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!

playing with color in shade gardens


When I looked out into my rear shade gardens a few weeks ago I knew I had too much green and I had to break it up. The great thing I’m learning about shade gardening since I never did it to this extent before is that there are so many choices of foliage colors that you can get your color in your shade gardens that way.

When I inherited my garden from the prior property owners, due to illness in the house and age the gardens had gotten quite overgrown. As a peeled back layers of predictable but overgrown shade plantings I started to get a vision in my mind.

From where the backyard needs our woods there is a definite area, but it’s an area that needs to stand out yet transition to woodland nature completely. Realizing grass was never going to grow the way we want it in an almost completely shady area, we wood chipped a lot of the back. And that’s the handy thing about having what’s on your property that are hardwoods – when you need tree trimming done your arborist cuts some for firewood and ship some for mulch. I am picky about my mulch and this way I know exactly where it’s coming from.

img_5152So the first couple years we were here I worked with the native hostas that were here and slowly started adding more fun varietals found through nurseries. But the thing about hostas is that periodically need to be split and I had been avoiding the inevitable.

One morning recently  I looked out back from upstairs and all I could see with the green green native hostas. No variety in their leaves— nothing –— it was just too green.I stood out there for a few days just staring at the spot I wanted to improve going back-and-forth in my head with what I could do. And in the end I decided I would stick with what works and I knew grew back there – because parts of it got dappled sun but a lot of it is very shady. So I decided on a bunch of different heuchera cultivars, ferns that had some variation to them, and one luck would have it a garage sale that was also a plant sale gave me the opportunity for some fabulous variegated hostas.


This past weekend  I dug out the plain green native hostas, and re-homed them behind the planting area I was redesigning as a way to break up pachysandra ponds.  So many people, my mother included, adore pachysandra. Pachysandra adores this property but it gets overwhelming so I need to break it up.

With the native hostas out of the front part I was redesigning,  I now had room to put in the variegated hostas and  heuchera.  It will take a couple weeks before it starts to fill in properly but looking out on the curve by the birdbath I am now much happier with the color arrangement and flow.  While I was on a roll I also split solid native hostas out of other planting beds and relocated them around the back.

And I also introduced heuchera this year to one of my permanent pots back there. I like planting permanent planters with at least some perennials to give me a foundation. In another planter I have little miniature hostas tucked in between beautiful variegated ivy. I love the way it looks I had found this absurdly heavy Victorian wrought iron standing planter and I cleaned up the planter and planted it with miniature hostas and variegated ivy. In my mind it is also somewhat period accurate to the planter.This year I also decided to tuck  Caladiums into a couple spots with hostas in another bed in the back to add an extra bit of leaf color pop. And in other planters I also will use Coleus and polkadot plant with perennial ferns and daylilies. I am not a big fan of Caladiums and coleus as houseplants, but I have new respect for their ability to break up the density of greeness in the shade garden.

I will also admit I love the look of ostrich and other large ferns planted in these areas. They are so pretty and delicate when their fronds are unfurling in the spring, and then they add to scrape loose of airy greenness that different throughout the summer. And I even have to Boston ferns which I overwinter that I put on a double shepherds crook in the back as well.

Gardening in part is an experiment every season. I have some things that have worked and some things that haven’t worked. It’s trial and error. But I’m really happy with the way my back yard is starting to look. I wanted a more natural looking oasis that was pretty but not contrived. And it has taken a few summers but it’s starting to flow.

This is the first time I have really had a dedicated shade garden. Other places I have lived in the past had more sun. So this was kind of hard for me to get the knack of at first, but every year I learn a little bit more. And I get to have a sun garden in the front so I think I have the best of both worlds.

And a final word because someone had to remind me hostas are originally Asian by origin. Hostas are cultivated in the US no matter their origin, as are many plants. Plenty of plants are non-natives originally that now grow as natives, so not actually incorrect. Take Chinese Sumac ( ailanthus altissima), known to most Philadelphians as stink weed. The tree was first brought from China to Europe in the 1740s and to the United States in 1784. It was introduced in Philadelphia because people thought silkworms would eat it. Then for a while it was planted as a street tree. It is now considered an invasive.

I am speaking of the ordinary green leaf variety of medium size with purple flowers that basically now grow wild around here when I say “native”.  I also have miniature hostas that pop up wild in the back at the edge of the woods – different spots every year. I transplant them. The medium hostas that I call native are everywhere. Like ferns, if you have woods, chances are you have them. Like the plain old orange daylilies people refer to as natives. They hail from China originally as well, yet here they are— everywhere. Hemerocallis fulva, I do believe. So plant and ecology experts might disagree with my explanations, but anyway.

Enjoy the day. Thanks for stopping by.