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

A bloomin’ success

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.

John Buckley photo
Finishing touches: Horticultural Coordinator Mark Gormel talks with a Channel 6/ABC News cameraman just as the doors open May 9, 2014. John Buckley photo.
John Buckley photo.
Flower cart bursts with blooms at this year’s plant sale. John Buckley photo.

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

John Buckley photo
Amsonia tabernaemontana, Aquilegia canadensis and Senecio aureus (Packera aurea) near the Museum entrance. John Buckley photo.

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.

–John O. Buckley


High hopes

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.

John Buckley photo
John Buckley photo.

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.

John Buckley photo
John Buckley photo.

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

photo 2 (1)
Thursday, May 1, 2014. Mark R. Gormel photo.
Friday morning, May 2, 2014.  John Buckley photo.
Friday morning, May 2, 2014. John Buckley photo.
John Buckley photo.
John Buckley photo.
Saturday, May 3, 2014. John Buckley photo.
Saturday, May 3, 2014. John Buckley photo.
Monday, May 5, 2014. John Buckley photo.
Monday, May 5, 2014. John Buckley photo.
Taking shape. Monday, May 5, 2014. John Buckley photo.
Taking shape. Monday, May 5, 2014. John Buckley photo.

Stay tuned. Hug a gardener. And buy a native plant. Anyone care for a refreshment?

–John O. Buckley


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