Plenty of gardens in region to see nature busting out

Longwood Gardens has more than doubled the size of its meadow to 86 acres and restored the 18th-century Webb farmhouse (right rear).
Longwood Gardens has more than doubled the size of its meadow to 86 acres and restored the 18th-century Webb farmhouse (right rear). (DANIEL TRAUB)
Posted: April 05, 2014

New birdhouses, feeders, and habitat, large ponds, and much larger meadows.

Sounds like a wild spring at the Philadelphia area's public gardens and arboretums. Wild as in birds, bees, butterflies, and insects and all the other pollinators and creatures that live among us.

Here's a sampling of what visitors can expect:

Longwood Gardens (longwoodgardens.org) in Kennett Square has the most spectacular project for the 2014 season: Its 40-acre meadow has been expanded to 86, and more than 150 varieties of native wildflowers are being added to the hundreds of species already there.

The show begins this spring and summer with purple coneflowers, sunflowers, butterfly milkweeds, and Virginia bluebells, with much more to follow. Visitors will experience it all through three miles of walking trails, a wheelchair-accessible path, and five "learning pavilions" that explain bird migration, the importance of pollinators, and other topics.

The Webb farmhouse, which dates to the mid-1700s, is also part of the project. On the eastern edge of the meadow, it has been restored and turned into an interpretive center to showcase the meadow's history and beauty.

And this may be a first: Longwood's supersize meadow, which officially opens June 13, will have its own "docents."

Morris Arboretum (morrisarboretum.org) in Chestnut Hill, where more than 120 types of nesting or migrating birds have been recorded, is focusing this year on - no mystery after that introduction - birds.

Thirty "designer birdhouses" have been installed throughout the gardens, including a whimsical piano-shaped "Beethoven birdhouse" and - for those who like birdies as much as birds - a replica of the Augusta National clubhouse, home to the Masters Golf Tournament.

Native plants that nourish indigenous birds and insects have been folded into the Oak Allee and the Sculpture Garden's wooded edge. The bluebird boxes have been rebuilt, and more added, along with new feeding stations and signs.

"We're trying to show people that . . . you can attract birds to your property, whether you live in the city or semi-urban or suburban area or all the way out in a rural situation," says Morris' horticulture director, Anthony S. Aiello, a renowned plantsman who confesses he's "not much of a birder."

Morris also has scheduled a bird-themed photo exhibit, children's programs, birding trips, and a visit from raptors (handlers in tow) from the Schuylkill Center Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic.

Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve (bhwp.org) in New Hope is all about wildlife habitat, and there's plenty of it here, including a new birding platform on the Audubon Birding Trail, a bog display with native carnivorous plants near the Visitor Center, and a pond along the Woods Edge Walk trail that, while dedicated last June, should be coming into its own this year.

Volunteer naturalist Mary Anne Borge promises pond visitors "a fabulous display." The plants are still filling in, but she says the airspace above the pickerelweed and buttonbush will see heavy traffic from butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies, and bees.

"Really fun," she says.

 Tyler Arboretum (tylerarboretum.org) in Media will install its 10th tree house this summer, with tiny wooden kitchen and dining room. The Tulip Tree House was designed by Parris Bradley, production manager of Villanova University's theater department. He drew inspiration from the tulip-shaped leaves and thick, variegated bark of our native tulip poplar.

Visitors will be able to get to the tree house via a wheelchair-wide walkway, rather than dealing with a rope or wooden ladder. Yes, this is an ADA-accessible tree house!

Imagine. Tyler has two.

Awbury Arboretum (awbury.org) in Germantown has expanded its Agricultural Village to include a new Education Center and teaching kitchen, which visitors will be able to tour during an Earth and Arbor Day celebration on April 27. Set on 16 of Awbury's 55 acres, the village also features a two-acre organic farm, children's vegetable and pollinator gardens, apiary, 60-plot community garden, and permaculture-themed demonstration "food forest."

Scott Arboretum (scottarboretum.org) at Swarthmore College continues the restoration of its 3/4-acre Dean Bond Rose Garden, which honors Elizabeth Powell Bond, the college's dean of women from 1890 to 1906.

Gardener Adam Glas heads up the project, now in its third season. He's thinning out the beds, which have about 500 roses in them, transplanting old varieties and adding new ones, and introducing a mix of perennials and shrubs to extend the bloom season, attract pollinators, and lower the chances of pests and pestilence causing a wipeout.

New roses are chosen for disease resistance, color, and fragrance. Glas' recent picks: 'Beverly,' 'Mandarin Ice,' 'Julia Child,' and 'Traviata.'


For information on all area gardens: greaterphiladelphigardens.org.

vsmith@phillynews.com215-854-5720

facebook.com/InqGardening @inkygardener

www.inquirer.com/kisstheearth.

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