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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being a good land steward

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I had a plant impulse buy at Yellow Springs Farm on Saturday.  A Chestnut Oak. I fell in love with the tree at Jenkins Arboretum, and also purchased some last year from Go Native Tree Farm in Lancaster, PA.

When I joined Jenkins Arboretum as a member, one of the things they gave me was this guide to their trees and shrubs and plantings.  Chestnut Oaks thrive on their grounds and I love the leaves and bark and sheer majesty of them.

So I planted my latest Chestnut Oak this morning.  When my arborists were  here a few weeks ago they planted my Black Gum Tree (from Go Native) for me because of my severe allergies to poison ivy and the like, but today I had to suit up, spray in advance for ticks and what not and go into the woods.

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I love my woods but once the poison ivy comes out, I have to watch where I go and what I touch.

When I was in the woods I noticed I have a patch of native Solomon Seal growing.  The native plants like that delight me each and every time I see one. I also seem to have some volunteer dogwoods and holly trees starting to grow.

IMG_4700But being good land stewards doesn’t mean clearing every square inch of undergrowth like I see people do, but removing invasives and allowing what should live there thrive. Don’t just plow your woods under to clear out brush.  You must be selective and careful.

We have had to take down trees because woods age and trees die.  But instead of allowing all soft woods to take over (like wild cherry trees and tulip poplars for example), I have made the decision to re-forest with species that are native to the area.  Like Chestnut Oaks.  I have also planted a Black Gum, Amish Walnuts (a crazy crossbreed which occurs in Lancaster County), Hazlenut, Hickories, Bur Oak, and understory trees like Sweetbay Magnolia.

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I hope everything survives, but it is the woods so you never know.  I plant everything well and stake the trees to grow as straight as possible.  I utilize old pieces of wire fencing around them and spray for deer too.

So far so good.  If you are interested in native species and re-foresting your woods join an arboretum as well as a land conservancy where you live. They are a marvelous resource.  I also recommend Yellow Springs Farm and Go Native Tree Farm.

I will note after playing in the woods, everything including myself, spear headed spade, gloves and boots gets a Tecnu bath.  I also do a thorough tick check.

Thanks for stopping by.

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in the garden: planning ahead

Gardens in our area have been tested this spring and summer. Lots of rain, with hideous heat and humidity in between.

I learned a lot about what my garden can and cannot tolerate with this weather. I lost almost all of the 60-year-old garden phlox because of all the rain. A gorgeous Blue Baron azalea survived my township snow plow guys to have its roots rot in all of the rain, and just today I noticed due to rain and borers I have also lost a David Austin rose, and a Blue Boy azalea out back. Even some of the ferns I sourced this year are starting to rot from the rain.

I hate losing plants, but I have learned to look at it differently instead of taking it as a personal failure. This is the natural attrition of nature, and if you lose something it’s an opportunity to put it back or try something different.

Weather extremes are also an opportunity to learn. I planted hatch green chilies from seed this year. I have grown them in pots and grow bags. I wasn’t sure how they would do given they are something I associate with New Mexico which is a climate different from ours. However, as I have known people who have lived there, New Mexico is a study in weather extremes. So my hatch chilies have done surprisingly well, even if I probably should have started the seeds earlier.

But now that the summer is drawing to a close I have done things like schedule my fall tree work. As we are mostly in the woods there is always a lot of trimming and tree maintenance that needs to be done. We are getting to a place where I’m hoping to only have to do tree work once a year, but it just depends. We had trees that really were not pruned about 50 years.

If you want to know who is doing our tree work, look no further than Treemendous Tree Care. They guarantee their work, they have safe and knowledgeable crews, are actual arborists, and they have the bragging rights to champion tree climbers. Because of the positioning of our woods, we don’t have woods you can take trucks into, we need climbers. They are also neat and careful with my gardens. They actually appreciate and know what I have planted.

Tree pruning is something a homeowner has to budget for. It’s necessary for your tree health, and it also is preventative given the way a good old Chester County winter can go (queue the infamous 2014 ice storm.)

This fall I am not only having pruning done, I am culling the herd as it were. We have an overabundance of different kinds of wild cherries which have grown over the past five years. They are a softer wood, and the rain and heat has caused some of them to get blighted. As they are also growing in the path of more valuable trees, I am going to thin out some of these young trees. However in our woods, we will also be planting saplings from Go Native Tree Farm in Lancaster, PA. I believe in restoration planting of woods. And I want our woods to remain predominantly hardwoods.

The trees I have chosen as saplings to plant in my woods are Amish Walnut, Burr Oak and Chestnut Oak. I fell in love with the leaves of Chestnut Oaks this spring at Jenkins Arboretum, the Arboretum I belong too. I have always loved the acorns of the Burr Oak. The Amish Walnut is basically a native cross tree which has occurred up in Lancaster County and no one has really studied but it’s a great tree. My tree saplings will be delivered after I have my tree work done.

Go Native is an amazing resource and I encourage folks to check them out. They also carry native shrubs I like including witch hazel and flame azalea.

Later this fall, bulbs will arrive. They will go into the back garden beds this year. I ordered bluebells and lots of different cultivars of daffodils. I don’t plant tulips because the squirrels just dig them up and eat the bulbs.

The other thing I am going to plant this fall are peonies for the spring. They will arrive in tuber form, or bare root. I am ordering from A & D Nursery and Hollingsworth Nursery. The ones I have chosen are Baroness Schroeder, Green Lotus, Duchesse de Nemours, Moon of Nippon, Immaculee.

Except for Green Lotus they are all white peonies. Yes it’s a little Sissinghurst white garden, but they will give pretty pops in my spring garden next year. My mother loves an all white garden, but I like white as an accent versus being the color anchor.

I also have a couple of hydrangeas left to plant, some echinacea, gentians, day lilies, and a new deutizia cultivar. In between the rain I have started to pull out the plants that aren’t working, or as is the case with the majority of my garden phlox, the plants that have drowned this summer.

I planted a Chicago hardy fig, and a native azalea (From Yellow Springs Farm) and something I am very excited about. A seven sons tree – a Heptacodium. You can read about Heptacodium on the Morris Arboretum website. I purchased mine from Applied Climatology at the West Chester Growers Market.

The garden is a constant evolution. Trial and error. A learning process. I still think gardening is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself. It’s connecting with nature on a basic level, and there is nothing better I think than digging in the dirt. It is truthfully therapeutic.

My garden has gotten big enough that I do need a little help every now and again now and I’m glad to have it. Another resource I have to share is Design Build Maintain, LLC. They do great landscaping and hardscaping work, and I use them for things that I need help with physically like all of the wood chips I put down in the back because it’s so shaded grass won’t grow. They will also be helping me down the road with a little grading back on the other side of our storage shed to help the rain water run off the driveway versus pool at the bottom of the driveway.

As I mentioned in another post, I have also had some folks from multiple organizations approach me for inclusion on garden tours in the future. After Fine Gardening Magazine featured some of my garden photos online this summer it seems people are truly interested. That is super flattering but I am not sure my garden is what they expect when they arrive.

My gardens are not formal. They are woodland gardens meet cottage gardens and they are layered. But I am not precisely David Culp’s Layered Gardens layered, either. I couldn’t be — his Brandywine Cottage gardens are a marvel and inspiring to me and my garden but his gardens are unique to his property. I still haven’t been there in person but I have studied his book extensively and love to check out his website . (Yes I have submitted a contact form a couple of times to ask if I could see the gardens in person, but haven’t heard back.)

My garden also isn’t fussy with fancy water features or a pool like I always see on garden tours. It is very individualistic and my personal vision. I have my inspirations as I have mentioned in the past, but my gardens are my own.

I also don’t label every single plant in the ground. That was a criticism of one group which toured the garden for a tour inclusion and I will admit that put me off. They also criticized how I hadn’t pruned a young Japanese maple. They didn’t seem to get that it did not have enough growth on it to be pruned at this point. When you prune something is very important to consider with younger plants in your garden. When you prune and how much you prune ensures whether it will survive and succeed or not.

I do not have a formal Arboretum, it’s my personal garden, and while I am happy to share, I will not plant a forest of plastic stakes for anyone. While I would be honored to be included on local garden tours, my garden is my garden. I want people to be able to just experience the nature around them. To be able to pause and enjoy it. To take a seat on a garden bench and just enjoy a garden.

A garden should be lived in. I love my garden for what it is and what it isn’t.

I can tell everyone what I have planted, can I remember every cultivar name? No, not at this point, and I’m fine with that. I want to inspire other gardeners, but in my opinion individuality is key in a garden and a lot of times people seem to forget that.

You put in the time, you put in the hours and you enjoy the flowers.

I will admit I am so over the rain. Everything is waterlogged. But when it finally stops it will be time to start the fall clean-up.

Thanks for stopping by.

adventures of a meandering gardener

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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.

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 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.

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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:

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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.)

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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!

thank you jenkins arboretum!


Today a padded media mail envelope arrived from Jenkins Arboretum. I did not know what it was because I wasn’t expecting anything. I am a member of Jenkins, but not a major donor by any stretch of the imagination. 

I love to garden, and I love to look at gardens. Because I now have a good deal of shaded and woodland garden, I have had a renewed appreciation of the genius and beauty of Jenkins.  As a matter of fact some plants grown at Jenkins Arboretum are now part of my own garden. 

Anyway, want to know what was in the envelope? The most beautiful book, produced by Jenkins Arboretum about the history and legacy of  Jenkins Arboretum on their 40th anniversary!

Thank you, Jenkins Arboretum, I will treasure it always!

It has been a long time since I have received anything so nice or generous for just being a member anywhere. It is quite the gift and as a rabid gardener a most perfect one!

great lecture coming up: rediscovering devon – the history of the devon horse show

devon oldMy pals at the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust have this amazing lecture planned about the history of the Devon Horse Show. And  Jenkins Arboretum is hosting the event.  And well…my friend Michael Morrison is giving the lecture! No matter how you slice it, this will be terrific!

Devon Inn circa 1900I completely expect nouveaux Devon will be distressed but why fuss? It’s just history. It’s part of the Main Line, Philadelphia, and Chester County. This is not a horse show event, this is a local lecture that will be fascinating.  Our history belongs to all of us, after all.

The Tredyffrin Preservation Trust is a marvelous organization and I just love Jenkins Arboretum and have plants from their plant sales in my garden! And I love learning more about local history! We have such a rich history to draw on, so lectures like this are always interesting and informative.

Here are the Details:

On the eve of the opening of the 120th anniversary of the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust is delighted to welcome guest speaker             J. Michael Morrison to the 2016 Spring Lecture Series on Thursday, May 25 at Jenkins Arboretum, 631 Berwyn-Baptist Road, Devon, PA. Reception will begin at 7 PM, followed by lecture at 7:30 PM.

Morrison will present, “Rediscovering Devon”, based on the Society’s book, created to commemorate the history of the Devon Horse Show since its inception in 1896. The oldest and largest outdoor multi-breed competition in the country, Devon’s history is interwoven with the history of the Main Line and Chester County and continues to be part of the fabric of our community.

A native of Upper Merion Township, Morrison has enjoyed a lifelong interest in local history and is currently involved in historic restoration and architectural interior design, featuring antique and repurposed materials.  In addition to serving as President of Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society, Morrison is the President of The King of Prussia Historical Society and has written three books, Images of America”, “Then and Now”’, an in-depth look at the history of King of Prussia and “Upper Merion Township: The First 300 Years”.  In the words of Morrison, “If you are unaware of your past, you are destined to repeat it, and not even know why”.

The Trust is grateful to Dr. Harold Sweetman and the Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens, for their generous sponsorship of the “Rediscovering Devon” lecture on May 25. Plan to arrive early for the lecture and enjoy the botanical gardens wonderful collection of trees, shrubs, wildflowers and ferns.

“Rediscovering Devon … The History of the Devon Horse Show”
Guest Lecturer: J. Michael Morrison, Historian, Lecturer & Author
Date: Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Cost: $15/person
Refreshments: 7:00 PM – Lecture: 7:30 PM
Location:  Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens,  631 Berwyn Baptist Road, Devon, PA 19333

You can access ticket purchase through the Tredyffrin HistoricPreservation Event Page 

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 I am at Jenkins Arboretum for a gallery  

 opening for my friend Dr. E Ni Foo. The exhibit of his latest paintings run through the first of November or so. The show is amazing and so is the arboretum. I also had to buy some plants and a membership!