it sounds like hail falling through the trees. THUNK!  A black walnut hits the top of the car as I cruise along River Road taking in the fall colors and noting Delaware River water levels (low). Holy moly was that loud and a little bit scary! No dents (in my head or in the car) but all of this fruit flinging has gotten me thinking about the purpose of fall.

Turns out that there are other reasons for fruits to fall from the trees than providing ammunition for you to throw at your younger (though similar sized – I’ll have you know) sibling.  The autumn colors signal to many of us winter is on the way. It’s time to split the rest of the firewood, dig out the long sleeves and extra blankets and find the snow shovel underneath the accumulation of beach chairs and coolers that piled up this summer. Similarly, for wildlife, the changing of the leaves signals a bounty to be eaten and preserved for the cold winter months.

Think about the small red fruits of a dogwood or spicebush, they would be tough to see from a bird’s location high above, and it would take a lot of energy to stop at each tree to figure out if there were ripe fruits to eat. Instead, birds can keep an eye out for the changing of the colors, an entire tree full of red leaves signals to those flying above ripe fruits to be had, fuel for continuing the long migration or fattening up to make it through a (hopefully) snowy winter.

As I explore various places this fall I take a look at the fruits, and the trees from which they fell, and consider their purpose and value.

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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 ex-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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Viper’s Bugloss at 60MPH



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


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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American Plum

American Plum after last night's heavy rains. The sweet fragrance is still evident on the wet blooms.

American Plum after last night’s heavy rains. The sweet fragrance is still evident on the wet blooms.

As I have mentioned before I don’t really have the space for plants offering only 1 season of interest. As with any rule, there are exceptions. The exceptions to my “must have more than 1 season of interest”  are 1) if it is a spring ephemeral, it may stay and 2) if it is edible I will consider a place for it in my landscape.  The American Plum fits into the second category. This native (Prunus americana) small understory tree flowers the same time as Bradford Pears.  Unlike Bradford Pears, the blooms of American Plum smell sweet and wonderful.  Like the Bradford Pear, this tree can be found along roadsides, medians and in fallow fields. Unlike the Bradford Pear, it is supposed to be there. As I walked around my yard a couple of days ago, the scent of the flowers drew me in and I stood for quite awhile with my nose tucked into the white flowers.  Continue reading

Bradford Pears and Mangroves


Flowers and emerging leaves of Bradford Pear

Flowers and emerging leaves of Bradford Pear

Road trip! I love a good road trip, and even not good road trips are fun. I am a “it’s the journey, not the destination” type of person, so no matter how terrific the final destination may be, I look forward with equal anticipation to the adventure of just getting there (and back!).  And while my philosophy even extends to plane travel (I try to watch the happenings like watching a documentary on TV, trying to learn something from the experience, or at the very least amuse myself.) I really, really enjoy a good old, fashioned road trip. A snacks on the passenger seat, kayak on the roof, taking GPS directions only as suggestions, radio up loud, windows down, let’s see where I wind up road trip.

This road trip I am heading down to the west coast of Florida. I have to admit, Florida isn’t one of my favorite states. Not enough snow or fall color for my liking. But it turns out my parents love it there and have recently decided to call it home.  They live on the water now and I love to paddle, so I threw my boat on the car, packed up too much stuff, and hit the road.  Spring was just starting to show its face when I was leaving. As I headed south, spring progressed as my miles increased. Soon I was seeing Bradford Pears (Pyrus calleryana) in full bloom. Everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

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