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The structure of a garden and the movements of a
ballet are not that all dissimilar. This thought comes
to my mind, I must admit, during our family’s annual
overdose of the Nutcracker Ballet. My daughter’s five
years of classes prepared her sufficiently to perform in
the Brandywine Ballet Company’s holiday performances.
We attended two live performances of hers and
watched many more on television.
Imagine Tchaikovsky’s score without the ballet; the
music can stand alone. Our gardens in winter, I argue, are like Tchaikovsky’s
music. Always present, the woody plant material,
hardscape and structural elements are the bones of the
garden. The ballet dancers will arrive in spring and dance
their way through the growing season.
Without the superfluous adornments of annuals and
perennials, more attention can be given to the exposed
site. My favorite winter-blooming shrub wintersweet,
Chimonanthus praecox, takes center stage early in winter.
Then there is a long list of wonderfully-colored stems,
bark and berries. Indoors, forced bulbs, starting with
the paperwhite narcissus, are a great treat. Outdoors,
containers are a simple way to augment your garden. Keep
in mind that terra-cotta pots should not be used because
they run the risk of cracking from the cold. There are
attractive resin, concrete or plastic containers perfectly
suitable for freezing temperatures. When choosing plants
for your winter container, they should be hardy to a full
zone colder, which would be zone 5b for us at Haverford.
Simply not clear-cutting all perennials to the ground
creates interest. Sedums, ornamental grasses, purple cone
flowers and the like provide food and shelter for birds.
They also gracefully hold light amounts of snow. Branches
of quince, cherry and forsythia can be brought indoors for
forcing. A good rule of thumb is to allow at least six weeks
of natural chilling before cutting.
A reliable old narcissus for the garden is ‘February Gold.’
It will brighten up things on the heels of your snowdrops.
Then annuals and perennials will pirouette their way in
and out of bloom from the early spring barrenwort to late
So, until the well-rested ballerinas return to the stage
in spring, just listen. Use the upcoming quiet months to
enjoy the music.
The frost was barely on the pumpkins this fall. As I write this, Mother Nature looks to be giving us a foretaste of the winter to come. Early snow squalls like this make for some beautiful juxtapositions. Many of the trees and shrubs are hanging on to spectacular color while the white stuff is sifted upon them like flour. I am not a fan of the white stuff, it means shovelling for hours on end. If you remember a few years back we were treated to a white trick or treat.
It doesn’t happen very often, in fact, only thirteen times since 1833. This Saturday, Dr. Dan Weiss will be inaugurated as Haverford College’s 14th President. The Grounds and Arboretum crews have been busy making the joint presentable. The entire campus community has been hard at work preparing for this very busy weekend on campus. Not only is the inauguration happening, it is also Family and Friends Weekend and a Board of Managers meeting.
Lots for us to do: mowing, weeding, edging, collecting the steady stream of leaves that look so beautiful on the trees but are troublesome on the lawns and changing out our flower beds and containers for the fall. Below are a few images of the work in progress by the Grounds and Arboretum crews.
Congratulations Dr. Weiss !
There is so much going on during the autumn months. Fall festivals, chili cook-offs, trips to the orchard to pick apples and football games pack our calenders. Meanwhile, the sugar maples and dogwood trees are screaming for attention as the riot of foliage begins to give us another reason to enjoy the fall. Cool nights, a little rain and warm days bring out the best in how the trees show off before going to bed for the season. While all the red, orange and yellow leaves are falling and the perennial garden is looking bedragled, I’d like to suggest a trio of plants some may not be familiar with.
The autumn crocus, meadow-saffron are common names for the bulb Colchicum. They enjoy being tucked in the garden where they can best be viewed when they bloom from early August into September. Their foliage emerges in February and persists through the spring until it yellows and dies down in June. Having just said that, the flower blooms on a leafless stalk. Colchicum blooms range from white, light pink, deep rose and even some double forms and don’t exceed 6-8 inches in height. They provide a surprising splash of color at the garden floor while many neighbors are showing off their traditional fall hues. Order and plant Colchium in August at a depth of 6 inches and they will bloom that same fall. Like most perennial bulbs it prefers to be in dry soil when dormant.
Autumn-daffodil is another bulb that is not usually found in gardens. Sternbergia lutea, is a group of bulbs in the Amaryllidaceae family. Most of you might know this group from the showy red flowers with strap-like leaves sold around the holidays. Sternbergia bloom with a bright yellow flower at 8 inches and it’s leaves are present from late September to October. The foliage remains green through the winter months (dying down in late spring) and would benefit from a covering of evergreen boughs. This practice helps to prevent dessication and moderates the soil temperature. Like the Colchicum, Sternbergia will tolerate sun to shade and will do best to have the soil dry out in the summer months.
Finally, there is a hardy begonia that is quite easy to grow in our parts. Begonia grandis has the longest bloom time of the previously mentioned here. The leaves are succulent, somewhat heart shaped, light green beneith with pale red veins. Because the leaves possess so much water in their leaves they are prone to taking a hard hit the first night the mercury dips into the 30s. They grow best in a shaded moist area with good organic matter. Their flowers are pink and hang above the 2-3 foot tall foliage in a loose habit. Post flowering, the seed pods that develop are three-winged and rather nice. Where this hardy begonia is happy it will self sow easily.
Haverford has Begonia grandis growing in the perennial garden at Hilles, the Peace Garden and numerous other shady locales.
This summer, folks who frequent the nature trail noticed a lot of activity. The arboretum hired an engineering firm, LandConcepts to stabilize the stream bank. Priorities for the work included, erosion remediation, the establishment of heavy stream flow boundaries, and revegetating disturbed sections with native plants. This project was sandwiched between the dredging of the upper pond back in the fall of 2012. The upper pond serves as the first line of defense, primarily as a sediment pond. Over the years of build up, this pond routinely overflowed its banks pouring large amounts of sediment into the Duck Pond. When large rain events occurred the Duck Pond and stream outflow could not handle the heavy volume of discharge. Consequently, resulting in the stream’s banks to erode jeopardizing the safety of the nature trail. The mini-spectacle of the EcoGoats to chew there way through adjacent stream edges overrun with exotic invasive species was quite an attraction for the summer visitors, staff and neighbors.
When the heavy work of placing boulders and moving earth was complete,the engineering firm came on to the site with 500 native plants. these included oaks, tulip trees sycamores and many other shrubs, all at the time of planting were no larger than 2ft tall. These will seamlessly blend in to the existing mature plant material as the years progress. Last week we added a few dozen ferns that were removed from an area on campus to the stream’s edge.
Why should we not, when deliberating the well being of our planet, make every effort to pursue a course leading to a better stewardship of the environment? One definition of utopia is “an imaginary and indefinitely remote place”. Striving for an impossibly ideal condition is a lofty goal for any individual, group or society.
An initiative titled Youtopia introduced by APGA (American Public Gardens Association), entices public garden leaders to pledge to reduce their climate change impact. This is a national leadership incentive for public gardens. APGA invites its 500 institutional constituents of which the arboretum is a member, that effect over 80 million visitors annually to join in. The arboretum pledged to take part in August and was the 14th establishment to do so. We join the early ranks of organizations from Massachusetts, Arizona, Alabama, North Carolina and Ontario, Canada.
Haverford College, as an institution, has signed on to various national endeavors such as The American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and AASHE STARS, (The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education), (The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) this is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. At the grass roots level on campus daily we buy energy from renewable resources like wind, initiate recycling campaigns, encourage alternative transportation methods like Philly Car Share, encourage biking, many electric vehicles are in the facilities fleet, Bi-Co buses run on natural gas, and support student/staff/faculty efforts in the Committee for Environmental Responsibility and Earth Quakers.
Youtopia is the first program offering public gardens a standardized method to build awareness. The arboretum staff will illustrate how it has and will take measures to reduce our climate impact. Participation requires the completion of three benchmarks:
1- Lead by example and illustrate how the arboretum is reducing net climate impact.
2- Educate and engage in climate impacts and sustainable solutions
3- Monitor and share results.
The many steps taken by the College to this point and the anticipated efforts of the arboretum, will enable us to carry out the action plan. Through the many efforts of the arboretum, we will move forward toward this goal.
Utopia is at our fingertips, close to our hearts and where we call home. The arboretum is poised to offer civic leadership by offering relevant lectures and tours, in addition to sustainable solutions to our peers and the Haverford community. We will keep the college community updated as we move toward a more sustainable institution.
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park was created in 1934 by President Roosevelt, to protect the area from logging. The park consists of 521,895 million acres and is visited by more than 9 million people annually, the largest attendance of our national parks. My family spent four wonderful days in the area of Mt Leconte, near Gatlinburg, TN. hiking last week. While the east coast was broiled in the oppressive heat wave, I pulled out a sweatshirt for the cool mountain evenings.
It all started about 1 billion years ago. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP) is situated within the Appalachian Blue Ridge geologic and physiographic province. At it’s core, these rocks were the building blocks of the ancient Appalachian Mountains. Within this province is Mt Leconte at 6593′. Most of the sedimentary rocks in GSMNP formed 800-450 million years ago. The last “building” phase of the Appalachian chain took place about 300-200 million years ago. This was during the time when the North American continent collided with African and European land masses. It is believed that the mountains may have been much higher than they are today, with elevations similar to the present-day Rocky Mountains.
The highlight of the trip was a 5.5 mile hike up Alum trail to Mt Leconte lodge. The lodge is the highest lodging east of the Mississippi at 6593′ These lodges are primitive, built in the 1920s. Alum Cave Creek is at the trail head, 3830′, the ensuing 5.5 mile hike is strenuous and dangerous at times. Nicknames accompanied the trek; monikers such as Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, Alum Cave Bluff, Gracie’s Pulpit, Old Man’s Stump, Grassy Slide and Old Horse Gate.
I was not only excited for the next 4 hour vertical adventure but wanted to watch the plant speciation change with elevation. Moving up in elevation is like traveling north in latitude. I had also read that these forests are under sever threat due to non-native insects and air pollution and wanted to see first hand.
The major tree species at the trail head, 3830′ were Betula alleghaniensis, yellow birch, Tsuga canadensis, Canada hemlock, and Aesculus flava, yellow buckeye. There were some beautiful specimens as we began the ascent. The shrub layer was vigorously growing with 15′ tall Rhododendron maximum, great laurel and R. catawbiense, Catawba rosebay. In addition, Leucothoe racemosa, dog hobble filled out the shrub layer. The ground was complete with numerous remnants of early spring ephemerals and blooms yet to open.
A heath bald was a curious ecotype and geologic formation at about 4700′. Growing on this exposed rocky site were Vaccinium corymbosum, blueberries, Diervilla lonicera, northern bush honeysuckle and Leiophydium buxifolium, sand myrtle. When the trail moved off the bald and back to high forest the occurrence of Picea rubens, red spruce and Abies balsam, balsam fir were more apparent. With this was the troubling sight of ghost trees. Long dead, standing silhouettes of spruce, fir and hemlock, devastated by non-native insects and air pollution. Rhododendron minus, piedmont rhododendron was seen at some high altitudes and was very stunted in growth, more than likely do to its growing on sheer rock out droppings with little soil and constant exposure to wind.
I was fortunate to spy on the trail two perennials that are endemic to the Smokies and one to the Mt Leconte peaks. These were seen at high elevations. Regelia nudicaulis, Rugel’s ragwort is a curious looking flower without petals. Resembling a common dandelion, Krigia montana, mountain Krigia was growing on the grassy slide at 6000′ among an unknown to me grass species. This perennial is known only to be growing in this locale on Mt Leconte, seeing something so scarce was very special.
We spent the night in cabin high atop Mt Leconte and descended early the next morning. The 5.5 mile hike back down the mountain was easier on the lungs but tougher on the legs. A hot shower and lots of rest was not far off.
After the long ride back to PA, back to work !
While the month of June went in the history books as the wettest in Philadelphia history, the area accumulated 10.55 inches of liquid sunshine. the average for June is 3.43 inches. This total spilled over the previous mark of 10.06 inches set back in 1938. When it wasn’t raining we were granted with many days of temperatures in the 90°s and high humidity. Quite soggy on both accounts.
An energetic group of students workers are busy assisting the Horticulturists this summer. This summer we are happy to have working with us Helen Wistman, Sociology, Class of 2014 and hailing from Belmont, MA. Josh Servellon, Class of 2014 is a Russian major and joins us from Ontario, Canada. Splitting her time between the arboretum and a geology lab at Bryn Mawr is Abby Fullem, Class of 2016, from Albany, NY. Finally, St. Joseph’s University and Manaynk, PA has on loan to the arboretum Joe Campbell, Class of 2015, a Food Marketing major. Joe’s dad is Don Campbell, Director of Facilities at Haverford. I’d like to thank all the students that spend their summer working with us, Grounds and all the other departments in Facilities.
Dodging rain, lightning and falling trees the college welcomed the arrival of our new President, Dr. Daniel Weiss and his family. There were some violent storms that did cause damage to the collection. Mother Nature does not discriminate. She blew down a water logged 110 year old Quercus rubra red oak, along the nature trail and tore limbs off trees of all ages.