HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

Goldenrod

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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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Closed Gentian

Flower colors can range from pale purple to deep sapphire depending on age, light, time of day.

Flower colors can range from pale purple to deep sapphire depending on age, light, time of day.

It’s hard enough for me to get my kayak down a whitewater river upright without being distracted by flowers along the way. I am happy to say on my latest voyage, it was not the blooms that tripped me up but my own inexperience. (I’m still learning the basics when it comes to whitewater kayaking and as the two River Zen Masters in my life constantly remind me “Kayaking is what you do between swims”… it is my own mantra now.)

Paddling with other horticulturally-minded people means extra time on the water, paddling back upstream to get a closer look at the flowers along the bank. This trip was no exception. Today’s distraction – Closed Gentians. I don’t know if it is the seeming simplicity of these flowers, the intense color or their apparent rarity that makes me stop (or paddle back upstream) to look at them, closely, and for a while, every time I see them. This day these were blooming along with White Turtleheads (Chelone glabra), and Red Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinals).

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Yellow Late-Summer Blooms

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Yellow False Foxglove Flowers

Yellow False Foxglove Flowers

Moving to a new state, even just across one big river, can lead to interesting new discoveries.  Two horticultural discoveries have intrigued me since I have moved here. These are two late summer blooming flowers I was unfamiliar with until I started exploring the natural areas around the place I now call home.

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Sumac

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Smooth Sumac Fruit (c) Kathleen V Salisbury

The fruit cluster, or Bob, of Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) along a Rail Trail in Southeastern PA

 

My dad looks at me dubiously over the dining room table all decked out for Thanksgiving. I recognize the look, because I have inherited it. If I feel someone is feeding me a line of crap you can read it all over my face, and that is what I am seeing here, across the table. Why the look? I have just told my dad the contents of the flower arrangement nestled among the good china, newly shined silver and gold rimmed wine glasses. I have always loved to go outside and gather what’s interesting from the yard to create seasonally representative flower arrangements. I enjoy doing this anytime but always create something for the big holidays. To me, it is fun to explore the yard in a different way, looking at plants and their parts as components of a floral design instead of a landscape design or plant community.

My dad has every right to be a little doubtful about this creation. My penchant for bringing nature onto the holiday table has certainly resulted in our fair share of spiders, caterpillars, moths and other insects venturing out from their botanical hiding place and onto the crystal butter dish.  This is not lost on him. Family and friends at these dinners have always taken these visitors with good humor, laughing as, red-faced, I capture the critter and release it back into the wild. This late afternoon, the guests have not yet arrived, the table is still being set and I just placed an offending flower arrangement in the center of the table.

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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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Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Oakleaf Hydrangea Flowers

Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) Flowers

One of my favorite plants is flowering in my yard right now. I love this plant. It is bold, in your face and it passes the multiple seasons of interest test.  Every time I see this bloom I am taken back to a forest in Mississippi. My sister and I were on our way back from a road trip to Louisiana, camping the whole time. We stopped in a state park along the Natchez Trace Parkway to take in the sights and stretch our legs following a short hiking trail that seemed made for just such a purpose. We stuck our heads through holes in large trees taking ‘selfies’ before it was the thing to do, watched new-to-us very large spiders make their way along handrails we dared not touch. Suddenly I stop and utter a “do you see that?!” from under the hand clasped over my mouth. I am that person. I get so excited when I see plants I have only known in landscapes thriving in the wild, where they have not been planted where they just ARE because they belong there. Sort of like the experience I had in Greece with the Bear’s Breeches.

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The Sweet Smell of Strangulation

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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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Waterfalls and Wildflowers

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IMG_8057

When I was young nearly EVERY vacation we went on had to involve a Scenic Railroad in order to happen. In other words, no train- we weren’t going there. I think the only reason we went to Disney (AKA “Ratland” by my train-loving dad) was because of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. (This incident left me in tears and fearful of roller coasters until my senior year in high school when we HAD to ride roller coasters in order to complete physics experiments at Great Adventure’s Physics Day. My so-called friends convinced me to not only get on a roller coaster, but to get on the one that had a loop and went backwards. Now I’ll ride nearly any roller-coaster. I guess they were good friends after all.) As my dad feels about trains, I feel about waterfalls. Wherever my adventures take me I seek out the waterfalls nearby. Over the past couple of weekends I was lucky enough to be near quite a few falls, and the timing was perfect to see a great variety of wildflowers as well.

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Grey Towers National Historic Site

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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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Orchids

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Lady Slipper in the morning  mist.

Lady Slipper in the morning mist.

‘Tis the season. I am getting beautiful pictures sent to my email and phone. The orchids are blooming! Friends share their finds with me regularly and each one excites me. These are not the run-of-the-mill tropical orchids you can now find in row after row at the big box stores. Though they are lovely in their own test-tube-propagated way. These are the wild, native, I-can’t-believe-I-just-found-an-orchid, orchids that make even the most grueling, mosquito ridden, tick infested, poison ivy covered hike worth the effort. May through October, I hike with one eye on the trail and one eye in the woods looking for bright spots of color that would indicate an orchid.

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