HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

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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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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Bradford Pears and Mangroves

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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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