the evolution of gardens

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Echinacea ‘Butterfly Rainbow Marcella’ Purchased from Applied Climatology at the West Chester Growers Market

A garden is a constant evolution. Mine evolves in layers.

A few years ago I planted my red rhododendrons and native deciduous azaleas along with some favorite viburnum (Brandywine and Winterthur).  Over the past couple of years including this year, I have layered in witch hazels of different colors and blooming schedules that were purchased from Rare Find Nursery and Yellow Springs Farm.

This year I have also added Mountain Laurels.   They came from the annual plant sale at Jenkins Arboretum that the Valley Forge Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society puts on –  they are the NICEST people at that society and very helpful. (I also find this person called Rhody Man helpful FYI.)  These kind folks also sold me a native deciduous azalea that is red.

I also bought two really great Mountain Laurels from Applied Climatology at the West Chester Growers Market – Kalmia ‘Sarah’ (Mountain Laurel). Species is native to North America.

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Kalmia ‘Sarah’ (Mountain Laurel)
Species is native to North America. I purchased mine at Applied Climatology and this is a stock photo which shows what my blooms will be like next spring!

And hydrangeas.  Hydrangeas are so amazing and there is such a wide array available for planting.  I have a special affinity for Mountain Hydrangeas.  But I plant them all.

I have planted layers of color as well as plants. For my shrubs and perennials, there are a lot of shades of pink and blue reds. I am not an orange red person, so you rarely see orange in my gardens.

Gardening is a favorite thing with me as everyone knows, and when I did not have as much room as I have now for me to plant, I planted elsewhere.

Many, many years ago when I was living on the Main Line and only had my tiny courtyard garden of my apartment, I used to volunteer at this little slice of heaven in Bryn Mawr, PA called Historic Harriton House. I loved walking my dogs over to there and truthfully, I have been wandering around Harriton House since I was 12 as is evidenced by this photo:

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Harriton is an amazing piece of historic preservation that works.  The land it sits on is a park owned by Lower Merion Township.  But the historic structures? Owned and maintained by the Harriton Association which I watched acquire properties over the years to sew up a good sized parcel safe from development.  The original farm and plantation was originally around 700 acres or more and was part of a Penn Land Grant (yes like Lloyd Farm and Happy Days Farm in Chester County which are currently at risk from development.)

The Executive Director, Bruce Gill, and the Harriton Association Board have truly created a very simple preservation model that works.  Part of why it all works at Harriton is the place has never been tarted up.  It has remained loyal to it’s agricultural heritage and history.

Years ago, a couple of years after the conversion of the old dairy barn into an education center and administrative offices was completed, one day I was looking at the ruins of the rest of the stone barn fragment which had been turned into a pool house, a pool, and gardens in the 1920s (I think that is when that happened).  When Harriton acquired this structure a reclusive little old lady had formerly called it home.  Before she died, it was not part of Harriton, it was a little adjoining property in the midst of Harriton, much like two other properties they raised funds and acquired.

Now this little old lady was quite the hoarder, and I remember what it was like when volunteers, myself included, help clear things out.  A lot of the decades of contents was literally garbage, but things that were salable were sold at the annual fair in the White Elephant section for a few years.  Even what had been the swimming pool was full of stuff.  It was crazy.  I had never seen what a real hoarder’s home looked like until this.

After the clean out the restoration and conversion of the barn to education center was completed, I kept looking at the ruins when had been garden spaces from the 1920s until I guess the little old lady inhabitant had gotten too old.  I saw potential for planting and I was itching to do more planting.  So I asked the Executive Director Bruce if he would buy a bunch of plants next time he was up in Lancaster,  I would totally plant up the area.

And that is what I did. It was so much fun creating something out of nothing.  After I had planted the ruin, one of the couple of garden clubs that gardened at Harriton thought Bruce had let in another garden club.  They didn’t quite believe him for a while that it was just me who had dug in the dirt and played and planted.  I never took photos back then of what I had done, which now, is close to 20 years ago if not more than 20 years ago.

But the thing about gardening is once you start, other people follow suit.  And after the first time I planted in the ruin, garden clubs took over and planted it going forward.  I can’t remember which garden clubs did this, except I think perhaps the Villanova Garden Club or the Garden Club of Bala Cynwyd.  I don’t know which garden clubs are still gardening there today.

Here are some circa 2006 -2010 photos of the garden ruin planted (again, I never photographed my work before them, sadly):

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I returned to Harriton this past weekend for their Father’s Day Ice Cream Social, which is just as lovely and old fashioned as it sounds.  I was so happy to see that the ruins were still being gardened, though not as much.  In spots it looks like whichever garden club it was lost interest. But the positive thing is it was still being gardened so many years after I dug the first plants in. And there is a community garden and the tenants garden. I do not know if any of the perennials I planted are still there or not, but after not having been back to Harriton since either 2011 or 2012 I was happy to see any continued gardening there:

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I hope whichever garden clubs are still on Harriton continue.  People change, garden clubs and plant societies are definitely groups where people age out, and not necessarily by choice. But gardening should endure. Wherever we can garden.

I close with some of my own garden’s posies:

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in the garden, you get what you pay for

I am so mad at myself. I know better than to order from cheap unknown plant places, but every once in a while I’m just human and want to try to get a good bargain.

Well look at the shoddy plants I received today from Gilbert H Wild and Sons!

Wild has been around forever. I get their emails, I think I also used to get catalogs from them, and I never ordered from them before. But I thought what the heck, I might as well check them out.

BIG MISTAKE.

I might as well have flushed my money down the toilet. And that makes me so angry when it comes to plants for my garden. And I’m mostly angry at myself because I know better.

I always tell people you get what you pay for and it’s always true. It is better to deal with a company that you know is super reputable and maybe a little pricey than to try to get a bargain like this. Because what I got today were half dead plants and completely dried out bare root items.

I could go to them and demand a refund but I don’t feel like being bothered, so I’m going to write off the loss and tell everybody don’t order from these people.

I should have known when I had to call them to find out where my order was because I never got a shipment notification or a tracking number.

Bless their hearts, they didn’t like my opinion. I didn’t ask for a refund because of experiences other gardeners I know have had. But this unprofessional response to my justified opinion based on what was delivered to me? Caveat Emptor…

I opened the box today and nothing that was bare root was packaged properly and they did the bare minimum on the plants that were potted.

I plant bare root all of the time and I can tell you that I find it doubtful that any of these things are going to be resurrected from the dead. When something arrives bare root and it’s completely dried out it’s usually a goner unless you’re planning on smoking it.

So there you have it: at the tippy top of my do not buy from for the garden list is now Gilbert H Wild and Sons. They suck.

way to go radnor! keep setting the bar low on design standards!

Now granted, what was there before on the corner of Willow Ave and Plant Ave in the Little Chicago was known to many (myself included) as “the scary house.”

But I do not get why Radnor Township allows this kind of crap with zero design aesthetic to go up? The only thing this building is about is maximizing developer money making capability.

This is a prime example of how municipalities are dropping the ball. The trend of density and in this case serious infill density is ruining communities everywhere.

Directly opposite where this looming monstrosity is being built is relatively new construction. And what was built? Two pretty nice twin houses. This is an older neighborhood of what were historically smaller houses with neat back yards. Not the grand Victorians a couple of blocks over and it’s certainly not really urban.

Yet here’s this block house structure. And even worse in an area that redefines what it is to flood in even just a heavy downpour? They are totally built out on the footprint of the property. Where is the parking going to be?

Anyway this development gets an F. It truly is ugly. And is so out of place.

Bleck.

airing dirty laundry?

I am now a good bit into Janny Scott’s The Beneficiary and I can’t decide if I like it. Maybe I am just but one of the rubber neckers or gawkers alluded to in the book who attended the funeral? (No, I didn’t attend the funeral.)

Right or wrong, page six of the book left a bad taste in my mouth that continues to linger the further I get into the book.

Page six is where one finds the snarky criticism of her late father’s caterer. Who also happens to be my favorite caterer and the caterer many families including my own have used for years. It was just unexpected and somewhat unnecessary in its meanness.

Her late father had undoubtedly given instructions for his funeral down to the catering. It was his last big party, after all. And his money paid for it…but I guess it meant less for the heirs, right?

I think the author loved her father, but she certainly didn’t seem like him a lot of the time. This book if you distill it down is less about the familial history (which is truly fascinating) and more of a huge middle finger directed at her late father, and what is left of Philadelphia society.

Personally, I would take the old guard even at their dragon-y best over the ludicrous Oscar Wilde and Richard Brinsley Sheridan worthy characters who literally mug for the cameras today.

Now in fairness to the author obviously she didn’t choose to be born into quite literally The Philadelphia Story.

If you grew up on the Main Line, you grew up in awe of Ardrossan. It was a beautiful property. Now it’s getting carved up into McMansions and I have my doubts the great house will survive in perpetuity, sadly.

I was lucky enough to be on the property at different times growing up. Those times I was there was for non-profit events like parties for organizations like The Philadelphia Orchestra.

The great house, or mansion, was glorious and sort of like going to a dinner party hosted by Dickens’ Miss Havisham. You would have to watch your heels didn’t catch in a frayed side of an oriental rug. But it was a marvelous house. I especially liked the beautiful terraces I remember out back which lent itself to the garden party type benefit I went to one time with my parents.

There are some videos on YouTube about the estate:

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

Video 4

Now of course, developers are laying claim to Ardrossan. Which, needless to say, is a giant bleck to me.

Anyway, my people aren’t the author’s people so I can’t say I share her experiences. This book sometimes reads like therapy and revenge rolled into one. But seriously? How hard a life has the author had had? Her family money made her very existence possible, didn’t it? It opened all the doors she is now kind of thumbing her nose at it, and that is kind of sad.

I appreciate the delving into her fascinating family history and I hope by the end of the book the phrase that keeps running through my head dissipates.

That phrase is poor little rich girl, sadly.

But hey it is sure ripping open the dusty volumes of dirty family laundry, right?

when good conquors evil eminent domain you get lavender fields

Long ago is what feels to be now another lifetime, I was part of the original Save Ardmore Coalition. We were ordinary people who banded together to save friends’ and neighbors’ businesses from eminent domain for private gain in Ardmore PA.

Along our journey the wonderful people at the Institute for Justice helped us and taught us and encouraged us. Through IJ we also met some amazing and inspirational people.  (and if your community is facing eminent domain check out the Castle Coalition part of the IJ website.)

Here straight from IJ (Institute for Justice’s website success stories):

Pennsylvania
Ardmore
Through the grassroots and political processes, a citizens group called the Save Ardmore Coalition (SAC) successfully defeated Lower Merion Township’s attempt to seize and bulldoze 10 thriving businesses in Ardmore’s charming historic district. When it comes to grassroots activism, the SAC did it all — rallies, protests, publicity campaigns and coordinated efforts to unseat local officials who supported eminent domain abuse. Its members testified before state and local bodies urging the reform of eminent domain laws, attended the Castle Coalition’s national and regional conferences, and worked with the media to bring attention to their battle. In March 2006, the Township took its condemnation threats off the table — no doubt in response to the public outcry generated by the SAC.

Valley Township
It cost Nancy and Dick Saha $300,000 of their retirement savings and six hard years, but they prevailed in their bout with the City of Coatesville. The couple bought their Pennsylvania farmhouse in 1971, making lifelong dreams of owning a small horse farm a reality. With their five children, the Sahas moved to Chester County and restored their charming 250-year-old residence. Truly a family farm, two of their daughters married and built their family homes on the land, giving Nancy and Dick the chance to see their five grandchildren grow up next door.

When Coatesville threatened to take their property by eminent domain to build a golf course—plans for which didn’t even include their farm in the first place—the Sahas remained fully committed to a grassroots battle. They submitted three petitions, protested at local meetings and took their fight to court. Ultimately, the city council backed off when the Sahas pushed to elect new representatives, agreeing to purchase five acres that the Sahas had offered to give the government for free at the beginning of the dispute.

It was a crazy time. What we all went through was hard. It was a brutal battle.  We went to Washington alongside the Sahas, Susett Kelo (think Little Pink House), people from Long Branch NJ, and many many more.  It was the time of the US Supreme Court case Kelo vs. New London.

Dick and Nancy Saha were inspirational.  They created a hand off my farm movement. (You can read about it here on the Institute for Justice website in more detail.) They had a great deal of local, regional, and national news attention.  We all did. It was kind of crazy.

It cost the Sahas hundreds of thousands of dollars and pure grit and hard work and they saved their farm.

I used to love seeing Dick and Nancy Saha.  They are the nicest people and they would make the drive from the Wagontown area to even visit us in Ardmore when we were hosting events.

But time and life move on and we all got on with our lives after eminent domain.  I moved to Chester County.  And since I moved to Chester County  I have thought about the Sahas once in a while.  I thought about reaching out, but then I thought well the battle was over so maybe it would seem weird.  But I always wondered what happened to the Saha family after.

So this morning an article from Main Line Today popped up in a social media feed. About two sisters named Joanne Voelcker and wait for it….Amy Saha! Dick and Nancy Saha’s daughters and their lavender farm! (Lavender farm? Wait what?? How awesome!!)

Two Sisters Transformed Their Family’s Chester County Farm Into a 42-Acre Lavender Oasis
Amy Saha and Joanne Voelcker, the owners of Wagontown’s Mt Airy Lavender, have dedicated themselves to growing and harvesting seven different varieties of the plant.
BY LISA DUKART

In the heart of Chester County, there’s a little piece of Provençe, France, thanks to sisters Amy Saha and Joanne Voelcker. On their 42-acre Wagontown farm, some 1,200 lavender plants flourish. In the warm months, those fields are abuzz with bees and butterflies. They flit from plant to plant, drunk on the heady scent the flowers release as they sway in the breeze.

Creating and maintaining such an idyll has been no small feat. Saha and Voelcker’s Mt Airy Lavender has required years of dedication and hard work. Their parents bought the farm in 1971, moving their family from Media to the homestead just outside Coatesville. With love and care, its rundown 48 acres began to thrive.

Years later, in 1991, the city of Coatesville tried to build on the property, claiming eminent domain. After a six-year legal battle, the family won, losing just six acres in the process. As their parents aged, preserving the land they fought so hard to protect became more and more important to the sisters. They couldn’t bear to see it sold.

Over the years, Saha and Voelcker built their own homes on the farm to be near their parents. The houses sit on either side of a long, shaded driveway that wends by pastures where horses can be seen cropping the grass. One lavender field is right behind Voelcker’s home. She began planting it in 2012, a year after she and her husband returned from a five-year stay in Brussels. “I worked and lived over there,” says Voelcker, the former head of client insight and marketing technology at Vanguard. “I got a chance to visit the South of France, and I just fell in love with the lavender.”

Please take the time to read the entire article. It’s so wonderful. I am so happy for the Sahas and this new success I am am all choked up with emotion.  It is so awesome to hear about nice things happening to nice people in a world that some days is truly nuts.

I can’t wait to visit the farm on open farm days.  Via their Facebook page for Mt. Airy Lavender I found their website.

They have great products they make that you can order online and they hose all sorts of events .

Events that interest me are the upcoming open farm days and I hope my husband will want to check it out:

Visit us when the lavender is expected to be in bloom – Mt Airy Lavender Open Houses – Sat. June 22, Sun. June 23, Sat. June 29, Sun. June 30
Come visit Mt Airy Lavender these weekends when we expect the lavender to be in bloom. Shop our products, bring your cameras and a picnic lunch. Fresh cut lavender and a variety of lavender products will be available for purchase. We aren’t normally open to the public, so this is a great opportunity to enjoy the farm. Please note – we lost quite a bit of lavender due to all the rain and lack of sun. We are in the process of replanting. The farm is still quite beautiful so we hope to see you at our Open Houses.

We will be open 11 am to 4pm on:

Saturday, June 22 & Sunday, June 23

Saturday, June 29 & Sunday, June 30

Note: Bees love lavender, please be aware that bees will be attending the Open House as well. If you are allergic to them, please take special precautions!

Click here for directions to their slice of heaven.

What else makes me happy? Not just that this is still a farm and was saved, but how farmers in Chester County get creative to exist in today’s world.  See? We don’t need fields of plastic mushroom houses, we can have things like fields of lavender instead!

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Another view of the Saha Farm today courtesy of Mt. Airy Lavender 

the dance around eminent domain and other tales from the king road/route 352 meeting

The residents of East Whiteland, East Goshen, and elsewhere should be proud. You guys showed up for your communities and neighbors.

In spite of other committee meetings at East Whiteland and East Goshen (zoning and planning I think? Not sure which meeting where), Immaculata’s Great Hall was literally bursting at the seams for the King Rd and Route 352 meeting last night. (Thank you to Immaculata by the way, what an awesome space!)

It was a contentious meeting at times. East Whiteland Supervisors Chair Sue Drummond set the tone by her opening remarks and attitude. Dear readers, she might not like my opinion because she knows I do not care for her but it happens to be the truth. She opened the meeting with snippy acerbic comments about what residents were going to be allowed to say and not say do and not do and that’s kind of the Cliff Notes version but she was well...obnoxious. She seems to have forgotten for whom she works…the residents! And oh by the way? Me thinks the lady supervisor doth protesteth too much. (Just sayin’)  Also at ends of meeting shouldn’t a politician make sure no offending residents are left within ear shot? I was standing there with another resident and “the PennDOT guy.”

I know the video is not the best quality and the township also recorded it, but I felt it was important, very important to get it out there.  State level elected officials sent representatives although they did not stay for the entire meeting. This YouTube is a recording of the 3 hours we Facebooked live last night. I will try to get the rest of it loaded. Some media was present as well.

I am completely against a traffic circle, roundabout, or whatever clever marketing term you prefer.  It will mean eminent domain.  Eminent domain is ugly and your home is your castle in this country until some government entity wants to take your land. ANY ELECTED OFFICIAL WHO CHOSES EMINENT DOMAIN NEEDS TO BE PUT OUT OF OFFICE WHENVER THEIR TERM OF OFFICE IS UP.

Last night residents asked over and over again for elected officials to say NO to the use of eminent domain.  East Goshen remained eerily silent but East Whiteland politicians sort of danced a dance.  So did the gentleman from McMahon associates who go quite the grilling from potentially affected residents. He got very defensive at times.

Listening to resident after resident it became abundantly clear that the consensus is NO EMINENT DOMAIN.  And for THREE hours those leading the meeting would do anything other that say the words EMINENT DOMAIN.  They referred to “slivers”, you know like they were sneak slicing bits of pound cake or a pie or something? If you can’t say the words “EMINENT DOMAIN” then obviously on some level it bothers you so East Whiteland and East Goshen Supervisors why not just take a pledge to NOT use eminent domain?

[Follow this link (as in click on it) for everything residents have obtained via Right to Know requests thus far.]

Things I find perplexing from the meeting includes how for 95% of the meeting East Whiteland Supervisor Chair Sue Drummond kept announcing how while she was not sure of East Goshen’s timeline, the East Whiteland Supervisors would decide next week —the East Whiteland Board of Supervisors meets NEXT Wednesday, June 12 at 7 PM and if you are concerned about this project you need to attend this meeting as well.  Public comment still belongs to the residents.

OK that is cray cray right? Except for those of us who have been dogging this topic, how many people knew about this? And to send residents a letter within the last two weeks which one would presume mentions slivers…err eminent domain as a potential, what the hell is up with that?

By the end of the meeting East Whiteland Supervisor Sue Drummond was saying she had conferred with her colleagues and well maybe they would wait for the July to vote?

Again what the hell is up with that? Does July mean when people are on vacation? After all doesn’t everyone know that a favorite trick of government and traffic counters is to do what they do at weird times of the year and/or holidays?

They have been tossing this idea around of at least intersection improvements for years, so what is a few more months of study with residents fully and openly engaged? And how can they use traffic issues on Carol Lane and Summit as justification for the potential of a traffic circle? How do they NOT understand that would cause MORE cut through traffic over there?

And if the politicians  say they don’t really want a traffic circle then why didn’t they say last night “there we showed you a circle, but we aren’t going to do that”? The cannot be a little bit pregnant here. They need to be definitive, which of course some politicians have a difficult time with because it affects talking out of both sides of their mouths, right?

And the presentation was flawed. Residents pointed out things on what was presented like how some wouldn’t literally be able to get out of their driveways.  Some people speaking were heartbreaking.  All they wanted to know is why these supervisors hadn’t let them know in some cases sooner this was a possibility and what would happen to their homes they worked so hard for?

I will note again that East Goshen was oddly silent through a lot of the meeting.  I will also note that residents pointed out how the land taking would basically occur in East Whiteland if it occurred.

As they spoke of traffic counts and studies last night, I could once again hear the wise words of one of my favorite Commissioners once upon a time in Lower Merion Township.  He quipped in comments at one meeting where some members of township staff and certain commissioners were trying to justify the results of a traffic study that was done either around a holiday or in the dog days of August before school started “When it comes to traffic studies, you get what you pay for.”

He wasn’t saying that in a flattering way.

East Whiteland wants to hurry up and slam this through and my honest opinion is affected residents might wish to consider legal counsel to make sure their interests are properly protected.  Or they should at least consult with legal counsel.

Our homes are our castles.  And these are our neighbors and friends.  I thank everyone who came out last night and hope they keep on showing up. And remember the unintended consequences of all the freaking development in Chester County are truly to blame here. Or at least in my humble opinion.

These thoughts were bought to you in part by the First Amendment.