Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Love in the Garden: Jennifer & Patrick

Carley K Photography
It was a chilly winter day and a light layer of snow covered the ground when Patrick Coyne visited the Morris Arboretum and carefully hid a bouquet of lisianthus flowers near the swan pond. His nerves had been building up over the past week and he wanted to make sure every detail felt perfect. A customized ring inspired by the very same flower was sitting in his pocket and in a few short hours he would propose to his girlfriend of a little more than a year, Jennifer Topper.

The couple had recently returned from vacation together in Key West, Florida, adopted a pitbull terrier mix puppy, and while things were feeling serious, joked about getting engaged. Little did Jennifer know, Patrick had already met with Christopher Dorman, Assistant Director of Visitor Services, and toured the arboretum looking for the perfect location to pop the big question.

"As soon as I saw the swan pond, it kind of stood out," says Patrick, "It ended up working out perfectly. The snow on the ground looked like a perfect winter landscape."

Patrick heard about the Morris Arboretum through word of mouth and knew that Jennifer was yearning to visit. Both of them are very attracted to nature, history, and art. A proposal surrounded by the well-maintained garden features of the Arboretum would make the moment more special to her because she grew up learning how to garden with family members.

"I loved helping my mom in her garden growing up. I mostly did the planting and she did the maintenance. My grandfather is a master gardener. Their house was always full of flowers," Jennifer remembers fondly.

The plan was elaborate but the Arboretum's staff was able to accommodate and a hidden photographer managed to capture the moment.

"I had to make up a lie that there was a special unveiling of a winter flower," says Patrick, "I told her it cost a lot per ticket…and we couldn't miss it."

Jennifer began to feel suspicious when she not only had to call off work but also wasn't rushed to make it to the fictitious event - even though they were running late. On the way, Patrick presented her with a book carefully wrapped in Christmas paper. Inside was the story of their relationship.

"That’s when I got a little suspicious," Says Jennifer. “We got there and we started rushing - he was being really cute and it was really sweet but I still didn’t know what was going on. I was very surprised and happy [when he proposed]...I thought all of it was really impressive.”

Patrick was happy his plan went off well and that she loved his surprise. “She’s the most thoughtful person I know.” He says, “Loving, caring, shy at certain time but speaks her mind when she has a strong opinion, hardworking and self motivating.”

Patrick and Jennifer will wed in September and plan to incorporate food from the farm that Jennifer works at and the beer that Patrick brews. The happy couple look forward to visiting the arboretum often and observing the way it grows and changes with the seasons.

Article contributed by Sarah Timmons.
Photo: Carley K Photography,

'Love in the Garden' is a special series featuring stories about proposals, weddings, and other memorable moments that have happened in our garden. To be featured, please contact

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Miniature World of Mosses and Lichens

With so much to take in visually at the Arboretum, the miniature plants right at our feet are often overlooked. One day, I ran into a couple with their grandchildren. They had magnifying glasses in their hands and they said they were on a “treasure hunt” to find moss. What a great idea!

At first glance, mosses and lichens look like just patches of gray or green that can be found on trees, rocks, or the ground. Upon closer inspection, however, you will discover these fascinating plants are Lilliputian, almost from alien-like worlds. Next time you visit the Arboretum, bring a magnifying glass, your macro camera lens or extension tubes, and hunker down to get a closer look.

Mosses, hornworts, and liverworts are bryophytes, which are non-vascular plants that produce spores, rather than flowers and seeds. They are often seen in damp, shady areas. Lichens are not related to mosses, although they are sometimes found together. Lichens are usually gray or green-gray, and have a drier look, whereas moist mosses are varying shades of green, gold, or reddish-brown and have a softer, appearance.

Here are some of areas of the Arboretum where you can find mosses and lichens:
  • The Fernery is one of the best places to view mosses. Crouch down to get close and really appreciate these tiny plants.
  • The Japanese Overlook Garden has mosses and lichens on several rocks, as well as on some trees, and the Japanese Hill Garden has a lovely moss carpet.
  • Look for mosses and lichens on the walls of the grotto (below the Mercury Loggia), on the stone seat bridge by the Sculpture Garden, in the shady areas of the Rose Garden rock wall, and on Lydia’s Seat (the hidden stone seating area above the Rose Garden).
  • Take a look up instead of down this time and you’ll find moss on the roof of the Log Cabin.
  • If you have children with you, have them look for mosses and lichens at the Garden Railway. They may find lichens on some stones, or moss is used to look like grass in front of some of the little houses. Mosses are great for miniature displays like fairy gardens and railways.

For more information, look for books such as Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians and Common Lichens of Northeastern North America: A Field Guide, or websites such as Oregon State University’s web page on basic moss biology. The Arboretum sometimes has classes on moss. On October 16, a field trip, the Mosses of Fulshaw Craeg Preserve offers an excellent opportunity to identify and learn more about mosses and liverworts. Register today.

Article and photos contributed by Kristen Bower, Guest Garden Blogger for Morris Arboretum

Monday, October 5, 2015

5 Unsuspecting Reasons to Take a Guided Tour of the Morris Arboretum

1. Free Vitamin D
Unlike many of the plants you will see while strolling through the beautiful Morris Arboretum, we as humans do not photosynthesize. However, we do still need a healthy dose of sunlight! Vitamin D is vital for a healthy immune system, strong bones and teeth. So come grab some vitamin D while on one of our regularly scheduled guided tours. They are every Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm, and no reservations are necessary.

2.  Keep Your Mind Sharp
Learning new things is a great way to keep your mind sharp and the creative juices flowing. Engaging your brain will help to improve your memory and attitude.
This fall at the Arboretum join the Small Trees for Small Spaces tour. This one-hour guided tour will keep you engrossed by highlighting small trees that make a big impact. Check out the website for specific dates and details. Come learn something new and exercise your brain as you learn from the Arboretum’s knowledgeable guides.  

3.  Escape
Do you ever feel like you want to go on an adventure, but you just don’t have the time? No matter what the reason, we have the perfect remedy for you! Come find solace at the Morris Arboretum. As soon as you pass through the beautiful iron entrance gates, you get the sense that you are no longer in Philadelphia. Take a mini adventure on one of our guided tours through the striking gardens here at the Arboretum. You will learn fascinating history, and get lost in the compelling environment of the Arboretum. Escape your hectic lifestyle for an hour or so and come visit.  

4. Give a Unique Gift
Sometimes giving the gift of an experience is better than any material good. Generally, people are more likely to hold on to a memory of an experience, rather than a peculiar re-gifted garden gnome. Whether you are attending a birthday party, a retirement party, or a holiday event, we have the perfect gift idea for you.

The Arboretum offers group tours of many varieties. Regardless of interest, there is a tour for everyone. The Morris Arboretum offers tour topics such as: Art in the Garden; Japanese Elements; LEED Horticulture Center and Green Roofs Tour; Victorian Garden and many more. Check out our website to see the full list, or contact Lisa Bailey ( or 215.247.5777 x157) for more information and scheduling.

5. Nature Rx
If you are interested in slowing down, being unreasonably happy or de-stressing, come check out the Morris Arboretum! Nature has been proven to help do all of these things and more. The Morris Arboretum is a great place to come enjoy nature and a guided tour can help you facilitate your visit.

Article contributed by guest Garden Blogger Betsy Thompson.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Visiting the Arboretum on a Drizzly Day

When the forecast calls for clouds and a chance of precipitation, we tend to look for indoor things to occupy our time. As children, we used to love to play in the rain and pounce in puddles. Why not enjoy a rainy day again?

I recently visited the Arboretum when the skies looked like they would open up at any minute. As I walked around with my umbrella in hand, I breathed in the wonderful scent of fresh rain. I could hear the pitter patter of raindrops as they hit the canopy of leaves above. When the wind kicked up, acorns made a light thumping sound as they dropped to the ground. Raindrops created radiating concentric circles as they hit the water of the Swan Pond. I felt as if I had the Arboretum almost all to myself on this day of less than perfect weather.

If you’re there on a day when the rain kicks in, you can take cover with Mercury at the Mercury Loggia and grotto while enjoying the bubbling fountains, or find shelter in the Log Cabin and listen to the rain as it hits the moss-covered roof. Out on a Limb offers protection from the rain, and a chance to learn more about trees at the same time. While the leaves are still on the trees, there are many shady areas that will help keep you dry, such as the canopy of the Oak Allée.

When the rain lessens, enjoy the many vistas the Arboretum has to offer, such as the view of the English Park from the Seven Arches, or the view across the Azalea Meadow. Storm clouds make for a breathtaking backdrop.

Next time the weather looks indecisive (but doesn’t call for heavy storms with lightning!), pack your hat, umbrella and/or raincoat, and head to the Arboretum. You might even want to put on your rain boots so you can splash in some puddles!

Article and photos contributed by Kristen Bower, Guest Garden Blogger for Morris Arboretum

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Rest and Be Thankful

Fall is the season that invites us to slow down and find a quiet spot to be reflective. It’s a great time to visit places that renew our souls and give us energy, and what better place than the Arboretum for such retreats?

All along the paths here, and more importantly off the paths, are countless places to sit and be awed by nature. To me, forests are sacred places, so to revel among trees always brings me great joy. That’s why I always visit Out on a Limb first, just being in the treetops gives me such a sense of wonder!

At the Arboretum, I can sit among a grove of trees, next to a rhythmic fountain, overlooking a sweeping meadow, or near a flower garden or art installation. All of these sites offer their own special joy. Among my favorite places, here are some of the best:

The Orange Balustrade, which features a cathedral inspired arbor, giant sequoias, a hillside covered with cypress trees, and a rustic waterfall trickling down the hillside. I sit here in the quiet and take in a peaceful view of meadows, hills, trees and shrubs of every size and dimension. Whether I spend ten minutes or a day here, I always leave renewed. It’s magnificent.  

The Katsura Tree. Down the hillside from the Orange Balustrade is a tree so spectacular that the Arboretum staff selected it as the most noteworthy tree in their collection. I sit on the shaded bench here and just marvel at what nature designed.

Mercury Loggia. Across the trail from the statue and fountain in this more secluded spot, is a bench that wraps clear around a tree. With beautiful views from each seat, I can meditate and find solace in any direction!

Along the Wissahickon, near the Inside Out rock sculpture, is a bench engraved Rest and Be Thankful. I invite you to do just that. Find a spot that speaks to your soul, then just sit and be still. Let all your senses take in everything around you, and find peace. Come visit, and find your own special place of renewal.  

Article contributed by Barry Becker, Guest Garden Blogger for Morris Arboretum.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How and Why to Compost Your Leaves This Fall

Chickens are excellent helpers for shredding leaves for compost and they add an extra source of nitrogen.

As we wave farewell to summer and enter the beautiful season of autumn. Leaves are starting to change colors, and soon enough they will drop, rendering the trees bare. Now is the time to start exploring the idea of composting!

Composting your leaves is a worthwhile endeavor for many reasons. It is nature’s best mulch. By composting now, you will be able to reap the benefits of your hard labor either this spring or next! It will also save you money on commercial fertilizers and protect the environment as well.

Compost is made up of organic matter. It serves as food for microorganisms, and keeps the soil in healthy, balanced condition. Do your part, and keep leaves out of landfills. Use them to improve your own garden instead! 

STEP 1: Choosing the spot – Regardless of experience, choosing the right spot to set up your compost pile might be the most crucial part. You will need to find a spot with a few key elements. It should be shady and moist, in order to allow for decomposition to take place, which is ultimately the breakdown of the leaves. It would also a good idea to set up a wire gate surrounding the compost area of choice, so that your leaves do not blow around.

STEP 2: Collect and shred your leaves – Leaves can be easily shredded with a lawn mower, but there are other options too - chickens! If you happen to have chickens, pile up your leaves in a contained area, and let the chickens roam on top. They will have the leaves shredded in a few days and will add an extra source of nitrogen.

This step is not to be overlooked. Shredding your leaves will help them to break down faster and prevent them from matting together. Matted leaves decrease the amount of water and air penetration, which in turn, slows the decomposition process.

STEP 3: Be Patient – Composting leaves is not a quick process, but your efforts will not go to waste! Hopefully by the time spring rolls around you will be able to spread your transformed compost around your garden as mulch.

TIPS: If you don’t want to do a leaf-only compost which is referred to as leaf mold, here are a few things you can try. Add lawn clippings and/or nitrogen rich sources (i.e manure, which works great). There are also many resources that can help guide you into becoming a compost expert.  So if you are interested in learning more about how to compost, I highly suggest that you set aside some time for more in depth research.

Article contributed by guest Garden Blogger Betsy Thompson.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Eye Spy: 6 Birds to Spot at the Arboretum Now

Cooper's Hawk Photo by Susan Marshall

Numerous lush trees, a variety of berry-laden shrubs, and several water sources make Morris Arboretum a prime spot for bird watching for both experts and amateurs alike. Next time you visit, bring your binoculars and your bird guide, or pick up a guide in the shop.

As you explore the arboretum, here are six birds that you might see this time of the year:
  • Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii): Cooper’s Hawks are common in this area, but can be stealthy and quick. They prey on smaller birds or mammals, such as jays and chipmunks.
    Where: One glided swiftly over me as I was wandering the wetlands this weekend.
  • American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis): The males of this New Jersey state bird are easy to spot in spring and summer because of their bright yellow bodies. If you want to attract finches to your own yard, plant Echinacea (purple coneflowers). As the flowers fade in mid to late August, the finches will show up to gather the seeds from the spiny flower heads.
    I unintentionally frightened two males who were blending in with the yellow goldenrod flowers in the wetlands
    American Goldfinch Photo by Susan Marshall

  • Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater): Cowbirds have increased in number over the years, sometimes at the expense of other birds. These brood parasites don’t build their own nests. Instead they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, destroy the young of those birds, and the unknowing parents then raise the cowbird’s young.
    Where: I spotted several enjoying the birdfeeder next to the Fernery.
    Brown-headed Cowbird Photo by Susan Marshall

  • Flycatcher (Empidonax sp.): It can be hard to tell the Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) from the Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum). They used to be considered the same species. Apparently the voice is the best way to tell them apart.
    A little flycatcher was spying on me from the trees in the wetlands. I’m not sure if it was the Willow or the Alder.
    Willow Flycatcher Photo by Susan Marshall

  • American Robin (Turdus migratorius): Most people associate robins with spring, however, they are around most of the year. Whole flocks of them can sometimes be found in the treetops in winter.
    Where: I saw several robins in the following areas: the wooded trail that goes from the Fernery to the wetlands, the shallow water of the Key Fountain, and beneath the trees near the Japanese Overlook
    American Robin Photo by Susan Marshall

  • Mute Swans (Cygnus olor): It goes without saying, your visit to the arboretum is not complete until you’ve said hello to the two resident Mute Swans. Mute Swans usually mate for life. They are not totally mute, as the name implies, however, they are less vocal than other swans.
    Where: The Swan Pond. You will most likely see several ducks here, as well.
    Swans Photo by Donna Duncan

There are many other birds to be found at the arboretum. You don’t need to be an expert to seek out these birds, just observant. A bird guidebook and the arboretum’s seasonal bird list are great starting points. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website  is a very helpful resource and BirdNote, a daily two-minute podcast, is a fun and easy way to learn more about birds. Also, Morris Arboretum offers several excellent bird classes and bird watching field trips each year. Look for some in the fall class catalog. 

What birds have you seen at the arboretum recently?

Article contributed by Kristen Bower, Guest Garden Blogger for Morris Arboretum

Thursday, September 17, 2015

10 Tips Every Visitor Should Know Before They Go

Visitors exploring the new Patrick Dougherty scultpure 'A Waltz in the Woods'.

Guest blogger, Kristen Bower recently set out on a solo visit of the Arboretum. After a leisurely outing, Kristen shared some great insight and tips for making the most of a day in the garden:

If you’d like to learn more about the Arboretum from an expert, you can take one of the weekend tours or you can explore on your own. You can walk briskly to get the heart rate going; you can spend extra time looking at, photographing, or sketching plants, trees, or insects; or you can sit on a bench and meditate or read.

Before you set out on your own, here are a few tips:
  • Wear good walking shoes. Your feet will thank you for it.
  • Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • Bring your membership card (or sign up! You get into the Arboretum free all year long, and receive discounts in the Shop, café, on classes, and local retailers – trust me, I use mine often!).
  • Bring your camera, sketchbook, journal, a book to read, and/or binoculars, depending on your preference. You might even want to bring a magnifying glass to get a closer look at flowers, bark, mosses, insects, etc.
  • Bring some water or a bottle to fill up at the water fountains. You also might want to bring a small snack, such as a granola bar.
  • Pack bug spray, just in case, you are out in nature after all!
  • Download one or more of the various self-guided tour maps from the Morris Arboretum website.
  • Bring a backpack, if needed. I tend to have enough things with me that a backpack is helpful.
  • Pick up a map of the Arboretum at the Visitor Center before you get started.
  • Have fun and explore!”

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Plant Exploration in China: Travelogue Part II

Tony Aiello, our Director of Horticulture & Curator of the Living Collection is currently in north-western China on a month-long expedition. Traveling with colleagues from Beijing Botanical Garden, the Morton Arboretum, and Arnold Arboretum, the mission of the trip is to document paperbark maple (Acer griseum) across its natural range and study its genetic diversity.

“It's Monday afternoon and we just finished our last day in the field. Sunday was pretty low key and I think we all needed a day to relax, especially Kang. Saturday was a late one and we did not get to our hotel until close to midnight. We were staying in Louyang, a city of 1.8 million people in Henan province, a very cosmopolitan and modern city, which was an interesting change after several days in the countryside. One remarkable thing about our travels is that you get cultural whiplash, moving from villages with very simple lifestyles, to large modern cities in the matter of a few hours.

So far we've driven close to 2,000 miles on the trip. We are now in southern Shanxi, very close to where we collected in 2002. The landscape looks familiar, but we're not sure what town we stayed in back then, and even if we were, things have changed so much that the town probably would not be recognizable. We are here for two nights and then head back to Xi'an, where we will celebrate Kris's birthday, among other things.

We continue to have success in finding the populations of Acer griseum, which I call the red-barked needle in the green-leaved haystack. Even at best, there are a few dozen trees scattered throughout the hillsides, and we've learned to ask the local farmers if they know the tree that we are looking for. They usually do because of their close connections to the land and have been able to lead us pretty much directly to the trees. All of the locals have been very friendly and helpful, and without their help the trip would have been much less successful.

Since I last checked in, we visited two populations in Henan province. The first was at Bao Tian Man Nature Preserve, a beautiful location in the mountains, filled with streams and waterfalls. The population of paperbark maple that we found there was by far the most robust of the trip, with 60-75 large trees lining both sides of a valley. Among these larger trees were numerous seedlings, something that we had not seen before this location. The second area in Henan was a rural location, set among villages where much of the woodlands were harvested for fire wood. Still, we were able to find a good number of larger trees and again, a number of seedlings.

So today, we headed to Mang He Nature Preserve, where there is a native population of wild macaques, along with the northernmost paperbark maple. We had another successful day, collected samples from eight trees from another beautiful location.

Overall it's been a very successful trip and we've found Acer griseum at eight of the nine locations that we've visited. We've sampled 64 trees, including seed one from paperbark maple, and have also made another seven seed collections, including Hydrangea aspera, Acer oblongum, and Cephalotaxus fortunei.

Tomorrow we head back to Xi'an, where we will pack up our samples and seed so that they can be shipped back to the U.S., and do a little sight-seeing in Xi'an before returning to the U.S. on Friday.”

Read Travelogue Part I here.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Beneficial Bees: How to Help Our Essential Pollinators

The Arboretum is full of flowering plants during the spring, summer, and fall that attract important pollinators, such as bees. Walking through the Rose Garden in the height of summer, you will find yourself surrounded by a constant hum as bees busy themselves finding nectar and collecting pollen. Don’t be afraid. Unlike some wasps, bees are not aggressive, and won’t bother you unless you’re posing a threat to them or their nests. Most males don’t even have stingers.

About three quarters of all flowering plants require pollination in order to set seed and fruit. This includes foods we eat every day. In recent years, honey bees have been at risk due to the unexplained phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder. Our native bees are in decline as well, from various threats such as pesticide use, habitat loss, and disease.

Here are some ways that you can help our beneficial bee friends:
  • Create a Pesticide-Free Pollinator Garden: Creating a pollinator garden requires that you have flowering plants from spring through fall and that you don’t use harmful pesticides. Native plants work best. The Arboretum often has classes available to help you get started. The Remarkable Plants for Non-Stop Color workshop on October 1st will focus on pollinator-friendly plants that don’t require pesticides.
  • Build a Mason Bee Nest House: Mason bees lay eggs in small cavities, such as hollowed out stems, and seal them off with plant material or mud that forms a mortar-like barrier to protect their eggs. You can learn how to build your own bee house for these native, non-stinging males and non-aggressive females, by taking the Mason Bee Nest Box Workshop on November 7th.
  • Start Your Own Beehive: Beekeeping requires a lot of research and a long-term commitment, however you get delicious honey as a result! A great way to introduce yourself to beekeeping and decide if it’s right for you is to take Beekeeping 101: A Workshop for the Bee-Curious on October 10th.
  • Educate Yourself: There are many online resources and books available on bees, beekeeping, and pollinator gardening. You can find some excellent books, as well as other bee-themed items, in The Shop at the Arboretum. You can learn more about bees online at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and Bumblebee Conservation Trust websites. You can help monitor bumblebee populations by participating in a citizen science project called Bumble Bee Watch. Also, the annual Philadelphia Honey Festival provides many fun ways to learn more about honey bees. This year the festival runs September 11-13, 2015.

Article contributed by Kristen Bower, Guest Garden Blogger for Morris Arboretum

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Treat Yourself: The Perfect Solo Outing at Morris Arboretum

Many of us visit the Arboretum with family and friends, however, have you ever treated yourself to a day out on your own? We get pulled in various directions daily by work, family, and other commitments. Sometimes we need to give ourselves a break, and find some “me” time. The Arboretum is a great place to reset your mind, rejuvenate your spirit, rekindle your creativity, and get some exercise at the same time. I recently took a “me” day at the Arboretum. Here are some of the things I did on my most recent solo outing that will hopefully inspire you to treat yourself to a day out.
  • Took a morning class: I often start off a solo visit to the Arboretum with a weekend class. Learning something new is a great way to spark your inner creativity. I’ve taken classes in everything from botanical illustration and canning, to pruning and shade gardening. The atmosphere is fun and friendly, and I always meet new people with similar interests.
  • Enjoyed a bite to eat at the Compton Café: The café behind the visitor center is so convenient, and saves me from having to leave the Arboretum to get food before exploring. The café offers soups, salads and sandwiches. It’s open seasonally, so check the hours before you go.
  • Visited the Rose Garden: I can’t visit Morris Arboretum without stopping in the Rose Garden. It’s more than just roses. There are lots of interesting perennials and annuals in the garden beds, plus the plantings in the rock wall are fun to check out. On my visit, the place was alive with insects – all sorts of pollinators such as digger wasps, bumble bees, honey bees, tiger swallowtail butterflies, and hummingbird hawk-moths (large moths that are often mistaken for hummingbirds). I am a shutterbug, so I spent quite a bit of time taking photos of flowers and insects.
    Hummingbird Hawk-moth

  • Enjoyed some quiet time: When on my own, I like to find the quiet, out of the way places. The area that encompasses the Key Fountain, Ravine Garden, Mercury Loggia, Seven Arches, and the Japanese Overlook garden is often less crowded, and you can find several peaceful places with shaded benches. I took my time sitting on as many of these benches as possible, enjoying the sounds of the birds, and breathing in the fresh air. Birds often visit the shallow water at the bottom of the Key Fountain, and there is a lovely spot to sit at the top where you can watch the bubbling water. The soothing sounds of water can also be heard from the benches across from the Mercury Loggia fountains. I also ventured into the Japanese Overlook garden, where I really enjoyed the stone formations, moss, lichen, and ferns. There is a shady, circular stone area to sit.
    Key Fountain

  •  Explored a new area: I had never been to the wetland, and today seemed like a good day to check it out. To get there, I took the unpaved, woodland trail that starts next to the Fernery. As I walked this less-traveled dirt path, I saw a group of Canadian geese lazily floating down the Wissahickon Creek, and heard birds amongst the trees. As I reached the wetland, right away I could see what a peaceful, magical place it is. The bench by the pond is the perfect spot to reconnect with nature. You can hear insects in the grasses, frogs in the pond, various birds singing in the trees, and will most likely see some monarchs making their way toward the milkweed. Turtles sunbathe on rocks in the pond. I had downloaded and printed out the wetland tour from the website, and was able to read more about the history of this place and the native plants and creatures that call it home. It was the perfect way to end my “me” day at the Arboretum.

I thoroughly enjoyed my solo day at the Arboretum and I hope I’ve inspired you to do it, too. It may seem like a luxury to treat yourself to a day at Morris Arboretum, but your mind and body will thank you for it. Taking the time to reconnect with nature can be healing, inspiring, and rejuvenating, and a lot less expensive than spending the day at the spa!

Article contributed by Kristen Bower, Guest Garden Blogger for Morris Arboretum

Plant Exploration in China: Travelogue Part I

Pictured left to right: Tony Aiello of Morris Arboretum, Michael Dosmann of Arnold Arboretum, and Kris Bachtell of Morton Arbortetum with Acer griseum - paperbark maple

Tony Aiello, our Director of Horticulture & Curator of the Living Collection is currently in north-western China on a month-long expedition. Traveling with colleagues from Beijing Botanical Garden, the Morton Arboretum, and Arnold Arboretum, the mission of his trip is to document paperbark maple (Acer griseum) across its natural range and study its genetic diversity. 

“It has been a hectic trip so far and we have really been on the go. Basically, we've been staying in one place each night and then moving every day, so it's been hard to catch up. We are now in the town of Ankang, Shaanxi Province, and plan to stay here for two nights, which feels like a real luxury.

The trip has been a success so far. On our first day of collecting we found the solitary Acer griseum tree that we had seen in 2010 in Hong He Gu (Red River Valley) in Tai Bai Mountain near Xi'an. The next day was not so successful, when, after some long driving on dirt roads, we found the area where Acer griseum is reported but were not able to find the plants, even after climbing some steep terrain. 

This was discouraging and on our minds the next day as we drove 10 hours south to Sichuan. After a morning of driving through road construction and finding many other interesting plants, in the afternoon we found the trail that we had been looking for and began a strenuous hike up the mountain side. This was well worth it and that day we came across seven trees, including some large and magnificent old specimens. One of these had seed that we were able to collect.

After another day of driving, we ended up in a small village in Chongqing (a large municipality and not technically a province), where we stayed in small local hotel, the Chinese equivalent to a b&b (Kang calls these family hotels). We were in a remote location and made a big sensation in this small town, with many of the locals, especially the kids, coming to see us and help us clean seed. We found a local farmer who knew about the trees that we were looking for, and again, after a rigorous hike (to put it mildly), we found a large population, and sampled 22 plants in an area smaller than a football field.

We are now in Shaanxi province, in the city of Ankang, which it turns out, is the namesake of our intrepid host and guide from Beijing, Kang Wang. Today we drove three hours to find the "holy hannah" behemoth of a tree that Rick Lewandoski had seen in 1995. Thanks to Rick's excellent notes, we found the same plant, and were equally impressed by its age and size. This tree is certainly the largest recorded in China, and we were all amazed to be in its presence. In the same area we saw what was by far the largest Corylus fargesii (Farges filbert) that any of us have seen and made a seed collection from it.

Tomorrow we head to Henan province to look for three populations of paperbark maple.”

Read Travelogue Part II here.

Follow along on this amazing horticultural journey on our blog and learn more about Morris Arboretum’s Collaborative Plant Exploration Program with China here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Autumn Color: More Than Just Leaves

Clockwise from top left: New York ironweed, Tuskegee crapemrytle, Vera Jameson sedum, Aromatic Aster)

Autumn is a magical time at the arboretum. Cool breezes rustle the leaves as they transition to golden and garnet hues. Colorful, tree-lined vistas surround you. There is more to appreciate at the Arboretum in fall than just the trees, though. There are many flowering plants and shrubs that liven up the fall landscape. The Arboretum is a good place to visit if you're looking for some ideas to bring new life to your own garden this time of the year. Here is small sampling of what you will see blooming starting in September:
  • Vernonia noveboracensis (New York ironweed): Ironweed is a 5-7 foot tall native plant that has clusters of pinkish-purple flowers. Look for it in the meadows in September. Ironweed is a favorite among pollinators. You are likely to observe several bees or butterflies on this brightly colored herbaceous perennial.
  • Lagerstroemia 'Tuskegee' (Tuskegee crapemyrtle): The deep pink/nearly-red flowers of this crapemyrtle can be spotted in September in the Oak Allée. Later in the fall, the foliage turns red-orange. The mottled bark adds further visual interest. Lagerstroemia 'Tuskegee' is considered a small tree and can grow up to 20 feet tall and wide.
  • Sedum 'Vera Jameson' (Vera Jameson sedum): Sedums are a must for the fall garden and come in many colors and sizes. I have several in my own garden. This variety near the Rose Garden grows about 10-12 inches tall, has blue gray foliage that deepens to a dark burgundy or purple, and blooms with reddish-pink flower clusters beginning in September.
  • Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 'Raydon's Favorite' (Aromatic Aster): Asters signal that autumn is in full swing. Their daisy-like flowers can range in color from pinks to purples and blues. The aromatic, lavender flowers of 'Raydon's Favorite' can be found blooming near the Rose Garden in October. Like ironweed, asters are a great nectar source, so keep an eye out for butterflies and other pollinators.

As you walk around the Arboretum enjoying the crisp and invigorating autumn air, be sure to take notice of these flowers, as well as the trees. What other fall-blooming plants and shrubs do you see? Do you have a favorite?

Article contributed by Kristen Bower, Guest Garden Blogger for Morris Arboretum

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Building a Garden in the Sky

As the Urban Forestry intern, I recently had the opportunity to see the construction of the green roof atop the 11 story parking deck at the Cira Center South in Philadelphia. Jason Lubar, a Morris Arboretum Urban Forestry Consultant, was asked by the project’s green roof designer Roofmeadow, to assess the support systems for the planted trees.  As the green roof is 11 stories up, the wind dynamics are more intense than at street level, and the trees need a flexible, but sturdy support system to properly establish.

Green roofs have come a long way, and are no longer just moss and sedums. Roofmeadow created a beautiful design at Cira that includes:
  • A grassy lawn with a small hill  
  • A meadow with tall grass such as prairie dropseed, reed grass, big bluestem and perennials such as liatris, veronica, pinks, beards tongue and alliums
  • Several trees including honey locusts, swamp white oaks and redbuds
  • Walkways and plaza of permeable paving
  • A rainwater storage system that will direct rainwater into the lawns and gardens and will mitigate the first couple of inches of rain.
The project will be completed soon, and will provide a beautiful garden and event space for the tenants of the adjacent 40 and 50-storied towers to visit and view from above.   Along with the aesthetic benefits, the garden will increase biodiversity, remove pollutants and mitigate stormwater discharge.  The green roof garden is a wonderful example of Philadelphia’s green infrastructure.

Article contributed by Trish Kemper, the Martha S. Miller Urban Forestry Intern

Thursday, August 20, 2015

5 Reasons to Visit Before the Sun Sets on Summer

Photo: Rob Cardillo
Summer is winding down but there is still a lot to do in the garden at Morris Arboretum. Here are 5 reasons to visit before the sun sets on summer.
  1. The cooling power of trees and bubbling fountains provide a perfect respite of tranquility from the hustle and bustle of the city. It can be as much as 10-15 degrees cooler under the shade of a big tree, and Morris Arboretum has a lot of state champion trees! Learn More
  2. Patrick Dougherty’s stick sculpture, A Waltz in the Woods lures art lovers and children alike with its seven 25-foot tall twisting towers that you can roam through, or race in and out of. Learn More
  3. Out on a Limb takes you high up in the treetops on a canopy walk that requires no climbing. Or you can scamper onto the Squirrel Scramble, a hammock-like rope netting and pretend you’re a squirrel peering down from 50 feet up. Learn More
  4. The Garden Railway presents Art & Architecture with Philadelphia sculptures like Rocky and The Thinker, along with architecture from afar like the Eiffel Tower. And that is just the back drop for model trains zipping in and out of tunnels, through bridges, and under trestles on a quarter mile track. Labor Day weekend is Circus Week at the Garden Railway. Come see the Big Top and the circus trains take over the tracks. Learn More
  5. Sculpture Scavenger Hunt Open your eyes to art in the garden with the new Sculpture Scavenger Hunt.  Pick up a clue sheet at the Visitor’s Center now through October, and solve 10 riddles to find 10 sculptures, each with a secret code attached.  Guests who decipher the cryptic message will receive a complimentary pack of Play Doh® to create their own work of art. Get the Guide

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

268 Butterflies Fluttered By

Last week a group of 8 butterfly enthusiasts spent two days counting these winged beauties. Poor weather at the official North American Butterfly Association Count on July 4 motivated the group to perform their own count here at the Arboretum, a haven for butterflies. The final tally revealed an impressive 33 species and 268+ sightings in just four hours!

Here's the complete list of their findings (click each for images and more information):

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Art Outdoors: 5 Creative Adventures

Photo: Rob Cardillo

This summer at Morris Arboretum we've adopted the theme of Art & Architecture in the Garden with a wide range of experiences with a creative flair. From an iconic-architecture-filled garden railway display, to a towering stickwork sculpture from world-renown artist Patrick Dougherty. But we're not the only ones taking the creativity to the great outdoors. Here's our round-up of our favorite places to experience art and nature in greater Philadelphia:
  1. Patrick Dougherty's A Waltz in the Woods at Morris Arboretum
    On-going; free with garden admission.
    Come explore the seven “towers” of this unique creation, each roughly 30 feet high, through which visitors may roam. Open windows create an airy feel, and opposing doors allow for travel between the towers. Learn More
  2. Sculpture Zoo at Rittenhouse Square
    Saturday, August 8, 10:00am - 1:00pm; free.
    Sculpture comes to life in Rittenhouse Square! This free family-friendly event will host live animals, sculpture-making workshops and demonstrations, and sculpture tours. Learn More
  3. Philadelphia Museum's Inside Out Exhibition
    On-going through mid-November 2015; free.
    The PMA is taking its collection outdoors this summer, placing 60 replicas of Museum masterpieces around greater Philadelphia. Check out the list of participating locations and see how many you can spot. Bonus: Participating zip codes receive free admission to the PMA October 16-18. Details Here
  4. Open Source from the Mural Arts Program
    In progress, opening October 2.

    Thanks to the City of Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program, the city has been dubbed The World's Largest Art Gallery. While walking the streets this summer, keep your eyes open for a range of new works, part of the Open Source exhibition. Formally opening October 2 at the Bok Building. Learn More
  5. Museum Without Walls’ Outdoor Sculpture Bike Map
    On-going; free.
    Exercise, art, and fresh air? The folks at the Museum Without Walls have combined all three through their fantastic Outdoor Sculpture Bike Map. Cycle to all 18 works of art (10 miles) or take a leisurely 4 mile route to see 6 sculptures. Get the Map

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Our Summer Reading List

Ready to delve into a good book? Morris Arboretum staffers are an enthusiastic group of readers and have offered up some great book suggestions. As a bonus, we're even sharing our favorite spots in the garden to get lost in the pages!

Our Summer Garden Reading List

  • American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation by Erik Rutkow
    This fascinating and groundbreaking book tells the remarkable story of the relationship between Americans and their trees across the entire span of our nation's history, perfect for history buffs and nature lovers alike.
    Where to read it: The cozy benches at the Orange Balustrade where you can listen to the sounds of water trickling through the rocks as you turn the pages.
  • Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees by Dave Goulson
    Goulson, an English scientist with a passion for bees, a wonderful sense of humor and a great knack for making science accessible.
    Where to read it: Lydia's Seat (Adjacent to the Rock Wall). Get lost in this read while watching the bees busy in the Rose Garden.
  • The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
    A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love.
    Where to read it: The benches outside our Victorian glasshouse Fernery, which makes the perfect backdrop for this period story.
  • The Brother Gardeners: A Generation of Gentlemen Naturalists and the Birth of an Obsession by Andrea Wulf
    Bringing to life the science and adventure of eighteenth-century plant collecting, The Brother Gardeners is the story of how six men created the modern garden and changed the horticultural world in the process. It is a story of a garden revolution that began in America.
    Where to read it: Grab a seat in one of the Adirondack chairs around the swan pond for this fascinating tale.
  • Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside by Andrea Di Robilant
    What starts out as a lighthearted quest becomes a meaningful journey as di Robilant contemplates the enduring beauty of what is passed down to us in a rose, through both the generosity of nature and the cultivating hand of human beings, who for centuries have embraced and extended the life of this mysterious flower.
    Where to read it: The Rose Garden, of course! Bonus: This book is available for purchase at our Visitor Center Shop.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

See Philly’s Iconic Sculptures... in the Garden!

LOVE statue. Photo: Bob Weber

Rocky statue. Photo: Arnold Winkler
Rodin’s The Thinker. Photo: Arnold Winkler
Oldenberg’s 'Clothespin' Photo: Bob Weber

This summer, some of Philadelphia’s favorite statues can be seen in miniature at Morris Arboretum’s Garden Railway display, where Art & Architecture takes the stage. Visitors will experience art such as Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ to Oldenburg’s ‘Clothes Pin’; marvel at daring architecture including Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Falling Waters’ to Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Monticello’; and delight in the whimsical architecture of roadside attractions such as ‘Randy’s Donuts’ and the ‘Giant Teapot’. The sculptures and buildings are all made of natural materials – bark, leaves, twigs, hollow logs, mosses, acorns, dried flowers, seeds and stones.

Open daily now through Labor Day. Enjoy model trains zipping along a quarter-mile track with bridges and tunnels, surrounded by a fantasy village of Philadelphia buildings and sculptures, and other architectural triumphs from around the world. It’s all outdoors in the summer garden!

The Summer Garden Railway is open daily through September 7, 2015; weekends only through October 12. Learn More »

Friday, June 12, 2015

3 Shade Trees for Small Spaces

Magnolia stellata – star magnolia

Magnolia virginiana (sweetbay magnolia)

Stewartia psuedocamellia (Japanese stewartia)

Nothing beats sitting under a spreading shade tree on a lazy summer day, enjoying something fresh from the garden, or an ice-cold drink. Many of us do not have the space for a full-size shade tree, or prefer not to have a large tree by the patio or close to the house. But, do not worry, there are plenty of options of small to medium-sized trees that fit the bill of providing shade in the garden, while also being in scale with smaller spaces, and not overwhelming the area in which they are planted.

By medium-sized trees, I am referring to trees that grow to between 15-25 feet within approximately 20 years. Think of these as plants that grow to between one and two stories tall, and you can get a sense of how they might work in your landscape.

With so many options to choose from, it is hard to pick just a few. Here are three to get you started:
  1. Magnolia stellata – star magnolia: native to Japan, it is one of the earliest magnolias to flower, with bright white flowers in late March and early April.
  2. Magnolia virginiana (sweetbay magnolia): one of the most adaptable magnolias, of all of the trees on this list, it is probably the best for urban conditions or heavy soils. Sweetbay is notable for its small, but fragrant, flowers in mid-June. Some varieties (M. virginiana var. australis) such as ‘Milton’, ‘Henry Hicks’, and ‘Green Bay’ are evergreen, holding their leaves throughout the winter.
  3. Stewartia psuedocamellia (Japanese stewartia): is probably the most finicky plant on this list, and one that prefers a rich, well drained soil, high in organic matter. However, this is a plant that rewards throughout the year, with beautiful exfoliating bark, early summer flowers, and fantastic fall color. If you can grow this plant, it is one of the best to have in the garden.
Happy planting, and sit back and enjoy for years to come.

For even more small tree suggestions and information, join our new tour on Saturdays (June 13, 20, 27), Small Trees For Small Spaces.

Article contributed by Anthony Aiello - The Gayle E. Maloney Director of Horticulture & Curator, Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania
Photos: Paul W. Meyer