Robin-Lee

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Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia horticulture

The Rival of Longwood Gardens

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…and all of the world’s botanical gardens.

It’s been over a month since I made my daring move to South Philadelphia — which is actually not bad despite my bullet-riddled body — and I’ve been going gangbusters on my front- and backyard botanical collection. Soon, I’ll be able to charge five quid for entry. No friend and family discounts.

And now that I have some more space and I’m feeling far too confident in my ability to garden, I’ve tried out some species that I’ve seen abroad or on Amazon, which reminds me that I need to stop drinking while looking at plants on Amazon.

I’ve found borage to be ridiculously easy to germinate, though it droops promptly in the blasting sun; Safflower pops up readily and sturdily, although I think that might be ivy; a boxed Thalictrum can survive a lob across the room from a buffoon of a coworker who can’t read “Fragile” on the cover; quinoa seedlings just look like leggy weeds; and bleeding heart leaves are just downright gorgeous and look great next to anything. On the other hand, Mucuna pruriens takes its sweet time growing and has attracted every thug slug in the block to come and chomp on it and our basil. (Though beer traps have proved pretty successful.) And the Canna lily cutting I’ve had since my doomed job at the greenhouse just keeps hanging on, mocking me for my poor horticultural skills. Sort of like my former boss at that greenhouse, only more attractive.

I’ve even guerrilla gardened our good-looking neighbors’ front-window flower box with some striking white and purple salvia interspersed with silver mound Artemisia. My efforts have proved beneficial on two fronts: I can enter our street into the Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s green street competition, and the neighbors never close their curtains.

Zing.

The real beauties — and biggest challenges — that are newcomers to our Mercy Lee Botanical Garden are Hoya ‘Strawberries & Cream’, Gloriosa superba, and Daphne odora ‘Maejima’. I smelled the latter before I saw it in Koriyama, Japan, and it’s one of the most attractive and beautifully fragrant plants I’ve ever encountered. Unfortunately, I’ve read that it’s one of the most difficult to transplant and care for. Gloriosa happens to be an incredibly toxic plant, so I’ll need to keep it in a Beauty-and-the-Beast bell jar.

As of 10 minutes ago, the botanical garden had 74 confirmed species. Since then, the collection has increased by two, after taking a quick break to walk Nico (pictured on the right, taking a piss) and meeting a neighbor who was ecstatic that someone knew about purpletop vervain and bronze fennel and on the spot uprooted a few and put them in a pot for me to take home.

Longwood Gardens, look out…

Exploring FDR Park

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One massive donger: The Liberty Bell entrance of the Sesqui Expo

A good many things existing in Philadelphia came to be in 1926, thanks to the Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition, a large fair held in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence. Much like its predecessor celebrating 100 years of throwing off the British yoke, the 1876 Centennial Exposition, both left their mark on Philadelphia’s landscape in its ornate, structurally unique (for their time) buildings and parks.

One such park is FDR Park, once part of a large tract of south Philadelphia land known as League Island Park. While its dominated today by sports stadiums, the park’s 80-foot, illuminated replica of the Liberty Bell must have been quite an impressive sight for fair goers. Among some other notable legacies from the fair still around today are the 11,000-pipe Curtis Organ — now in the University of Pennsylvania’s Irvine Auditorium — and The Fountain of the Seahorses, a gift from our good chum Benito Mussolini and which now sits behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Russian Tea House overlooking Meadow Lake was among other points of interest during the Exposition, including some delightfully named pavilions like Persia, Public Welfare, and Nuremberg.

But before the Sesqui, before the Centennial International Exhibition, before the signing of the Declaration and all the hullabaloo leading up to it, and before the settlement of the Swedes, the area appears to have been mostly underwater.

From the Philadelphia Water Department:

“The entire “Neck” (as South Philadelphia was once known) historically encompassed thousands of acres of tidal marsh, and was therefore a single drainage area…Much of the area remained marshy until the 20th century; one major filling project was undertaken to make land for the Sesquicentennial Exposition, held at League Island Park in 1926.”

A diversity of freshwater plants and wildlife and 12,000 years of Lenape inhabitance in these marshy lands was broken up by the property divisions among the sworn subjects of Penn, the diking and draining and filling of the estuaries, and the deforestation and transformation of marshes to meadows.

Tennis, children of the corn style

A swimming pool came and went (and swimming has now been banned in Meadow Lake), “picturesque” structures were built and remained behind from the Exposition, and an interstate rose over the lower portion of the park, the noise from which is the loudest I’ve ever heard standing underneath in the abandoned, derelict tennis courts.

Since the late 90s, however, and possibly stemming from (or at least influenced by) a very excellent and thorough plan (if you’re into this kind of thing) put together by the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University, the Natural Lands Restoration and Environmental Education Program, and the Philadelphia Water Department, the park has seen a comeback of native species.

“[The marshes] have been shown to support diverse plants and animals including Heteranthera multiflora and Echinochloa walteri, two endangered wetland species in Pennsylvania.” There are also thriving cattail (Typha latifolia) populations thriving in the park.

The amazingly named Red-Bellied Cooter, who popped out to say hello during my exploring

Efforts have been made to remove purple loosestrife, and, while I did spot a troubling amount of mile-a-minute, I didn’t spot a stalk of Japanese knotweed, previously known to be a nasty invasive in the park. The above-mentioned trifecta’s plan called for some thought-provoking if not difficult means of complete park restoration:

*Foresting of uplands: open fields may present an opportunity for invasives/exotics like my favorite edible, garlic mustard. Foresting will also help prevent erosion and flooding, already a problem in a city of pavement and overflowing sewers.

“Areas which are not presently used for recreation, but are being mowed could be managed as meadows by mowing infrequently and possibly burning the area to promote plant diversity. Replanting of these areas is also recommended to establish native species and deter exotic species.”

Who’s ready for a swim?

*Well-managed edge habitats: Edge habitats, or the line along forest edges, are a playground for non-natives such as tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima), princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa), and wild rose (Rosa multiflora). Managing these and eradicating such edge-advantageous species may help maintain the park’s diversity.

The master plan is packed full of other fascinating insights into water composition, quality, and management, but I didn’t read these because I had to pee.

 

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.