Thursday, April 30, 2015

Saying "Yes, and..." To Nature and Ideas

Earthday being everyday, here's an Earthday offering:

If there’s one thing I wish people would let go of on this Earthday, both locally and nationally, it’s pessimism in all its manifestations. Well, maybe not all. That’s asking too much. But at least a few. Some equate pessimism with seeing trouble ahead, but the entrenched pessimism we face is the sort that casts us as helpless to find and act on solutions. Sometimes one form of pessimism gets piled on another, as in: “We can’t know if climate change is real and risky, or if it is there’s nothing we can do about it, and if there is something we could do then we couldn’t possibly get other towns, states, and nations to work together.” That’s a kind of pessimism sandwich a lot of people eat for lunch every day.

Locally, pessimism takes the form of resistance to change. There’s some sense in a “look before you leap” approach, but when a solution is offered to a local problem, the tendency is to look and look and look, and never leap.

The paralysis and sense of foreboding that permeates our era is due in part to our capacity to collectively create problems while stubbornly resisting efforts to collectively solve them. The reflexive response to proposed solutions is to search for flaw and fear the negative consequences of any action. We see safety in inaction, but inaction is often the riskier course.

In such a situation, the arts are instructive. My impulse to seek collective solutions comes in part from playing in musical ensembles, where good results can only come from working together. And the cure for that pesky habit of focusing on flaw in any proposal for change can be found in theater improv, where the actors on stage succeed only if they commit to creating something new, together. I’ve done a little improv, and seen others try it for the first time, and typically our ingrained response is to contradict the acting partner, to take exception to what’s offered, and thereby sabotage the scene. The catchwords of theater improve are “Yes, and…”, which in community problem solving would take the form of greeting proposed solutions not with reflexive negativity but instead with “How can we make this work?”

In a way, we are in an ongoing improv with the earth, too often fighting against nature, resisting its logic, rejecting its offerings, and thereby defeating ourselves in this long-running scene in one corner of the universe. We set the stage, surrounding ourselves with suburban nature, then purge our yards of rainwater and leaves rather than explore how we could use them to advantage. Spring is a time when every tree and flower is saying “Yes, and…” We should try doing the same.

First published in the Town Topics on the official Earthday, April 22.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Terhune Orchards' "Turning 40" Tour

As I hurried to catch the start of a 40th anniversary tour of Terhune Orchards, surprised that I was actually on time, I passed a major showoff in the chicken coop. The white peacock was trying to impress the chickens, who were clearly more interested in the food.

As with the chickens, it's the food that's always impressed me about Terhune Orchards. No big show, just consistently great when it comes to taste and quality. No fancy facade, just keepin' it real. Cider, donuts, apples that just keep coming, and some 35 other crops to make the short drive out of town worthwhile. There's also the integration of business and community spirit, of which the chickens may not have paid much notice.

On this farm, utility is mixed with charm. History sits comfortably mingled with the modern in a multi-generational assemblage of "stuff".

Speaking of connections with the past, it turns out that the Terhunes, from whom the Mounts bought the farm 40 years ago, shared some common ancestors with Gary Mount, who had grown up on a farm in West Windsor next to Route 1. The Mounts learned of this only many years after the purchase.

I made it to the big barn in time for introductory remarks by three generations of Mounts. Two daughters and their families have returned to continue the tradition.

Solar panels on the big red barn, constructed by Amish woodworkers using the traditional oak pins instead of nails, supply 40% of the energy required to run the barn's climate control machinery.

Apples are stored in two different chambers. One is kept cold and humid, and keeps the apples fresh for several months. The other is for longterm storage. There, behind lock and key, the process of ripening and decay is stymied by dropping the oxygen level from 20% down to 2%. The oxygen is pushed out by injecting additional nitrogen into the room. Each month in the winter and spring, the door is opened, oxygen is allowed in so that workers can breathe, and a month's worth of apples are moved to the other chamber.

Outside, honey bees were pollinating the cherry blossoms. During the two weeks just before harvest, plastic is drawn over the hoops to protect the cherries from rain (and supposedly from the birds as well). Otherwise, the cherries will absorb the moisture and crack.

Apple trees are now planted much closer together than in the tradition configuration seen in the parking lot. Their trunks are so weak that they need to be staked, lest they fall over with a heavy load of apples, but the harvest is double what it used to be.

Pick your own asparagus. Ruth Stout, in her book from the 1940s called "How To Have a Green Thumb Without An Aching Back", described how gardeners used to dig a two foot deep trench to plant their asparagus in, then backfilled slowly as the asparagus grew. All that work, Stout contended, was unnecessary. Simply plant the asparagus at ground level. I didn't ask Gary Mount what his planting method is, but they make farming look so easy, I'm sure they don't seek out unnecessary work.

Some years back, one of their employees took an interest in greenhouse gardening, and the Mounts went with it. There are now three greenhouses, with one separated from the other tow, devoted to organic methods. Cloth is pulled over the space in winter, to provide at least a little insulation for this fuel-intensive space.

We got a tour of the bakery. It's surprisingly small, considering the output, not much larger than some expansive kitchens I've seen in private homes around town. The cider operation, too, is surprisingly compact. Apples that have slight blemishes or are too small for sale as apples are used to make cider. There's some thought put into blending different kinds. I asked why Terhune Orchard cider is so much richer in taste than other brands, and learned that most cider makers don't grow their own apples, but are supplied with small apples without much flavor. Stayman apples, not often used elsewhere, are also a particularly rich component of Terhune cider.

That accordion-like structure in the background, reminiscent of an Argentine bandoneon, is the cider press. I didn't ask whether the press plays tangoes while squeezing. The cider's then flash pasteurized, stored in big stainless steel containers designed for dairy operations, then jugged. The pulp is spread on fields using a manure spreader.

That was the tour. Gary headed out on a tractor to plant some corn. I headed back to town with donuts and asparagus, to catch some of Communiversity. Happy anniversary, Terhune Orchards! May there be 40 more.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Upcoming Talks on Climate, Native Plants

Michael Lemonick: Climate Change From a Journalist's Perspective, Tuesday, April 28, 7pm, DR Greenway Johnson Center off Rosedale Road. Michael was one of the first journalists to write about climate change, and has worked in Princeton at Climate Central for many years.

Doug Tallamy: The Garden Club of Princeton is teaming with the Friends of Princeton Open Space and the public library to bring entomologist Doug Tallamy to town on Monday, May 4. Best known for his book, Bringing Nature Home, he and his students at U. of Delaware have provided much of the data showing the tremendous importance of native plant species in the diets of insects. The insects, in turn, provide critical nutrition for birds as they feed their young a high-protein diet in the spring. A previous post about how that knowledge can inform your choice of plants for the yard can be found here. Tallamy spoke some years back at DR Greenway. The library is hosting the May 4 talk at 7pm.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

New Nature Center Poised to Serve and Inspire

A trip out to Rosedale Mills last weekend to buy chicks led us to stop by the Stonybrook Millstone Watershed headquarters to check out their new watershed center. Our quick but very rewarding and uplifting visit offered a sneak preview prior to the Grand Opening this coming Saturday, May 2, from 11-3pm. The extraordinary building goes by the official name of Watershed Center for Environmental Advocacy, Science and Education. Topped with solar panels to generate electricity and hot water, surrounded by raingardens and constructed wetlands, this Platinum LEED structure mixes modern technology with warm earth tones.

When we stopped in, staff were fitting out the interior with environmental displays. A large bank of windows offers a gorgeous view of the constructed pond that's fed by water from the building's roof.

The pond's already begun to attract wildlife that will be easily viewed from inside.

Rainwater flows through a broad swale into the pond. This will be great habitat for all the showy native floodplain wildflowers that make wet, sunny areas prime planting grounds to benefit pollinators.

This looks like an economical form of porous pavement--essentially a grid of thick recycled plastic sitting atop gravel. Grass will grow through the openings, creating a lawn that can withstand the weight of vehicles. Porous pavement is only as porous as the ground beneath it, which is why the plastic matting sits on gravel rather than the local clay.

If you click on this fuzzy photo, you might be able to read the detailed info the Center provides about the porous pavement, which is a substitute for asphalt.

This diagram shows how water is heated by sunlight and then distributed through the building.

A large area some distance from the building is devoted to wastewater treatment.

The wastewater goes through a series of septic tanks, then into an area where the nutrients and water are utilized and purified by plants.

Clicking on this photo will show some of the details. Other features of the building include use of rainwater to flush toilets, and passive ventilation, in which hot air is exhausted through vents near the roof.

It's such a buoying experience to witness a structure that is working with nature rather than against it, now just opening up and ready to serve the Princeton area with learning and inspiration. Follow this link for more info.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Arbor Day, Tree Seedling Giveaway, and Other Shade Tree Commission Announcements

Today's Arbor Day, and you'd think that, as chair of the Princeton Shade Tree Commission, I'd have a post about it. Seems so predictable to do so, but here are some updates from the STC:

With Princeton's new arborist, Lorraine Konopka, and STC member Pam Machold on hand, third grade students at Riverside Elementary will be planting a Dogwood Tree at 1:30 today, April 24. The public is invited to attend.

You can read about Lorraine Konopka, and the coming invasion of Emerald Ash Borer, in this Town Topics profile.

COMMUNIVERSITY, Sunday, April 26, 2015, 1-6pm
The Shade Tree Commission will distribute free Kousa Dogwood and Willow Oak seedlings to the first 200 attendees who stop by our booth. The STC booth will be on Nassau Street, between the intersection of Witherspoon and Palmer Square. The tree seedlings are part of the New Jersey Tree Recovery Campaign.

Thanks to the The Taco Truck restaurant, located in the Princeton Shopping Center, for donating 10% of Earthday proceeds to the Princeton Shade Tree Trust Reserve. Funds in the Shade Tree Trust are used to plant and maintain Princeton’s public street trees.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

10% of Taco Truck's Earthday Sales Benefit the Princeton Shade Tree Commission

If you've been meaning to check out the new Taco Truck at Princeton Shopping Center, or are a regular customer, Earthday is a good day to stop by.  The restaurant will be donating 10% of its Earthday sales this Wednesday, April 22, to the Princeton Shade Tree Commission. The Taco Truck brings authentic Mexican taqueria cuisine to the east coast, and actually runs one of its restaurants out of a truck.

Sustainability is a strong component of the Taco Truck's approach, with all packaging either recyclable or compostable, and an overall effort to minimize negative impact on the planet.

As chair of the Shade Tree Commission, I want to thank Taco Truck for reaching out with this generous offer.

serving food that is truly authentic to the taquerias of Mexico, incorporating hospitality into every aspect of our business, minimizing our negative impact on the planet and remaining active in our neighborhood through ongoing community involvement.

serving food that is truly authentic to the taquerias of Mexico, incorporating hospitality into every aspect of our business, minimizing our negative impact on the planet and remaining active in our neighborhood through ongoing community involvement.serving food that is truly authentic to the taquerias of Mexico, incorporating hospitality into every aspect of our business, minimizing our negative impact on the planet and remaining active in our neighborhood through ongoing community involvement.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mountain Lakes and Spring's Promise

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and gardeners are the soothsayers of beauty. We see promise of future beauty where others may see black planting trays and brown soil. These trays, in the little greenhouse at Mountain Lakes House, are all set to grow native wildflowers for planting in restoration projects nearby.

There's summer beauty, too, sleeping in this raingarden that I designed and FOPOS (Friends of Princeton Open Space) later installed. Some of the raingarden's beauty is in the house's dry basement, which used to flood before we diverted runoff away from the foundation and into the garden. The house is flourishing as a beautiful location for weddings and other events, with the income going to fund open space work in town.

There's sleeping beauty in this field dotted with young trees, just across the driveway from the house.  Many of the trees are bur oaks that were grown in the municipal tree nursery over at Smoyer Park. Bur oaks are more commonly found in the midwest, where they were the keystone species in the extraordinarily rich and diverse oak savannas of pre-colonial America. That ecosystem, lost in a sea of exotic buckthorn and honeysuckle and then pieced back together by botanist Stephen Packard and others, now thrives once more in restored habitats in and around Chicago and other parts of the midwest. I don't know if Princeton will ever open up to the idea of prescribed burns, which play such an important role in maintaining native grasslands and savannas, but one vision of future beauty would be having the meadows of Tusculum grade into a post oak savanna.

There's an extraordinary new film called Inhabit, which documents the permaculture movement. The film was shown at the recent Princeton Environmental Film Festival. Permaculture is a kind of agriculture that emulates wild plant communities in order to grow food for people. A farm emulating the oak savanna might have chestnut trees, with an understory of hazelnuts, and cane fruits and some annual crops in the openings between the scattered trees.

Since hazelnuts are described in the film as having been a common understory species in the oak savanna, and the savannas depended on periodic low-intensity fires sweeping through, then how did the hazelnut survive the fires? This photo of one of the three hazelnut shrubs growing wild at Mountain Lakes shows the many stems generated at the base. The "cool" periodic fires would likely have singed the outer stems but left untouched the stems growing closer to the center of the clone. The oaks are protected by their thick bark.

There was an accidental fire in Mountain Lakes a couple years ago. The area burned makes an interesting study in the typically beneficial effects of periodic controlled burns--a management technique used elsewhere in NJ.

Not sure there's much beauty, present or future, in the riprap stones used to armor the outfall of the lower Mountain Lake, but the dams themselves are beautifully restored.

A botanist can even see beauty in a sewer line right of way, where the opening in the trees allows direct sunlight to reach the ground and foster growth of sedges and wildflowers not common elsewhere in the preserve.

A thick layer of woodchips was laid down on the right of way last year, just down from the lakes, in order to support the heavy equipment needed to install a footbridge.

Two bridges were funded by a grant from the Concordia Foundation, and will provide access to the southwestern corner of Mountain Lakes Preserve.

Note: A nature walk by FOPOS staff will follow this Sunday's 3pm annual meeting of FOPOS at Mountain Lakes House. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Shana Weber to Speak at FOPOS Annual Meeting

Friends of Princeton Open Space, the local nonprofit I used to work for, is having its annual meeting this weekend. The meeting itself is a succinct review of what FOPOS has been up to over the past year, and then there's a talk, refreshments, and a nature walk, all at beautiful Mountain Lakes. As the press release says,

"The meeting is free and open to the public, but reservations are requested by April 15th; RSVP to Friends of Princeton Open Space, 609-921-2772. 
Shana S. Weber, Director, Office of Sustainability at Princeton University, will be the featured speaker at the 2015 annual meeting of the Friends of Princeton Open Space at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 19th.  Her talk,“Sustainability Uncovered: The Gritty Underbelly of Meaningful Environmental Endeavors at Princeton University,” will focus on the unprecedented levels of sustainability and environmental stewardship integrated into the University’s current strategic planning and visioning process. 
The meeting will take place at Mountain Lakes House, 57 Mountain Avenue in Princeton.  Dr. Weber will speak after a brief business meeting at which new trustees will be elected.  Refreshments will be served.  A walk through Mountain Lakes and adjacent Tusculum led by FOPOS naturalist Adam Schellhammer will follow Dr. Weber’s talk."

The photo is of one of the raingardens we planted around beautiful Mountain Lakes House, just starting a new season of growth.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Working With Nature at the High School Ecolab Wetland

It wasn't easy to convince Tim to trim back the willow trees at the Princeton High School ecolab this past week. That's the detention basin that was only growing turf grass until the school gave permission for Tim's students and we community volunteers turn it into a very healthy native wetland. Maintenance isn't the right word for what we've done in the years since then, because though we "maintain" it, we also try to make it better and more diverse each year, while working to keep any one species from taking over. It's a kind of wild gardening.

Tim sees the willows as shade for the ponds (to keep them cool and discourage algae) and cover for the birds. I agreed, but also made the case that the rapidly expanding willows were making life harder for the 30 other native plant species meant to coexist there.

So we worked for a couple hours, trimming back the willows and doing general cleanup so that this detention basin can continue to thrive. Tim's turning the cut stems into a "corduroy" footpath.

Like any garden, this wild-looking wetland needs periodic rebalancing. The willows and the cattails--the two species most people associate with wet areas--are also the most aggressive and would over time displace the many shrubs, sedges and wildflowers that add to the diversity and beauty of the wetland.

The setting, with its elevated walkway and upscale fencing all around, is perfect for appreciating the tall wildflowers from above, as flying pollinators might. Even when the basin is performing its stormwater function, and fills completely with runoff during heavy storms, the plants bounce back after the water has drained out the next day.

Because the school sump pump that has serendipitously kept the wetland wet year-round was out of commission for awhile over the winter, there may need to be some restocking of crayfish and other aquatic species that have otherwise thrived from the beginning.

But that's all part of the ongoing balancing act, the periodic, strategic human interventions that are minor compared to the weekly mowing a lawn would have required. Our role is to make sure all the basic pieces of the puzzle--the sump pump, the plant and aquatic diversity--are present and in balance. Nature does the rest.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dogwood Rescue at Princeton Battlefield

In the foreground is a thick stem of wild grape vine, angling from left to right. Just behind it is a dogwood tree laden with vines. Beyond are the pillars and lawn of the Princeton Battlefield. There's symbolism in the wild grape's angle, like those circular symbols with a line angling across that mean "No!". Some fifteen dogwoods lining the edge of the Battlefield are being suffocated by the vines.

And there's symbolism in the dogwoods, which were donated to the Battlefield by the Dogwood Garden Club of Princeton, and planted in 1976 as part of the nation's bicentennial. The trees will be turning 40 next year, that is if they don't all get buried alive by the rampant growth of vines.

Sounds like a job for Mr. Sustainable, who stopped by this past week, ready to rescue the beleaguered trees with loppers and saw. The rough customers were, from left to right, wild grape, poison ivy (that little, hairy section that looks like a caterpillar), multiflora rose, porcelainberry, and asiatic bittersweet. Also present but somehow left out of the photograph were english ivy and Japanese honeysuckle. Together they could be called the Serious Seven.

Mr. Sustainable found evidence of previous visitors who might have come to save the trees only to be pulled down by barley and another vine, hops, before they could counter this poison ivy's hairy embrace of the dogwood trunk.

You can see the cobbly bark of the dogwood underneath this web of vines crawling upon it.

Some of the trees were really beaten up, not only by vines but also by the fallen limbs of towering white pines planted just behind them.

Underneath that mass of vines was a trunk warped by the weight and deprived of sunlight.

Here's a healthier specimen, planted closer to the street. In the distance is the Mercer Oak 2, whose symbolism eclipses all others on the property. It was a good day for Mr. Sustainable--a couple hours spent liberating fifteen dogwoods from viney oppression. A more thorough job, for someone else, would take much longer and involve limbing up the pine trees and doing much more to discourage the vines from a resurgence. Until then, the dogwoods will occupy a world, as in The Incredibles, that refuses to stay saved for long. But at least the the trees have a chance to rebound, and still grace the battlefield with spring flowers when they turn forty.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Doing Battle With Invasives at Princeton Battlefield

The Princeton Battlefield that people see while driving by on Mercer Street looks peaceful and under control, a broad expanse of closely mowed turf interrupted only by a few scattered trees. Nature is subdued, as on a sports field, the better to have a picnic, fly a kite, or show off the periodic reenactments of human conflict. This Saturday, April 11, for instance, a British regiment will show up as part of the ongoing programming organized by the Princeton Battlefield Society.

There are, however, real battles going on right now, hidden along the edges of the field. Some pit one plant against another, day after day, breaking only for winter, like the porcelainberry and other vines mobbing the dogwood trees planted back in the 70s to ornament the northern field. And behind the Clark House, a patch of bamboo is expanding its claim to the land. Its encroachment on the trail to the Friends Meeting House has caused the Battlefield Society volunteers to take up loppers and saws against it.

That annual skirmish was waged during March 28's cleanup day, with assistance from Sierra Club volunteers.

Some were cutting and sawing, others were hauling the 20 foot stalks over to a pile,

where some stalks were lined up, somewhat reminiscent of what must have been done with the casualties in a real battle.

This comparison of invasive plant control to a battle may be unsettling for some who prefer to associate nature with peacefulness. There are, to be sure, lots of examples of win-wins in nature--the mutualism of pollinators and flowers being the most common example. But even the peaceful appearance of the expansive lawn out front is achieved only through the covert violence of whirling blades in the mowing equipment.

We could say live and let live, and give the bamboo and porcelainberry free reign, thereby providing ourselves with a convenient excuse to do nothing while claiming a superior tolerance towards all other living things. But all gardeners play a game of winners and losers, pulling out one plant so another might thrive. And the plants themselves are not particularly peaceful towards each other. The bamboo with its stifling shade, aggressive roots, and expansionist agenda is the epitome of intolerance, of "not playing well with others".

Right next to the bamboo is another example of how laissez faire policies can lead to domination by one highly aggressive plant species. Porcelainberry has turned a small stand of trees into a giant topiary. The vines in the foreground were severed near the ground--an easy way to at least temporarily liberate the tree and cheat the vine of all the solar energy it might otherwise have collected while using the tree trunk as a prop.

If they're not cut, the vines overtop the tree and grab all the sun. The tree weakens, a strong wind or ice storm comes along, the weakened tree falls. The result looks like the tree was actually tackled by the vine, which in some ways it was.

When I was a kid, we staged battles occasionally. I remember having a tiny cap gun. Sometimes it was cowboys and Indians, sometimes a spontaneous reenactment of the Civil War on the wooded slope near a friend's house. I grew into a peace-loving adult, and yet some aspects of that strategic thinking utilized in war have parallels in open space management. Since an army's fearsome tanks are useless without gasoline to power them, then one way to win the war is to deprive them of fuel by bombing the aggressor's refineries. If they start rebuilding the refinery, don't bomb again immediately but instead wait until they are almost done rebuilding, then destroy it again just before it can produce any gasoline.

That is exactly what the Allies did in WWII, and a very similar approach can be used against bamboo. Cut it all down--completely, every last stem--so the clone is entirely cut off from its solar energy source. Then wait for it to send up new stems. Those stems will rise 5 or 10 feet before sending out any leaves that can start collecting solar energy. Just as the bamboo shoots start sending out leaves, cut it all down again. The roots have spent all that energy sending up new stems, yet will have nothing to show for it. Since the roots are also continuously spending energy just to stay alive, then the fewer leaves there are to feed that demand, the sooner the roots' reserves will be depleted. Stick with this war of attrition, and the giant will be slain.

And what will the Battlefield Society do on volunteer days if several strategic interventions in a single season weaken the bamboo so that it is no longer growing into the trail, or into the remains of the old barn? I'm sure there's a long list somewhere.

One of the perks of doing invasive species work is that it takes one where one might not otherwise go. I've visited the battlefield many times, but only the fight against bamboo led me to where there are ruins of an old barn.

There was a brief timeout to contemplate the possible origin of holes in one of the foundation stones.

Invasive species removal is one of the few ways we can experience outdoor work, and in some small way reenact the physical exertion once necessary to make this farm a vital enterprise.

Some notes: Bamboo is a grass, like corn or sugar cane or sorghum, or the Arundo donax from which reeds for instruments are made, or the massive stands of Phragmitis that invade many wetlands. Before Rachel Carson wrote about DDT, she wrote about Spartina, the remarkable grass that dominates salt marshes. There's a bamboo native to North America--Arundinarea gigantea--which once formed expansive canebrakes in the southeast. Escaped slaves would hide in them. The native species mostly survives today in names like "Reed Creek" while the exotic bamboos dot the urban landscape. When I lived in North Carolina, I saw the native species only a few times in scraggly remnants. 

If you think about it, you've probably never seen bamboo flower. A grove of bamboo will live for many decades without flowering, then flower and produce seed en masse, just before dying. The vast amount of seed suddenly produced by the native cane must have overwhelmed the capacity of wildlife to consume it, though some sources suggest that two lost bird species--the carolina parakeet and the passenger pigeon--were able to make the most of these rare bursts of abundance. I saw a flowering and sudden dieback of exotic bamboo in Durham, NC once, when a patch covering a whole city block flowered and died. There are a lot of homeowners in Princeton who wish their bamboo would do the same.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Weekend Event: Raingarden Tutorial, Nature Walk and Veblen History/Mystery at Updike Farm Sat. 1-4pm

This Saturday, April 4, the Friends of Herrontown Woods heads across town to the southwest corner of Princeton to team up with the Historical Society of Princeton. We'll be presenting three different indoor/outdoor programs at the HSP home base: Updike Farmstead at 354 Quaker Road.

At 1pm, come learn the logic of siting a raingarden in your yard. How, for instance, could this air conditioning unit help a nearby raingarden survive droughts?

At 2pm, I'll report on the latest research on the Veblen House's history, and what we've discovered and rediscovered while restoring Herrontown Woods over the past few years.

And during a 3pm nature walk around the Updike Farmstead, you can check out progress on renovating the big barn, which HSP hopes to use for hosting events.

Here's the press release:

The themes of history and nature are featured in the special events offered at the Historical Society of Princeton’s April 4th Community Day at Updike Farmstead. Steve Hiltner, local naturalist, musician, writer and editor of the blog, Princeton Nature Notes, will lead three different programs to educate and inspire visitors.

At 1:00 PM -- Siting a Raingarden in Your Yard -- Raingardens are a popular, creek-friendly and attractive way to create habitat while filtering runoff from your house. Join a tour around the Updike farmhouse as Steve Hiltner discusses factors to consider when deciding where best to put a raingarden in your yard. Downspouts, sump pumps, air conditioners -- all will be discussed as potential sources of water to sustain a wildflower garden through droughts.

At 2:00 PM -- Preserving Oswald Veblen's Historic House and Legacy -- Oswald Veblen was a famous mathematician and visionary who was instrumental in bringing Einstein and the Institute for Advanced Study to Princeton. A "woodchopping professor,” he loved the woods, and founded Princeton's open space movement in 1957 by donating 100 acres for Herrontown Woods, Princeton's first nature preserve. He and his wife also donated their home and farmstead for a public purpose. A new nonprofit, the Friends of Herrontown Woods (FOHW), is seeking to acquire and restore this unique, historic house, and realize Veblen's vision. FOHW's president and co-founder, Steve Hiltner, will talk about the passion, sweat-equity and serendipity that has made the restoration of Veblen's Herrontown Woods such a rewarding experience.

At 3:00 PM -- Tree and Wildflower Walk --Learn about plants on this informal walk around the Updike Farmstead grounds to learn about the stately trees and plants growing along the fence lines of the property, including the giant red mulberry tree that bears delicious berries in June.

All programs are included with $4 museum admission. Updike Farmstead is located at 354 Quaker Road, Princeton. For questions, contact Eve Mandel, Director of Programs and Visitor Services, at (609) 921-6748 x102 or

ABOUT THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF PRINCETON – Founded in 1938, The Historical Society of Princeton (HSP) is a museum and research center dedicated to interpreting the history of Princeton, New Jersey. Home to a vast collection of artifacts, manuscripts and photographs, HSP offers a wide array of exhibitions, lectures and public programs each year to schools, adults and families at its two locations, Bainbridge House and the Updike Farmstead. Visit us at