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.

The Tyler Formal Gardens

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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.

Sculptures

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

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.

Dogwood Allee

An allee of Dogwoods line a path to Ulman Hall

I also benefitted from being on campus and able to study the plants regularly because I lived in the outdoor classroom, my dorm was surrounded by study plants. This enabled and enhanced my understanding of horticulture and my knowledge of plants significantly.

Aesculus pavia

Aesculus x carnea blooms on campus.

As a woody plant identification instructor myself now, the experiencing of learning in a living classroom and experiencing the value of hands-on education has instilled in me an understanding of the necessity of making living plants available to students. They must see, touch, smell, observe these plants to learn them. It is essential.

Strobili Picea omorika

The colorful strobili of Picea omorika in the Conifer Garden

This visit back to the Arboretum was certainly a trip down memory lane. Some gardens and plants I remember learning and becoming attached to are no longer there, while new buildings and gardens and paths are now there to explore. Just like nature is always changing, so too, is the university campus.

Campus Chapel Del Val and Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding Hearts grace the front entrance of the campus chapel

Experiencing a college or university garden is different than experiencing a garden whose sole-purpose is to be a public garden. These places serve so many functions – a teaching and learning space, campus beautification, event space, research space and a regional resource. Often these spaces are open to the public, all the time, at no charge which is unique and certainly presents a unique set of challenges when it comes to maintenance of existing gardens and funding new ones.

Beech at Del Val

The surprisingly soft, ciliate edges of newly emerging Beech Leaves.

The campus is more than a garden of course. It is a community resource. The day we were there the local YMCA was hosting a 5-K throughout the campus. The lovely scenery of the gardens is almost enough to tempt me into running… almost.

Red Oak Del Val

Red Oak

 

Just a final note, sharing a story that was shared with my Woody Plant ID class and I pass along to the students I teach. I have no idea if this is a myth or there is truth to this story:

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This is the bark of a Ginkgo tree.  Notice the lines in the bark?  If you know anything about Ginkgos you probably know they produce a fruit that smells. It smells like (apologies to the weak stomached…) vomit. These trees line the main walkway from the dorms to the classroom buildings. Every fall the female Ginkgos produce fruits that don;t really smell until they are damaged hitting the ground or by students walking their paths to class. The entire campus becomes engulfed in a stench I am pretty sure can be smelled in downtown Doylestown. While we found the smell putrid, we did see people harvesting the nuts from the ground, as they are considered a culinary delicacy in some Asian cuisine.  This is not the part of the story I am not sure is true…this I know for fact and from experience. (Some of us may have taken these stinky fruits and rubbed them on dorm door knobs and put them in work boots… the truth of that will remain a mystery!)

Back to the bark, those lines are rumored to have been created by a chainsaw. People on campus did not like the smell of those fruits and thought the trees must go. But they were old, majestic and healthy not to mention a significant landscape feature and so they remained. Someone decided to take it into their own hands to kill the trees by girdling them with a chainsaw. So they cut around the bark of the tree, hoping to stop the water and nutrient flow in the tree, killing them. However, whoever did this, did not know enough about the trees, merely scarring them and scaring the trees into thinking they may die. When trees are stressed or think they may die they tend to produce a bumper crop of fruits to ensure their next generation. So a lot of fruit on these trees in subsequent years, many are still living, the smell is a tradition at Del Val and the horticulture students were told that the culprits must have been those animal science students, because all of us would know better.

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Want to explore the public gardens in your area? Check out the American Public Garden Association’s Garden Finder.

What College and University gardens have you explored? What horticultural tall tales have you heard?

 

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

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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.

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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.

Photo by KV SALISBURY

Prunus mume – The Japanese Apricot flowers early.

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“Hortisculpture”

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Frog at Morris Arboretum

“American Bull” by Lorraine Vail at the Morris Arboretum, Philadelphia PA

While I tend to find the fall colors of the native trees and shrubs here in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region something I cannot live without and something that makes me endlessly happy and at peace, others see the changing colors as the sure sign that winter is coming. They can’t enjoy the autumn display because all of those falling leaves depressingly morph into falling snowflakes as they watch them twirl down from the canopy.

As fall proceeds into its second month some lament the end of the growing season, putting away gloves and cleaning tools. Seed catalogs and garden magazines are piled up next to the couch for winter reading. People start to prepare for winter hibernation.

When it is time to sculpt pumpkins, people tend to think less about gardens and gardening as the changing of seasons leads us to think less about watering and weeds and more about turkey stuffing and present wrapping.

Turkey at Gray Towers Milford, PA

Turkey at Grey Towers Milford, PA

But for those of us who enjoy the seasons, who want to explore wherever and whenever, I encourage fall and winter visits to gardens. Perhaps you have a friend or loved one who isn’t so much into gardening but likes to get outside. Drag them to a public garden or museum with outdoor sculptures. You as a gardener, or plant admirer, or nature admirer will find sculptures that will fill the gardening void in the fall and winter months. Some of my favorites from my horticulture travels are here.

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