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