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The Philadelphia Flower Show: Watered Down?

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This past Fall, thanks to a much-needed incentivized vocational coercion (IVC) technique used by my employer to finally, initially, really, entirely, devote myself to my true passion in horticulture, I (re-)enrolled as a student in Delaware Valley University. Already, within a few weeks of enrollment, I’m engaged in invaluable courses aimed right at my interests: Commercial Vegetable Production, Principles in Sustainable Agriculture, and Integrated Pest Management. And I haven’t paid a cent!

I really ought to open those bursar e-mails.

A perk of being a DVU student is volunteering (and getting in for free) at the Philadelphia Flower Show, where, this year, DelVal is showcasing its educational booth “Forgotten Structures”. The exhibit, a sort of Mayan/Cambodian-hybrid ruin overgrown with ferns, birds-of-paradise, and crotons, is the DVU Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Sciences’s nod to the destructive and creative properties of water.

While the actual water feature — a cascade down the ruin steps into a pond — was non-operational, the exhibit was still impressively beautiful and lush and its stone structure realistic and reminiscent of a long-forgotten jungle temple. On the interior walls of the structure were water factoids: water comprises ~66% of the human body (contrary to what I learned in high school), raindrops aren’t actually tear-shaped (rather hamburger bun–shaped), and the corrosive power of water as well as its ability to promote growth of plant species in the most unlikely of places.

Regarding the latter, take for instance the foundation piles driven into the slopes of the Delaware River — these abandoned protruding vertical logs are bursting with Amorpha fruticosa, more commonly known as false indigo. Perhaps this plant’s thriving is due to the water being transported up through the pile via capillary action? Either way, the piles here and those of the old immigration station of the 1870s at Washington Avenue Pier may be abandoned but not by these advantageous pioneers that have been clinging and thriving there for years.

In the same vein, the ferns growing wild atop the Flower Show’s Forgotten Structure are most likely not there by accident but a pointed reference to the fact that ferns’ sperm (condensing a whole, very complicated biological process to a minimum) needs water to complete its life cycle and, therefore, released airborne spores can grow anywhere where moisture is present and conditions are right.

Delaware Valley University’s Forgotten Structures exhibit. Asplenium ferns and poinsietta cascade from the overhead entrance.

On the other hand, in my Sustainable Agriculture course, we learn about the destructive power of water in relation to poor farming practices: overtillage, and, thus, compaction leads to hard pans in the soil, which then lead to soils with poor absorption; this then leads to run-off, which flows into nearby streams and rivers. All fine so long as the farm in frame does not use pesticides/herbicides/fertilizers that do not otherwise belong in the watershed…

Hunter Hayes Landscape Design’s beautiful Spring Thaw exhibit

The overwhelming majority of visitors — both fist-timers and regular annual attendees — commented on the lack of exhibits, lack of “pop” (consider last year’s “wow” factor of all those vibrant tulips), and the lack of continuity as a result of this year’s vague theme, Wonders of Water.

While I’ll agree there was less razzle-dazzle this year, I praise several exhibit’s attempts to educate rather than just impress. Temple University’s well-thought out exhibit, Within Reach: Unlocking the Legacy of Our Hidden River, took visitors on a river ride from coal mine to ocean, exploring energy generating by waterwheels and the river’s contribution to the activity of tidal marshes, like those that used to exist right where I live in South Philadelphia.

A big hit with visitors and a PHS Silver Medal winner in the Educational category, W. B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences’s sus·tain·a·bil·i·ty exhibit explored “Dutch innovations in land recovery, redirection and re-use of stormwater, creating new cultivars and other advances in environmental sustainability.”

For those who needed a little more eye candy comparable to last year’s Holland display, next year’s theme sounds as though we’re in for a colorful, if not psychedelic, experience. 2019 Flower Power will not only celebrate the anniversary of Woodstock but will also feature the Florists’ Transworld Delivery World Cup, the world’s most prestigious floral design competition. I look forward to lots of color, XXL bubble-text Grateful Dead t-shirts, and leafy smells that are probably not coming from the plants on display.



Getting Environmentally Involved in Philadelphia

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Japanese knotweed. Oriental bittersweet. Garlic mustard. Phragmites. Wineberry. Multiflora rose. Mile-a-minute weed. Lesser celandine, Japanese honeysuckle.

If one severely edited the plant ID walking tour to include only mention of PA invasives, this would be the list of botanical baddies detailed by volunteer plant expert Mr. Cloud at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. And yet, there was so much more than that at the refuge today.

Wild bergamot at the entrance to John Heinz Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center
Photo: John Heinz Wildlife Refuge Facebook page

This morning, a group of about 15 volunteer “Weed Warriors” donned their orange vests, grabbed some hedge shears, and headed out along the trails in search of two of the refuge’s worst invasives, Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) and Phragmites, a waterside reed that can extend up to well over 15 feet at the wildlife preserve. A quick rundown on IDing these offenders, and the hacking began, feathery plumes and hollow red stems timbering over, revealing a hidden river and uncovering overshadowed and dormant red osier dogwood twigs.

According to the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative, who seems to be having an issue with the Phragmites reed based on the fact that they have a website dedicated to the plant: “Studies have shown that the lateral spread of rhizomes [horizontal underground stem that can put out more shoots] averages approximately 15.7 in (39.8 cm) per year, and stolons can grow up to 4.25 in (10.7 cm) in a day.” A British website dedicated to educating the public on the other invasive states that knotweed has a “growth rate of (approximately) 60cm a week or 8+cm a day.”

Needless to say, the refuge is always looking for volunteers to combat this never-ending battle. Two years ago was my first experience as a Weed Warrior — the trunks of the girdled invasive white poplar trees are since dead and decaying, but new growth (suckers) have thwarted all efforts, rising from the old growth like the heads of Hydra.

Beautiful, dainty Claytonia virginica

Still, the volunteers persist, and, if all the rest is edited back into Mr. Cloud’s tour following the three-hour Weed Warriors program — which occurs every second Saturday of the month — you’ll find there’s so much the refuge and its stewards have done to reintroduce native species while they hack away at the invasives. Mr. Kerr, who leads tree ID walks*, mentioned he himself planted some pawpaws, clearly happy and proud the tropical plant can handle the region’s climate, given its the northernmost point this tasty fruit-bearing plant can endure.

During his plant ID hike today, Mr. Cloud led his group to a small clearing along a trail to see how his Virginia springbeauties (Claytonia virginica) were faring. Single leaves — narrow and slightly thick — protruded from last year’s litter of dead leaves and plants, a welcome sight for the volunteer guide, who planted this small yet spreading colony some 10 years ago. His enthusiasm for all plants (being winter, the ID walk highlighted a lot of ground-hugging species, cresses and other edible winter/early spring sprouters) led to my introduction to the cup plant. The petioles (stalk that joins a leaf to a stem) of the cup plant, aka Silphium perfoliatum, are fused around the stem and form a cup, perfect for catching water.

Liquidambar styraciflua “Corky” bark
Image: Tom Potterfield

Near the visitor center, Kerr noted a strange-looking tree with very familiar fruits. Numerous sweetgum trees (Liquidambar) line the streets of Philadelphia, particularly Pine Street near St. Peter’s Church, where on more than one occasion their spiky fruits nearly sent me over my bike handlebars. However, this particular species, Kerr pointed out, produces a raised bark on its branches, an attractive trait in the horticultural business but unusual — he cited studies that suggest these serve as an addition to lenticels, the pore- or slit-like markings you see on many tree trunks and which allow for gaseous exchange.

The task of protecting our region against numerous invasive species, plants or otherwise, certainly seems insurmountable, but efforts like those going on at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge — as well as Greensgrow Farms, Morris Aboretum, Academy of Natural Sciences lectures, and Chemical Heritage Foundation, to name an honorable few — are exactly the kind of passion- and concern-driven programs in which we should all be getting involved. What better to spend a much-deserved, post-knotweed-removal lunch break on a Saturday with friendly, like-minded individuals talking about all-things-plants? And it’s not all strictly plant science, ID, invasive vs native dialogue and the like — I got three bloody good recipe uses for that useless sage taking up window space in my kitchen.

Sign up to volunteer at the Refuge here
Greensgrow Farms volunteering here
Bartram’s Garden volunteering here

*The Refuge has a lot more than plant/tree ID walks. Check out their full current programming here.

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.” <;.

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.