HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.


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The William Scarbrough House and Gardens at the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, Savannah GA

J.B. Jackson said a landscape is “a portion of the earth’s surface that can be comprehended at a glance.”

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Detail of a bench back in the gardens

While in Savannah for a long weekend to celebrate my mom’s milestone birthday the group of us in town went to visit the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. It was on my dad’s list of places to visit while he was there and so we all went along.

Quickly I lost the group as my hunny and I were drawn to the call of the landscape, as does seem to happen – you too?  All it took was the hint of something well-pruned and a glimpse of a flower to distract us from the museum entrance, drawing us around the corner and into the garden. Though the garden is not large, it was at least an hour before we finally made inside the museum.

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The Tall and the Small – A Visit to the Redwoods and Finding Wildflowers

That tree in the background – that would be an enormous tree in our eastern forests.

“Like a flea hugging its dog” Richard Powers writes about touching a Coastal Redwood in The Overstory, I am certain no more accurate a description for anything has ever been written. Had I picked up this book prior to my visit to see these behemoths in person I may have thought this sentence pure hyperbole. After visiting I know now this phrase is as accurate as any scientific description.

The Tall

Reverence

A hiker among the redwoods.

Unlike Powers, I could not come up with the words to accurately describe what I witnessed exploring the beaten paths through Redwood National and State Parks in northwestern California. I ran out of seemingly fitting adjectives in the first 100 yards, eventually becoming speechless, neck craning back as far as biology would allow to try and take in the entirety of the tallest living organisms on the planet.

A vertical panoramic of the redwood forest, as much a cathedral as anything I have entered.

I can only describe the feeling of walking in this forest for the first time as similar to that I feel when walking into a cathedral. While I do not have religious beliefs and have never attended church for services other than weddings, I have been nearly overwhelmed with a sense of reverence and awe when walking into the great cathedrals of Europe and America. The beauty, the silence, the craftsmanship, this history takes your breath away and there seem to be no words of beauty and grace and magnitude adequate to describe what surrounds you. And this is exactly how I felt walking the path into the redwood forest. Not only does the forest leave you speechless, it actually absorbs speech. Once you are 25 feet or so away from the next group of hikers their sounds disappear. Children’s laughter is absorbed into the chest-high sword ferns carpeting the floor . Couple’s chatter is soaked up into the damp mosses, lichens, huckleberries dripping from branches far overhead. Dog barks are absorbed into the foot-thick sponginess of the tree bark. Entire groups of conversation are muffled by the feet of soil building in the connections of branch to trunk, wrapped in wren song and delivered in burbling packages down the streams so essential to this ecosystem.

The Small

Insignificance

Part of the significance of these trees is how small they make you feel. Perhaps this is a function of growing where where the trees get a measly 150′ tall and 8 feet wide. Maybe those who grow up among the redwoods, do not feel as small. It is important to be reminded of our insignificance, of our short lifespan, of our smallness. It is humbling to realize these trees, some more than 1000 years old and more massive than anything else on the planet (3 times the length of the longest whale, wider at the base than two Volkswagon beetles) exist. We are just a blip on its lifespan. Blips of lifespans are shown in the tree’s rings after it falls, or has been fallen.

Evidence of drought and fire and flood and lightning can all be read in the rings of a tree stump. Except in this case, in this case the influence of man on these trees causes the stumps – so the damage we have wrought is never evidenced in the rings. We can see the rings because of our influence and interpret other details of its millennium of life, but we humans and our tiny masses and minuscule lifespan make no appearance at all. It is scary to learn what we tiny, infant humans have done to the populations of this ecosystem.

Small Remnants

You may think that when a redwood topples over naturally everything about the remnants would be enormous. And some of it is – the crater left in the landscape from the tonnage falling to earth from 30 stories above makes an impression. However, the pieces that are left, in many cases are firewood sized. This is because the tree is so massive when it hits the ground it shatters in a way the locals call ‘toothpicking’.

When these trees are harvested for that desirable redwood for our back decks and long-lasting outdoor furniture the soft undergrowth of rhododendrons, salal and understory trees, as well as all the huckleberries and ferns are bulldozed into the fall zone creating a mattress for the tree to land on, preventing the toothpicking and ruining of the lumber.

The familiar shape of the soil-ends of toppled giants

When the trees topple naturally the root masses that emerge are curiously alike. There are no long dangling roots, or half-fallen trees connected to the earth still by sinews of long anchoring roots. They are uniform and rootless. Much smaller than you would think. This is because under the surface of the soil the trees have formed a network of roots. Interconnected and interdependent. If one tree were to fall and take all of its roots with it – it would upend the entire forest. And so they have evolved weak points in their root zones, near the root flare, where the mass of roots disconnect from a tree. The tree falls leaving its roots for all others using it resulting in the uniform root mass now exposed.IMG_6847

Fauna

Even the large fauna feel small in this landscape. While I was laser-focused on the big trees, I was not even thinking about the wildlife we might encounter, even when we weren’t specifically looking for it. We happened upon a Roosevelt Elk just munching on ferns next to a well-travelled road. We saw a black bear cub and a fawn. We saw small birds, harbor seals and sea lions, river otters and many many snails and slugs.

Accidental Perfect Location

You may be wondering how it is we saw sea lions and star fish on our trip to the redwoods. Our visit was to the Coast Redwoods, to visit Sequoia sempervirens. These tallest living beings on the planet live along the Pacific coast of southern Oregon and Northern California. They need the ocean mists to provide supplemental water and the fogs to keep the humidity up and the soils moist. They will not live outside of these conditions. They may survive This is in comparison to the Giant Redwoods, Sequoiadendron giganteum which are not quite as tall but wider than the Coast Redwoods, known as the most massive trees on Earth, and thrive inland limited to the Western Sierra Nevadas in California.

No Coast Redwoods without the Coast

What I didn’t know when I selected our amazing cabin using VRBO for the first time, was that it was in the perfect location for a plant-nerd like me and an off-road enthusiast like my companion. Turns out the 15 acre property with the middle fork of the Smith River running right through it, is surrounded by thousands of acres of the Smith River National Recreation Area. There are no tourist shops there. There is no place to get a t-shirt or any branded cardboard cutouts for your instagram selfie. Where we were there were just various ecosystems, crowdless trails and enormous trees and tiny wildflowers.

From the ground up in the Redwood Forest

We could day trip from the top of a mountain to the sands of the ocean. We hiked, a most amazing hike, from the coast into the redwood forest, hiking 9.9 miles of a 10 mile hike before we saw another human being. Eating lunch on a bridge over a creek surrounded by 300 foot tall Coast Redwoods. And this type of exploring we did, each day.

Snow covered peaks in the distance

We had a 4-wheel drive rental car because it was recommended by our cabin owner just to get in the driveway. We put it to good use. We traversed dusty switchbacks into the Six Rivers National Forest taking in the scenery from the mountain tops. Looking out at snow covered peaks and finding amazing wildflowers we had not seen int he redwood forests. Here, we found ourselves in a serpentine barren. Serpentine barrens have soils high in magnesium and low in other nutrients and are generally high in nickel. This combination makes for a unique plant community with many plants found only there.

A scene from the serpentine barrens of Smith River National Recreation Area

 

Accidental Timing

As I was planning this vacation, I was concerned with just one thing – seeing these trees! Imagine my surprise and delight when, as we trekked various trails, I realized we were there during spring wildflower bloom time. This made for longer, slower hiking and an ever-growing appreciation for the endless patience and understanding of my hunny as I photographed E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G in bloom.

Some of the Wildflowers in Different Ecosystems

 

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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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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The Tyler Formal Gardens

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The Tyler Formal Gardens are the public gardens of Bucks County Community College in Newtown, PA.

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The Tyler Mansion depicted in the logo above.

Like the Henry Schmieder Arboretum, these gardens are open and free to the public to explore year-round. Unlike the gardens at Del Val, these gardens began as the gardens of a residence , that was later turned into Bucks County Community College and public garden space.

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Another view of the Tyler Mansion

This formal garden features multiple levels or formal displays and the art work of Stella Tyler, the owner of the home and an avid gardener herself.

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The tiers of the Tyler Formal Garden

Though I went to school not far from here and worked in the area for a couple of years, I had not been to this garden  before.

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Henry Schmieder Arboretum in Spring

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National Farm School

What is now Delaware Valley University began as the National Farm School in 1896.

Forty acres of the main campus of Delaware Valley College (ahem… I mean UNIVERSITY, old habits, I am an alum) comprise the Henry Schmieder Arboretum.  As are many college and university arboreta and botanical gardens, this is open for exploration throughout the year and free of charge and serves dual purpose as public garden and living classroom.

Delaware Valley University

The Entrance to Delaware Valley University

One of the 36 garden members of Greater Philadelphia Gardens, the gardens are a mix of landscapes around historic and new campus buildings and specific garden spaces around the grounds.  As you wander through campus you will find a Peony and Iris Garden. It seems we had perfect timing to see irises and tree peonies in bloom on our May 12 stroll.  You will also find here a Winter Walk, Annuals Garden, the Oak Woods, the Martin Brooks Conifer Garden, an Herb Garden, Beech Collection and a Rock Garden.

Peony Del Val

A Tree Peony blooms in the Iris and Peony Garden

While named for a 40-year faculty member from the early 1920’s in 1966, the Arboretum was an important part of the campus from its inception 70 years prior.  As a student earning my BS in Ornamental Horticulture I valued the opportunity to learn about the plants by feeling them, smelling them and observing them in many seasons.

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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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Fairmount Park, Philadelphia – Shofuso Japanese House and Garden and Fairmount Park Horticultural Center

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A View of the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden

A View of the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden

With more than 30 public gardens within 30 miles of the city, Philadelphia is America’s Garden Capital. My hunny and I have a goal to visit them all this year. We began this adventure with an early spring visit to Fairmount Park.

West Fairmount Park in Philadelphia is home to Shofuso Japanese House and Garden and the Fairmount Park Horticultural Center.

Our first stop was Shofuso. The area occupied by this house and landscape has been dedicated to Japanese Culture and garden design since the 1876 Centennial Exposition. Both the garden and the house are open for exploration.

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Bermuda for 26 Hours (including sleep)

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Around Palm Island Nature Reserve Bermuda

Around Palm Island Nature Preserve Bermuda

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How do you spell the sound your bicycle tires make as they skid to a halt on a gravelly path? That is the sound I would like to spell now. This onomatopoeia is the sound my sister and the tour guides heard as I braked to a sudden stop on my rented mountain bike on a rail trail in Bermuda.  “Don’t worry”, my sister said to the guide, “she will catch up, she probably found a plant.”

I have been on a couple cruises in the past. My trip to Alaska and one to Belgium and Holland were aboard smaller ships. This was my first cruise on an enormous ship (though the smallest in this company’s fleet) and our destination was Bermuda.

This five day August cruise had us out on the open Atlantic for 2 days out and 2 days back and just over one day in Bermuda. This included sleeping time. So we had about 16 hours of time on the island.

In this time my sister and I managed a bike ride along the Bermuda Railway Trail National Park and enjoyed the aquatic wonders of a kayak excursion, to do some window shopping and a eat nice meal off-ship. Not bad for a few short hours.

Find plants I did. This is the one that had me screeching my tires:

Night Bloomuing Cereus Flower

The incredible fading bloom of a night blooming cereus

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