HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

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?

 

Jamaica State Park, VT

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The Dumplings in the West River in Jamaica State Park VT

The Dumplings in the West River in Jamaica State Park VT

Welcome to Jamaica. Jamaica, Vermont. No Caribbean for me, but that is just fine. I am happy to be where the days are cool and the evenings cooler. While spring sprinted by in what felt like just a few short days at home in southeast Pennsylvania, happily it is still spring here.  43 degree evenings, days in the mid-70s. Heaven to me.

I am house sitting in this area, the southwest corner of the state, near where Vermont, New York and Massachusetts all come together and attempting to make this an inexpensive bit of time away. Spending lots of time writing and exploring and not spending money. I brought all the ingredients to make my meals and stayed away from places designed to separate me from my money opting for hiking and other botanical explorations.

If you ever find yourself in the area, plan some time to explore (botanize?) Jamaica State Park.

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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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Bladdernut

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Bladdernut Flowers

Bladdernut Flowers

Bladdernut. I am convinced this plant has not made it into the landscape trade and into more backyards because of its name. Who wants to ask the garden center professional for Bladdernut? Who wants to answer when their friend asks “what is that interesting flowering shrub?”, “Oh that? It’s Bladdernut”. Other plants with less than pretty common names have made it into plant catalogs by sporting tags with their {{gasp}} scientific names or a new less offensive common name. Think of Tradescantia. Many catalogs market the Spiderwort as Tradescantia or have even created an entirely new common name with more marketing power: Spider Lily.  Similar stories abound. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) has become the gardener-friendly sounding Butterfly Flower or Butterfly Milkweed. One of my favorite spring blooms, the Liverwort, is more commonly available as its scientific name Hepatica. (Wort, you may be interested to know, is the old English term for plant. Often plants were names for the problems they would solve – Liverwort = Liver problems, Spiderwort = curing spider bite.) I think it’s time for a name make-over for the Bladdernut. What can we call it to get it into more backyards?

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Violets

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One of the many violet color variations.

Once again I find myself on my local rail-trail. I am trying to get my heart-rate up so this meander will count as some form of exercise, but I keep stopping to look very closely at tiny little wildflowers blooming everywhere. It is truly like I stepped into a jewelry box. Virginia Bluebells coat the hillside in blues and pinks. White saxifrage, rue anemone and Dutchman’s britches dot the trailsides like scattered pearls. Various shades of jade and emerald are starting to appear on gray branches. The creek along the trail, very high after all these rains, slithers through the color like a gold chain. I should just go to a boring track, who can focus on fitness with all this beauty around?  Each time I squat down to investigate, that’s a rep…right? Today I am enamored by the violet. If I am going to take the jewelry box analogy just a little too far…these are the amethysts.

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American Plum

American Plum after last night's heavy rains. The sweet fragrance is still evident on the wet blooms.

American Plum after last night’s heavy rains. The sweet fragrance is still evident on the wet blooms.

As I have mentioned before I don’t really have the space for plants offering only 1 season of interest. As with any rule, there are exceptions. The exceptions to my “must have more than 1 season of interest”  are 1) if it is a spring ephemeral, it may stay and 2) if it is edible I will consider a place for it in my landscape.  The American Plum fits into the second category. This native (Prunus americana) small understory tree flowers the same time as Bradford Pears.  Unlike Bradford Pears, the blooms of American Plum smell sweet and wonderful.  Like the Bradford Pear, this tree can be found along roadsides, medians and in fallow fields. Unlike the Bradford Pear, it is supposed to be there. As I walked around my yard a couple of days ago, the scent of the flowers drew me in and I stood for quite awhile with my nose tucked into the white flowers.  Continue reading