adventures of a meandering gardener


Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I saw that on a bench yesterday at Jenkins Arboretum.

I also fell in love with an oak tree named Quercus montana, the chestnut oak. I am going to add it to my woods. Jenkins had no seedlings available, so I will source elsewhere.


 Quercus montana, the chestnut oak. 

As a gardener, I like to learn. Part of the learning is opening your eyes and heart to the experience of local arboretums. Jenkins Arboretum is my personal favorite. I belong to it and it is so easy to join – and the fees are quite modest!

I joined Jenkins because of my current garden. This is a spectacular natural property.  The history is as equally lovely.  It was created as a love story, and because of that love, became a public garden:

The home and twenty acres on which the Arboretum was first planned were formerly the property of H. Lawrence and Elisabeth Phillippe Jenkins, given to them in 1928 as a wedding gift by Mrs. Jenkins’ father, B. Pemberton Phillippe.

The groundwork for Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens was laid in 1965 when H. Lawrence Jenkins established the Elisabeth Phillippe Jenkins Foundation forever preserving his property as a living memorial to his wife, an avid gardener and wildlife enthusiast…In 1972, Mrs. Louisa P. Browning, owner of the adjoining property, donated her 26 acres, expanding the size of the Arboretum to 46 acres. The Browning property, including a house designed by the renowned Main Line architect R. Brognard Okie, is currently in a private area of the Arboretum. The private areas will continue to be developed and may one day be open for public visitation.

(Another perk of membership is a lovely book about the history of Jenkins!)

But the plant addict in me loves something else at Jenkins: their garden shop!  Open daily 9 am to 4 pm it is a comprehensive selection of native beauties, many from their own gardens.  Sun and shade loving plants. I have purchased several of the Jenkins plants every year for the past few years.  I have planted some of their azaleas (some deciduous), discovered really fun perennials like Chelone or turtlehead.


Garden Shop selections at Jenkins Arboretum

Jenkins is open to the public 8 A.M. to sunset. Plants are available for sale in season, and they have a marvelously curated gardening book shop inside the John J Willaman Education Center. Yesterday I treated myself to two books:



I chose The Wild Garden Expanded Edition by William Robinson and Rick Darke because so much of my gardens bleed to the woods.  This book, remarkably, was first out in 1870. This new edition, contains the original text and modern chapters courtesy of Rick Darke. It was through this book shop I also discovered  David Culp’s The Layered Garden a few  years ago. They also sell Jenny Rose Carey’s Glorious Shade which I previously wrote about and think everyone should have who has any shade gardens or wants to learn.

Now, I bought the Great Gardens of the Philadelphia Region Adam Levine, Rob Cardillo on a whim, and am glad I did. It is a great guide to go garden exploring with!

Plants I bought yesterday at Jenkins were several cultivars of Mountain Mint – great in dappled to shady areas, natives…and deer do not like things in the mint family so it helps protect my gardens. I also bought a couple different kinds of sedges – Ssersucker and Silver Sedge. They are also fun natives that add interest and have a lovely mounding habit.

(Did I mention that as a member you get a 10% discount on already reasonably priced plants??)

Jenkins Arboretum is a happy place for me.  A lot of people use their trails for exercise too.  But it is a marvelous property to meander and I see something new every time I am there.  They have been quite inspirational to me with planting my current garden, too.  Every time I go, I find ideas and inspiration. My one wish for them is I wish they sold more tree seedlings. They have the most amazing trees!

If you have small children there are also things to do all summer long – check their calendars and Facebook events for events and story times! (Pre-registration is required for a lot of things.)


While I was garden meandering I did also visit the Barn at Valley Forge Flowers.  They are selling among other things, my favorite garden spade – the spear headed spade – in several sizes!  They are totally worth having.  They cut through a lot and make dividing and digging in difficult areas a breeze!

Happy Gardening!

a great garden related kind of day

A great kind of garden related day is when I end up with a few plants, a new gardening book, and hear a garden talk that truly resonates with me.

About two years ago I found out there was a Hosta society that serves our area. So I joined. The Delaware Valley Hosta Society. They meet a few times a year and life has gotten in the way until today where I finally was able to go to one of their meetings. Today was their spring meeting and they had a guest speaker I had wanted to meet, Jenny Rose Carey.

Ms. Carey is the Senior Director of Meadowbrook Farm , which is now a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (“PHS”) site, but was once the home of Liddon Pennock.

Liddon Pennock was THE Philadelphia Florist once upon a time. My parents knew him, so I remember meeting him growing up. He created this amazing space which he left to PHS and his legacy continues. But I digress.

Jenny Rose Carey is a well known garden lecturer and she practices what she preaches at her own gardens (follow her on Instagram at Northview Garden or via her blog Before You Garden.)

She came today to the hosta Society meeting to speak on “Glorious Shade”. That is also the title of her new book on shade gardening available through Timber Press. (I was psyched to buy a copy and have the author autograph it for me!)

An approachable and engaging speaker, I was thrilled to learn that a lot of her favorite shade garden plants were also mine! She said with regard to shade gardening, that “slow and steady wins the race.” I was interested to hear that because I never really had a lot of shade gardening to do before we moved into this house. So I have learned in part by trial and error, but I was happy to learn that my gardening instincts have been good.

She went through a wonderful list of plants that are also good companions to hostas. Plants like:

  • Red bud
  • Eastern (native) dogwood
  • Fothergilla
  • Witch Hazel
  • Hydrangeas
  • Rhododendrons/ Azaleas
  • Asarum (wild ginger)
  • Ferns
  • Twinleaf
  • Bluebells
  • Mayapple
  • Trillium
  • Bloodroot
  • Hellebores
  • Heucheras

She also taught people how shade gardens are different. A lot of people expect shade gardens to be as neat and orderly as those sunny beds with all your sun loving flowers. But that is not how they work.

Shade gardening is so very different. It’s softer, it meanders. It’s not perfect and it evolves over time. Or, this is what I have learned over the past few years and really getting into it for the first time.

The ideal shade garden to me is something less formal, less structured. My gardens go into the woods. And I keep trash and what-not out of the woods and remove invasive plants like burning bush when they pop up, but for the most part I let my woods be. I don’t want to overly clean up my forest floor, because what hits the ground is sanctuary for critters and disintegrates into making good things for the soil (fallen leaves, etc.)

Forest floors weren’t meant to be completely tidy, and that was one thing that I got out of this lecture today and it made me glad that we were doing the right thing. I also protect the tree seedlings I find that will help keep my woods going. And some of those seedlings I transplanted into different areas of my garden – like the native dogwoods and volunteer Japanese Maples!

Ms. Carey also encouraged people to have little seating areas. Paths. Water features, as in even a birdbath.

I love hostas a bit excessively, as all my friends and family know. I’m a bit nutty about them. So it was kind of a kick to be in a room full of people that love hostas too! Plenty of the gardeners I met today were from Chester County and other deer heavy areas.

So today was a great day. While not actually in the garden much, I love having the opportunity to meet and spend time with other gardeners and listen to a great gardening lecture. I also came home with a new gardening book and four spectacular hostas!

Thanks for stopping by and happy gardening!

why we plant certain plants in our garden…like pussy willows

Giant Pussy Willow

Why do we plant certain things in our garden if we are planting our gardens ourselves?

Among other things, we plant things which evoke memories. For me one of those plants are Pussy Willows.

I have planted two pussy willow cultivars in my garden: Giant Pussy Willow and Black Pussy Willow. Pussy Willows can grow full sun to part shade and their natural habitat I have read is river banks and sand bars. I know they also do well near creeks and ponds. I never plant anything that is a willow near wells, public sewer pipes, water pipes, septic systems etc.  Their roots can be a problem if you choose the wrong location. The pussy willow is native to the colder parts of Japan, Korea and China.

Giant Pussy Willow or Salix chaenomeloides is upright and arches gracefully.  It needs quite a bit of space because it can grow 12′ to 20′.  I have mine on the edge of my woods and it thrives, but I do prune it about 2 to  3 times a year. These are the pussy willows who get the biggest catkins and they start a fuzzy gray-pink, and get lighter as they open.

My other pussy willow is a Black Pussy Willow or Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’. It grows more shrub like, but you must stay on top of pruning because it can also be a monster.  I prune it to keep it an even round shape.  It anchors a large perennial bed. The catkins are smaller and black. Like it’s giant cousin, it has lovely green leaves during the growing season.  One detractor? The Japanese beetle loves the black pussy willow in particular so I hit it with Neem oil when they are out.

I also have a weeping willow and a curly willow (“Peking Willow”) as well.  They are both planted in areas which were prone to being very wet.  They are, as is the case with the pussy willows, planted away from wells, septic, pipes, etc. And they are a wonderfully natural way to help balance out areas on your property that get too wet or hold water. The Curly Willow can also survive periods of drought nicely.  The weeping willow does not like periods of drought.

Black Pussy Willow

As a gardener in my gardening group writes:

1. They like to grow in damp soil & are well suited for a rain garden. 
2. Hummingbirds like to use the fuzzy catkin material in their nests. 
3. Since they bloom in early March, they provide a valuable early source of nectar for pollinators. 
4. It is a host plant for Viceroy butterflies (Monarch mimic) & several other butterfly species as well.
5. To use the branches indoors, do not put them in water (I always did) unless you are trying to root them. Without water they will dry and the catkins will remain silvery, and leaves will not sprout.


Pussy Willows have been a favorite of mine since I was a toddler as per my mother.  And I will admit I have early, early memories of the flower and plant man Mr. Cullinan coming into the city with boughs of Pussy Willows for sale.

Mr. Cullinan came (I think) from the Kennett Square area and he used to come to his customers in a VW Van. I hope I am spelling his name right. He would stop and open his van and it was loaded with seasonal flowers every season.  First pussy willows at the end of winter. Then lilacs and peonies to welcome spring.  All in big florist buckets soaking in water until we bought them inside. And all plants I have in my garden as a grown up.

Related image

I have always loved flowers and gardening, and Mr. Cullinan always meant wonderful plants and flowers. I just loved the big fuzzy, velvety soft catkins of the pussy willows he sold us.  I would put them up to my cheek to feel the softness.

The simplicity of Mr. Cullinan coming around selling flowers is an era of days gone by.  Much like the truck farmers full of in-season fruits and vegetables who would make the rounds, and the milkman.

(Now to digress for a second, Chester County folks do have access to an old fashioned milkman again thanks to the folks at Doorstep Dairy.)

Back to pussy willows.

You will see them around the time of Chinese New Year. Pussy willows are a favorite flower for this time of year and you will see stalks decorated with gold and red ornaments/red packets, colors which signify prosperity and happiness. In the Chinese tradition, this represents the coming of prosperity.

In other cultures pussy willows play a role as well. Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox;  Polish, Czech, Slovak, Bavarian, and Austrian Roman Catholics; Finnish and Baltic Lutherans and Orthodox; and various other Eastern European peoples carry pussy willows on Palm Sunday instead of palm branches. Pussy willows also plays a prominent role in Polish Dyngus Day (Easter Monday).

As I write this, snowflakes swirl with howling, somewhat ferocious winds.  The winds are bending my pussy willows back and forth.  March has arrived like a lion.

Thanks for stopping by.