HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

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.

As a public garden professional myself as well as a person who holds in high regard the value and importance of access and preservation of these places, I decided to show support. My hunny and I donned “Save Stoneleigh” T-shirts and headed to the school board meeting.

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Because I do not pay taxes in that district, I wasn’t able to speak about the importance of public garden spaces as classroom and connector and contemplative space. Many others did speak. Until nearly midnight, dozens of supporters voiced their praise for the value of the space and their dismay that a school board was not able to connect the educational and community value of this public garden to the benefit of their students.  It was encouraging to see so many people there to support the gardens and to admonish the school board’s tactics. The building was awash in red shirts, frustration and determination.  It was inspiring and encouraging to see all of these people supporting the protection of a public garden.

The standing-room only crowd filling small dimly lit rooms and institutional hallways was a stark contrast to the experience of being in the gardens just days before.

Vista Stoneliegh

A portion of the mansion, some of the new native plantings and one of the many large trees.

Rain seems to be a theme with our garden visits so far, and this one was no exception. But the gray made the colors pop and the wet bluestone around the grounds glistened highlighting new paths to explore and leading the way through gardens and to vistas.

Stately Ginkgo at Stoneleigh

Stately Ginkgo overlooks the lawn, a dogwood and some azaleas at Stoneleigh

The new native plantings, not yet filled in and full of potential, compliment the large old trees around the grounds. These native plantings have stories to tell. Some are from unique wild collected populations, some are from the area, some you may not see anywhere else. There are ten of some of the largest trees of their kind in the state here on this former estate of the Haas family. They stand like sentinels guarding the property and watching over you as you explore.

Trunks on a wall

Allowed to live in their own form, Arborvitae trunks drape over a garden wall.

The willingness to embrace the nature of the place is what struck me the most. Throughout the 42 acres large limbs are allowed to flow over walkways, crooked trunks are relished for their charm and highlighted rather than cabled and braced into submission. There is the combination of strict formality and casual grace that is quite compelling and draws you through the space.

Pergola at Stoneleigh

Each corner you turned led you to another place you wanted to explore more closely.

As of this time Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden is still not protected from the grasp of eminent domain. Despite being given by the Haas family to Natural Lands at no cost for free and open access to the public, despite being under conservation easement, despite the fact that the Haas family has supported the community in many ways, the school board is refusing to take this property out of consideration for building ball fields and a sports complex for middle schoolers.

Bog in the Lawn

A circular bog in the lawn at Stoneleigh complete with carnivorous plants and pine straw mulch

The Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architecture firm was one of the designers of the grand estate. Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of the brothers, philosophy is evident in their work and important in the discussion regarding protection of this space.

Whimsy at Stoneleigh

Whimsical design offers a sense of the contrast between the formality of design and ease of natural spaces.

“Frederick Law Olmsted himself had an ambition conception of the role landscape architecture could play in improving the quality of life of Americans…Olmsted had great faith in the ability of his art to improve society and in particular to promote a sense of community in the rapidly growing urban centers of the country…Olmsted believed that scenery could have a powerful, restorative influence. He was convinced that the spacious, gracefully modulated terrain of his parks provided a specific medical antidote to the artificiality, noise and stress of city life.” ~from The Olmsted Firm – An Introduction

Of course Stoneleigh provides all of these things. It is a quiet haven in a bustling suburb. It is welcoming and peaceful. With its towering trees and diminutive native flowers it is somehow grand and unassuming at the same time.

River Birch at Stoneleigh

Enormous River Birch

Most importantly this medicine for the hustle and bustle of the every day, unlike much of the medicine available and prescribed to us, is free and effective. Let’s be sure to keep it that way.

Let’s also not take our access to these public, open, green spaces for granted. Let’s not assume they will always be there. Let’s support them. Let’s connect others to them. Let’s show adults what children can learn in them, let’s encourage children to learn in them. We all need access to this type of free education as well.

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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Don’t Worry…Mother Nature’s Got This

Tightly curled in protection, the leaves of Rhodendron exhibit the 'droop and curl' of thermonasty. This allows the shrub to survive winter winds and light. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, PA

Tightly curled in protection, the leaves of Rhodendron exhibit the ‘droop and curl’ of thermonasty. This allows the shrub to survive winter winds and light. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, PA

Whether you watch TV, listen to radio or just venture into any retail establishment you are well aware of the many elixirs, potions and formulas available to cure all sorts of ills both real and perceived. The same is true in the plant world. Any garden center you visit will have shelf upon shelf of chemicals, organics, salves, sprays, drenches, repellents, amendments and the like.

One that I have never understood is the use of Wilt-Pruf and other anti-dessicants on plants in the landscape. Sure, I sold it to folks as a young garden center employee without any knowledge of the way plants work, but were I in the same position today I would tell the friendly garden center shopper to save their money. Mother Nature’s got this…

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Accessories

“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” ~ Coco Chanel

Accessories. I like the whole idea of them. Bracelets, earrings, hats, snazzy shoes, purses. I have a sister who has a scarf for every occasion, and another sister with equally significant sunglass options from which to choose for any given moment. But my fascination with accessories stops at admiration. I do collect tiny stud earrings (usually horticultural in nature) made in whatever place I travel, but I rarely change from the tiny leaves that adorn my earlobes daily.  Though I lean to the austere, I admire those who manage to put together combinations of clothes and accessories that tell the world who they are. I admire people who wear their personalities, regardless of what the world thinks. Folks who own whatever runway the world throws at them that day.

On a recent visit to the southeast, the Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) caught my attention. Though they were immense and old, stately and sinuous, it was not those features that captured my attention. It was their accessories.

A Well-Accessorized Live Oak

A Well-Accessorized Live Oak

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Pine Trees

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Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana) is NOT a Pine Tree

Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana) is NOT a Pine Tree

According to my dad all cats are girls and all dogs are boys. That’s just the way it is. Every cat is a ‘she’ and every dog is a ‘he’. Of course for many years we had a male cat and a female dog, but that didn’t matter.  My dad doesn’t seem to be alone in this sentiment. My father-in-law ex-father-in-law also always refers to dogs in the masculine and cats in the feminine.

Something similar happens at this time of the year. As people start searching for their christmas trees, often they refer to every christmas-tree shaped object in the lot and in the woods as a pine tree. Just like all cats are not girls and all dogs are not boys, all evergreens are not pine trees.

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Parking Lot Picnic

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Nearly ripe persimmon fruit

Nearly ripe persimmon fruit

I’ve heard and read that when you thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, trail magic happens. This is the “kindness of strangers” that happens on the trail. Someone gives a hiker a lift to a dry shelter on a rainy day or leaves some delicious snack in a shelter for a weary hiker to find, that’s magic. I have only heard and read about this and that is likely all I’ll ever do. Though the idea of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is appealing to me, I would never be able to do it. Well, I could do it, but it would take me 432,567 days because I would be stopping to look at every flower and bud, taking pictures of each leaf and nifty pattern and talking to anyone who will listen about the wonder of the plants around. (Think I’m exaggerating? Just talk with ANYONE who’s ever hiked with me!)

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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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