August came and went. Like a gentle breeze you might have barely noticed. You might have smiled and weren’t sure why. Maybe you took a vacation. A trip to the beach. Or the mountains. Some kind of respite before the autumn makes its way up the road and settles in outside your door.
It was a good month. You might take a break in August, but the native plants and wildflowers don’t. Many are just hitting their stride. Reaching and stretching and opening up, reassuring and beckoning. The birds and butterflies and bugs delight. You feel their song.
Boy with Hawk, meet Joe-Pye with Butterfly (Eupatorium fistulosum with Eastern Tiger Swallowtail)
The Brandywine Wildflower Journal was taking it all in. And trying to figure out what to do with it all, this abundance of natural beauty. Then, when all was still and quiet, the idea came in on that breeze, a soft whisper in the ear: “Just post a bunch of pictures and go eat lunch.”
And we smiled. Now we present to you a fun little feature we like to call The Month in Five Photos or Less.
Cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) seem like they’re everywhere
Eastern Tiger Swallowtails love the Lobelia
A new garden is growing
Parking lots can be beautiful, too (From left, Phlox paniculata, Rudbeckia fulgida var. speciosa, Lobelia siphilitica)
Stiff knees? Check. Sore back? Check. Dirty hands? Check. Smiles? Yup. Laughter? Wait, seriously? You bet your Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy)!
Ah, gardening humor. Gotta, um, dig it.
We must be gardening. And, more specifically, planting. As in, planting a new garden. Again.
For the past three weeks, your delinquent editor has been participating in the installation of a new garden at the Brandywine River Museum of Art. And vowing to go straight home and type up a report. Except he pretty much goes straight home and then straight to bed to rest up for the next round of planting.
Just like last summer, we’re taking what used to be a patch of plain old turf grass and transforming it into a garden.
This time around, the area is a partly sunny spot on the side of the Museum, at the head of the River Trail. Alongside the Brandywine Creek.
We started with Polygonatum biflorum (Great Solomon’s seal) that we removed and saved last year from the Silo Bed in the front of the Museum. Added a bunch of other native plants and wildflowers, some wood chips, and we finished up on Tuesday, Aug. 5, with Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells).
In between: Three weeks (well, three days for volunteers), hundreds of plants, a wide variety of species, and many hands. And those darned plastic knives again!
It was kind of a blur. And a blast. Don’t ever let anyone try to tell you gardeners are boring. Your editor and his writing might be a bit boring, but these other wonderful and interesting and funny people who volunteer here are anything but. The situation was fluid and fast moving and fun, like the river can sometimes be.
Here’s the official planting tally for you folks keeping score at home:
About 700 individual plants consisting of
Phlox divaricata ‘Blue Moon’
Go ahead and sign us up for future projects. But let’s seriously consider an on-site massage tent next time.
The Sun Bed rebuilding effort is moving right along. The Brandywine Wildflower Journal was wandering around aimlessly, as usual, earlier this month when we came across a group of volunteers dismantling what was left of the old Sun Bed. The remaining plants came out, the old hodge-podge of fencing rolled up and carted away. A blank slate was revealed.
The gravel started arriving shortly thereafter. The goal is to build the bed a little higher this time to buy it a few more inches during high water. A nicer, sturdier fence will go in to keep the critters away, as well as better contain the plants in the event of a–shall we say–rising tide.
By last Thursday, the gravel work looked mostly done. And the surface seemed nice enough to… Tennis, anyone?
The Brandywine Wildflower Journal strives to avoid declarations, and quoting unnamed sources, but the numbers in this case support the headline. The 2014 Wildflower, Native Plant and Seed sale ranks right up there in terms of money raised at this annual event. Depending on the category of statistics, it’s in the top three, according a source. (OK, our source is the person who keeps the records, Horticultural Coordinator Mark Gormel.)
The Museum’s courtyard was a colorful sight May 9th through the 11th.
And by 6 p.m. on Sunday, what buds and blooms and bits remaining were carted away and the Museum’s cobblestone courtyard was empty. Just yesterday, May 21, workers were setting up for this weekend’s big event: The Antiques Show. This is another of the Museum’s signature annual events, and the effort involved is–since we’re talking about fine antiques–practically priceless. Conservancy staff, volunteers and members hard at work again.
Brandywine Bloom Cam: 5/21/14
Just watching everyone work so hard makes us want to sit down, take a break, catch our breath. Again. (We do a lot of that here at BWJ.) We feel a little creaky. But solid, still. And hopefully long-lasting. Like a good antique.
So. The Brandywine Wildflower Journal is still here for all of our (OK, three or four of you, on a good day–Hi, Mom!) skeptical readers wondering where we’ve been. Oh, we have excuses, but nothing to write home about, really. In the past month or so, we’ve been talking big about putting together some kind of update. But, yes, little things have happened, and the blog hasn’t happened.
Then, would you believe us if we wrote that, in the past week, we really, truly, honestly wanted to update our otherwise occasional fine publication (if we may say so ourselves–not necessarily fine, but definitely occasional) but we just haven’t been able to because we’ve been, um, swamped? How about inundated?
We’ve been looking forward to this weekend for a long time. The annual Wildflower, Native Plant & Seed Sale held in the courtyard every Mother’s Day weekend at the Brandywine River Museum of Art. The BWJ has wanted to sing its praises. So now we will. People work very hard on this event, and this year was no different.
Except for one thing.
The third worst flood in Chadds Ford’s recorded history. And this weekend’s sale almost wasn’t.
More than 5 inches of rain hit the area last week, and in the early hours of May 1, Brandywine Creek sensors recorded a rise of 16.05 feet, bumping the Aug. 28, 2011 flood of 15.23 ft. to the fourth worst recorded. The worst is 17.15 ft. on Sept. 17, 1999. The second worst remains 16.56 ft. on June 22, 1972. Keep in mind that evacuations start at 13 ft. And that the creek is back down around 4 ft. now.
Pots and trays bursting with beautiful native plants, trees, shrubs and wildflowers–all lined up neatly on the ground, polished and primped and pruned and potted and awaiting transport to their display area in the Museum’s courtyard–were lifted by the rising waters and carried away. Upended. Washed from their containers. Some got stuck in trees. Thousands and thousands and thousands of plants.
When the water receded, the BWJ was on the scene. Providing relief… comic relief.
What we witnessed was one of the most amazing group efforts in memory to put the pieces of this puzzle back together. And make sure the sale would go on as planned. And it is going on as planned.
We’ll step back now and let these pictures of what is referred to as The Sun Bed tell the rest of the story.
The week in images
Stay tuned. Hug a gardener. And buy a native plant. Anyone care for a refreshment?
If you didn’t get a seat on the bus, we apologize.
The Brandywine Wildflower Journal got the last one, thanks to staff gardener Nora Sadler, who feverishly worked the phones and pulled some spectacular strings and then marched us promptly over to Becky Bucci’s office high above the Brandywine River Museum of Art to procure us a seat and a coveted ticket to this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show. Whew.
Everyone made us feel so special during that whole process that we offered to pay full price for everything. Well, in the spirit of full disclosure, we sort of had to open our wallets in order to go on the trip.
So there we were on the chilly morning of Tuesday, March 4, 2014–a day after another fresh snow–nibbling big blueberry muffins and sipping fresh brewed coffee at the Museum, waiting to board the bus. And then, with little fanfare, we were off.
Our chaperone Suzanne Regnier kept a close eye on all of us. Who knew she’s also Assistant to the Chairman and Director of Development? For someone who normally wears so many hats, she’s low-key, because we didn’t see a single chapeau. That’s French for hat, by the way. We think.
Nora, the gregarious gardener, regaled us on the bus trip to Center City with stories of native plants and the Brandywine Conservancy’s early and ongoing commitment to this part of PA and its beautiful native plants and wildflowers.
The only thing Nora might have overlooked on the ride over was the lack of a sing-a-long, like “99 bottles of beer on the wall” or whatever that thing is called. We’re kidding!
The next thing you know, we were walking through the entrance of the 185th Philadelphia Flower Show, billed as the world’s oldest and biggest indoor flower show. This year’s theme: ARTiculture, combining art and artists and museums with landscapes and plants. And all for a good cause: Proceeds support the City Harvest garden program, which provides food for many in need.
Just to the right of the entrance is the Best In Show winning exhibit by Glen Mills, Pa.-based Stoney Bank Nurseries, which partnered with the Brandywine River Museum of Art for a nature/Wyeth inspired installation.
The attention to detail is staggering. Almost like looking at the real thing. Because this is the real thing. Real native plants!
Stoney Bank Nurseries is a perennial power at the Flower Show and this year’s display did not disappoint. On one corner of their installation is an homage to the famous Wyeth artists and the Brandywine River Museum of Art.
All of this excitement made the Brandywine Wildflower Journal hungry. Go figure. So we made our way across the street for a special treat at Philadelphia’s famous Reading Terminal Market. But that’s a story for another day.
–John O. Buckley
Unless you’ve been living in a snow cave without electricity and… Oh wait, you probably have been. Who hasn’t? Well, it might not be over yet, but we can all probably agree that this winter is one we’d like to forget. Like three months ago. But, while you were dodging polar vortexes and drifting snows and falling trees, Brandywine garden volunteers were gathering in an unheated garage and sowing seeds. Yes. Really.
The Brandywine Wildflower Journal was there in January. We weren’t going to let a few flakes get in the way. Come on, we don’t mean the volunteers! Everyone knows they’re crazy… for gardening. We mean the snow flakes. These volunteers are a hardy, dedicated bunch and we’re always in awe when we show up in trying conditions and they’re already there hard at work.
Thousands of seeds have been sown–some essentially as small as grains of sand–in trays full of organic medium that have been placed outside. The natural process of germination has begun. Someday, we’ll have even more native plants and wildflowers in this world.
A few other recent things of note worth mentioning. Brandywine Conservancy, Inc., has a new name: Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art. The new name is the latest of many exciting things happening with this organization.
In the new naming structure, the entity formerly known as the Environmental Management Center assumes the mantle of Brandywine Conservancy. “Preserving our land and water” sums up its mission.
Also, the Brandywine River Museum is now the Brandywine River Museum of Art (“Presenting Wyeth and American Art”). We mention this because the Museum is partnering with Stoney Bank Nurseries of Glen Mills, Pa., for a display in this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show. The theme of the event this time around is inspired by art from museums across the USA. We’re told to expect to see references to Wyeths and sycamore trees. If the BWJ can get a seat on the bus in March, we’ll try to file a report from the show.
Until then, back to shoveling. And lamenting our losses. Neighborhoods have lost great old trees. And, most importantly, neighbors have lost loved ones. Planting these seeds though gives us something to look forward to. Like seeing our gardening friends returning to get their hands dirty yet again.
Astute readers of the Brandywine Wildflower Journal (and aren’t you all astute?) already know that the photo below contains Ilex glabra that once threatened to overshadow the Charles Parks sculpture at the entrance of the Brandywine River Museum. The native inkberry hollies had gotten a little leggy and received a much needed renovation pruning this year. They’re happier and bushier and much tidier now. These evergreens (the green can be seen around the base of the sculpture) make a great alternative to boxwood and look good in any garden, native or not.
Beyond the Ilex glabra and sculpture and wreath is a building full of exhibits and exciting events this holiday season. Visit www.brandywinemuseum.org for a schedule. One of BWJ’s favorite places for shopping is the Museum’s gift shop. That’s where we once found Sorghastrum nutans seeds for sale. And, we’ve said it before, they grow!
So here we are now, a few years after that watershed moment in the gift shop, and the BWJ is in a Brandywine Conservancy field collecting indiangrass seeds that will eventually be for sale.
Talk about wonderful gifts. Warm holiday wishes to all.
You have to hand it to Chas. What a champ. When summer fades into fall, this great little native grass always comes out swinging and swaying in the gentlest of breezes. A garden might be incomplete without it.
Garden volunteers at the Brandywine Conservancy and Brandywine River Museum have been canvassing the grounds and collecting the seed heads, which will ultimately be cleaned and offered for sale.
Inland Sea Oats, River Oats, Wild Oats, a.k.a. Chasmanthium latifolium. Oh, and Indian Woodoats. Or, as the Brandywine Wildflower Journal says, Chas. Call it what you will, but if you need a good grass for your garden, just call it.
Brandywine Bloom Cam: 10/22/13
Gentle readers won’t beat us up over this Brandywine Bloom Cam shot of wildflowers without flowers because, well, you’re gentle readers. And gentle readers appreciate truth. And beauty. Especially in October. Right? Right?Please say yes.
We’re merry (our name’s not Mary–although we like folks named Mary) and we’re not contrary. And when it comes down to it, if you ask us, a little bit of water might be all you need for your garden to grow. Especially if your garden consists of native plants and wildflowers. And you recently planted it and there hasn’t been much rain of late.
We all know this summer was one for the record books. Just look it up under the “weather: fantastic” category. Fall is now officially here, and the weekly rains have subsided somewhat. It’s a great time to think about the new gardens we planted this summer and to check in on them. Luckily, we see that someone has already been thinking about the new gardens and watering them on an as-needed basis.
So, as Fearless Leader Mark Gormel points out, weeks that we don’t get rain, portable sprinklers are hauled around, hooked up and turned on.
Another fun thing about these new gardens, or any new gardens, is that you have to try not to worry. You believe in fairies and Tinker Bell, right? Well, you have to believe in Mother Nature, too. For the most part, the native plants–with a little help and a little time–will survive. And then thrive.