Stretch Your Fingers And Your Appreciation Of Music Under A Tinted-Glass Ceiling

Three more hours in Philadelphia until I had to leave for the airport. Do I squeeze in lunch at City Tavern and dessert at the Franklin Fountain? How about running through the just-opened Museum of the American Revolution? Or should I pick up some Beiler’s doughnuts at the Reading Terminal Market?

With so many appealing choices, but too little time to do any of them justice, I decided to remember what my grandmother told me about recognizing my limitations. I decided to walk a block from my hotel on the Avenue of the Arts to take a free tour of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. And I’m so glad that I did.

Our story begins with the “Grand Old Lady of Locust Street.” Philadelphia’s need for a performance space prompted construction of a building modeled on Milan’s La Scala opera house in 1855. Two years later, the Academy of Music opened its doors, first for an inaugural ball and then for a performance of Giuseppi Verdi’s Il trovatore. In the years that followed, audiences settled into its luxurious red-and-gold interior for the American premieres of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, Charles Gounod’s Faust, and Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. Enrico Caruso, Marian Anderson and Luciano Pavarotti have sung here. Aaron Coplenad, Gustav Mahler, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff have conducted on its stage. Vladimir Horowitz, Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern have also performed here.

The Academy of Music has also hosted several historic civic events. In 1872, it saw President Ulysses S. Grant nominated for a second term at the Republican National Convention. The following year, Buffalo Bill Cody was the star of a circus held here. Susan B. Anthony stood on its stage, making her case for women to have the right to vote. During World War II, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller and Bette Davis were among the stars who entertained over two million in military service in its Stage Door Canteen.

The oldest opera house in the United States was the home of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1900 to 2001. This is where it became one of the world’s greatest orchestras.

However, an opera house wasn’t the best place for the orchestra to play. For years, it looked for a new home, finally finding it, just steps away, in 1998. One city block of land that once housed the only one-level parking lot in Center City Philadelphia was repurposed as the site of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. To find it, follow a portion of the Philadelphia Music Alliance’s Walk of Fame, a collection of over 100 bronze plaques honoring Philadelphia-area musicians and music professionals who have made a significant contribution to music.

The center is named for philanthropist Sidney Kimmel, the son of a Philadelphia cab driver, found financial success with his Jones Apparel Group, which produces the Jones New York and Evan-Picone clothing lines. Dorrance Hamilton, heiress of the Campbell Soup Company, was another philanthropist who contributed to the project.

Architect Rafael Viῆoly was commissioned to create a structure of glass, steel and brick to enclose two performance spaces known as Verizon Hall and the Perelman Theater. Transitional glass in the 150-foot-high barrel-vaulted roof allows for 237 different gradations of tinting.

To ensure that performances would not be disrupted by the sounds of the subway running directly beneath the Kimmel Center, designers built both theaters on top of 32-inch-thick black rubber pads that absorb sound and vibration.

A cello provided the inspiration for the mahogany interior of Verizon Hall. Curving wooden strips and a moveable ceiling provide acoustics so exceptional that microphones are not needed.

Eight inches of insulation and 100 16-foot doors keep wanted sound in the hall and unwanted sound outside. The hall’s exterior is made of macare wood from the mountains of western Africa.

Named for Ronald Perelman, whose company is an investor in Revlon cosmetics, the center’s versatile recital hall has a turntable stage which can be transformed from a conventional proscenium stage to a horseshoe-shaped arena. Main-level seats can be rolled down and replaced with a flat floor. Ropes, pulleys, and counterweights raise and lower sets for theatrical productions.

Philadelphians started converging on the center in 2001 for performances in both of these magnificent spaces. Ten-dollar rush tickets are available two hours before each performance, no matter what the original ticket price was. For a one-time payment of $25, college students can see over 80 concerts during a season.

The afternoon I was there, hundreds of people were descending from all directions to attend the Philadelphia Orchestra’s performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43, and Salonen’s Nyx. Earlier that week, in the Perelman Theater, Emanuel Ax performed Schubert’s Four Impromptus, Chopin’s Impromptus No. 1. Op. 29 and No. 2, Op. 36, Chopin’s Piano Sonata in B Minor, Op. 58, and a Philadelphia premiere of a new work by Chicago-based composer Samuel Adams.

In the space between the two performance spaces, concertgoers can watch archival footage of noted pianists as a Steinway grand piano magically plays the piece. They can also compare the span of their hand with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s, which is said to have spanned an octave and a half.

They can also see a rotating exhibition of contemporary works of art from the collection of Al West and his daughter, Paige. “After Vermeer 2,” Devorah Sperber’s 2006 recreation of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, consists of 5,024 spools of thread hanging from a stainless steel ball chain. View the work through a clear acrylic sphere and the abstract pattern comes into recognizable focus.

Upstairs in the roof garden, they can even take in a yoga class.

Daily tours of the Kimmel Center are offered in 11 different languages, all at no charge. Tours of the Academy of Music are held on select dates.

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This Crow-Scarer Deserves A Double Take

Watching my dad plant seeds in our garden one spring day in 1973, I asked whether I could plant something too. He gave me some popcorn seeds. I put them in the ground by the air conditioner.

The popcorn plants didn’t just sprout; they took off. From neighbors to preschool teachers, everyone on my Christmas list — and then some — popped my popcorn in the new year.

That was my only venture into community gardening. But after a mustachioed man wearing a tweed jacket and a Phillies ball cap showed me around his plot, I might reconsider.

The story begins at the Fairmount Park Horticultural Center in Philadelphia. Peeking inside the greenhouses there, Pixie pointed out tables of sprouting seedlings with a flourishing future in store.

The seedlings are started there as part of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s City Harvest program, which enables urban gardeners to provide fresh produce to needy neighbors. They’re then transplanted and grown in 140 urban gardens throughout Philadelphia. Finally, the harvested produce is distributed to food pantries and at farmers’ markets.

One of those urban gardens is the Wiota Street Community Garden, a fixture of the West Powelton neighborhood of Philadelphia since 1984.

When John Lindsay moved into the neighborhood in the early 1980s, he envisioned turning a large vacant lot at the corner of Wiota Street and Powelton Avenue into a community garden. Unlike a traditional community garden, where neighbors have their own plots, Lindsay designed the Wiota Street garden to grow as much produce as possible.

Anchored by a peach tree, the garden yields bumper crops of strawberries, beets, Swiss chard, bush peas, Oriental long beans, mustard greens, Tokyo and frost turnips, okra, eggplant, celery and rhubarb. An arbor covered with Concord grapes stands near compost bins. Dahlias, zinnias and Honey Bear sunflowers are some of the flowers the garden grows.

Peppers varieties range from sweet banana and green to jalapenos and California Wonders. Romaine, Black Seeded Simpson, Heatwave Blend and other lettuce varieties are started in cold frames. Rutgers and Supersonic tomatoes are planted far apart for ventilation. Once the spinach bed has produced its last crop, it is remade into a patch for cucumbers said to taste like watermelons.

Marked with colorful signs painted by students from a local charter school, a sizeable bed of herbs includes German thyme, cilantro, parsley, mint, marjoram, dill, sage, rosemary, lavender, oregano, lovage, garlic and chives.

Watching over the whole affair is a scarecrow that looks like Lindsay’s twin.

Selecting his seeds from packets organized in alphabetical order, Lindsay keeps a journal of what he plants when, and when the seeds germinate. He also keeps a log of how many people volunteer during the gardening season, which numbers in the hundreds. Volunteers help by planting and harvesting to cutting the grass and weeding.

Lindsay invites visitors to help with the final pea harvest of the year, plying them with refreshments after the work is done and encouraging them to go home with as many snap peas as they can carry. To attract even more visitors to the garden, he has also established an area for dog-walking, benches for relaxing and a Little Free Library for browsing.

A Plexiglas-topped counter protecting photos documenting the garden’s first years serves as the checkout for the garden’s farm stand. The harvest is sold on Sundays, with the proceeds going to run the garden. Lindsay takes leftovers to local food banks and homeless shelters. In 2016, Lindsay donated 1,000 pounds of produce to Philadelphia food banks.

No wonder the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society presented the Wiota Street Garden with the Blue Ribbon Greening Award for Urban Farms last year.

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Does That Eraser Come In Shofuso Gray?

At the next-to-last stop on my tour of Philadelphia gardens, you could stock up on sushi-shaped erasers, ceramic fish, incense and other Japanese treats.

Built in 1953 as a gift of friendship and post-war peace from Japan to the American people, the Shofuso Japanese House was constructed in Japan, using traditional Japanese building techniques and materials to create a 17th-century teahouse. The house was taken apart and shipped to New York City, where it was originally exhibited in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art in 1954 and 1955. In 1958, it was relocated to Philadelphia and was reconstructed in Fairmount Park, on the site of the Japanese buildings that were part of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition.

The grounds include rocks imported from Japan, a stone pagoda and a life-sized statue of Jizo, a Buddhist god.

Traditional Japanese plants — including bamboo, pine, hinoki cypress, flowering plum and azaleas — fill three traditional types of Japanese gardens surrounding the house. A hill-and-pond garden with an island, a pond filled with dozens of koi, and a waterfall was designed to be viewed from the house’s veranda.

A tea garden (roji) features a rustic path that leads to the tea house.  A courtyard garden (tsubo-niwa) with rain chains recalls a urban garden in 17th-century Kyoto.

Before entering the house, guests perform a purification ritual of washing their hands in a basin known as a tsukubai.

Inside, the house’s main room is a hall, or shoin, that can be used for eating, sleeping and entertaining.  A harmonious blend of architectural features include a built-in desk, staggered shelves, an alcove, a built-in ornamental doorway, sliding screens, and wooden storm doors that can be closed in inclement weather. Furnished mostly with cushions and futons, the room can adapt to different uses. Fifteen tatami mats cover the floor, so the space is referred to as the “15-mat room.”

“Shofuso Waterfall,” a series of twenty murals created by Japanese artist Hiroshi Senju in 2007, adorn the sliding doors and alcove. Using an ancient tradition of Japanese painting, Senju combined pigments from minerals, seashells, corals and other natural media in animal glue, then applied it to Japanese washi paper made of mulberry fibers. The earthy gray color in these paintings is known as the “Shofuso” color.

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Reach For The Remote At Chanticleer

Where would you rather be after 5:00 on a summer Friday? Week after week, I’d be picnicking at Chanticleer.

Located in Wayne, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, Chanticleer was the summer home of the Rosengarten family, whose pharmaceutical business became part of Merck, the New Jersey-headquartered health care company. Sited on a sloping hillside, the home provides a beautiful, pastoral view of the Piedmont region of Pennsylvania.

The Rosengartens named their home after “Chanticlere,” the estate in William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1855 novel, The Newcomes, that was “the show of the county.” Since the name was synonymous with the French word for “rooster,” the Rosengartens incorporated rooster motifs throughout the property.

Built in 1913, the home became the Rosengartens’ year-round residence in 1924, when they added a new formal dining room, a breakfast room, and a swimming-pool terrace on the site of the family’s World War I Victory Garden. Mrs. Rosengarten would host “Weed and Reads” for local children, inviting them to learn how to tend the gardens in the morning, give summer book reports in the afternoon, and swim in the pool after hours.

Opened to the public in 1993, this magnificent 35-acre pleasure garden includes tropical plants, perennials, agricultural crops, vegetable plants, flowers for cutting, water gardens and ponds.

Shady woodlands feature plants of eastern North America, such as trilliums and deep-purple checkered snake’s-head fritillaries.  

Manchurian pipevine (Aristolochia manshuriensis) climbs up trees in the Asian Woods, easily spotted by its distinctive flowers shaped like meerschaum pipes.

Cypripedium japonicum, an orchid widespread in Japan, but rare in the United States, blooms for just three weeks each spring. A single pink ladyslipper flower rises above skirt-like leaves like an unfolding Japanese fan.

Restrooms in the Asian Woods resemble a Japanese teahouse, complete with bamboo fencing, traditional shōji screens for walls, and decorative Asian-inspired glazed ceramic tiles.

The terraces surrounding Chanticleer House are much like they were when the Rosengartens lived there. Plantings are completely redesigned twice a year, first in the spring and again in the summer. The spring display included dozens of tulips, both geometrically planted in boxwood-edged beds and randomly filling central beds in a sunken garden installed on the terrace on the west side of the home.

The garden itself is divided into several garden “rooms.” For example, the windows of the sun porch on the western side of the house were removed and the space was transformed into an open-air room. Changing displays of plants in containers sit on the windowsills. Flowers float in a pot next to the fireplace.

At the Pond Arbor, a ceiling of wisterias and weeping flowering cherries shelters a slate terrace and a row of high-backed wooden chairs made of black locust planks. Wide window-like openings provide a vista of the ponds below.

When the two Rosengarten children were married, their parents gave them homes on the property as wedding gifts. Daughter Emily’s home, now housing administrative offices and located near the visitor entrance, was built in 1935. The Teacup Garden is filled with seasonal plants, including a Japanese banana tree that has survived more than 20 winters outdoors with little or no protection. Its spring expression included “Honeybird” narcissus, “Crown Jewel” tulips, frittilaria, and Black Seeded Simpson lettuce….

Son Adolph, Jr.’s home, built in 1933, was torn down in 1999 and is now the site of a spectacular ruin garden featuring a folly, built to look as though it was the ruin of the original home. Marcia Donahue of Oakland, California created three rooms in the house: a great hall, with a fountain that rests on a mosaic rug of tile, granite and slate; a library of carved stone books; and a pool room where marble faces look up from the bottom of another fountain. The central feature of the “dining room” is a stone table that doubles as a reflecting pool.  A comfortable stone sofa and chair, complete with a remote control, are made of native Wissahickon schist and Pennsylvanian black granite, covered with climbing hydrangea.

Chanticleer employs seven horticulturists, each responsible for the design, planting and maintenance of an area. Fourteen gardeners and groundskeepers assist them. During the winter, staff design and build accessories for the garden, such as furniture created from wood cut on the property, fences, gates, bridges, and even drinking fountains.

Boxes for plant lists, which visitors can take for implementing Chanticleer-inspired plantings at home. Seasonal plant lists can also be downloaded here.  One plant list box is more clever than the next.

A metal hand clasps a latch in a plant box in the Asian Woods.  Inside, find a representation of the Cypripedium japonicum orchid across the pathway.  

Hand-crafted wrought-iron railings are among Chanticleer’s most charming features. One with ferns, snails and spiderwebs is on the terrace with the sunken garden.  Another connecting the Teacup Garden with the Lower Courtyard includes dogwood flowers.  It complements a neighboring dogwood tree and dogwood flowers on a fountain the Rosengartens brought back from Florence, Italy in the 1920s.

The interior of the small shed where the Rosengartens stored apples features The (Chip)munks’ Hood, a hand-painted mural of a hollowed-out tree with chipmunks storing acorns; monkshood is planted nearby.

Unique features abound at Chanticleer. A raked gravel Zen garden is the main feature of the courtyard in the back of the house. A Shaker-inspired rain bench that can be flipped over to provide dry seating is placed beside an espaliered rosemary willow. Woven cut willow stems are used as fencing; since willows root when they are stuck in the ground, they are pruned regularly to keep the fences’ distinctive shape. In the spring, pieces of orange-stemmed coral bark willow (Salix alba “Britzensis”) are stuck vertically in containers to contrast with purple wallflowers. Hoops made from wrapped willow branches outline the flower beds. Arches in the vegetable garden are formed in the shape of carrots.

For more on Chanticleer, read Chanticleer: A Pleasure Garden, by Adrian Higgins; The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer, by R. William Thomas; and Gardens of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, by William M. Klein, Jr.

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Gardeners And Tervis Tumbler-Seekers, Find Your Paradise At Mount Cuba

Have you discovered the joys of Tervis, the insulated drinkware that reduces condensation and keeps beverages their original temperatures longer?

My Tervis water bottle is such a fixture that it was high time to track down a Tervis tumbler.  I searched for just the right one at retailers and official Tervis stores, but left empty-handed. I found the perfect one, quite by accident, at an unlikely place: the Mount Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware.

Lammot du Pont Copeland — nephew of Pierre du Pont, the creator of Longwood Gardens — and his wife, Pamela, chose the estate along Red Clay Creek, northwest of Wilmington, for their first home in 1935. They chose to build their home on a 400-foot-high hill known as Mount Cuba, which was originally called “Cuba Rock” by a 18th-century Irish settler.

Inspired by their love of historic American decorative arts and the recent restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, the Copelands built a Virginia Georgian home of handmade brick, furnishing it with Chippendale-style antiques and period paneling from Southern homes.

A wide center hall led to dining and living areas, as well as a library and rooms to store wine, silver, and even the family dog’s bathroom. Despite its historic appearance, the home featured all the latest conveniences, including an elevator, an incinerator and a basement shooting range.  

“Tell your guests if they only put one flower on their table, it will bring joy to their day,” Mrs. Copeland once remarked to a Mount Cuba Center docent. In the house’s conservatory,

…the hand-painted walls include a depiction of a statue which Mrs. Copeland referred to as her Works Progress Administration (WPA) gardener; “he’s the one leaning on his shovel,” she is said to have remarked.

Avid gardeners who loved native plants, the Copelands worked with landscape architects to plan a series of terraces, formal garden rooms, cutting gardens and eventually greenhouses, as Mrs. Copeland became a serious horticulturist. Marian Coffin, one of those designers, created dramatic mass plantings of single species, such as azaleas, in the late 1940s.  Her round garden, bordered by flower beds that change with the seasons and marked by a swimming pool in the shape of a Maltese cross, is particularly stunning in the spring, when hundreds of lavender, white, pink and rose tulips were in bloom. To recreate this effect, plant Violet Beauty, Maureen, Shirley, Salmon Impression, Dordogne, Dreamland, Menton, Pink Diamond and Renown tulip bulbs.

Turn one way from the round garden and see “Samara Turning with the Wind,” a 2009 sculpture by Andre Harvey of Rockland, Delaware. This 10-foot-tall depiction of the maple tree fruit that spins like a propeller as it falls to the ground moves with the breeze or a touch of the hand. I turned the other way and beheld an allée of lilacs in bloom, underplanted with pansies in mimicking hues.

In 1965, the Copelands designed a native garden. Trails meander through a woods that have been planted with over 100 species of Piedmont flora, some with terrific names like blue dogbane, sharped-lobed liverleaf, two-leaf toothwort, fairy wand, Virginia spring-beauty, Quaker ladies, bishop’s cap, foamflower and large-flowered wakerobin.

Mount Cuba Center includes a nationally accredited trillium collection, dating to the 1960s and containing examples of every trillium species native to the eastern United States. This is invaluable to researchers, as they can find nearly everything they need to study about these ephemeral spring-blooming forest plants right here, rather than track down wild populations of each species.



Amateur gardeners can also rely on the collection to discover fascinating facts about trilliums. For example, their flowers aren’t just that familiar white; they range from lemon-yellow to deep maroon. The faint scent of their three-petaled flowers attracts different types of pollinators. Sweet-smelling trilliums attract bees, while files and beetles like foul-smelling ones. Since new trilliums can take as long as seven years to flower, and even longer to establish themselves, some plants in Mount Cuba’s collection are 50 years old.

Mr. Copeland, who presided over the DuPont chemical company from 1962 to 1967, passed away in 1983. Following Mrs. Copeland’s death in 2001, the estate became a public botanic garden of more than 50 acres, surrounded by more than 500 acres of natural lands. Today, Mount Cuba Center is a renowned destination for the study of Piedmont flora, or plants native to the hilly upland region of the Eastern United States, between the Atlantic coast and the Appalachian mountains. Many of these plants are threatened or endangered. Its collection includes 2,200 native plant species.

Test gardens at Mount Cuba Center lead to the propagation of cultivars that are released to the nursery trade, such as Heuchera “Palace Purple.” The center also offers an ecological gardening certificate program, which emphasizes identifying native plants, attracting wildlife beneficial to gardening, and practicing ecologically sound horticultural techniques.

A showy double form of the trillium species, Trillium grandiflorum ‘Pamela Copeland,’ was named for Mount Cuba Center’s founder. To see the climbing monkshood pictured on my Tervis tumbler in its brilliant blue-purpled full bloom, visit Mount Cuba Center in mid-September. Whatever time of year you visit, stop to admire the forged-iron double entrance gate created by Greg Leavitt and his daughter, Camille, of Leavitt Studios in Berks County, Pennsylvania. One gate features a representation of an oak tree measuring almost 10 feet tall, with trilliums, rhododendrons, ferns, lady slipper orchid, Jack-in-the-pulpit and violet wood sorrell around the tree trunk. A rhododendron with more woodland flowers is pictured on the other gate.

For more on the Mount Cuba Center, read Gardens of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, by William M. Klein, Jr., and The Du Ponts: Houses and Gardens in the Brandywine, 1900-1951, by Maggie Lidz. Travis Beck, director of horticulture at the Mount Cuba Center, is the author of Principles of Ecological Landscape Design.

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Flora Fantastica Fill Twelve Acres – And One Pin

Mouth open, staring straight ahead, I sat in a trance in the Bronwynn Theater of the Peggy R. McConnell Arts Center in Worthington. It was dark. Beautiful music played. A slow succession of images filled the screen. And I fell for the “Gallery in a Garden” and its golden burlap-covered walls all over again.

It was December 16, 2016, and I was watching Renoir: Revered and Reviled, an Exhibition on Screen feature-length documentary based on the 181 Renoir paintings in the collection of the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia museum where utilitarian Pennsylvania Dutch furniture rivals incredible post-Impressionist paintings.

“Just four months to go until I see it,” I told myself as I packed up my uneaten popcorn and returned to Riverlea.

A return visit to the Barnes Foundation figured in my Philadelphia spring break plans, but I was really counting down the days to see the original home of the museum and its founder in Merion, Pennsylvania.

Albert Barnes and his wife, Laura, purchased the property in 1922 from Joseph Lapsley Wilson, who had planted more than 200 trees on the estate since the 1880s. Wilson had one condition: those trees were not to be harmed by any plans for the site’s development. Dr. Barnes hired Paul Philippe Cret, a French architect who taught at the University of Pennsylvania, to design a building to house his foundation. The two corresponded about slightly modifying the placement of the building, constructed of limestone from France and Spanish tile, to accommodate the large Franklinia tree Wilson had planted near the site.

In 1937, Dr. Barnes imported an old stone well from a fishing village in Brittany and reconstructed it on front lawn. Similar old wells are often decorated with bas-relief portraits; Barnes commissioned sculptor Jacques Lipchitz to create music-themed bas-relief plaques on the outside of the gallery. African-motif relief mosaics also surround the entrance to the original Cret Gallery, named in honor of the architect.

Cret also designed a teahouse on the property. Built above a spring, the tea house was a favorite refuge for Mrs. Barnes, who displayed her collection of ceramic frogs inside.

While Dr. Barnes was collecting art, his wife indulged her love of horticulture by designing the surrounding landscape. She selected plants for their color, texture and seasonal changes, even corresponding with noted botanists and arboreta about importing exotic plants from Asia.

Today, the 12-acre arboretum contains more than 3,000 species of rare and unusual plants, including hostas, roses, peonies, camellias, trilliums and medicinal plants. There are also 31 state champion trees on the grounds. Bill Rein, the arboretum’s horticulture programs associate, pointed out some unique items in the collection.

Mrs. Barnes developed an outstanding, extensive collection of ferns, including more than 90 species. Very interested in bark and the winter interest it provdes, she established a grove of Stewartia, Asian trees known for their distinctive bark ranging in color from orange to yellowish-brown.

She also collected nearly 200 lilacs, selecting them in graduating shades of purple. Today, the collection includes Syringa vulgaris “Laura L. Barnes” and Syringa vulgaris “The Barnes Foundation.”

The collection includes many specimens not normally found in the mid-Atlantic region, such as a monkey-puzzle tree (Chilean pine) that Mrs. Barnes obtained from the Brimfield Nurseries in Connecticut in 1960…

and a cork tree from northeast Asia. Its genus name, Phellodendron, comes from the Greek words “Phellos” (cork) and “dendron” (tree), referring to its corky bark, not because it is where cork stoppers come from.

A Japanese raisin tree (Hovenia dulcis, part of the buckthorn family), is another, with club-shaped sweet fruit stalks that the Chinese and Japanese like to chew. A dove tree (Davidia involucrata), also known as a ghost tree or handkerchief tree, is named after Armand David, a French missionary who introduced the tree from China in the 1890s. Part of the dogwood family, the tree’s white bracts drape over the tips of its branches in late spring, recalling doves or handkerchiefs.

In 1940, Mrs. Barnes established a three-year horticulture certificate program at the arboretum, offering a course of study in botany, horticultural practices, garden aesthetics and design. She also developed an extensive horticultural library. Much of the building houses Barnes Foundation office space today, but the library is available for research. On the way to see it, I stopped to admire several “Flora Fantastica” works by MF Cardamone, who completed the horticulture program at the Barnes Foundation Arboretum School in 2005. While researching and collecting the plants for her native Pennsylvania wildlife habitat garden, the artist created her own herbarium. This inspired her to blend specimen-mounting techniques with botanical illustrations from the 18th and 19th centuries and Surrealist collages to create unique works illustrating the science, history and beauty of plants from Pennsylvania, Florida, the Southwest, Peru and Iceland, among others.

When the Barnes Foundation moved from its Merion campus to Center City Philadelphia in 2012, some believed that the closing of the original galleries marked the end of an era — and the historical context that they provided. As Philadelphia Inquirer art critic Edward J. Sozanski wrote, ” Besides painting, sculpture, and decorative arts galore, Merion also embodies and evokes architecture, horticulture, educational philosophy, American social history, and the personality and taste of the founder. It can’t be relocated organically any more than a giant redwood can be cut off at the knees and stuck in a giant tub on the sidewalk.”

Whatever the conclusion about the museum’s relocation, it’s worth experiencing some of that historical context with a visit to the Barnes Arboretum. It was such a special place to me that I made a second trip back to the Barnes Foundation to bring home something equally dear: the Barnes botanical wave pin. Inspired by four distinctive plants at the Barnes Arboretum — Camellia Sasanqua, trillium, Koelruetaria bipinnata seedpods, and larix cones — artisan Cynthia Gale incorporated details on the pin that derive from a decorative ironwork window treatment at the Barnes’s home. A portion of my purchase benefited the Barnes Arboretum — a very worthy cause, I’d say.

For more on the Arboretum of the Barnes Foundation, read Gardens of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, by William M. Klein, Jr. To learn more about MF Cardamone, see Botanical Visions: The Art of MF Cardamone, by MF Cardamone and Julie Sasse.

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A Topiary-Trimming Fox-Hunter Traveled To The Peacock Throne

Harvey Ladew and I have much in common. People have called both of us rare and unusual people with many diverse interests. Country Life is our favorite magazine. We both love to travel. I like royalty; he was friends with the Duke of Windsor.  

Portrait of Harvey Ladew in the style of Picasso  

We’re nuts about needlepoint; he was so fond of a settee with petitpoint hunt scenes that he sat on it until its owner, General Foods Corporation founder Marjorie Merriwether Post, gave it to him. But most of all, we think topiaries are pretty nifty.

Ladew (1887-1946) was the only son of a wealthy manufacturer of leather beltings used by factories during the Industrial Revolution. His life’s calling was to enjoy himself. The world traveler who could order breakfast in five languages developed an extensive set of friends, including Picasso and Edna Ferber, and he loved riding to hounds.

In 1929, Ladew bought 22 acres of land in Monkton, Maryland and called it Pleasant Valley Farm. He added two wings to the property’s original circa-1747 farmhouse. He painted his upstairs sitting room in aubergine, a color that hadn’t been used in an American home before. Turning the original dining room into an office, Ladew paneled the room with pine planks from an old cow barn that he bought because he liked the white wisteria growing on it. In the drawing room, he placed his Steinway grand piano, which Cole Porter would play during visits. He also filled a massive mahogany breakfront in the room with his collection of Staffordshire and Meissen porcelain fox figurines. In fact, Ladew loved fox hunting so much that he displayed fox-themed items everywhere: in Chippendale mirrors and on stirrup cups, on antique painted-glass windows and an Irish marble fireplace.

To create an “Elizabethan Room,” he installed 15th-century Scandinavian pine paneling on the walls and hired artisans to create a plaster ceiling based on a pattern he found in an antiquarian book. A copy of By Camel and Car to the Peacock Throne, by E. Alexander Powell, rests on a table. The 1923 book chronicles travels through Syria, Arabia and Persia by Powell, Ladew, DeWitt Hutchings, then vice president of the Mission Inn at Riverside in southern California, and Sherin, a young Irishman who had been in the service of the Duke of Portland and was Ladew’s valet.

He built an oval library to house a rare oval Chippendale-style partners’ desk and a carved pine door from a country house in Norfolk, England. Helen Comstock, author of One Hundred Most Beautiful Rooms in America, as well as Town & Country magazine, proclaimed it the best room in the house.

A secret doorway in the library opens onto a breezeway, which leads to a card room.

The gardens surrounding his home were Ladew’s real accomplishment. He envisioned a landscape featuring topiaries, or shrubs trimmed and trained into unique ornamental shapes. He and a surveyor designed the landscape around two intersecting axes: one leads from the house to a garden folly known as the Temple of Venus; the other leads from a brick-walled hybrid tea rose garden to an iris garden. He placed a swimming pool where the axes intersect, surrounding it with a topiary wall ending in large topiary obelisks. He topped window-like opening in the walls with topiary “swags.”

A dozen topiary swans swim atop hedges.

Without any formal landscaping training, Ladew started in on his project to create one of the first garden-room landscapes in the United States. Fifteen themed garden “rooms” with connecting “hallways” are planted with flowers that change with the seasons. During my visit, the gardens were filled with at-their-peak spring flowers, from daffodils, pansies and Virginia bluebells to just-about-to-burst azaleas, a yellow Butterfly magnolia, redbuds and flowering pear and crab apple trees. Ten thousand tulips are planted in the gardens every year.

Ladew’s eye for color served him well. He planted scores of pink, white and pale mauve azaleas underneath trees in his apple orchard, to bring out the blossoms’ colors. Amid the trees of this “Garden of Eden,” he placed a concrete statue of Adam and Eve, which appeared in magazine ads for Colombian coffee. A Belgian fence of apple and pear trees decorate the entrance to this garden.  Beyond that, a keyhole carved in yew leads to a secret garden planted with an ornamental plum tree and oversized concrete chess pieces.

In the Yellow Garden, he placed bee skeps, dovecotes and a vibrant orange-and-yellow teahouse. Golden privet hedges frame the length of the garden, while yellow Laburnums descend from a tunnel of iron arches. In his Victorian garden, Ladew used rhododendron walls to create a room with concrete lawn furniture carved to represent scenes from nature. Another garden is filled with flowers in many shades of pink.

In 1948, Ladew rescued the 18th-century ticket office from the Tivoli Music Hall in London’s Leicester Square from demolition and moved it to his garden.  Flowers of complementary colors are planted in a garden below, such as pink roses, geraniums in blue pots, lilacs, wild azaleas and iris.

He painted the interior walls a spectacular “Shocking Ladew Pink,” adorning them with bluebirds and trees to emulate Chinese wallpaper.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the self-taught gardener created what would become recognized as the most outstanding topiary garden in the country. Created from privet, boxwood, yew and hemlock, the topiaries were once trimmed by Ladew himself. Today, they are kept in shape by specially trained gardeners. To ensure their health and longevity, these special shrubs are trimmed once a year, during a three-month period, beginning in July.

The Sculpture Garden features Ladew’s first topiary efforts, including yew clipped in the shapes of Winston Churchill’s “V for Victory” sign and top hat, a seahorse, teacups, a fish, a peacock, a heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow and a butterfly alighting on a mushroom.

Steps away from Ladew’s original wisteria, still growing in its original pots, is his “Man Walking a Dog” topiary, said to represent modern art.

A topiary Chinese junk sails in a lotus-filled pool at the base of a garden filled with 65 varieties of iris. Also find a topiary Buddha and a pagoda topiary restored from Ladew’s original design.

A life-sized hunt scene is the garden’s most iconic topiary form. It was inspired by another topiary of a fox chased by hounds that Ladew admired during a visit to England in the 1920s.

For more on Ladew Topiary Gardens, read “Perfectly Delightful:” The Life and Gardens of Harvey Ladew, by Christopher Weeks, and Rescuing Eden: Preserving America’s Historic Gardens, by Caroline Seebohm.

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