take a walk

Wanna go for a walk?  The trails at Kirkwood Preserve, in Newtown Square, PA, meander through 83 acres of mostly grassland; an open countryside that provides important habitat and resting areas for birds.  We discovered this preserve on the way to my 94-year old grandmother’s house (assisted living facility, actually.)

It’s all about the birds here (although I didn’t get any good pics-only had my iPhone.)  Kirkwood Preserve is home to many declining grassland species, including the American Kestrel, Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Vesper Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Northern Harrier, and Barn Owl. The Willistown Conservation Trust employs many strategies to protect Kirkwood’s grassland birds.

Trail map features Owl and Kestrel box locations

Yep, we saw the boxes. But no kestrels.

We did see a few hawks circling high above, being chased by small brave birds.  The smaller birds form their own Neighborhood Watch, chasing the larger predator birds away from their territory.  (Red-winged blackbirds do this.)

Canadian thistle in bloom – an invasive species they try to eliminate. Still I think it’s beautiful.

The preserve also features equestrian trails, a half-mile stretch of the Crum Creek, approximately 21 acres of wet areas, and 1.5 acres of upland and riparian woodland.

Horsies!

There was a lot of milkweed growing, the pods still green.  I’ll come back in early autumn to look at the milky fluffy stuff that comes out of the cracked pods (used to make fibers for ropes and cords, etc.)

Milkweed pods

Although milkweed is known to contain cardiac glycosides that are poisonous to humans and livestock, that hasn’t stopped people from using the plant medicinally in a number of ways, from laxatives to producing postpartum milk flow.  It’s unique qualities are also an aid to the Monarch butterfly.  From USDA plant fact sheet: “The cardiac glycoside in milkweed has also been useful as a chemical defense for monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). Chemicals from the milkweed plant make the monarch caterpillar’s flesh distasteful to most predators. Monarch butterflies are specific to milkweed plants; this is the only type of plant on which the eggs are laid and the larvae will feed and matures into a chrysalis. Eggs are laid on the underside of young, healthy leaves.”

We’ll be back again soon, to look for birds and butterflies, and whatever else we can find.  This land is protected from development forever, and is recognized by Audubon Pennsylvania Area (IBA) as an Important Bird Area (IBA.)  Visit if you can, but remember, no dogs allowed – dogs are viewed by birds as predators. 
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a walk around the big house

So much is blooming and growing outside right now, plus I got a new camera, so…you can imagine I want to capture as much as possible.  But I also want to be learning.  What am I learning by taking pictures?  I guess I’m learning how to look at the world through a lens.  My perspective/perception is in flux.  I’ve appreciated nature for a long time, but trying to capture its many colors, textures and patterns is much more complicated than it looks.  It’s a magical process, taking a picture.  You think you see one thing, and then you look through the lens and it’s very different in there; it forces you to frame up one part of the world for a moment in time.

little white bells of solomon’s seal, did i ever notice the red stems before?

Do you know how Solomon’s seal got it’s name?  Don’t quote me on this, but apparently King Solomon had a special seal that looked like a pentagram or hexagram; and it’s thought that when the plant’s stem is broken away from the root, the circular star left behind resembles that very seal.  I’ll have to look for the cicatrice next time I dig some up.  It’s botanical name is Polygonatum biflorum, and was included in a Plant of the Week segment I produced for Martha way back when.  And while I’m not a big bible reader, I love this quote from Song of Solomon: “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.”

Other plants are named for more obvious reasons…

Bleeding Heart, or Dicentra spectabilis

Bluebell, or Hyacinthoides

Snowball viburnum

Snowball viburnum makes a great cut flower.  If you get them while they’re still chartreuse they’re extra delicious.  Cut them and let them soak in water for a few hours before you use them in a design.

Then there is this one lone Black Parrot tulip, leaning dark and frilly in a sunny spot behind the birch.

It didn’t want to be discovered, or even photographed.  But I celebrate what could be the last year of its blooming with this picture.  After all this garden photography, I feel dizzy. Who knew what treasures I would find inside the camera, with the rest of the world slowed down to the click of a button.  I focus.  I breathe.  And there – there it is – I appreciate the miraculousness of it all.

a taste of the country

It was my mother-in-law’s birthday, so I made her two arrangements for her country house in the backwoods of New Hampshire.  This calming collection of blues and purples includes hydrangea, delphinium, monkshood and lisianthus…and white roses and white lilac, with a little bupleurum and curly willow thrown in at the end.

The second arrangement I made was more of an Easter arrangement, with yellows and pinks, including foxtail lily or eremurus, stock, sunflower, daffodil, peony, and tulip.

Rutha was also really happy to receive a garden gnome who will give her a bit of luck out in her garden beds.  (I guess I sort of believe in gnomes, since the Gnomes book was always lying around our house growing up and it’s so convincingly written and drawn.)  Here she is reading another of her presents, Cat Fancy Magazine.

While visiting, we always try to get out for some walks since the air is so clean. On this  afternoon’s constitutional, I saw this cute little yellow flower in bloom, looking a lot like a dandelion…but not quite.  I knew it was in the Aster family, but that’s about it!  Later I looked it up and found out it’s Coltsfoot, or Tussilago farfara.  It’s often found along roadsides and in ditches, and is not native to North America, brought here by settlers from Europe who used it medicinally as a cough suppressant.  (Some still do.)

But some of the real country action happened while we were sleeping.  We gave Robert, my father-in-law, a Bushnell motion-activated infrared camera (with audio!) for Christmas this year.   He strapped it to a tree a little ways into the woods near their house.  So far the camera has captured a host of wildlife including fisher cats, squirrels, chipmunks, foxes, curious crows, and even a neighborhood dog.  But a few days ago a coyote showed up, and here she is caught on camera!

I just love the way she peeks around the tree towards the end.

P.S. Check out the Soulsby Farm’s recent post on coyotes…lots of great info there.

oriental paper bush in bloom

Back in January, I came across the magnificient Paper Bush in bud on the grounds of the Scott Arboretum, blogged here. Back then it was hung with delicious metallic furry fairy-attracting buds.

Edgworthia chyrsantha Jan 25th - buds

I took a walk the other day and was hit by the scent first – a clean sweet just utterly delicious smell that transported me to a magical kingdom where everyone has good intentions.  Then I saw the blooms – BOOM – they are huge and almost Seussian!

Edgworthia chrysantha 'Tony's Clone' or 'Snow Cream' Mar 19

This member of the Daphne family is high on my list of must-have shrubs!

some little spring things

how about this hellebore?

Tra la la, skipping through Swarthmore with my doggie…well, not exactly skipping, more like being pulled by my doggie through Swarthmore…we come across all sorts of botanical treasures. It is usually Larry who finds them first, his nose sending him on a zig zag mission that wraps me up in his leash. Here! They! Are!

Winter Aconite on Elm Ave near Swarthmore Ave

I don’t remember these little yellow guys, and suddenly they’re everywhere I look. They look buttercup-y to me. Online searching sends me right to the Scott Arboretum’s blog, where Eranthis hyemalis, or Winter Aconite, is well described: “The sunny persona of Eranthis hyemalis can’t help but make one believe that spring is just around the corner. The tuberous ephemeral is a member of the buttercup family and is best planted in mass and left undisturbed. Over time plants will seed to create even bolder, brighter displays.”

pleasing but poisonous

A little deeper digging reveals that these late winter/early spring-blooming beauties have a dark side. Turns out Larry was smelling Cerberus’ spit – which you can imagine is quite toxic – when he discovered the deceptively dainty yellow blooms on Elm Ave. According to Greek legend, when Hercules dragged Cerberus (you know the three-headed canine who guards the gates to the Underworld) to the Upper World, his reaction to the sunny side of things was to froth madly at the mouth. And wherever this crazy beast’s saliva touched the earth, up sprouted winter aconite. Thanks, Cerberus, it’s a nice touch. Winter aconite is in fact poisonous – all parts especially the tuber. So, you might not want to plant this if you’ve got dogs (Larry did NOT ingest any of this) or kids who dig in the garden.

Onward, ho, my brindled hound

What else have you found for me today? Okay we’ve been looking at snowdrops, or Galanthus nivalis, for almost a month now. But some fact-finding revealed a great story (or at least I think it’s great) about this early spring bulb. There’s a sort of snowdrop-mania going on in the UK and last year one bulb of the ‘Green Tear’ cultivar fetched £365, making it the world’s most expensive snowdrop (and perhaps bulb?) Well, yesterday, this record was shattered, when Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was auctioned on Ebay for £725, purchased by the seed company Thompson and Morgan, who say in their press release that “the stunning snowdrop Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was named after the owner of the garden where it first appeared as a seedling in Scotland a few years ago and it has not been identified growing anywhere else.” It is really striking, with a golden yellow ovary and yellow petal markings. I wonder how long it will take them to produce more, and how much longer it will take to be discovered growing in Swarthmore!

Galanthus woronowii

oriental paper bush – aka the shrub to attract fairies in winter

Image

Like I said, I’m totally spoiled living essentially on the grounds of Scott Arboretum.  Every corner you turn, there’s a plant you know nothing about (true for me, anyway) but thank heavens, they’re labeled. Today I was literally blown away by this shrub that looked as if it were hung with silvery-sage ornaments in the shape of flowery bells.

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I can’t even describe how deliciously the slightly metallic flower buds seemed to glow from within. Oh and they’ve got a downy fuzz on them as well.  I looked around expecting to see fairies doing a little dance with their rabbit friends.  Seriously.  Then I came home and did some research, and guess what, it’s a member of the Daphne family so when it blooms expect there to be a heavenly scent!  I will check back on this plant to document the buds unfurling and ensuing foliage. Apparently they’ve finally officially named it ‘Snow Cream,’ according to Tony Avent at Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC where they have sold it “without a cultivar name for the last decade.” Aw, I kind of liked it being called ‘Tony’s Clone.’  Did some further reading at Kew and found that the common name, Paper Bush, refers to the fact that its’ bark is used for making paper, including ornamental Japanese wallpaper, calligraphy paper, and at one time, Japanese bank notes of the highest quality.  Neat.

life lessons

Taking a walk today at the Scott Arboretum, I was counting myself extremely lucky to be at such close distance to these grounds.  I’ve taken many (dog) walks here, and there’s always something to see whatever the season.  It’s especially exciting to watch the landscape return to life after the dormancy of winter, and noticing the little signs that spring will come (eventually) fills one with a sort of buoyancy.  The tinge of pink of this Higan Cherry tree starting to bud caught my eye.

Prunus subhirtella, Higan Cherry

Over the next hill, a flowery fragrance wafts towards me on the foggy misty air.  What could it be? It’s so promising, and clean.  Ahh…it’s Witch Hazel! I filled my nose with it’s bright scent while marveling at the strappy little punk rock petals, bursting lemon yellow from their red bud shells like party favors.

Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis Mollis 'Early Bright'

It’s formal name is Hamamelis mollis ‘Early Bright,’ a cultivar of Chinese witch hazel which was actually introduced by the Scott Arboretum in 1988. They noticed one particular plant which consistently bloomed about two weeks earlier than it’s neighbors, and over several years selected, named, and released this winter beauty.  Here it is blooming in late January but it’s been known to bloom during the first few weeks of January.

Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis Mollis 'Early Bright'

Among those responsible for this fine introduction is Andrew Bunting, now Scott Arb’s Curator and owner of Fine Garden Creations, a company I worked for in 1996/1997. I consider Andrew and his team responsible for getting me started on my journey into the world of horticulture, a world I’ve been sadly distanced from in my profession as TV producer.

Rose Hips in Rose Garden

But witnessing the bravado of buds and fruits in the winter landscape, my spirits are lifted.  There is rebirth, change, growth all around us.   I can grow and change too, and I am, and I will.  I spent a moment really examining these plants, and took in their scents and colors, and when I walked away I think maybe I learned some kind of lesson, that the cycles which govern every living thing also govern me; and that when I feel connected to Nature, I am more alive and more myself.

bloomin’ fun

My first day at Falls Flowers – Jan 19th, 2012…a quiet Thursday in East Falls.  I started by processing flowers that had been hydrating; and I learned a lot today!  For example, when flowers first arrive, they should hydrate for an hour minimum – if you don’t, their little heads could droop beyond rescue.  Some flowers are more prone to wilting than others; but initial hydration is a big must for everything.

you won't find these flowers in most shops, feast your eyes

The proprietor, Peicha Chang, gets her flowers from a variety of Philly vendors, who get their stuff from NYC or local growers when possible, and the NYC flowers come from Holland, Japan, South America, and beyond.  For Christmas and Easter, she’ll go up to the NYC flower market herself.  I guess there’s no way around being slightly uncomfortable at the environmental impact shipping flowers all over the world has, and if there were a way to stock only locally grown flowers, she would be doing this, but for the kind of variety she wants it’s just impossible.  Not sure how I feel about this part of the industry, as flowers are not a ‘necessity,’ really.  It would at least be nice to know if the farms that are growing your flowers are growing them sustainably, not just for the soil’s sake but for the workers and their exposure to chemicals.  More on this later as I dig deeper.

Gloriosa superba 'Rothschildiana'

gloriosa lily - exotic and toxic

Meet the Gloriosa lily.  This gorgeous lily is actually a climbing vine, and looks as if she’s throwing her petals back from the exertion of the journey.

And hello to you, French Ranunculus.  I have never seen the likes of you before.

french ranunculus (but grown in Holland)

My other favorite of the day is the Astrantia, a cut flower I believe she said was Dutch grown but I’ve seen growing quite happily in gardens in the Northeast.  The stems have a purplish tinge to them and so do the leaves and as you gaze at this plant’s structure you may be reminded of Queen Anne’s Lace, or Fennel, or Dill…all members of the Carrot Family.  Oh, I love you Starflower.

astrantia (A. major) member of carrot family, starflower. LOVE

Now for some how-to, so I can remember what the heck I did:  in processing flowers, the key is to remove any leaves/thorns that will be sitting in water.  It’s important from a ‘rot’ standpoint but also super important when you’re in a busy floral shop to be able to pull a stem easily from it’s container without it tangling up in others.   This is something I hadn’t really thought of before.  Removing 2/3 of the lower leaves also creates a cleaner visual impact, something that most people don’t do when they bring a bouquet home from the grocery store, and it makes all the difference in the world to me.  After removing the leaves, I cut the stems at a 45 degree angle for maximum drinking potential.  Some of the woody stems (Quince) are also cut vertically to create more surface area for the water to climb.  I mostly used pruners, but lots of floral pros use knives to trim thorns off of roses and cut the stems.  There is an art to it, for sure.  Check out the quick video of my first KNIFE LESSON!

I then changed the water out of all the containers on display, which she does once or twice a week or when the water starts to look cloudy.  Flowering branches like Quince make the water cloudy more quickly. Vases are washed once a week on Saturdays.  We cleaned out the walk in fridge together (keeps below 40deg F,) discarding flowers that were past their prime.  At this point Peicha began making little sad noises for each of the flowers she had to toss.  To her, flowers are not just “product.” These are living items she chooses carefully and spends a lot of effort trying to preserve for as long as possible. Meanwhile, I was saying things like “off with their heads,” and cutting them up into smaller pieces for the compost pile.  (All of her vegetable matter waste goes to a local grower for composting…more on this later as I get more details.)

i was in heaven making little labels for everything

One of the areas I really need to learn more on is vase expectancy!  When I made labels for the display items, we put the number of days you could expect the flower to thrive after bringing it home.  Some were 3, others were 14, others were ∞ because they were dried (Protea, Everlasting, etc.)  She just rattled off the numbers! This is a very important piece of the puzzle I’d like to learn.

the master makes a quick bouquet, showing me how to hold stems vertically so they spiral together naturally

The quick bouquet lesson at the very end of the day was probably the most fun to watch for me, because Peicha’s experience really shined.  I like to think I have some skill with flowers, and I may have more than the average person, but when you see a master working, you’ll be blown away.  She confidently chose an array of materials for two different bouquets, but I only took a pic of the second one.  She used the South African Leucodendron as her base, following by the flaming Gloriosa Lily, ‘Gold Rush’ Roses, some Billyballs, and even a few evergreens which I thought really made it work (salvaged from the holiday buckets in the fridge.)  She likes to work with odd numbers as they’re “more dynamic,” but if you have to go even use 2…or 6 I think she said. In the end she was holding a $40-$50 bouquet of unusual and beautiful flowers.  I have so much to learn!

I’ll leave you with this plum beauty, the showy Anemone grown from a tuber…

anemone (A. coronaria) - dive into pure plum! grown in Holland