Thursday, June 20, 2019

Sunday, June 23: Veblen Birthday BBQ


This Sunday, June 23 from 2-5pm, the Friends of Herrontown Woods (FOHW) will be hosting a birthday BBQ on the grounds of Veblen House at Herrontown Woods. Food, drink, games, and socializing, to celebrate the 139th birthday of mathematician and visionary Oswald Veblen. He and his wife Elizabeth donated Herrontown Woods as Princeton's first nature preserve in 1957.

We will provide a grill, hotdogs, hamburgers, and refreshments. Potluck offerings of food/drink are encouraged.

In honor of Veblen's mathematical work on trajectories, we'll have places to play volleyball, badminton, and we'll set a pingpong table up in the Veblen driveway. Playing pingpong in a natural setting could put a new spin on things.

We have some demonstration raingardens to show off, with some plant labels added. There will be some painting activities for kids.

PARK IN THE VEBLEN DRIVEWAY AT 474 HERRONTOWN ROAD.
Or park in the main Herrontown Woods parking lot off of Snowden Lane, and walk up to the house (scroll down at this link for map). Facilities if needed are a short drive away at Smoyer Park.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A Botanist's Revisiting of Central Park


Enter New York's Central Park across from the Natural History Museum, and you're likely to come upon one of the giant rocks where kids climb. For a parent whose kids have grown, it's a chance to gaze at the changing skyline in the distance (taller, skinnier), and remember back some distance to that parental mixture of worry and delight as a young daughter explored the sometimes precipitous contours of this massive boulder.

For many people, this spot may not offer much beyond rock, water, and skyline softened by an undifferentiated sea of green foliage.


But for a botanist and wild gardener, this place evokes so much more. That tree on the left in the first photo is a serviceberry (Amelanchier) that in early June is loaded with ripe berries. I gorged while the incurious streamed by on their way to rocks and water.

A massing of cup-plants under a sycamore tree brought back memories of where I first encountered this towering native wildflower, growing untended next to a dumpster in the parking lot of Mark Twain's historic house in Hartford, CT.

The sight of royal fern (Osmunda regalis) brings back memories of all the other places I've seen it, whether planted in my yard or growing wild, back in the depths of Herrontown Woods.

This Virginia sweetspire looks very much like the one in my front yard, but with a grander backdrop, and brings back memories of the one time I saw it growing in the wild, along the banks of the Eno River in North Carolina.



These rosemallow hibiscus are offering little in mid-June to catch the untrained eye, but recognizing them without flowers links Central Park to my backyard, the edges of the Millstone River headwaters, and everywhere else I've seen this native hibiscus growing. Familiarity with the plant in all stages also makes it possible to "see" the big, broad flowers that will come in July. For a seasoned wild gardener, that is, a gardener who has been through all the seasons with this or that plant, the present is enriched by the past and future it holds within it.


The community of plants near the climbing rock--native shrubs and wildflowers that thrive with wet ground below and sun above--is what we've propagated into many areas of Princeton, but Central Park adds the framing of the skyline, rock outcroppings and water. To see it there, or in the parks of Chicago during a recent visit, is to bear witness to a recurring community gathering, each member with its quirks. Buttonbush, with its buttons of forming seeds, is in this particular photo. Many others are not shown, like Joe Pye Weed, lizard's tail, cutleaf coneflower, Helenium, New England aster, cardinal flower--their coevolution in the wild here emulated in a park.

So many steps it takes, to raise kids or raise an enriching awareness of plants, which in turn brings meaning and memory to every new step taken.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

A Few Spring Surprises


Watch spring unfold for enough years and it can start to get predictable in a Groundhog Day kind of way. One group of bloomers segues into the next, year after year. There's a theater piece I wrote called Spring Training, that imagines how Spring's trainer, charged with getting Spring in shape for the annual run-through, would react if Spring decided to go rogue and change the order of flowers on a whim. That hasn't happened, far as I know, despite all the changes underfoot and overhead due to our chemical tampering with the atmosphere. Still, this spring has offered a collection of surprises.

A big surprise came a couple mornings ago, when I dared to walk out into the garden and search for strawberries. Disappointment had been a predictable result up to now, as catbirds, slugs, and who knows what else would claim our berry harvests before we could. True, our past care of the garden had not been marked by a consistent diligence and vigilance, and maybe that was the difference this year. We've paid the garden more attention, and in return it provided a yield of incredibly unblemished berries.

Daffodils in late May? That's what you get, it turns out, when you plant them in March, rather than the previous fall. These were planted by volunteers who came to a daffodil planting party at Veblen House.

Also at Veblen House, the pawpaws are leapin'. There's a saying about transplanted shrubs and trees. "The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and on the third year they leap!" It's been four years since we planted these. Close enough. Periodic attention has had to be paid to protect them until they are beyond the reach of the deer.

That's Friends of Herrontown Woods board member Victoria Floor providing scale.


My friend Steven who has pawpaws in the backyard had to hand pollinate them to get fruit. This wasn't incredibly surprising, though it's always a surprise when something that's supposed to work actually works.

Steven reminded me that years ago I had given him a "live stake" of silky dogwood. It probably looked a lot like this one--a two foot long late-winter cutting that, in this case, was left to sit in a bucket of water until it sprouted leaves on top and roots on the bottom.

He had planted it in his "lower 40", a wet area that receives runoff from the yard and some sun from an opening in the canopy. Since then, it has quietly grown into a shrub more than ten feet high.

A live stake of elderberry performed similarly.


Another surprise came when Architect Kirsten Thoft reminded me recently that I'd given her some plants for her "stormwater planter", which utilizes and filters runoff from the roof before releasing the rest into the yard. This is a good option for downspouts that empty onto pavement. Plants I noticed: Virginia sweetspire, tall meadowrue, and royal fern.

If there's a theme here, it's that plants and nature in general demonstrate an impressive growth force when given a chance, and a little dose of tending through the years. That's a realization that never loses its sense of pleasant surprise.