Saturday, April 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

POSTED: Thursday, February 27, 2014, 3:29 PM

This is set-up week for the flower show, always a crazy time, and let's just say some folks in the convention center look farther along than others. It's very noisy today ... people yelling and running around, backhoes to-ing and fro-ing, cherry pickers messing around in the ceiling, all sorts of equipment beeping. The Grand Hall, which is supposed to have food vendors in it, was still almost entirely empty when I passed through a little while ago. Tomorrow's the PHS preview, right?

The job always gets done, somehow.

Been a lot of chatter about the new "entrance garden," formerly the central feature (took me awhile to figure out what that was). Talking to this captive audience every year I hear the same things - wonderful, love it, colorful, creative. As time goes on, the tune can change. I wouldn't say it's difficult to find someone who admits to actually liking last year's central feature, but more and more people are landing in the negative or nearly negative column. They always make a face - they look so GUILTY - and then they whisper, "To tell you the truth, I didn't think it was so great last year. Not that it was terrible ..."

POSTED: Monday, February 17, 2014, 8:37 AM

A few brave souls ventured into the Wissahickon yesterday. Couple of dog-walkers, several X-country skiers (inspired by the Olympics, perhaps - anybody see Charlotte Kalla's unbelievable finish in the women's 4x5K relay???), one intrepid bicyclist (icyclist?) and a handful of others without leash or sporting equipment. Just there to enjoy the scenery, although that became increasingly difficult as the sun went in and the temperature went down. Walking in narrow, icy ruts was challenging, too.

It was very beautiful, if cold, and it was wonderful to see so many robins, looking well-fed, rustling around whatever water was moving. Spring will come. Someday.

POSTED: Friday, February 7, 2014, 2:52 PM

My wonderful dad, gone now for almost 17 years, was born and raised in the tiny town of Ipswich, on the beautiful North Shore of Boston. And let me tell you, he loved maple syrup. Growing up, my brothers and I and later the grandchildren were introduced by him to maple syrup on vanilla ice cream and maple syrup on grapefruit (yes!) and to this day, I love it in oatmeal, cookie dough, salad dressings, pancakes and waffles. I even put it in Indian pudding, one of my family's favorite desserts.

In short, maple syrup has always been a great pleasure and for me, part of many happy memories around the dining room table. So how fun was it one snowy morning this week to tag along with some folks at Wyck, the historic house and garden in Germantown, as they tapped two sugar maples in search of sap?

It's maple syrup season in Pennsylvania. The nights are cold, the days are ... supposed to be warm (over 40 degrees) to get the sap flowing but it's been too cold for that. So Elizabeth Belk, Wyck's horticulturist, educator Christina Moresi, and beekeeper/caretaker Jeff Eckel must wait for the weather to settle into the correct rhythm. Once the sap is collected, they will boil it - and boil it and boil it - till the water evaporates and leaves the darker, sugary, syrupy essence that, gallon for gallon, outpaces the price of crude oil. (Makes sense to me!)

POSTED: Thursday, February 6, 2014, 12:23 PM

If trees could weep, this one surely would. It's actually a weeping yoshino cherry from Japan, the kind that produces the ethereal blossoms in spring that star in cherry blossom festivals all over. This week's storm roared through the region, toppling trees and dropping tree limbs everywhere. This photo by Paul Meyer, Morris Arboretum director, needs no cutline. The devastation is obvious, but Paul says the tree, one of his favorites, should recover.

POSTED: Thursday, February 6, 2014, 12:12 PM

Winter's supposed to be when gardens sleep, gathering strength for spring. But it can be a risky time. Lots of tree damage in the region's public gardens from this week's heavy snow and ice storm. This photo, taken by Paul W. Meyer over at Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill, is a haunting example of the destruction that blew through the region. It's a Chinese elm, more than a century old, which means it's seen a good bit of bad weather and storm damage in its time. The good news: It will recover.

POSTED: Wednesday, January 29, 2014, 11:28 AM

Delaware Valley College in Doylestown has teamed up with the Rodale Institute in Kutztown on the Veteran Organic Farming Program, a 3-semester, 36-credit program that combines classroom study on all aspects of organic farming and hands-on work on the land at DelVal, Rodale's 333-acre farm, and other farms in the area. I visited DelVal this week and came away with the feeling that these students - one Marine, and one each from the Marine Corps and Coast Guard - have a bright and interesting future ahead of them. (Consider that the average age of American farmers is 57 and that the organic food segment of the market is exploding.) Here, Ian Woods is checking on some seedlings growing in a DelVal greenhouse. Ian is the Coast Guard vet. He spent 23 years in emergency management, which includes oil spills and other disasters. "I needed to change careers for my sanity and my health," he says. "The culture we're in .. everything's an emergency. You can't catch a break"

Except here in the greenhouse. "This is it," he says. 

POSTED: Thursday, January 2, 2014, 9:36 AM

Nothing like a little time off to purge the brain of stressful thoughts and to make room for the fun stuff, as in: What should my vegetable garden look like in 2014? The catalogues are pouring in, and one day this week I actually spent a couple of hours looking at them and making a list of everything that struck my fancy.

It was a long list - 15 lettuces alone - and it will have to come down or I'll have to rent a rabbit family this spring. But it's a start. I barely looked at the ornanentals. (That comes later.)  I decided to simplify things and concentrate on tomatoes, salad lettuces, greens and herbs, maybe a hot pepper plant, and buy the rest at my local farmer's market. 

At the end of the 2013 season, I ripped out a bunch of roses, which frees up a new spot for tomatoes - lots of sun - and gives me a chance to start fresh. And instead of loading up on seeds from various purveyors at the flower show, I'm going to order everything from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds this year. They collect from all over the world, and I'm excited to try some of their finds.

POSTED: Wednesday, November 13, 2013, 10:24 AM

It's so cold today, I almost forgot what it was like at Jenkins last week - a balmy 63 degrees - when I took a walkabout with Steve Wright, the arboretum's horticulture director and curator of plant collections. The day couldn't have been more pleasant, and we had a great time ambling along the pathways from the parking lot (sassy red sassafrass) to the Green Ribbon Garden (maple leaf viburnum, Fothergilla), down the service road and off to the left to look at the big musclewood tree (bark really looks like a muscle-bound arm), over to Azalea Hill to see the fall-blooming Encore azaleas, around the pond (Franklinias, baldcypress), and finally, back to the Education center through Woodland Walk. 

We covered some ground! It was a very pleasant interlude. Thanks, Steve!

Wednesday Walkabouts at Jenkins start at 2 p.m. Nov. 20 is the last one for the season.

About this blog
Ginny Smith, a Philadelphia native, joined the Inquirer at 1985. After stints as both reporter and editor in the city and suburbs, she’s been happily writing – and learning - about gardening full time since 2006. She’s won two silver medals of achievement from the national Garden Writers Association and in 2011, Bartram’s Garden honored her with its Green Exemplar award for her stories about “the region’s deeply rooted horticultural history, cultural attractions and bountiful gardens.” She plays in her own – mostly - bountiful garden in East Falls. Reach Virginia A. at .

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
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