Food for thought

If there is one thing we know with absolute certainty about gardening here at the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art is that we love Maine lobster. Oh, and non sequiturs, too. OK, so two things.

We’ve had quite a few heat waves here this summer. So, thoughts of Maine and all it has to offer, including cooler (usually) climes, can be mentally refreshing. The volunteer gardeners here work up an appetite, and usually by around 10 a.m. we find that talking about food can be refreshing, too. The Museum Café is on a roll (more on that later) and a lot of us like to head there for lunch. Great food, great prices, great setting and a great view of Brandywine Creek.

So, when we learned that there would be a Lobster Week at the Café, we took the, um, bait.

John Buckley photo
Still life with lobster chowder: Just add Cape Cod potato chips and a Brandywine tomato.

On August 18th, we walked out with two containers of lobster chowder– after a hard morning of gardening, for the record. The chowder was spot on. Chunks of sweet lobster, nice potatoes with the skin, corn (don’t even go there, purists) and a velvety broth.

The Conservancy and the Museum, the Wyeths and other featured artists, the employees, the volunteers and the donors–many have strong ties to the great state of Maine. We were pretty sure these would have to be among the best lobster dishes outside of Maine.

John Buckley photo
Still life with lobster roll: Corn and creamy slaw on the side, oh my.

On August 21st, back for more. And we weren’t even volunteering that day. Lobster roll was the special. Horticultural Coordinator Mark Gormel was in line. So was Donna Gormel, Director of Volunteers & Events.

We took our roll home and enjoyed it with some leftover French fries from Restaurant Alba. It made us think. That we should have gotten two.

Down East? That would be nice. But we’re just as happy to head Down Chadds Ford for our Maine lobster. All the while thinking we might have to “lobby” for a repeat.

–John O. Buckley

Story and photos


The most wonderful time of the year

John Buckley photo
Just outside the door: Phlox paniculata in view from the Museum’s courtyard, July 28, 2015.

Hot enough for you? There. We had to get that out of the way. Multiple days of 90-plus temperatures can wear you down. (So can hearing that expression 900 times a day.) But your team of garden volunteers at the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art isn’t fazed.

If you visit the Museum now, it’s easy to see why. There are native plants and wildflowers in bloom everywhere. Sure, the inside is filled with wonderful works of art, but the outside is worth framing, too.

Some gardeners like the fall. Others winter or spring. But the Brandywine Wildflower Journal thinks the summer is spectacular. And the Museum’s campus is one of the premier spots in the Mid-Atlantic to see native plants in action.

A lot of these plants and flowers don’t mind a little heat. So, neither do we. Come, sit back and enjoy the show. That’s what we do when the boss isn’t looking.

Brandywine Bloom Cam: 07/28/15

John Buckley photo
Hello, Heliopsis Helianthoides: Oxeye sunflower tries to steal Phlox’s thunder near the Museum entrance.

–Story and photos by John O. Buckley

Creating buzz

Bees are crazy about it this time of year. So are butterflies. Of course you know we must be talking about Asclepias. It’s OK if you know it as milkweed. There are dozens of kinds, and the bees and butterflies and hummingbirds don’t care what you call it, as long as you have some.

Photo by John Buckley
Butterfly weed, busy bee at Brandywine River Museum of Art, June 30, 2015.

Bees and butterflies, especially Monarchs, have been in the news a lot lately. They’re struggling, and providing them the native plants and wildflowers they need is an easy, and beautiful, thing to do.

In these parts, there’s common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca. Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata. And butterfly weed, or butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa. There’s some in bloom right now near the entrance of the Brandywine River Museum of Art. Its brilliant orange is hard to miss. Museum visitors have been asking about it. And the bees have been savoring it.

It’s easy to grow and guaranteed to give your garden some pizzazz. Yes, and some buzz.

Brandywine Bloom Cam: 06/30/15

Rhododendron maximum generates buzz of its own near the Museum’s entrance.

–John O. Buckley

Story and photos

Show or Sale?

It’s official. Well, it’s always official. The Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art’s annual Wildflower, Native Plant & Seed Sale is held every Mother’s Day weekend. But the garden volunteers who help put it all together know that it’s really official when horticultural coordinator Mark Gormel tapes a flyer next to the front door outside his office.


So when a group of volunteers arrived at the Chadds Ford, PA, campus Thursday, April 16, there it was for all to see. Another wonderful sign that spring has sprung. Oh, yes, and a reminder that there’s work to be done.


The 2015 sale is Saturday, May 9 and Sunday, May 10 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day in the cobblestone courtyard of the Museum. There are hundreds of native plants, trees, shrubs and wildflowers to choose from. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about natives (there’s a native plant for every kind of condition you can throw at it; 2015 Expected Plant Sale Availability). Plus, visitors can see some of these plants in action around the Museum’s grounds.

The Brandywine Wildflower Journal will be there, too. We’ll be wandering around looking for someone’s secret stash of cookies. And admiring the beautiful displays of plants, of course. We keep wanting to call this event a show. It’s a sale, certainly. A fundraiser. But, oh what a show.

–John O. Buckley

Story and photos

What’s Black-eyed Susan and Rudbeckia all over?

Answer: The Brandywine Wildflower Journal. We have readers in 18 countries. And since our readers are our investors, it’s annual report time for you (Hi, Mom!). Here’s a handy 2014 review prepared by the folks at WordPress. Enjoy. And remember, we’re on the lookout for new editorial bureaus. We hear The Bahamas sounds nice this time of year.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 790 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 13 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Holiday to remember


Come on in! Pull up a chair. We’re all sitting here by the fire in the lobby of the Brandywine Wildflower Journal’s world headquarters, and Grandpa is telling us a story. Grandpa? Wake up!

Huh? Wha? Where was I? I forgot. Oh, yes, the Great Flood of 2014. It was a real trying time for the folks in Chadds Ford that year. Fortunately, no lives were lost, but properties were under water, and when that water receded, you could see the damage and just feel the heartbreak. Oh, there would be hard work ahead. No rest for the weary, as we used to say, back when people actually talked instead of this texting thing everyone does now.

So, businesses like Hank’s Place restaurant went to work immediately to reopen as quickly as possible. And so did the Brandywine River Museum of Art and Brandywine Conservancy. That’s where our story unfolds.

It was just a week before their annual Native Plant and Wildflower Sale. And it looked like it wouldn’t–just couldn’t–go on for the first time ever. So much had been washed away. But many, many people swept in and worked so hard in the coming week and before you knew it, there was a plant sale after all.

Except for one thing. At least one plant was missing. Unaccounted for. Picked up and carried away in the flood, no doubt.

Hey, Grandpa. How we doing on time? We need to start serving the food soon.

Goodness! We used to say quaint exclamations like “Goodness!” back in my day. Or “Goodness gracious!” Or, “Oh, my Goodness!” Anyway, I can smell that delicious food heating in all those ovens you have here in your fancy kitchen, and oh, my, is that mincemeat pie? I haven’t smelled one of those in decades.

Mincemeat? Grandpa, I can smell the ending to this story. Can you?

OK, you little wiseacre. So, during the plant-sale chaos and cleanup, I saw one of the young garden volunteers–oh, he was just a kid, practically–go over to a big railroad tie that had been carried in by the flood and deposited where a lot of the plants are stored before the sale.

I don’t care how young or how strong he was, there was no way he was going to move that big piece of lumber.  And honestly, he looked kinda scrawny and weak. Those things weigh hundreds of pounds, you know.

But he did lift it. He did move it. I saw him grab his back later. I hope he learned his lesson. But anyway, there under the railroad tie was a squished plastic pot covered in mud. Gosh, it was flat as a pancake. It had been like that for days. Even the grass that was underneath was yellowing from lack of sun.



OK! So he took it home. I’m pretty sure he had permission.


And he cleaned it up and put the pot in the sun and watered it. And it grew and grew and grew. It was growing! And then, one day he was checking on it, and it had bloomed! Into a beautiful Rudbeckia triloba!


Grandpa! You know botanical names? And how to italicize them in print?


Come on Grandpa! How do you know “Whatevs?”


Grandpa! How do you know this stuff?

Let’s just say I know a thin-leaved coneflower from Laughing Out Loud, that texting stuff. Anyway, ain’t life grand?

Grandpa, don’t say ain’t.

It’s in the dictionary, Mr. WSJ Editor. Look it up. Remember dictionaries? Hey, let’s celebrate the holidays. Let’s celebrate life. And the holidays. Did I say that already? And peace. And flowers! I’ll tell the rest of the story later. Let’s eat. Where’s that mincemeat?

–John O. Buckley

Story and photos


Thanks for a great day

Autumn is officially here. Halloween is almost here. Thanksgiving will be here before you know it. So, you might want to start giving thanks now. That’s what we did last week after a wonderful morning working in the woods, installing yet more native plants in a serene spot on the banks of the Brandywine.

John Buckley photo
Refreshing: Garden volunteers at work on the Brandywine waterfront Oct. 14, 2014.

Aster cordifolius, Chasmantheum latifolium were in the mix. So was laughter. Of course. How can you not laugh when you’re digging holes and hitting rocks? We went around and around. This goes here, that goes there. The colorful plastic knives came out. A few hours later, we were heading for our cars.

We said our goodbyes, our see-you-next-weeks, and then this extemporaneous expression of gratitude: Thanks for a great day.

Brandywine Bloom Cam: 10/14/2014

John Buckley photo
Can you spot the monarch butterfly? Monarchs were a rare sight this summer, and this one was in front of the Brandywine River Museum of Art, probably on its way south this time of year.

BBC Bonus: 10/14/2014

Nyssa sylvatica is a real scene-stealer this time of year (look at the color of these leaves!). You might call it a blackgum or tupelo, it’s one of nature’s ornamental trees. And the critters love it, too.


–John O. Buckley

Story and photos


While you were away

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) 

And there you have it. All while you were away.

–John O. Buckley, story and photos


Here we grow again

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.

John Buckley photo
Week one: The plastic knives come out on July 22, 2014. Remember them from last summer? Horticultural Coordinator Mark Gormel uses the utensils to show where the plants will go. Each color represents a different species. John Buckley photos.

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.

John Buckley photo
Down to work: The first plants go in, including Geranium maculatum (Wild geranium).

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!

John Buckley photo
Week two : From pot to plot, the next phase of the planting begins on July 29.
John Buckley photo
Making progress: Nora Sadler and Mark Gormel are on hand for more designing and digging.

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.

John Buckley photo
Week three: On Tuesday, Aug. 8, the last of the plants go in, capped off with bluebells which are dormant right now and not shown in this photograph. The bulb-like roots go straight into the ground and get covered with a little soil.

Here’s the official planting tally for you folks keeping score at home:

About 700 individual plants consisting of

Aster cordifolius
Geum fragarioides
Geranium maculatum
Mertensia virginica
Phlox divaricata ‘Blue Moon’
Polemonium reptans
Polygonatum biflorum
Pycnanthemum muticum
Senecio aureus
Solidago flexicaulis
Stylophorum diphyllum
Tradescantia virginiana
Zizia aurea
Carex pensylvanica
Chasmanthium latifolium
Deschampsia caespitosa


Go ahead and sign us up for future projects. But let’s seriously consider an on-site massage tent next time.

–John O. Buckley

Brandywine Bloom Cam: 8/5/2014

John Buckley photo.
Phlox paniculata: One of our favorite scenes this time of year is right in front of the Museum entrance–a wonderful sight especially in the morning light. Stop by and see. John Buckley photo.

(Re)Making our bed

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.

John Buckley photo
Rock and roll: First round of stone is spread on Sun Bed earlier in June.

By last Thursday, the gravel work looked mostly done. And the surface seemed nice enough to… Tennis, anyone?

John Buckley photo
Going smoothly: Gravel dust goes on top June 19 during the Sun Bed rebuilding effort. John Buckley photos.

Brandywine Bloom Cam: 6/19/2014

John Buckley photo.
Remember this? Yes, this used to be old turf grass! (You can revisit this project in earlier blog posts: Aug. 1, Aug. 8 and Oct. 2.) Can you find the Asclepias tuberosa?

–John O. Buckley