Brothers, Find Your Role Model In John Morris

I wish I had a brother like John Morris.

He accompanied his sister, Lydia, on her travels around the world, joining her in collecting plants and other natural history objects. He built her a special stone seat to admire the view from her kitchen garden.  He encouraged her fondness for entertaining by building her a log cabin built from native hemlock trees. He supported her artistic talents when she designed a weathervane depicting them with their farm animals. And he shared her interest in historic preservation, landscaping and creating public parks.

The sibings were heirs to the I.P. Morris 

“Lydia’s Seat,” which John had built in 1909 for his sister to admire her kitchen gardens

Company, an iron manufacturing firm. In 1887, they acquired land in Chestnut Hill, a neighborhood 19th-century Philadelphians sought for its clean air. George Washington had used the land as an encampment in the Revolutionary War Battle of Germantown. Here, they built their summer home, calling it “Compton.”

For the next 45 years, they transformed a barren place with poor soil into a spectacular idyllic escape from urban life. They acquired a neighboring working farm, Bloomfield, in 1913.

An allée of oak trees recalls the Morrises’ fascination with the chateaus of the Loire Valley in France. Inspired by the Renaissance-style loggias they admired during their travels in Italy, John and Lydia had a balustraded terracotta piazza and grotto built on a hillside above a waterfall originating from nearby Paper Mill Creek in 1899. A neighboring giant sequoia tree and a paper bark maple tree provide the perfect visual complement to the Italian terracotta the Morrises found so striking.

The Morrises crafted a “Love Temple” like one they had seen in Venice, placing it beside a swan pond to create a picturesque setting reminiscent of 17th- and 18th-century English landscape gardens.

When the pond was dug, the displaced dirt was used to create mounds in the neighboring Japanese hill and water garden that Japanese garden designer Y. Muto built for John Morris in 1905. The Morrises’ travels in Japan inspired them to create a Japanese hill garden, in which each traditional Japanese garden element – hill, rock, water, tree, bridge, path, shrine, and lantern – is arranged according to rules and has a symbolic meaning.

In keeping with period tastes, they planted an abundance of “weeping” trees. In 1912, they established a Victorian fernery, considered the oldest freestanding glass structure in the United States.

The rose garden is home to the “Knockout” rose, introduced here because the arboretum’s horticulturist was involved in its development. The garden was originally created in 1888 as a garden of flowers planted around a marble fountain. The Morrises added more surrounding Italianate balustrades 20 years later, followed by a six-foot-high wall of Wissahickon schist filled with alpine plants in 1924.

John corresponded with the director of Harvard University’s arboretum to secure seeds from plant expeditions in Asia. Fine examples of a lacebark pine native to China, together with a rare China fir tree, thrive.

A Katsuratree that John planted around 1902 has grown to become a Pennsylvania state champion for the species. Native to eastern Asia, this deciduous forest tree was introduced to American gardens around 1865 and is celebrated for the abundant shade it provides. This example of one of Philadelphia’s oldest, rarest and largest trees is particularly unique because a lawnmower is said to have run over it early in its life, damaging it so that its limbs grew differently.

After John died in 1915, Lydia left instructions in her will to rename the property as “The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania,” a place that would facilitate scientific research in horticulture and provide people with educational opportunities that would teach them how to grow plants and preserve their natural environment. Since her death in 1932, the arboretum has been doing just that.

“Gyoiko” Japanese flowering cherry tree

Today, the 92-acre arboretum contains a collection of more than 5,800 trees and shrubs, as well as more than 12,000 plants from North America, Asia, Africa and Europe. Some highlights include fine specimens of magnolias, rare “Gyoiko” Japanese flowering cherry trees, and a meadow filled with azaleas.

Sadly, Compton stands no more, but a Ginkgo tree that once grew by the home’s front door — as well as the carriage house the Morrises built from local Wissahickon Schist stone in 1888 — still exist. The carriage house is the home of the arboretum’s gift shop, which sells reproductions of Lydia’s weathervane and the life-sized metal sheep that graze along the arboretum’s Magnolia Slope.

The Pennock Flower Walk is a tribute to J. Liddon Pennock, a legendary Philadelphia florist. Its striking flower borders recall the formal borders that the Morrises had originally planted on the hillside.

Other unique features of the arboretum include a ha-ha, a hidden boundary wall or sunken fence in the Capability Brown style of English gardening, so named because it surprises unsuspecting people when they come upon it; as well as a “stumpery,” a 19th-century English gardening practice where uprooted tree stumps are used to form a seated arbor. The “Out on a Limb” tree canopy walk provides a bird’s-eye view of the forest from 50 feet up in the air. A seasonal garden railway consists of miniature replicas of historic Philadelphia buildings, created using bark, leaves, vines, twigs and other natural materials.

For more on the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, read Gardens of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, by William M. Klein, Jr.

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A Carmine-Coated Lizard Created A Dandy Habitat With His Felco Pruners

Voted Philadelphia’s best-dressed man of 1954, J. Liddon Pennock had a penchant for bow ties, patchwork vests, yellow shoelaces, a brass rhinoceros belt buckle and his signature luscious red sportcoat.

Mr. Pennock had an eye for design. Known to his friends as “Lizard,” he curated a vast collection of lizard figurines, even incorporating a lizard into a needlepoint rug that he and his wife, Alice, created for their living room, with help from some of their friends.

The most lasting example of Pennock’s talent is at Meadowbrook Farm, his 25-acre estate in Huntingdon Valley suburb of northwest Philadephia. Here, he transformed a hillside of “nothingness” into an extraordinary series of terraced garden “rooms” filled with surprises at every turn.

Born in 1913 to a family of florists who had been gardening in Philadelphia since the late 17th century, Pennock studied at Cornell University’s agricultural college, but returned home when the Great Depression threatened the existence of his father’s flower shop. He saved the business, eventually becoming one of the East Coast’s finest florists. As florist to the White House during the Nixon administration, Pennock created the floral arrangements for Tricia Nixon Cox’s wedding.

Back home in Philadelphia, Pennock was best known as “Mr. Flower Show.” For many years, he ran the Philadelphia Flower Show, the pre-eminent flower show in the United States. Organized by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society since 1829, the eight-day spring show now encompasses six acres and hundreds of indoor displays celebrating new floral varieties and innovations in floral design. Some fixtures and plantings from previous flower shows found new homes at Meadowbrook Farm.

When Alice Herkness married Pennock in 1936, her parents gave the couple a parcel of 150 acres as a wedding present. The newlyweds chose to site their home on the top of the hill, to take advantage of the view.

Enkianthus perulatus “J.L. Pennock”

The driveway winding from the entrance to Meadowbrook Farm passes flourishing magnolias, dogwoods, Carolina silverbells, longstalk holly trees and Japanese umbrella pines.  Jenny Rose Carey, director of Meadowbrook Farm and author of a new book called Glorious Shade: Dazzling Plants, Design Ideas, and Proven Techniques for Your Shady Garden, pointed out massive examples of Enkianthus perulatus “J.L. Pennock,” an ornamental shrub. In spring, it is adorned with clusters of dainty white, urn-shaped, honey-scented flowers; in the fall, it is transformed from bright green through burgundy to brilliant red or glowing orange foliage.

The driveway ends at a cobblestoned courtyard with a central fountain, bordered by a Franklinia tree and heirloom “Thalia” daffodils expressing Pennock’s love of the color white. From there, guests enter the Pennocks’ home, built from local Wissahickon schist stone in the English Cotswolds style.

The foyer, with its handpainted floor and walls and a collection of Pennock’s hats and walking sticks, leads to a reception room with smoked-glass mirrors on the ceiling and hearty Peperomia plants thriving in the corner.  A faux-marble painted hallway door leads to a swanky powder room with an apple-green Chinese Chippendale wallcovering.

Turn left and admire the Pennocks’ collection of pink lustreware in the dining room. Or, better yet, turn right and enter the Pennocks’ living room.  Featured in magazines like Better Homes and Gardens and Town and Country, the living room is a showplace of the Pennocks’ interests.

Terrariums and souvenirs from the Pennocks’ travels rest on tables. Needlepoint throw pillows on sofas and chairs complement the needlepoint rug before the fireplace. The Pennocks changed the living room’s pictures, draperies and even the wall sconces with the seasons.  Antique lithographs of bird-themed paintings by Philadelphia artist Carroll Sargent Tyson, Jr. (1877-1956) adorn the walls.

Next comes the card room, where the Pennocks worked on jigsaw puzzles while sitting on more needlepoint-pillow-covered chairs.

The conservatory, constructed in the 1960s, shelters hanging ferns, begonias and ficus trees.

Armed with his trusty Felco pruners and shears, Pennock created 11 exterior garden “rooms” surrounding his home, using low hedges and natural corridors to connect and flow just like interior rooms.  Fountains and faux bois concrete planters and seats provide interesting places to pause.

He trained the branches of copper beech trees over an iron fence standing beside a fish pond called Lock Pennock.  He coaxed English ivy to stand upright and grow into a small tree.

He trimmed hemlocks into the shapes of clouds, pruned viburnums into the shapes of topiaries, and espaliered magnolia trees. A round garden was added in the 1940s, followed by an herb garden and a swimming pool in the 1950s.

Gazebos from past flower shows and a glass house were added in the 1960s. A statue of an eagle is another garden room’s feature. An herb garden features a pomegranate tree and topiary-trimmed bay laurels.

Pennock designed his garden rooms to lead to surprises at every turn. I found mine in the osteospermum, or daisybush, a purple annual with spoon-shaped petals.After retiring from the florist business in the early 1970s, Pennock created a retail nursery and greenhouse at Meadowbrook Farm. When he passed away in 2003, he bequested his property to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

For more on Meadowbrook Farm, see Gardens of Philadelphia & the Delaware Valley, by William M. Klein, Jr. Thomas Church’s classic 1955 book, Gardens Are For People, introduced the concept of the “outdoor room.”

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What Do A Magenta Paintbrush And A Mountain Have In Common?

When Mary Gibson Henry packed her bags for a three-month stay in a remote area of northeastern British Columbia with her husband, her children and her dog, she saved room for a record player.

A movie camera that also made the 1931 trip captured evidence of the record player in a sailboat carrying a lounging Mrs. Henry as she explored a tropical valley filled with native plants.

Mary Gibson Henry with her namesake, Lilium iridollae MG Henry (Pot-of-Gold Lily)

That archival film footage began my visit to the Henry Foundation for Botanical Research in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. The remote 40-acre site, tucked away in one of Philadelphia’s Main Line neighborhoods, was the home of Mrs. Henry (1884-1967), a botanist and plant explorer who traveled the world tracking down unique plants, collecting them and incorporating them in her garden for study and enjoyment.

Mrs. Henry’s granddaughter, Susan Treadway, introduced me to this intrepid traveler who climbed the Massif du Mt. Blanc in Chamonix, France and hiked the North American wilderness during 90 expeditions over a 40-year period. Mount Mary Henry, one of British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains, was named in Mrs. Henry’s honor.

Mrs. Henry taught herself how to identify plants and press herbarium specimens, collecting thousands of them on horseback and in chauffeur-driven cars to send to the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University in Philadelphia, among other repositories.

Her handsome home, built in the Norman English style in 1926, contains a library of about 1,000 volumes. William Robinson’s The Wild Garden prompted Mrs. Henry to create a garden on the steeply sloping land of her Gladwyne farm. First published in 1870, the book encouraged a naturalistic approach to gardening by arranging native plants according to local growing conditions and then letting them thrive on their own, rather than constantly maintaining them in rigid geometrical designs.

After reading William Bartram’s 1791 classic, Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, she was inspired to retrace Bartram’s steps and look for the native Flame azaleas in full bloom on a hillside along the Savannah River, a sight with red and orange colors so intense that he thought the hillside was on fire. That led her to seek wild native plants endangered by their changing native habitats, rescue them, and transplant them to places in her garden where she thought they would thrive so they could be admired and used for research. Plants from southern gardening zones, but at the northern limits of their ranges, held a special fascination for her. Experimenting with propagating and crossing these plants led her to develop improved specimens such as Itea virginica (Henry’s Garnet), that have been introduced in today’s northern gardens.

Mrs. Henry was fascinated with rare and unusual species of plants, such as those with darker foliage and double flowers. Her sharp eye led her to discover Lilium iridollae MG Henry (Pot-of-Gold Lily), Braya henryae Raup (Northern Rock Cress), Castilleja henryae Pennel (Magenta Paintbrush), Chamaecyparis henryae Li (Atlantic White Cedar), Chionanthus henryae Li (Fringe Tree), Antenarria megacephala Fern (Pygmy Pussy-toes), Hymenocallis choctawensis, H. henryae, H. moldenkiana, H. palusvirensis, H. pygmaea Traub (Spider Lily), Phlox floridana Benth, ssp. bella Wherry (Florida Phlox), and Stewartia x henryae Li (Henry’s Stewartia).

While weeding in her garden, Mrs. Henry discovered an evergreen hedge plant with rich green foliage that displays bright yellow flowers in the spring and brilliant reddish-bronze leaves in the fall. Patented by one of her nurserymen, it is known as Berberis x gladwynensis “William Penn” (William Penn Barberry).

To propagate her finds, Mrs. Henry first put her plants in a 30′-by-30′ trial garden, then moved three specimens at most to the regular garden. Orchids resided in a 6–by-8′ greenhouse. She documented what she planted and how they grew.

An expert at siting plants, Mrs. Henry placed her treasures where she thought they would do best.  She created landscapes featuring continuing blooms and distinctive fragrances, as we experienced when we took whiffs of spicy-smelling bayberry leaves and the lemony leaves of the alyssum. She grew many plants that would provide food for birds. Most meaningful to modern gardeners, she was ahead of her time in favoring low-maintenance, self-sustaining plantings.

Mrs. Henry’s garden features 200 to 300 species of newly discovered woody plants from Asia that she planted; Stewartia monadelpha trees from China that she grew from seeds she ordered in the 1930s; every species of magnolia native to North America; ivy brought from the Baltic; a Florida Cedar she claimed was a new species; Carolina silverbell; and a Burkwood viburnum given to her by Mr. Burkwood himself, according to Mrs. Treadway.  At least one plant from each state is represented in the garden.


Looking at a lush rhododendron growing near the house, Mrs. Treadway proclaimed, “I’ve never seen it at such perfection.”

And then there were the Cunninghamia lanceolata (China Fir) evergreen trees, producing the finest pine cones I’ve ever seen.

Mrs. Henry formed her foundation to preserve, research and educate others about native plants. After her death, her daughter, Josephine, continued cataloging her collections; her granddaughters and others continue the effort today. The garden has been open to the public since 1974.

For more on the Henry Foundation for Botanical Research, read Gardens of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, by William M. Klein, Jr.

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Sweet Or Stinking, Everything’s At Home Under Bartram’s Hospitable Dome

On a sunny April morning, I sat transfixed as I listened to Joel Fry, curator of Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia, tell the tale of a Scottish schoolteacher named Alexander Wilson whose neighbor, William Bartram, encouraged his fascination with birds and nature.

I was even more transfixed on a drizzly April morning three years later, standing in the very spot where that avian fascination took flight. I was on a pilgrimage to Bartram’s Garden, and a little rain was not going to get in the way. I pulled up the hood of my Barbour and kept writing on the soggy pages of my notebook, hoping to capture every word of Mr. Fry’s exceptional tour of the place that Wilson called “Bartram’s hospitable dome.”

The rain picked up speed, and so did Mr. Fry’s enthusiasm for the oldest surviving botanic garden in North America.

This story begins with a Quaker stonemason named John Bartram, who bought 102 acres of farmland on the west bank of the Schuylkill in 1728. He created a series of terraces that sloped down to the river, filling them with flowers and a kitchen garden.

He also grew medicinal plants with some terrific names, like Robin’s Plantain, American Spikenard, Common Boneset, Horsebalm, Devil’s Bit, White Colicroot and Lizard’s Tail.

Above the garden terraces, Bartram began building a striking home with Wissahickon schist, a local stone that he quarried himself. He incorporated the original central portion that dates to 1689, when Swedes settled the Delaware Valley; he made additions in stages over the next 40 years. Bartram carved his initials, along with those of his wife, on the gable end of the house in 1731. He added a kitchen and extended the roof of the house in 1740.

Major renovations took place in 1770, when the 71-year-old Bartram constructed a second-floor sitting room and bedroom, added three stone columns to the facade and carved the inscription, “It is God Along Almyty Lord the Holy One by Me Ador’d,” between the upper and lower windows, both surrounded by more decorative carving.

To make the house look unified on the outside, Bartram employed eclectic construction methods inside, such as turning old door openings into closets and situating steps at all different angles on the landing. Today, the house is furnished with of-the-period Pennsylvania antiques…

and original pieces donated by Bartram family members, including a medicine chest attributed to Bartram’s cabinetmaker brother and used by his two pharmacist sons and his doctor grandson.

“Whether great or small, ugly or handsome, sweet or stinking, everything in the universe in its own nature appears beautiful to me,” Bartram said. Curious about science and the natural world, he began traveling throughout the colonies, gathering and bringing home a varied collection of native plants. He kept a seasonal diary, observing how his garden fared throughout the year as he experimented with soil, grafting, hybridization and crop rotation, sharing those observations in correspondence with horticulturists both at home and abroad.

One of those correspondents was Peter Collinson, a London cloth merchant whom Bartram contacted around 1733. Well-connected to British botanists, gardeners, nurserymen and nobility, Collinson arranged funding for the self-taught expert to hunt for plants that would satisfy the European demand for exotic North American trees and shrubs, including Carolina poplars, sugar maples, magnolias, mountain laurels, azaleas and rhododendrons. Collinson also facilitated the distribution of seeds and plants Bartram propagated from his travels throughout Britain, such as at the Chelsea Physic Garden and Kew Gardens, and Europe. Thus began Bartram’s thriving trade in seeds and plants.

Over the next decade, Bartram refined how he packed and shipped the botanical specimens he had collected in wooden crates. To ensure a better success rate, he sent bare-rooted plants without soil, cushioning them in moist sphagnum moss. Hundreds of varieties of plants and seeds were split among the boxes. He included a list — first handwritten, then printed — of the crate’s contents. The contents included hundreds of species of everything from North American trees and flowering shrubs like eastern hemlock, catalpa, and Stewartia to curious oddities like the pawpaw, skunk cabbage, and the Venus Flytrap. Acorns and walnuts were packed in moist sand at the bottom of the box.

By 1760, business was so good that Bartram added a greenhouse to extend his growing season and to protect exotic Southern plants like cyclamen, jasmine, myrtle, oleander and pomegranate.

He processed the seeds and plants from his expeditions in a seedhouse he constructed from stone, adorning it with distinctive plant-related carvings.

Bartram’s reputation also flourished. He was appointed Royal Botanist for North America to George III in 1765, a position he held until his death in 1777. His descriptions of native American plants were so helpful that the renowned Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus called him “the greatest natural botanist in the world.”

By the mid-1750s, Bartram’s fifth child, William — also known as “Poor Billy” — was accompanying him on plant-collecting expeditions. An artistic adolescent in search of a calling, William learned the principles of plant collection from his father and made botanical illustrations of their finds. In 1773, William went on a four-year expedition through the South.  One of his stops was in southern Georgia, to see a tree along the Altamaha River that he and his father had encountered during an 1765 expedition, but had not seen anywhere else. William drew it in flower, collected seeds to bring home, and planted them in his father’s experimental garden, naming it Franklinia alatamaha in honor of his father’s friend, Benjamin Franklin. Cultivating the rare tree saved it from extinction; very hard to grow, with very rigid soil conditions, all Franklinia trees today are descended from those grown by the Bartrams. William’s 1791 account of his trip, Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, became a classic of early American literature that was praised by great European writers like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

After John’s death, William and his brother, John Jr., continued their father’s work by establishing a commercial nursery that eventually had ten greenhouses, selling more than 1,400 varieties of native plants and 1,000 exotic plants through a published catalogue considered one of the first botanic lists of North American plants. 

The Bartrams’ customers included delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, including James Madison, Thomas Jefferson – who made over 30 visits to the garden – and George Washington, who described the garden as “not laid off with much taste, nor was it large;” everything seemed to be “jumbled together in heaps.” Washington ordered hundreds of trees and shrubs from the Bartrams for his garden at Mount Vernon.

Bartram’s Garden became a pilgrimage destination for customers and curious visitors who came to see the famed traveling botanist. William entertained his guests under an arbor; the recreated version features twining wisteria vines.

After William died in 1823, his niece, Ann Bartram Carr, and her husband, Robert, continued the family business. Last year, a formal garden that Ann planted at the home around 1820 was restored. Shaded by a Bartram oak, an apparent hybrid John Bartram found growing on the property when he bought it, Ann’s garden is filled with varieties of plants that were just introduced to America at the time, including Asian magnolias, camellias, tree peonies, striped tulips, lilacs, crepe myrtles, and roses. The Carrs also added a Chinese Chippendale porch to the home’s formal entrance, transforming the farmhouse into a classical garden villa.

In 1850, inventor/engineer Andrew Eastwick bought the garden and made it a summer pleasure garden, offering ice cream, refreshments and steamboat excursions. In 1891, the City of Philadelphia bought the house and garden; Bartram descendants helped to preserve it as the museum it is today.

The core of the Bartram’s Garden collection are exotic plants and native plant species of eastern North America that the Bartram family collected, grew and studied from 1728 to 1850. Exceptional examples include a ginkgo tree sent from London in 1785 and believed to be the oldest ginkgo tree in North America.  A yellowwood tree sent to William Bartram at the beginning of the 19th century continues to go strong, despite suffering storm damage.

Other trees in the garden include a magnolia grandiflora the Bartrams collected in the Carolinas, aspens, pines, willow oaks, tulip poplars, tamaracks, buttonwoods, fringe trees and redbuds, which John Bartram called “salad trees.” Under a bald cypress tree commemorating one John planted in the 1730s, an abundance of Solomon’s seal, shooting star, Jeffersonia (also known as twinleaf) and other spring ephemerals flourish.  My favorites were Halesia carolina, also called “silverbell,” so named for its clusters of white bell-shaped blossoms…

and Carolina sweetshrub, whose flowers evoke a cinnamon-and-pineapple scent, lining the path to the Bartram house. 

The Bartrams introduced the first tea plants in Philadelphia, and the tender plants still grow next to fig and pomegranate trees alongside a stone wall in the garden today. A remnant of John’s original artificial pond holds wetland plants like the Bartrams collected, such as swamp azalea, bog plants, pitcher plants and a miniature cranberry bog.

A corridor of the garden contains plants William saw on his famous Southern travels: flame azaleas; redbuds; Fothergillas; oakleaf hydrangeas; delphiniums; irises; Buckeye bottlebrush trees; rhododendrons and shrub honeysuckles.

For more on the Bartrams and their garden, read Fields of Vision: Essays on the Travels of William Bartram, edited by Kathryn E. Holland Braund and Charlotte M. Porter; William Bartram: The Search for Nature’s Design: Selected Art, Letters, & Unpublished Writings, edited by Thomas Hallock and Nancy E. Hoffmann; Joel T. Fry, associate editor; Bartram’s Boxes Remix, by jurors Leah Douglas, Joel T. Fry and Mira Nakashima; introduction by Richard R. Goldberg, essays by Albert LeCoff and Joel T. Fry, and curatorial statements by Robin Rice; and Historic American Landscapes Survey: John Bartram House and Garden; Bartram’s Trail Revisited: Footprints Across the South, by Jim Kautz; Following in the Bartrams’ Footsteps: Contemporary Botanical Artists Explore the Bartrams’ Legacy, by the American Society of Botanical Artists and Bartram’s Garden; Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology, by Edward H. Burtt, Jr. and William E. Davis, Jr.; The Flower Hunter: William Bartram, America’s First Naturalist, by Deborah Kogan Ray; America’s Curious Botanist: A Tercentennial Reappraisal of John Bartram, 1699-1777, edited by Nancy E. Hoffmann and John C. Van Horne; Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation, by Andrea Wulf; All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses – How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America, by Marta McDowell; Gardens of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, by William M. Klein, Jr.; and Historic Houses of Philadelphia: A Tour of the Region’s Museum Homes, by Roger W. Moss. William Bartram also plays a role in Cold Mountain, the novel by Charles Frazier.

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Holy Schist! It’s Time For Fifteen More Philadelphia Stories

“My stay in Philadelphia was very short, but what I saw of its society I greatly liked,” Charles Dickens reported in his 1842 American Notes for General Circulation.

That’s also the conclusion I reached after last summer’s sojourn there. So I made plans for a spring break in the city Boz sketched as “handsome, but distractingly regular.” For six days in April, I returned to some favorite places, such as what Dickens called the “quiet, quaint old library, named after Franklin.” I checked off a few leftovers on my to-see list, like the fountain sculptor Margaret Foley exhibited in Horticultural Hall during the 1876 Centennial Exposition, now in the Fairmount Park Horticultural Center.

But best of all, Pixie and Tish helped me make some terrific new discoveries in Center City.  Here are a few of them.

Passing Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church on Locust Street, I stopped to take in its brillant red doors that master blacksmith Samuel Yellin created in 1923.

Taking a shortcut through the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, the celebrated landmark at the corner of Broad and Walnut Streets, I learned all sorts of fun facts. Here, a cook created Chicken à la King, Thomas Edison designed its light fixtures, five presidents overnighted, Bram Stoker started writing Dracula on hotel stationery, and Legionnaires’ Disease struck over 200 American Legion convention-goers in 1976.

Now when I quote my favorite lines from “The Philadelphia Story,” the 1940 film starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart, I can visualize its setting: The Main Line. The affluent suburbs of western Philadelphia were so named because they were built along the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

No vacation is complete without food. I developed a taste for popovers served at Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, Tate’s Bake Shop’s classic crispy cookies and Italian hoagies from Wawa’s, a Pennsylvania-based dairy-turned-convenience store chain whose name comes from the Native American word for the Canada goose that made the Delaware Valley its home. Originally made by the Italians who worked in Philadelphia’s Hog Island shipyards, the city’s official sandwich is an eight-inch roll loaded with prosciutto, salami and provolone cheese, topped with lettuce, tomatoes and a dash of oregano-vinegar dressing.

My new favorite thing to say became “Wissahickon Schist.” Ranging in color from browns to grays, this distinctive local stone used in many historic buildings sparkles because of its high amounts of mica and quartz. It takes its name from its home in the valley of the Wissahickon Creek, a tributary of the Schuylkill, or “Hidden River,” flowing through Fairmount Park, an area so beautiful that it inspired Edgar Allan Poe and John Greenleaf Whittier to write about it.

And I broadened my horizons to include an appreciation for…football! Last year, I ran up the Rocky Steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; this year, I couldn’t even see them because they were under cover in preparation for the National Football League’s 82nd Draft, held the next week. For the first time in history, the Draft theater was set up outside for an expected 200,000-strong crowd to witness the picks first-hand.

But the major mission of this Philadelphia story was to see the place at the northeast corner of 54th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard that evaded me last year. There, I’d start to discover why the city and its environs are known for great gardens.

Dickens noted that Philadelphia was “most bountifully provided with fresh water.” That, combined with its rich soil, its moderate climate and its situation between two major growing zones where plants from the North and South alike flourish in a long growing season, has also resulted in lush landscapes created from excellent gardening conditions. Within 30 miles of Philadelphia, you can visit more than 30 gardens filled with thriving native plants, rare woody plants, State Champion trees and beautiful flower beds designed to please even those, like me, without green thumbs.

Just as Boz’s novels were published in parts, over time, my Philadelphia posts will come out in serial form. I‘ll take you on field trips to some horticultural gems in greater Philadelphia, Delaware and Maryland. In the pleasure gardens of Chanticleer and the garden rooms of Meadowbrook Farm and the Ladew Topiary Gardens, you might find inspiration for plantings to recreate in your own back yard. At the Henry Foundation for Botanical Research, I’ll introduce you to a plant explorer who packed up her phonograph and traveled to British Columbia in search of unusual additions to her collection. Souvenir-seekers will discover a special weathervane at the Morris Arboretum, “Flora Fantastica” at the Arboretum of the Barnes Foundation, and a Tervis tumbler covered with an image of Climbing Monkshood, a native plant at the Mount Cuba Center. We’ll check out a Japanese Waterfall and a scarecrow that bears an uncanny resemblance to the owner of an award-winning community garden. Before we leave, we’ll squeeze in a couple of other attractions. One has to do with World War I posters. At the other, you’ll discover the connection between 5,024 spools of thread and 32-inch-thick rubber hockey pucks.

No need to wait for the #36 trolley to 54th Street.  First, we’re going to Bartram’s Garden, a fabulous place created by a curious stonemason who sold seeds to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to plant in their gardens at Mount Vernon and Monticello.

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Fact-Finders Are At Home Where The Buffalo Roamed

Countless times, I’ve driven right past this street sign, never thinking twice about why the secondary roadway is called Buffalo Parkway and where it leads. This week, it became an object most worthy of attention. The parkway’s final destination, a local well-kept secret, now rivals OCLC as one of my favorite Third Places.

Let’s begin with the name of the street. In October 1969 — in fact, one week after I was born — a herd of about 160 buffalo took up residence in a 24-acre area north and east of the new Anheuser-Busch brewery on Schrock Road in north Columbus. The bison were to be part of a proposed American Plains animal reserve and theme park to be established there. Five years later, the plans were scrapped and the herd moved to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Since May 2016, the land where the buffalo roamed has been home to the headquarters of S-E-A. Founded in Columbus in 1970 to provide fire investigations, S-E-A (short for Scientific Expert Analysis) offers mechanical, electrical, civil industrial, biomechanic and biomedical forensic engineering services in 11 locations around the country. Lawyers, insurance companies and others rely on S-E-A’s engineers, chemists and investigators to test, research and analyze product safety and evaluate product failures for everything from golf carts to roller coasters.

S-E-A was the second stop on this summer’s roundup of special library tours organized by the Central Ohio Chapter of the Association for Information Science and Technology (CO-ASIS&T).  I met about 20 other librarians there and we discovered all sorts of fun facts about the business and its home.

First fascinating fact about S-E-A, uncovered by turning over one of its business cards: Its logo represents an ideogram used in geology to represent twisted rock formations. The Nsibidi people in Ghana use the same curving-line symbol to represent when two witnesses contradict each other; the straight line represents when one is telling the truth. Animators in the company’s imaging sciences group have even recreated the logo in 3,500 LEGOs.

Another fascinating fact came in the form of “Fido.” Pat Connor and Lisa Elliott, S-E-A’s research librarian and library electronic resources coordinator, described how they manage a user-centric knowledge repository, promote colleague collaboration through resource-sharing, and provide professional research consulting services to S-E-A associates. Laws, regulations, industry standards, news, professional literature, Consumer Product Safety Commission files and building codes are some of their most-used information resources.

To help their colleagues identify, locate and request information, Pat and Lisa developed Fido, an integrated library system that now contains more than 20,000 catalog records, upwards of 7,000 uploaded documents, and about 350 pieces of forensic engineering equipment. The name “Fido” was the result of a company-wide naming contest. Lisa and Pat designed a scavenger hunt to celebrate Fido’s first birthday, challenging engineers to use Fido to answer questions like “In which S-E-A office is located the 2000 International Plumbing Code?” and “In which American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) Volume is ASTM E811?”

For National Library Week (April 9-15, 2017), Lisa and Pat offered their colleagues a bookmark printed with Groucho Marx’s saying, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

We all took some sympathetic deep, calming breaths when we heard how this dynamic duo moved the entire library collection from S-E-A’s old home across I-270 to this sleek, new, natural-light-filled building. Then, our hostesses led us on a tour of the building.

We stopped by an analysis lab where Sue Hetzel, an analytical chemist, described how she tests fire debris in such a fine way that I wanted to return to CSG’s chemistry lab and try Dr. Hall’s dreaded lab tests again.  We learned how failure of metal, plastic, glass and other materials are carefully studied in a materials lab. We saw S-E-A’s vehicle inertia measurement facility, where the rollover resistance of all new vehicles is tested for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Walking past S-E-A’s trio of visualization animation experts, we learned how a medical illustrator and a biomedical engineer can help people visualize failure of medical devices and other equipment. And we met Al Dunn and Dennis Guenther, a pair of mechanical engineers experienced in accident reconstruction, vehicle dynamics, brake systems, stability evaluations, occupant kinematics and biomechanics. Like their S-E-A colleagues, these personable, obviously smart men work in offices identified by name plates reminiscent of the periodic table of the chemical elements (Ad and Dg were theirs; mine would be Bb). Clever!

But we found our Third Place in Pat and Lisa’s pride and joy. A cozy little nook known as the vehicle and biomechanics library in the building’s west wing houses Society of Automotive Engineers reports and technical papers, product literature, vehicle manuals and serials like NSC Accident Facts and Traffic Injury Prevention. Another neat nest was filled with more printed material, mostly cataloged using the Library of Congress’s classification schedule T, for Technology.

Have you ever given thought to how a candle burns? I certainly hadn’t, until I arrived at S-E-A’s candle lab. Here, we took a whiff of a curious combination of fruity, flowery and foody fragrances, surveying a scene of rows and rows of shelving topped by glass-jarred candles, in various burn stages, sitting on wooden squares. Brent Curkendall, the lab’s supervisor, told us how he and his colleagues use Creme brûlée torches and custom-designed software to test up to 3,600 candles a day, 21 hours per day, seven days per week. They monitor samples of candle batches as they burn, noting flame height, the “mushroom cap” of wicks, burn time, wax residue, potential shattering hazard and other characteristics that might impact product safety. Scorch potential is assessed by the wooden squares, which emulate kitchen countertops or table surfaces upon which the candle might be placed in a home setting. Decisions about raw materials and recipes used in the production of candles, together with production demand tied to retail seasons, can also depend on the candle lab’s findings. Think about that whenever you fire up a candle to create hygge, that trendy Scandinavian concept of coziness, in your home.

“Seekers of Truth, Finders of Facts,” proclaimed a sign in the S-E-A headquarters. What a fitting description for the librarians and engineers who roam Buffalo Parkway on their way to and from work.

To uncover more fascinating facts about S-E-A, click here.  Don’t miss the 200+ videos on S-E-A’s Vimeo channel – including a neat one on the candle lab.

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See How Frederick and Calvert Inspired Dayton Veterans

Look at a map of Dayton’s Fairlane neighborhood, and you’d think the names of the avenues were inspired by something like the Parade of Nations at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Michigan, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois — they’re what some of the roadways are called here.

At the intersection of Kentucky and West Virginia Avenues, you’ll find a place that must have resembled the Olympics, when upwards of 600,000 people arrived each year to see 25 acres of gardens that are said to have rivaled Central Park, the New York City creation of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux,  in their magnificence. Resortgoers at the turn of the 20th century apparently flocked to Dayton to visit the Grotto Gardens. That’s what I learned when I happened upon the website for this National Historic Landmark.

The story begins in 1865, when Abraham Lincoln made National Asylums for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers official. Two years later, a National Soldiers Home for disabled Civil War veterans opened in Dayton.

To beautify their surroundings, resident veterans started planting vines and flowers collected from nearby farms in an area on the property that was surrounded by a limestone quarry.

They moved on to laying brick walkways, creating a 35-foot fountain in the middle of a pond, and building a boathouse that also sheltered swans. They brought in alligators, together with a miniature version of a battleship, and placed them in the pond. They also established an aviary and a deer park there.

They constructed a conservatory for displaying rare plants and palm trees. In a greenhouse, they raised thousands of plants and sold them at a healthy profit.

Three grottoes were constructed around natural underground springs that flow from the limestone hillside, promoting the healing properties of mineral water that were popular at the time.

The garden’s crowning centerpiece was this twin-towered structure.

The Veterans Administration took over the facility in the 1930s, but funding and maintenance cutbacks caused the Dayton Grotto Gardens to suffer. By 1960, the structures needed repair and the landscape was overrun with honeysuckle, wild grapevines and poison ivy, so thriving that the invasive plants were said to be as big as baseball bats.

In 2012, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and The American Veterans Heritage Center rescued the garden and began restoring it, with help from The Ohio State University Extension’s Greater Montgomery County Master Gardener Volunteers. They began making repairs and installed new flower beds, creating memorial gardens named for people important to the history of the garden. For example, florist-turned-resident veteran Frank Mundt, who began installing the plants in the former quarry site, hnis memorialized in a patriotic-themed garden. One perennial garden recalls Major Charles Beck, who oversaw the gardens from 1875 to 1906; another featuring native perennials attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds honors Dr. Clarke McDermont, the Soldiers Home’s first surgeon. A calming healing garden commemorates the contributions of Emma Miller, the “Little Mother of the Soldiers” who was transferred to the Soldiers Home in 1867 to care for her charges. Another unique planting recalling the Purple Heart Medal recognizes the efforts of Joseph Guy LaPointe, a Dayton-area recipient of both that medal and the Medal of Honor for his heroic efforts during the Vietnam War.

Japanese willows, irises, hostas, ferns, bog plants and a weeping bald cypress were planted to frame the grottos. Evergreens, sedums, dwarf pink snowberries and spring bulbs provide for a colorful and interesting year-round display.

The Dayton Grotto Gardens are open during regular business daylight hours. You can also support the restoration efforts under way at the garden by purchasing limited-edition prints, posters and notecards of garden-inspired paintings created by botanical artist Diane Harm.

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