Ice Ice, Baby

What a beautifully dangerous day this February 5th was. It started sleeting in the midnight hour, the College lost power in the neighborhood of 4am and seamlessly continues to operate on generator backup. The Grounds and Arboretum crews set out at 5am to attempt a salting and sanding mission on walks and roads. As the weather worsened, even we were called back to the facilities garage to keep us safe from the constant breaking of our treasured trees. Classes were cancelled mid morning. By 11am we set forth to assess the tree damage as best we could. The list we were generating was fluid as limbs continued to giveway under the burden of heavy snow from a few days earlier and the accumulated ice of the day. The sound of popping wood and limbs crashing to the ground could be heard throughout campus all day. A heart wrenching sound.

Please enjoy this haiku sent to me from two of my Arboretum student workers Abby Fullem and Adriana Cvitkovic both Class of 2016.

Wintry mix from hell
Ice weighs down hearts and branches
We mourn for the trees.

thanks ladies, we do mourn for the trees


the siberian elm at Harris Rd bus stop

the siberian elm at Harris Rd bus stop

Bridge over RR Avenue looking toward the Haverford School

Bridge over RR Avenue looking toward the Haverford School

heavy with ice the dawn redwood waits for spring

heavy with ice the dawn redwood waits for spring

the College sign on Lancaster Ave
the College sign on Lancaster Ave


2 Above, Too Cold, Today

The in car thermometer read 2 degrees as I pulled onto the campus this morning.  It is the kind of cold that goes right to the bone, no matter what you wear.  The grounds and arboretum crews were on campus at 6am this morning treating the icy patches with a mix of rock salt and sand.  The wind chill was in the -15 to -20 degree range while the actual air temperature hovered two clicks above zero.  There isn’t much the rock salt does except melt then quickly refreeze.  That’s where the sand comes in handy.  When the two are applied jointly, the sand is bonded to the ice in the short time between thawing and refreezing.  Due to the high winds, putting down only sand, it would have simply blown away.

Unfortunately today, the Arboretum witnessed the removal of a large American elm, Ulmus americana in front of the Dining Center.  The tree had been in decline for a number of years and in the fall of 2013 following further evaluation was deemed a hazard and scheduled for takedown over winter break.  Last summer you may remember a very large major limb of the tree broke lose on a beautifully calm day.  The tree is situated along a heavily travelled thoroughfare.  Students pass under the tree multiple times a day going to the dining center.  Blue Bus travelers come to the Haverford campus from Bryn Mawr College and have enjoyed it’s shade while passing under.  Rather than risking the tree breaking free and doing serious harm to any members of the community, a tough decision had to be made.

Today the Arboretum’s tree contractor, John B. Ward Tree Company was on campus to gently bring down the tree.  The crew braved the bitter cold and wind disarming the threat of a catastrophe.  The Arboretum will replace in kind the American elm soon in the same vicinity.

The chill of the day has eased out of my bones as I write this and the forecast for tomorrow is for a balmy 26 degrees.  Enjoy the heat wave.

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Nuts to Narcissus


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

November asters.

So, until the well-rested ballerinas return to the stage

in spring, just listen. Use the upcoming quiet months to

enjoy the music.



First Flakes

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. 007