Robin-Lee

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No Mercy, Alnus

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A year goes by quickly!

Especially when it’s been four months.

We got the call late one night that our place not only had been on the market but that it had also, interestingly – and I use interestingly here very incorrectly — been sold.

The landlord, whose identity will remain anonymous and synonymous with the worst of shitstains after a Taco Bell 5-layer burrito, had gone to Florida with big dreams of making it in real estate. Florida was hard, he said. As a result, money was tight, he said. Real estate turned out to be weally weally hard. He didn’t know it would be so difficult in Florida in real estate. He said.

There are books in the library covering the disastrous state of Florida real estate, I said.

You put us through the wringer because you thought we would leave the place early and prove to be typical, terrible young renters. I said.

And now we’re without a support to hold us up, scrambling and reaching for any prospect of a decent living situation nearby and within budget.

Irony aside and damning the circumstances, our patio and housefront have never looked chuffier. The real late-summer winner has been the cardinal climber (Ipomoea x multifida), grown from seed and which has wound its way around every fence post in the alleyway and through the front-step rail and mailbox.

According to a very unique site dedicated to climbing/twining plants*, “Ipomoea is from the Greek ips, which means ‘a worm,’ and homoios which, means ‘resembling,’ referring to the wormlike twining habit.”

The long, tubular red scarlet flowers seem to be a product of coevolution, perfect for the long beaks of hummingbirds — which, on second thought, might mean the hummingbird’s beak came to be specialized due to the flower’s structure. And it’s probably no mistake that a hummingbird’s vision, very different from ours, is attuned to the red hues of the light spectrum. The pleasingly shredded-looking leaves are a result of the hybrid between the cypress vine and a red morning glory.

What’s truly remarkable about this species — and any mentioned in The Climbers Project website, for that matter — is how it grows, how it reaches out to grasp and twine around the nearest object without the aid of eyes or any sort of guidance (such as the chemicals in odors, which some vining and twining plants use to detect nearby supports). In Daniel Chamovitz’s book, What a Plant Knows, the author devotes a chapter to a plant’s “sight”, which is really the interplay of gravity and light, the tiny particles known as statholiths that influence the direction of plant growth (gravity) and the chemical auxin literally changing the morphology of the stems (growth toward light).

This goes back to Darwin, cutting the nips and tips off of plant stems and roots, trying to figure out how the devil plants “knew” how to grow and where to grow. Thank god rabbits don’t photosynthesize.

The curiosities of later scientists gave the opportunity for plants to travel to space, beyond the wildest aspirations of a coconut dreaming of crossing the Pacific Ocean. Root and stem growth theories were confirmed with the absence of gravity, but what was still puzzling was the twining motion (including the “circumnutation”, or helical movement of such plants, demonstrating in the gyration of a sunflower). Here’s a video not of a sunflower demonstration this so-called heliotropism — I just loved the jazzy French gypsy music.

Which brings me back to my original anecdote: my roommate and I had our tips cut off. Well, that’s gross. But in any case, we suddenly had no support and were suddenly uprooted with no prospect in sight. But like a plant whose flowers are constantly decapitated by a brutal mailman and that somehow inexplicably wildly yet calculatedly strain themselves to find another solid support, we found a suitable place to call home and where we’ll spread our seed all over the place.

Again, gross. But for those of you who want our new address and to see more gratuitous photos of plants driven by narcissism, ego, and a touch of interest in plant science:

1915 S. Alder St., Philadelphia, PA 19148

 

 

 

*Burnham, R.J. (2008-2014). “CLIMBERS: Censusing Lianas in Mesic Biomes of Eastern RegionS.” <http://climbers.lsa.umich.edu&gt;.

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Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

September 17, 2017 at 7:43 pm

And the PHS Gardening and Greening Contest Award goes to…

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Not us!

Two months ago, I entered our front and backyard spaces in PHS’s Gardening and Greening Contest, which so exists to celebrate “the accomplishments of gardeners in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.”

Alleyway before & after. Even some of the dirt in the before picture was added — this was originally a garbage pit and was spanned by broken-down wooden slats, which my roommate cleverly used to make our existing vegetable-garden planter. In this plot, we have growing Ipomoea sloteri, purple Salvia, stonecrop, coneflower, Cleome, Shepherd’s needles, and other wildflowers.

Contenders could win in one of several categories, including Children’s Garden (we have far too many poisonous plants and far too few children to be considered, it seems), Combination Garden, Container Garden, Flower & Specialty Garden, Garden Block, Public Space: Plantings/Parks, Urban Farm (ineligible as we do not sell our fruits of labor…yet), and Vegetable Garden.

Gods alive! Our leafy friends have really thrived in this humid summer. In the left-hand corner, my ace-in-the-hole Mucuna Pruriens is hopefully vining, twining, and waiting for the right timing until its big show… Bottom left-hand corner: Mothra

While I’ve listed the categories now, I didn’t take it upon myself when entering the contest to read the fine print of the rules, regulations, and possible winning categories. Had there been an “Entirely Green Foliage” or “Drunk Garden Design” category, we would have surely won. That being said, we did our damnedest, and I’m proud that my roommate and I worked together to put some green against the otherwise bleached concrete of 1109 Mercy Street. I’m also chuffed that we managed to keep most plants alive throughout a week of scorching sun and some strange man who our neighbor informed us was peeing in a particular plant at four in the morning (which, incidentally, is now dead).

Lesson learned: Borage deserves a bigger bed

While we’ve been busy with our own green space, I’d been meaning to take a stroll around South Philadelphia to show off some of our neighbor’s beautiful front-porch/yard/patio green spaces. I’ve met a few of them, and they certainly know their plants. First up…

Christ, this place. The owners looked down on me from their upper deck veranda — sitting in white, Victorian chairs, drinking wine out of marble goblets and savoring cheeses and capers — and told me to scamper off like a good little urchin, before I had a brief glimpse of a nude Minerva with water arching from her teats into a pool of porcelain koi.

No. Not right. I didn’t see these people at all, and I’m betting they’re absolutely lovely. At the least, they take extraordinary care of their magical courtyard, and it must have been years of attention to train the now-bursting grape vine and some careful thought into establishing the soft-colored pines that preside over their unbelievably Spring-green lawn.

You’ll see from the photos of our own front green space that I’m partial to purples, pinks, blues, and greens. I am not a fan of yellows, reds, and oranges. Yet, this house just up 11th street has some definite interest and a well-thought-out plan (heat- and sun-tolerant varieties) with its cascading Lysimachia, well-matched Coleus, and Amaranthus tricolor, a striking red-yellow-orange pigweed I’ve never seen before.

 

Again with the orange hues in the photo above, but these owners have cleverly used an elevated tub and a smart, symmetrical arrangement as well as some interest in the right, lower-hand corner with a blue oat grass and an unknown vine.

Not far from the red-yellow-orange house, this front appeals to me with its old-fashioned street lamp and entirely red-green theme with Elephant Ear plants and mandevilla.

 

I imagine this neighbor vied for the container competition. He’s also the one who gifted me the purpletop vervain and bronze fennel (now sadly passed) on my walk with the dog a month ago. And I can never resist a good use of pines and Lantana.

We met our neighbor on the corner a few nights ago as we were arranging our own front yard green space. Cigarette dangling from her mouth, odd curlers still in hair, she said she had been training her clematis and ivy for over 10 years. The stunning double clematis variety which she disdains, as it takes on a rather ragged and dried appearance after a short flowering period, peeps out from the pink roses and Japanese stone fountain hidden below the trellis.

So there we have the finest of South Central Philly, and it narrows down both the possible PHS winner and whose plants on which I’ll be increasing the pH balance.

 

Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

July 23, 2017 at 5:19 pm

Shades of Red: New Trials & the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show

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Verbena x hybrida Lanai Twister Red
(Image from FleuroSelect)

The California Spring Trials, an annual week-long event featuring the newest and improved additions to the horticulture industry, will take place pretty soon in several locations near Santa Cruz. Sneak peaks are reflecting what’s been passing through the greenhouse recently, and I’ve been seeing quite a few shades of red.

The usual dizzying array of petunias (Petunia Good and Plenty Red) and calibrachoas (Calibrachoa Pomegranate Punch) have come through our cuttings room and more and more salvias (Salvia Grandstand Red Lipstick Pink). Then there’s the proven winners that have been around since the 2013 trials, such as the bold and endlessly blooming geraniums.

Some of my favorites have included the unique red hues and patterns on begonias, the streaked and more subtle scarlet waves on cannas, and the usual eye-catching Verbenas, especially the new Lanai Twister series.

While varying concentrations and cycles of naturally occurring chemicals within these plants are responsible for the colors perceived by different species (bees cannot sense wavelengths in the red spectrum and so they see flowers very differently from humans), some colors and especially variegation are caused by viruses.

Commonly seen are the leaves effected by the tobacco mosaic virus, which produces a mosaic of light and dark colors. Or perhaps you visited the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show and learned about the virus responsible for the beautiful tulips that were all the craze in the early-mid 1600s. The white streaks in these tulips are simply an absence of functioning chloroplasts (cells responsible for photosynthesis and reflecting the middle range of the visible color spectrum, thus appearing green to us) caused by the tulip breaking virus in cells in development and early growth of the plant’s organs.

The virus, while producing gorgeous specimens that were all the rage for some time in Europe (and absurdly valuable), actually weakened the plant, and so you would’ve seen similar, genetically bred tulips at the Flower Show but not those of Dutch Golden Age fame.

And not all streaks and spots are caused by viruses, but that’s a post for another day. For now, enjoy the photos I didn’t take (all photos taken by Mom Dunlap).

Philadelphia Flower Show 2017: Just a Peek

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“There’s no shortage of art in this city or in there.”

My tour guide friend’s words as he came out of the Flower Show are no exaggeration, and I can definitely say that this year’s Flower Show easily beats out last year’s rather lackluster national parks–themed displays.

I tried my hand at identifying the varieties of tulip — sources often break down Tulipa into 15 or so main categories. The following I tentatively ID’d, the Fringed variety being my absolute favorite. See if you can find them all at the Flower Show!

Of course, you won’t find the original “Rembrandt” variety of Tulipa, those tulips that looked as though they had been artfully painted by…well, not Rembrandt, because he didn’t paint flowers. But let’s say Monet.

The breath-taking, streaked tulips we see in paintings of old were a result of a virus, which, although it made beautiful and valuable, sought-after bulbs during the height of Tulipmania, made the flower’s stem weak and stunted and is now no longer commercially available. (But thanks to genetic modification and cultivation, a similar kind is available.)

While I went around and tried to identify the main varieties of tulips, I was also excited to see in real life plants I’ve only seen in pictures, such as Gaura lindheimeri, Snakeshead Fritillary, Trifolium repens, some beautiful California cedars, and more.

Later this week, I’ll explore more with my family the educational exhibits, such as the “Ecodome” and smaller terrarium and sculpture displays. In the meantime, if you’re in need of something indoors and with a burst of color, head to the Convention Center before the show ends this Sunday (and stop at the Independence Visitor Center to get discounted tickets!).

 

 

Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

March 14, 2017 at 6:43 pm

Spring Events & Attractions in Philadelphia

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The annual Philadelphia Flower Show is coming up quick (March 11-19), and we are so Spring ready at the Independence Visitor Center.

 

In my never-ending quest to push green activities in Philadelphia at the Center, I recently put up a display of my top favorite destinations for Spring. And as always, we receive the publication, Grid magazine, which is an excellent resource for ecological events in and just outside of Philadelphia proper.

This year’s Flower Show, though highly focused on tulips and all their variegations, also highlights the Dutch horti- and agriculture’s need to utilize space ecologically and economically, given the country’s limited, below-sea-level geographical setting. And I find this year’s exhibition fitting and called-for in a place like Philadelphia, which in my mind should today be a Kew Gardens-ranking botanical destination.
Sadly, it’s not, and “park” designation is barely merited unless it’s including “-ing lot”. As a “greene country towne” home to some of the pioneers of American botany and horticulture, I feel Philadelphia is frustratingly and embarrassingly lacking promotion of what is was and could be.

While I’ve mentioned a few of the following sites in a previous post, it’s absolutely worth mentioning them again in the top places I recommend visiting for your Spring (and beyond Spring) visit/stay/ambiguous-duration-of-inhabitance-similar-to-my-own in and around Philadelphia.



Bartram’s Gardens

 

Where? 54th Street & Lindbergh Boulevard

How do I get there? While it’s a bit of a trek from downtown, Bartram’s is accessible by public trolley #36 to 54th Street. If you’re just paying for roundtrip, have exact change or tokens ($2.25 per token or combo price for purchase at major stations downtown or at Independence Visitor Center).

Cost? Usually free!

 

A bright yellow wood poppy bursting above its leafy canopy in Bartram's Garden

A bright yellow wood poppy bursting above its leafy canopy in Bartram’s Garden

This should be the Kew Gardens of America, and, yet, it’s not all it could be and isn’t so well known to visitors. Bartram and his son were American pioneers in horticulture/botany, and the former site of the Bartram residence and gardens is the place to go if you want to understand the beginnings and aspirations of Philadelphia. At Bartram’s Gardens, there are walking tours available, free kayaking events on the Schuylkill River, and volunteer opportunities on the farm.

Here, you’ll also find one of the oldest and largest Ginkgo biloba trees in the Americas, dating from the late 1700s, as well as a rare-ish Franklinia, tons of garlic mustard, and Celandine poppy/wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum).*

*Interestingly, according to one source, celandine poppy “is threatened by the invasion of Alliaria petiolate (Garlic Mustard)”, a subject touching on allelopathy (in this case, plants using chemical properties to inhibit other plants/competitors) I’ll be exploring soon.

 

John Heinz Wildlife Refuge

 

Where? 8601 Lindbergh Boulevard

How do I get there? By car – if you don’t have your own, take an Uber (bit expensive) or rent a car for the day from Hertz and maybe try fitting in the other recommendations here (Bartram’s or Morris Arboretum)

Cost? Free!

 

A thicket of milkweed, lanky grasses, butterfly bushes, and Melilotus officinalis

A thicket of milkweed, lanky grasses, butterfly bushes, and Melilotus officinalis

The 1,000-acre reserve is a bit surreal being so close to an international airport. Stop in at the Visitor Center to learn about the site’s sordid past, being a site of immense biodiversity and riparian importance turned into an industrial cesspool and now slowly being restored to its original ecological grandeur. There are seasonal plant hikes offered as well as numerous birding tours (the refuge is famous for its eagles’ nests), many of which are free to the public.

You can also volunteer here – for a couple of months, I helped weed out invasive poplars and garlic mustard and occasionally sitting the Visitor Center’s reception desk to answer questions about the refuge.

 

Morris Arboretum

 

Where? 100 E Northwestern Avenue

How do I get there? By car or by train then Uber (this one’s complicated – if you’re willing to half-bike it, send me a message)

Cost? $17 for Adults, $9 Youth/Students

 

A monstrous, Kraken-like Katsura in Morris Aboretum

A monstrous, Kraken-like Katsura in Morris Aboretum

Trees, wonderful trees. I’m more a fan of low-lying plants, but this arboretum contains some impressive tree species. I was, in the very true form of the word, awed by the Katsura and Blue Atlas Cedar trees on the property. And for someone who very much does not like roses…what a rose/herb garden Morris has.

And an amazing miniature railroad to boot!

 

Sculpture Bicycle, Fairmount Park Bike, & Mural Maps

 

Where? Independence Visitor Center, 6th and Market streets (1 N Independence W; GPS: 599 Market Street)

How do I get there? From the airport – Take the Airport line to Jefferson Station and walk or take the “L” subway to 5th and Market

Cost? Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee (except for Shofuso House)

 

I’m a huge advocate of bicycling. And Philadelphia is a huge fan of potholes and a-hole drivers. And soon, the Visitor Center will no longer offer WheelFun bicycle rentals. That being said, there’s still Indigo, hugely popular with locals and fairly well strategically placed throughout the city. While I’m not a fan of Indigo’s unwieldy bicycles, I’d much rather able, active, and adventurous folks to get around the city this way. With a little street assertiveness and keen awareness, visitors can get around quick and sightsee at the same time, able to hop off and check out anything at their own leisure – including Philadelphia’s unique collection of sculptures and murals.

At the Visitor Center, we not only provide both, but also promote our bicycle sculpture maps and, a recent addition, Museums Without Walls, a free program offered by Association for Public Art. Signs posted at various sculptures have a number that can be dialed, which connects you to a recording by an expert/professional explaining the art piece in front of you. The APA’s Museum Without Walls webpage includes an interactive map, or you can visit the Independence Visitor Center to grab a free city map as well as a Mural Mile Walking Tour Map, which lists some major murals in downtown Philly (out of over 2,000 murals in total!).

Lastly, although WheelFun bicycle rentals are ruthlessly being killed off by bus tours (don’t get me wrong – great way to see the city as well!) and backwards-thinking nonprogressives, I’ll still hold on to dear life our self-guided bicycle maps, which feature Fairmount Park, a beautiful greenway that includes the Japanese Shofuso House and Horticulture Center, our Schuylkill River Trail maps, and the a-bit-outdated 2014 Center City Bike maps.

 

Honorable Mention: Sister Cities Park

 

Where? 210 N 18th Street

How do I get there? Walking, public transportation, PHLASH (when in operation, seasonally), hop-on-hop-off buses

Cost? Free!

 

Tiarella, or foamflower, thriving in downtown Philly at Sister Cities Park

Tiarella, or foamflower, thriving in downtown Philly at Sister Cities Park

Across the street from an amazing cathedral and Philadelphia’s most famous interactive science museum, Sister Cities Park is a satellite location of Independence Visitor Center. While you can buy discount tickets here for some of the places I’ve mentioned in this post, you can also experience a bit of one of north Philadelphia’s green spaces, Wissahickon Park.

If you have a car, skip the small stuff and drive up to experience the real thing. If you’re passing through downtown Philly, be sure to stop with your kids (or just if you’re a plant fanatic like myself) to enjoy the part Visitor Center-part kiddie pool-part Café-part ecologically friendly park, styled after the Wissahickon with a mini, meandering waterfall and native plants like Tiarella, blueberry and cranberry bushes, and wild columbine.

While the ground plants serve in a stormwater management system, the building itself in which our Visitor Center/café is installed also serves as a “green roof”, a roof of sedums, sage, and switchgrass absorbing rainwater and “minimizing heat-island effect”.


And whether I’m stationed at Sister Cities or our 6th-street Visitor Center location, come in and say hello, buy some discounted Flower Show tickets, and ask me for more recommendations – I can do more than bore the bullocks off of you with plant-related information, I promise.

Weeks 6 & 7 Under the Greenhouse: Soilless Soil & Seeds of all Sizes

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“Soil?” Happy Friendly Mist Guy said (to keep names confidential, we’ll stick to job titles plus personality trait). “Well actually, this is soilless medium. This whole operation we’re running is basically hydroponics — that’s why we have to mist the cuttings so much throughout the day.”

What’s all this? Soilless medium.

The Canna in question

The Canna in question

According to Upstart Farmers Network, soilless medium like ours contains “…no inorganic matter like sand, silt, or clay involved, which means that the mix technically isn’t soil.” The greenhouse’s particular brand states that it contains “long-fiber sphagnum peat moss, perlite and vermiculite.”

Perlite in particular, with it’s tiny, irregular grooves, has been demonstrated to have excellent water-retaining properties, leaching out the water when needed by the plant. The substance is actually volcanic glass and expands under high heat conditions and is inert, so it has no harmful effects on the plants.

All of which makes me feel very stupid for crushing the white pellets, thinking I was helping the plant take up the nutrients better – although it does feel pleasing to crush those pellets.

The other ingredient in our soilless mix is one of some controversy, being that it is also a nonrenewable source but comes from the bottom of bogs, some the biggest reserves being in Western Siberia and Canada.

While in the early 2000s, many papers came forward dooming the earth’s atmosphere from overharvesting peat bogs (peat bogs are carbon sinks, and it’s been argued that harvesting releases too much of the gas) like the very confident report, The Myth of Permanent Peatlands by Linda Chalker-Scott, there are scant reports of negative impacts of harvesting and instead reports of rehabilitated bogs and sustainable harvesting practices, especially in Canada.

The small, ridged seeds of Daucus carota (either wild or the cultivated form we’re all edibly familiar with), difficult to grasp or suction mechanically

Anyhow, back to our greenhouse medium — while the plants in the greenhouse are routinely misted and kept in high humidity under T5 fluorescent grow lights, the medium is important from the get-go and explains why every mint cutting I’ve taken home has failed to root in the rich, thick potting soil I purchased from Home Depot; the soil tends to become waterlogged, suffocating the roots and allowing fungus to flourish on the leaves. I also need to stop bringing home so many discarded cuttings — I think I’m developing an unhealthy addiction.

Moreso, since this soilless soil is so much more aerated than my store-bought actual soil, cuttings are easier to stick and can grow out their roots, apparently even transplants from starter trays that get smooshed into the the larger tray holes. One of my favorite and easiest to transfer is Canna, a plant that vexed me and my massive Facebook fanbase – my mother and a very correct former (and excellent) high school teacher of mine.

Initially, I had it from one authority at the greenhouse that the blue ball was the Canna seed itself — Happy Friendly Mist Guy, who I now defer to for all my botanical questions, confirmed my teacher’s comment that the blue layer is rather technically a coating, which is applied in a process known as pelleting.

While Canna does, not all seeds come in globular form, a form that so happens to make it easier for both machines (see video below) and people to grip the seed and place into the soil. Some are astoundingly minuscule, for example the seeds of Begonia species, one source measuring each at 1/100th of an inch (the frustration of planting of such seeds just gives me one more reason to hate on Begonias). Other record breakers include Petunias as well as mustard and orchid. Orchid species have claim to the smallest known, while mustard was once thought to be from biblical references.

And while it’s not the case for our Cannas at the greenhouse, some pelleting is applied for pesticidal purposes. Non-pesticide coating binder (holding the coating material together) can consist of “various starches, sugars, gum arabic, clay, cellulose, vinyl polymers, and water” according to the formula listed by one pelleting company.

So there, the mystery solved: no exotic birds with a penchant for 400-nm wavelengths, although we know plants that do use color to attract specific pollinators and vectors such as bees. But I’m all the wiser, and I now have a font of knowledge, Happy Friendly Mist Guy, who’s happy to attempt answering the infinite questions I have at the greenhouse, and an equally wise high school teacher who I’m now worried is shaking his head over my abysmal blog writing and use of “font of knowledge”.

So many cultivars of Canna! Salmon, Burgundy, Tropical Rose, Variegated, Dwarf, and on and on and on.

So many cultivars of Canna! Salmon, Burgundy, Tropical Rose, Variegated, Dwarf, and on and on and on.

Local (Or Semi-Local) Guide to Philadelphia

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It’s been 75 degrees in Philadelphia for the past two days, so we can safely say that winter is dead and gone. With warm weather comes more visitors passing through our city, but I’ve also recently been speaking to both younger travelers and even some more-long-term stays who want to know the more “local” must-dos and could-dos. While I’m aiming to make our Independence Visitor Center desk include more local and unique activities and events in and just outside Philadelphia, I thought I’d list my favorites and top recommendations here as well. And you can be assured that this post won’t be without mention of plants.

 


Outdoors

 

Benjamin Franklin Bridge

One way I get acclimated to a new place is to take morning runs in different neighborhoods, something I often did in Budapest. Not only do you obviously get around quicker, but on foot, you can stop and look, and, being morning time, there are fewer people about. One of my favorite and peaceful routes takes me across the Benjamin Franklin Parkway as the sun rises over the New Jersey horizon. On the way back across, you can watch the sun creep up the beautiful sloping glass of the tallest building (for now) in Philadelphia, Comcast Center.

Washington Avenue Green

Also one of my favorite running routes, Washington Avenue Green is worth a visit for both its fascinating history and ecology. And while it’s small, it’s one of the few green spaces you can escape to when the concrete, noise, and traffic smog get too much. This was Philadelphia’s busy immigration station from 1870 until it was torn down in 1915 and was the entry point for millions of immigrants, especially coming in droves from eastern and southern Europe. The Philadelphia History Museum at Atwater Kent featured (and hopefully still does, though I have to confirm) illustrations of pier-side scenes, vendors and fee collectors and even brides getting married on the spot so they could enter the country legally!

Sunrise over the piers at Washington Avenue Green

Sunrise over the piers at Washington Avenue Green

The Green was recently restored to its state prior to serving as an immigration station. A path winds through bursting sprays of purple asters and beggar-ticks with red mulberry (Morus rubra) and princesstrees (Paulownia tomentosa) overhead. I’ve even found lovely white campion (Silene latifolia) growing in tall grasses and mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) on the sloped embankments in between piers as well as the spindly common melilot (Melilotus officinalis).

There. I got the plant stuff out of the way. Now onto more…

Bartram’s Garden

Plants! Although this is mentioned last in the outdoors-themed to-dos in Philadelphia, it’s certainly not the least. If you’re into the outdoors and into history, I recommend reading up on the history of the garden and of the very farmer who was instrumental in Philadelphia becoming, at one point, known for being a botanical and horticultural hotspot, respected by even the forerunners of the field over in the United Kingdom.

The following PDFs or books, while a bit bland but full of fascinating stories and giving an excellent overview of the property are worth giving a read (and I’m all about book exchange, so feel free to contact me!):

PDF: History American Landscapes Survey – John Bartram’s House and Garden
Book: The Plant Hunters by Tyler Whittle

Bartram’s Garden is located a bit out of the way and in West Philly, but you can get there by tram or, my preferred method, by bicycle.

 

Music Venues

 

Not to be confused with the Chinese Rotunda at the very excellent and nearby Penn Museum. Photo absconded from Penn Museum's flickr

Not to be confused with the Chinese Rotunda at the very excellent and nearby Penn Museum.
Photo absconded from Penn Museum’s flickr

International House & The Rotunda

Over in University City, International House couldn’t be a better place for entertainment, especially for students studying abroad. The center hosts symposiums, movie screenings, concerts with music from around the world, and more. They even offer housing for students and language courses for anyone interested. The Rotunda offers a similar array of entertainment with more of an educational bent. The surrounding area boasts plenty of great places to eat, including a cozy and spicy favorite of mine, Pattaya Thai Cuisine.

Kimmel Center

Yes, it’s a pretty well-known venue, but while I’ve been to some amazing full-orchestra concerts (my favorite being The Danish Quartet), Kimmel Center has smaller venues within it, many of them free and sometimes pretty intimate. They’ve got a wide range of concerts such as freestyle jazz, spoken word, jazz, experimental, jazz, jazz, jazz…they’ve got a lot of jazz. As much as The Painted Bride at times, another excellent venue but that doesn’t get its own title heading.

 

Curtis Center Student Recitals

Free. And unbelievably so. These concerts are a chance for students to perform for an audience and show off their skills, and their skills are nothing short of awe-some.

 

Museums/Attractions

 

Chemical Heritage Foundation

While I’ve already mentioned and definitely encourage locals and somewhat-locals to pay a visit to the Philadelphia History Museum at Atwater Kent to get a close look at the city and its beginnings, I’m also a massive fan of the free (always a good modifier) Chemical Heritage Foundation in the historic district. This small “science museum” shows how chemistry’s been used in the past as well as everyday life and features traveling exhibits such as the one I caught last year by chance, a display of ancient manuscripts that explained the chemical dyes (from PLANTS) used to illustrate their beautiful pages.

The beautiful arched entrance of the Masonic Temple. Photo from Wikipedia because I can't find mine.

The beautiful arched entrance of the Masonic Temple. Photo from Wikipedia because I can’t find mine.

Masonic Temple

Always a winner. Dan Brown’s yet to write about a murder that takes place within one of the seven gorgeous lodge rooms and thank the Masonic overlords for that. Tours are given of this place of architectural and historical interest, and you can then pop across the street to see…

Wanamaker Organ

Philadelphia’s always claiming “first” on things, often with a lot of addendums, but this one is true to its name and damn impressive. The organ – stretching up through several floors of Macy’s – is the largest playable pipe organ in the world and is played twice daily. Despite the amazing, sonorous sound it can produce, I still find it unbelievable that this organ is made up of ten effing thousand – that’s 10,000 – pipes.

St. Peter’s, Old Pine, & Mother Bethel churches

Occasionally, I’ll have a visitor ask for a historically significant church recommendation besides Christ Church. Each of these has its own unique characteristic, St. Peter’s for its trees I’ve written about previously, Old Pine for its architecture style and somber but beautiful stained glass windows, and Mother Bethel for its role in African American progressive history.

 

Food

 

For those who know my more hate-than-love relationship with food, I’m surprised myself I’d have a listing for restaurant recommendations.

But I absolutely, unashamedly have to give my accolades to my favorite city restaurant, Kabul. If you’re not so accustomed to Middle Eastern food, I’d start out, as I did on my first visit, with the Norenge Palaw, deliciously tender lamb under a mountain of saffron rice topped with citrus peels. My mouth is watering as I write this. The portions are large, the side dishes tasty, the service great, and the atmosphere casual and no frills and yet transportive, like you’re eating in another country.

For an alternative area of food options besides the usual Old City eats and fancier Rittenhouse Square fares, I’m also fond of the East Passyunk Avenue area in South Philadelphia below Dickinson Street.


 

I could add so much more to each – Morris Arboretum and John Heinz Wildlife Refuge for outdoors and volunteer opportunities; smaller restaurants, local bars, and sites in my area of Queen Village (including the Shot Tower, the nearby Show Tower Café, and a cavernous second-hand bookstore at 5th and Bainbridge); and some honorable mentions for artsy and musicy venues such as Fleisher Art Memorial and Settlement Music School not to mention the numerous free concerts at Hawthorne Park during the summertime.

And now that it’s summertime in February, I recommend getting out there in your shorts and tank tops, throw caution to the wind and some Norenge Palaw in your mouth, and try out some of these fantastic places.