Philly natives

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.

Flower Show ticket. John Buckley photo.
Ticket to ride: Getting into the big show comes down to who you know. Or how much money you have.

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.

Close up view of Flower Show 2014 exhibit. Photo by John Buckley
Look closely: All the quintessential Brandywine woodland elements are here. And the stream looks good enough to drink.

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.

Old wagon from Pete's Produce on display at Flower Show. John Buckley photo.
Another familiar site: This isn’t just any old wagon. It’s courtesy of Pete’s Produce Farm on Rt. 926 near West Chester, PA.

The attention to detail is staggering. Almost like looking at the real thing. Because this is the real thing. Real native plants!

Flower Show attendees scrutinize the Stony Bank Nurseries exhibit. John Buckley photo.
Look again: These aren’t photos from Chester County roadsides. They’re of this mind-boggling exhibit at the 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show.

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.

One corner of the exhibit pays tribute to the Wyeths and the Brandywine River Museum of Art. John Buckley photo.
Still life: The winning exhibit’s trophy is now part of the display.

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.

Seed trays in snow Jan. 2104 photo by John O. Buckley
Tucked in: Trays and trays of freshly sown seeds, left, are covered in January 2014 just in time for another round of snow.

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.

–John O. Buckley

Happy Holly Days

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.

John Buckley photo
Halo effect: Brandywine River Museum’s iconic wreath is up before the big snows arrived in early Dec., 2013. It forms a halo of sorts for another Museum icon, the Charles Parks sculpture Boy with Hawk. Parks died in 2012 at age 90. John Buckley photo.

Beyond the Ilex glabra and sculpture and wreath is a building full of exhibits and exciting events this holiday season. Visit 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.

Volunteers collect Sorghastrum seeds. Mark Gormel photo.
Volunteers collect Sorghastrum seeds Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2013, in a field near the Brandywine River Museum. Mark Gormel photo.

Talk about wonderful gifts. Warm holiday wishes to all.

–John O. Buckley

Dear old Chas

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.

John Buckley photo
Against the wall: Wild Oats are a welcome sight in early autumn. Here are some near the side of the Museum, Oct. 22, 2013.

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.

John Buckley photo
In the bag: Chasmanthium latifolium seed heads collected from the Museum’s courtyard, Oct. 15, 2013.

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

John Buckley photo
Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia and Monarda didyma unadorned near the Museum’s front entrance.

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.

BBC Bonus: 10/22/13

John Buckley photo
Colorful character: Up close and from afar, Willow Leaf Bluestar adds a dramatic splash  of contrast to a flower bed when its leaves start to turn in the fall.

–John O. Buckley

How does your garden grow?

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.

John Buckley photo
Just add water: Even though this area was briefly flooded back in August, the new plants are young and plenty thirsty.

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.

John Buckley photo
Can you spot any flowers? If you can’t, don’t worry. Give it time.

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.

–John O. Buckley

John Buckley photo
You gotta believe: See all the grasses? The Asters? Yes, of course!

Three cheers for enthusiasm (or: The fruits of our labors)

After enjoying a well-deserved Labor Day holiday, it’s back to school, back to work, back to volunteering (even though we never really take a break from volunteering–and why would we want to?). And back to gardening, of course.

And so it is on a glorious Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, Brandywine Wildflower Journal is in the car heading to the Brandywine Conservancy  and Brandywine River Museum for what will no doubt be another great day volunteering in the gardens  in Chadds Ford. The sun is shining brightly, there are still wildflowers in bloom on the side of the road, and we hear on the radio that it’s National Enthusiasm Week. We’re not sure in what country (the event might actually be in the U.K.), but we smile because we know that every week is enthusiasm week in our gardens.

We walk around in awe. We especially admire the Sweetbay Magnolia, or Magnolia virginiana, which right now is like Christmas in September. Its clusters of red seeds look like holly berries cradled in its big green leaves. We’re already looking forward to the intoxicating perfume of its flowers next year.

John Buckley photo
A southern breeze: And maybe some slight wiggles from our photo assistant’s otherwise steady hand, as well as our own hand, keep these red Sweetbay Magnolia seeds from being in focus.

We walk around some more. (Trust us, we’ll do a little bit of work before lunch this day.) And the people we see are smiling. They’re conversing. They’re going somewhere. Yes, there’s enthusiasm in the air.

Brandywine Bloom Cam:  9/3/2013

John Buckley photo
Here we go: New England Aster is ready to impress.

We call it Aster novae-angliae. You might call it Symphyotrichum novae-angliae. Just don’t call it… late for dinner. Seriously, bees and butterflies love this floriferous (look it up–and look around!) wonder. New England Aster is yet another reason why we’re so, well, enthusiastic.

–John O. Buckley

A blue-tiful sight

Brandywine Wildflower Journal was slacking off again when we stumbled upon some garden volunteers hard at work collecting seeds. At first we thought they were sitting down on the job enjoying a bucket of blueberries.

John Buckley photo
Blue’s clues: These Cornus amomum seeds are collected by garden volunteers on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013.

We wanted to join in. Until we found out they were gathering and sorting the seeds of Cornus amomum, or Silky Dogwood. This is a shrub that loves wet areas, puts out white blooms in the spring, produces these blue seeds late summer, and provides all kinds of visual interest. These volunteers were providing visual interest, too. The dexterity on display this day–the coordination and concentration required in the gathering and sorting process of the seeds–shamed us into going back to “work,” if you can call it that.

John Buckley photo
Ripe for the picking: The Silky Dogwood’s seeds are blue by the end of August and its leaves are starting to turn.

For more about the Brandywine seed program go to

Brandywine Bloom Cam: 8/27/13 

John Buckley photo
Obey the display: Obedient Plant is putting on a show at the Brandywine River Museum.

Physostegia virginiana, False Dragonhead or Obedient Plant: No matter what you call it, these pinkish clusters are like snapdragons, but they’re not. They’re actually a mint. And they’re flexible. Meaning, if something pushes them in a new direction, they’ll hold that position for a while. You try doing that!

We asked them for a “selfie.” That didn’t work. We asked them if they’d heard about the flap over the word selfie in the Oxford English Dictionary (despite some reports, not true, sort of). They didn’t respond. At this point, we thought they were being downright disobedient. Then we asked them to hold still for a photo. And we just clicked.

–John O. Buckley

Crab Days of August

This a good time of the  year if you like Chesapeake Bay blue crabs– Callinectes sapidus, for all you Latin lovers, or lovers of Latin.

John Buckley photo
Sculptural sight: A grouping of crabapple trees near the Museum entrance.

It’s also a great time to check in on Malus angustifolia, the wild crabapple. Or is it Malus coronaria, sweet crabapple? There’s a great grouping by the Brandywine River Museum’s front entrance. The trees form a dramatic cluster, with twists and turns. They’re a natural work of  art. The tiny apples are everywhere right now, dangling from the branches. The critters love these little treats. Visitors, though, are kindly asked to resist temptation, and instead take their appetites inside to the Museum’s fantastic restaurant.

John Buckley photo
Jackpot: No, this isn’t three cherries; these ripening crabapples are a special sight nonetheless.

Brandywine Wildflower Journal was having trouble making a positive ID on these special trees, so we went to Horticultural Coordinator Mark Gormel for help. Malus angustifolia or Malus coronaria? His answer… Neither. Gormel’s excellent explanation just arrived in BWJ’s inbox: “The  trees are accurately Malus prunifolia ‘Callaway’, often called Callaway crabapples. The species is not native to the U.S. – it is an Asiatic form. The name, Callaway, derives from Callaway Gardens in Georgia and is a form selected by the famous horticulturist Fred Galle, who made this particular selection from a number of promising M. prunifolia that had excellent disease resistance as well as minimal flower bud chilling requirement (with regard to big floral displays, something of big concern in the south). 

These trees were planted in the days prior to the Conservancy’s decision to utilize only native plants for new plantings.  They would have been planted in 1972 or ’73. (The decision to go native wasn’t made until 1974 and even then, tough naturalized plant species were always a part of the landscaping additions.)  They have been here so long, are so much appreciated (by most) and are such a part of the character of the museum’s façade that they have never been replaced because of their nativity.

Brandywine  Bloom Cam: 8/20/13

John Buckley photo
It’s electric: Not really, but New York Ironweed is beginning to bloom, and the purple flowers really pop!

Now’s also the time to catch the showy  purple flowers of Vernonia noveboracensis. New York Ironweed plants can be 6 feet or so tall. Even though you might think these things must run on electricity because the blooms are so brilliant, you will not find any extension cords, no matter how hard you look. Brandywine Wildflower Journal likes these flowers so much, we bought seeds collected here and sold in the Brandywine  River Museum’s gift shop. And they’re growing!

–John O. Buckley

Going with the flow

Boy, can we throw a party. A group gathered Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, to celebrate the new gardens and the people who made them happen.

John Buckley photo
Party in the new gardens: Nora Sadler, left (white shirt), offers a warm welcome and praise for all who contributed. Please note the plastic-knives-as-floral displays on the table.

Brandywine Conservancy Executive Director Virginia Logan spoke briefly and thanked all for helping to “give birth to a giant dream.” And then she started talking about building more gardens! She introduced the campaign’s architect, Mark Gormel,  calling him “the man of the hour.”

There was “more than a year’s worth of planning” to get us to this moment, Gormel said. The Brandywine Wildflower Journal thought he was referring to the fantastic party. In a way, he was. But he was also reminding us that this was a monumental, historic undertaking and accomplishment for the Conservancy.

For those who couldn’t attend the celebration (have no fear, BWJ is already trying to talk up another party), here’s what else you missed: The beverages weren’t the only things flowing.

Brandywine Creek was rising. All around us.

John Buckley photo
Talk about wet feet: Some plants–these red cardinal flowers included–like to get wet. About a half hour before this photo was taken, we were standing near them for a group photo. And the ground was dry.

The evening was otherwise spectacular, but the Chester County area experienced torrential rains earlier in the day.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey monitors, the Conservancy campus got about an inch and half of rain. But, upstream, near Downingtown, Pa., there was nearly 4 inches of precipitation.

At 7 a.m., Tuesday, with storms all around, the creek level at the campus was about 2 1/2 feet. At 6:30 p.m., when we packed up the party and made a hasty retreat (roads were closed, and Rt. 1 was poised to follow), the level was 11.34 feet and rising.

John Buckley photo
Feeling unwanted? A coiled red hose used for watering the new plants defiantly holds its ground as the creek rises.

As we could see, that’s well into flood stage. Around 8:30 that night, it appears to have peaked around 11.71 feet, according to USGS. At 9 p.m., it was 11.69 feet. At 6:30 a.m., Wednesday morning, it was down to 4.57 feet.

Liquid refreshment for people and plants this week. Some of those new plants we just put in like a little extra water, actually. On Thursday, Aug. 15, Gormel called the event a baptism and says the plants appear to be doing fine.

Other than a thin coating of silt on some, he says, “they are all in place, upright and reaching for the sky!”

–John O. Buckley

Getting back on track

The garden volunteers have returned to scurrying about the Brandywine Conservancy’s grounds, trying to catch up with their normal duties.  The installation of the new gardens is complete. Now the watering, and watchful waiting, begins.

The Brandywine Wildflower Journal was on the clock (OK, off the clock; we’re volunteers) and roving about on Tuesday, Aug. 6, taking notes and photographs with one hand, and watering and weeding with the other. Hey, we can dream.

John Buckley photo
Early August morn: Garden Phlox and the stately river birch tree near the Museum entrance.

If you haven’t visited lately, this is a fantastic time for flowering plants on the Museum and Conservancy grounds. So much is in bloom. Flock to see the Phlox, for one. What a visual feast.

A visitor stopped to chat about the cardinal flowers, Lobelia cardinalis. Its brilliant red spikes are a spectacular sight. They can take your breath away, and make you want to talk, at the same time.

The short-lived blossoms of Hibiscus moscheutos are coming and going. The fleeting nature of this summer flower adds to its allure. Miss this beauty’s train and you’ll have to be faster on your feet. Next year.

John Buckley photo
Fleeting beauty: Blooms on the Crimson-Eyed Rose Mallow, Hibiscus moscheutos, in the Museum’s parking area come and go quickly in late summer; each flower lasts just one day.

Hollow Joe-Pye weed abounds. If you have trouble spotting this tall plant topped with big, purple lacy domes, just look for the swallowtail butterflies. Or ask: “Has anyone seen the Eupatorium fistulosum?”

And get ready to smile.

John Buckley photo
Can’t resist: Tiger swallowtail butterflies love the Joe-Pye.

–John O. Buckley