HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

The Tyler Formal Gardens



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

Tyler Mansion BCCC

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.

Tyler Mansion BCCC

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.

Tyler formal garden BCCC

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.

Iris along Wall

Irises soften a stone wall at the Tyler Formal Gardens

The formality and the artwork surprised me. You must walk past the front of the mansion and wend your way to the back where you turn a corner in a stone wall and are greeted with the bubbling of fountains and immediately find a number of sculptures framed by formal hedges of boxwood.

Sculptures in the Tyler Formal Garden

Boxwood hedges frame the sculptures in the Tyler Formal Gardens

I instantly fell in love with the art work ands it’s placement throughout the gardens. I always love a place where you can get up close to the art and touch it.


Boxwood hedges frame the sculptures in the Tyler Formal Gardens

The sculptures in this garden inspired me and caused me to pause in the gardens, examining the sculptures and their use and contribution in the space. I think all gardens should include art – to me it is a way of reminder people that horticulture is not just something you do after your visit to a big box store on a Sunday morning. Horticulture is an art in and of itself, the most accessible combination of art and science.

Espalier BCCC

Espalier softens the walls at Tyler Formal Gardens

These sculptures in these spaces remind me of the art in the science and the science in the art. Without the surrounding gardens the sculptures and gardens each would be the same but the effect much different.

Peony BCCC

Peony bloom at the Tyler Formal Gardens in Spring

My favorite part of the gardens was posted with the most ominous of signs:

Caution BCCC

Some rough terrain in this formal garden , if you choose to take the path less traveled.

This property used to be called Indian Council Rock because local Indian tribes would hold counsel on the cliffs above the Neshaminy Creek in this area. You can follow the direction of the Native American chief’s pointing finger and find a trail that snakes around a metal gate underneath the caution sign and down on to the cliff and rocks above the Neshaminy. It is quite a view and a lovely place for a rest. The rugged cliffs, the bubbling creek and the dark woods are a welcome relief to the rigid formality of the rest of the gardens.

Council Rock BCCC

Points the way to Council Rock and encourages one to consider the history of the space before becoming a summer country estate.

Cliffs at BCCC

The cliffs above the Neshaminy Creek

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.

After a tour of the house interior in our stocking feet we put our shoes on to roam around the gardens. While at 1.2 acres the gardens are small they are packed full of interesting design and delicate attention to detail.

Bamboo against a wall at Shofuso House

Bamboo against a wall at Shofuso House

There is not a lot of signage related to the garden plants or design in the garden, but their website is full of information. It may be helpful to read up on the intent and history of the space prior to visiting making it a more rewarding experience.

According to their website:

A Buddha sculpture in the garden

A Buddha sculpture in the garden

“Three traditional types of Japanese gardens comprise our 1.2 acre site: a hill-and-pond style garden which is intended to be viewed from the veranda; a tsubo-niwa, or courtyard garden in the style of an urban 17th century Kyoto garden; and a roji, or tea garden, which is a rustic path to our tea house.”

We were there in time for the late blooms of Kwanzan Cherry.

Kwanzan Cherry

Kwanzan Cherry

There were not a lot of other flowers in bloom, which made it a great opportunity to see the structure of the garden and appreciate the role of evergreen conifers in the garden as screen and backdrop.

Shofuso Garden

Shofuso Garden

The Shofuso House and Garden is within walking distance of the Fairmount Park Horticultural Center. This is a greenhouse with surrounding gardens and really speaks to the horticultural past of this city park space.

Pink Flowering Dogwood

Pink Flowering Dogwood in Fairmount Park

The trees in the open spaces between the two gardens are large and diverse.

An Enormous Sweetgum in Fairmount Park

Enormous Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) in Fairmount Park near Shofuso

The Japanese Maples were just starting to leaf out and had their sinewy skeletons on full display. The dogwoods were in full bloom and chartreuse new leaves were bursting out on trees all over.

Japanese Maple Structure

The extraordinary structure of the Japanese Maples are evident before the leave emerge.

There was a community event going on inside while we were there. This is not uncommon as this space is frequently rented out for various events. I don’t think there is always beer available in the greenhouse, but there was on this day and that is my kind of greenhouse!

This is my kind of greenhouse

Philly Beer in a Philly Greenhouse.

Snug Harbor – April 10, 2018


Snug Harbor Sign

Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanic Garden is located on the northeastern corner of Staten Island. According to their website: this is “One of the largest ongoing adaptive reuse projects in America, Snug Harbor consists of 28 buildings, fourteen distinctive botanical gardens, a two acre urban farm, wetlands and park land on a unique, free, open campus.” It certainly is a model for how other urban places can work with their aging infrastructure to create an important and vibrant space.


Just some of the historic architecture to be found at Snug Harbor.

This is a great place to visit because it has something for everyone – plants and gardens, historic architecture and visual and performing arts.

I visited on a spontaneous trip to Staten Island to visit my sister for breakfast and decided since I was in the area I would stop in and explore the gardens. I enjoy visiting gardens in ‘off-seasons’ to see what I can find of interest, admire the bold little blossoms blooming in the cold, and to admire the bones of the gardens. Thrillingly, this spring is coming slowly, allowing a gentle wave of flowers throughout the early months of the year rather than one glorious tsunami of everything blooming at one time.


Prunus mume – The Japanese Apricot flowers early.

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Sunken Gardens, St. Petersburg Florida

All things vintage strike my fancy and this garden had me at its sign:

The Retro Sign of Sunken Gardens  - St. Petersburg, Florida

The Retro Sign of Sunken Gardens – St. Petersburg, Florida

I am thinking of this small gem today as I keep the wood stove burning and the thermometer doesn’t get out of the single digits. Sunken Gardens has been around since 1935 when George Turner Sr. opened his 6 acre property to the public to show off his walled gardens for $0.25 a person. Starting out as a place with a sink hole and a shallow lake, Mr. Turner turned this land into a rich area to grow fruits and vegetable by installing a tile drainage system. He was a plumber by vocation and horticulturist by avocation, Turner’s gardening transitioned from the fruits and vegetables he sold at his road-side stand to exotic flowers and tropical plants.  Turner maintained the gardens, eventually leaving them open year round and amassing a flock of flamingos numbering in the hundreds. Turner’s sons purchased the property from their father and the garden became world famous. Celebrities visited and beauty contests were held there. The gardens went through many changes, a large gift shop (at one time the largest in the world), walk-through aviary, religious exhibits. Due to the construction of a nearby interstate and the creation of large theme parks, this garden, like many others, experienced a decline in audience and an increase in operational expenses that led a discussion concerning closing the gardens. The City of St. Petersburg now owns the attraction. Since 1999 the Parks Department has been operating and maintaing this oasis with great help from an army of volunteers. Right behind this sign is a strip mall and bustling 4th Street. You must enter, and leave (of course) through the gift shop. Modest, I’m sure, compared to the mega-shop of its past, this shop featured locally made and horticulture themed gifts for all ages and budgets. When you park in the lot, you have no idea what’s in store for you. The garden is walled, and even at my height, I couldn’t sneak a peak to see what was inside.

A Tropical View in the Sunken Gardens, St. Petersburg, FL

A Tropical View in the Sunken Gardens, St. Petersburg, FL

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Marsh Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Marsh Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Of course a garden is more than flowers. There’s weeds and bugs too! The nice thing about gardening in this region – the mid-atlantic – is that we can create a garden that has flowers blooming nearly 12 months of the year. Sure those late fall and winter flowers may not be the showstopper the Hibiscus pictured above is, but they are flowers nonetheless. Summer is the time when flowers abound, annuals like impatiens, begonias and marigolds brighten up gardens throughout the warmer months, only succumbing when the first frost hits, turning them into mushy piles of petals. For those of us more inclined towards the perennial persuasion of plants, having blooms throughout the growing season means developing a diversity in the garden that ensures multiple seasons of blooms. It is not as simple as planting rows of impatiens we know will keep blooming through the summer. We have to plan a sequence of flowering to ensure something’s in bloom whenever we gaze into the garden. I love this challenge. When I worked in an urban educational garden, I challenged myself to create a garden with 4 seasons of blooms. Not just four seasons of interest, which we had, but I wanted visitors to see flowers in the city whenever they visited. Through careful selection and combination of trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs flowers could be found 12 months of the year, much to my delight and to the delight of the visitors.

But there’s so much more to a garden than flowers. I always tell my students while flowers may be present for just a short time, foliage is there a lot longer and you should always consider the foliage when you are planning to add a plant to the garden. When considering interest in the garden and bloom times, don’t forget about the foliage!

This was cemented in my brain after a trip to Costa Rica. I had never been there before and it was pre-google (& pre-digital camera – 23 rolls of film later!). I was expecting orchids dripping off the trees, practically slapping me in the face everywhere I went. I expected carpets of tropical flowers lining every road and trail. What I didn’t expect was green. Lots of green, everywhere green and not many flowers to speak of (well, at least compared to what my vivid imagination conjured). During a canopy tour, I peered over the swinging bridge railing into the top of the rain forest and noticed how different all the green was. There were countless shades of green and the textures ranged from the coarse Monstera speciosa or Swiss Cheese Plant to the lacy Tree Fern. It was fantastically beautiful. From then on I had an appreciation for how beautiful and interesting foliage can be.

Costa Rica from above

Costa Rica from above

My recent visit to the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College really solidified for me what one can do in a garden by simply taking a considered look at foliage.

Scott Arboretum

Just a small portion of the Terry Shane Teaching Garden at Scott Arboretum

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About that tree in Brooklyn (or… Adventures in Finding Free Things to Do in the City…)


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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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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