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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Springtime at Morris Arboretum: KyoDaiko Drummers and Trees Wearing Sweaters

Percussion in the Park

IMG_3728Enchanted by the beautiful gardens of the Morris Arboretum on a early September afternoon a year ago, I returned to visit again, this time on spring day in April. This weekend the arboretum celebrated their annual Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival.  As part of the celebration, KyoDaiko, a community-based taiko drumming group, presented a stunning visual and sound performance. I admired their synchronized movements as they beat the drums in unison. According to Wikipedia, taiko drumming goes back to the 6th century; the Japanese used the drum for communication, theatrical performances and religious events.


That’s what they’ve called it when trees, bridges and gazebos are covered with crocheted yarn. Melissa Maddonni Haims is the local fiber artist who wrapped up the limbs and structures, mostly from recycled materials. Well, I think I’ve seen everything now after finding trees adorned in sweaters.

Fish and Fowl

Gurgling streams flowed into peaceful ponds where swans paddled gracefully and ducks splashed around in the water or in one case, take a nap on the nearby wall. In the fernery, carp swam in the shallows of a rock garden.

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The arboretum has 92 acres to wander and each vista offers something interesting to study. Stepped into a grotto, passed through the rose garden and explored a woodland path–a warm spring afternoon at the Morris gardens has stayed with me for days.



Hiking by the Silv’ry Moonlight

Our MeetUp group, Get Out Philadelphia Adventure, held a full moon hike at Tyler Arboretum, located in the western suburbs of the city. Gary, who participated in the hike in earlier years, graciously made all the arrangements for our MeetUp event and greeted us as we arrived.

The arboretum had its beginnings in 1681 when King Charles II granted William Penn a tract of land. Thomas Minshall, a fellow Quaker, purchased the land from Penn and established his homestead, while taking care to plant a variety of trees.

IMG_2465As I drove into the parking lot, the moon was just above the trees and shining brightly against the cloudless sky. A display of pumpkins and carved faces greeted me at the entrance.  Seems right that a full moon in October must also have pumpkins scattered about.

We gathered in the barn for hot beverages and conversation and met our guides, Rachel Ndeto (on right) and Dick Cloud (on left).


Returning to Tyler Arboretum brought back memories of my childhood. My folks would often take my sister and I out to Tyler for a walk in the woods, which was always a special occasion. We would explore around the pond, the barn and the spring house, peeking in the windows of the stone structure.

Coincidently, I remembered that one of my Dad’s favorite songs was “By the Light of the Silv’ry Moon.”

By the light of the silvery moon
Your silvery beams will bring love’s dreams
We’ll be cuddlin’ soon
By the silvery moon


As we began our walk, Dick reminded us that it takes about ten minutes for our eyes to become accustomed to the low light. He suggested flashlights with green or red filters so that the moonlight would not be compromised. As I started walking past the barn, the ground appeared black and could see very little of what was beneath my feet. Only when the moonlight shone unobstructed, then the ground took on the look like a low-level floodlight as our long shadows followed us up the first hill.

Dick stopped along the way to tell us about the history of Tyler and of the plants. Walking through the nightscape, other senses became heightened. The night air made the scents of the forest strong; and when we passed a grove of katsura trees, the aroma of cotton candy drifted into the damp air. During the Fall, the heart-shaped leaves smell like burnt sugar. Further on the trail, we rubbed the leaves of the Spice Bush, a common understory shrub of eastern forests.

We passed through meadows, the moonlight accentuated the outline of the forest in the distance while dancing over the low grasses. The architecture of isolated trees, such as the dogwood, with its delicate sprawling limbs became vivid against the dark landscape.


Leaves on the trees and shrubs caught the light in delicate patterns. Soaring over 100 feet straight up, tulip poplars stood like sentinels above us, their black silhouettes rising against the moon’s beacon. I tried to concentrate on my footing as we moved along the trail, sometimes slipping on a rolling rock or tripping over a protruding stump, as the leaves rustled with the passing footsteps. Rachel said that logging had stopped in the area in the 1860s, so the poplars could be well-over 125 years old.


We hiked for just over three miles, the path narrowing and snaking along a hillside, then crossing Rocky Run stream several times, discovering Indian Rock and finally returning to the barn for refreshments.


Hiking in the moonlight inspires the spirit of adventure, wandering into the darkness with only reflected light as a guide. Moonlight presents a new way of looking at the forest that cannot be experienced in any other way. With the stars sparkling through the dark canopy of the trees overhead, the cool soothing air of the evening, all is still and quiet with nature on the moonlit night.

Flower Arranging Using Roadside and Garden Varieties

To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.
~ Kurt Vonnegut

When I was growing up in Springfield, my mother signed my sister and I up for membership in the Junior Garden Club. Mom was a member of the Garden Club of Springfield, still an active organization in the community today.  The junior club was organized to teach school-age children the techniques of floral arrangement. We would attend regular meetings where we would learn how to arrange bigger flowers on the bottom, hide your stems and cover the holder. Sometimes the club would hold a competition and award prizes. I liked flower arranging, but after childhood, did not attempt any new projects.

Just recently I thought why not revisit trying a few arrangements.  All these years I had saved Mom’s flower holders, tapes and a few containers. I guess I was meant to come back and try again. I decided not to buy flowers, but rather use what I could find in my garden, back alleys or in waste areas. I added an accessory or two, just because they are fun.IMG_7876

Cape Gooseberry, with its charming lanterns, comes up every year. I have never planted it, and don’t know how it came into the garden. By late fall the lantern shells turn lacy brown, revealing a round yellow seed.


I added a charm hanging from a hook to this arrangement.  The little door opens.

I found white snakeroot growing in front yard and Queen Ann’s Lace along railroad tracks. The larger flowers are from hosta, a fragrant variety.


Goldenrod, plentiful along roadsides, turns fields into a seas of yellow. Great plant for arrangements as they last a long time.

Morris Arboretum and the Summer Garden Railroad

Swan Pond

Swan Pond

For over a year, I’d been planning an outing to the Morris Arboretum, and finally after a late start, drove down PA 476 to the northwest corner of Philadelphia to the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of the 92-acre garden. Ignoring the heat at around 90 degrees, the high humidity and thunder clouds threatening in the distance, I considered these positive circumstances–no crowds!

The gardens were set high on a hilltop, providing lovely views of the surrounding forest landscape. The gardens, modeled after the English park style, featured wide paths that wound past a swan pond, rustic cabin, stone buildings and sculpture exhibit. Sounds of water trickling along the creek offered a soothing and cooling atmosphere in the summer heat.

Much of the park is shaded, and I kept to those paths that offered relief from the direct sun. I strolled along the 450-foot raised walkway, built from recycled metal and wood, and which soars to 50 feet at the highest point through the treetops. Rope netting hung like hammocks where visitors could just lay back and gaze at canopy overhead. A gigantic bird nest made from tree branches provided benches to sit and ponder the three large blue “eggs” resting in the center.

The Garden Railway

My fascination with trains is what really brought me to this garden. G-scale trains and trolley cars run along a quarter-mile of track through a magical garden setting. The entire display, including all the buildings, are constructed from natural materials, everything from bark to seeds. Rivers and waterfalls flow through the miniature town, which includes replicas of famous Philadelphia landmarks such as Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross House. Each building was a masterpiece, with intricate detailing in the doors and windows. The whimsical chicken train glided along to accompanying music, what else but the chicken song, and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile even carried a bottle of mustard. I lingered for quite a while in the railroad garden, as the miniature recreation offered so much to enjoy.

A thunder-storm rumbled through the hills, driving me back to my car. With many other gardens to visit–the rock wall, rose and water gardens and Japanese Overlook–I know I will return, perhaps during the holidays, when evergreens, holly boughs and twinkle lights decorate the train scape.

Transformation of Clay

How a Heap of Mud Becomes Something

I’ve been away from sculpting for a while, but now with a few new ideas, its time to get back to carving clay. I enrolled in a class at the Community Arts Center with Bob Deane, potter extraordinaire.

Down the Rabbit Hole

White Rabbit, Wikipedia

White Rabbit, Wikipedia

A tree in my front yard became the inspiration for a whimsical addition: the door to the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, the novel written by Lewis Carroll in 1865. In Chapter One of the book, the story introduces us to the rabbit wearing the iconic waistcoat and carrying a pocket watch. The rabbit’s classic line, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” reminds us of the ever-present passing of time and the immediate responsibilities we carry.

The project began with buying a 25-pound bag of sculpting clay. The clay is soft and malleable, perfect for making objects; but for creating walls for the rabbit hole and door, I needed to create slabs that would harden so that they could stand and then be attached together. That process included rolling the clay into flat pieces and allowing them to dry either by putting them under a heat lamp or letting them dry out over time. Once the slabs were solid but not completely dry, I could attach the pieces by using a paste of clay and water after roughing up the surfaces. Before attaching the pieces, I carved out the door so that it would lay flat allowing me to add the details including the hinges and door handle.

The rabbit began as a two wads of clay, one for the body and the other the head. Once I figured the right sizes, I roughly hollowed out the two, and adding feet and arms. I attached the two pieces, and added extra clay to form the waistcoat. Creating a chain for the watch is almost impossible in clay, so I’m going to use a metal chain, which I will attach when the rabbit is finished. I made openings for the chain, making sure that with a 23% shrinkage, the chain would still fit through the opening. With the clay at the right consistency, I carved out the details. I used three or four pictures as guides.

Slides reveal the transformation from slabs of clay to whimsical art for the yard . . .  with help a little help from my friends, with Jean, assisting with the painting, and Bob, who advised on the glazing technique.

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Terrarium Centerpiece

Fairy House in GardenFor the next project, I carved a “wee house,” inspiration coming from Pinterest, pages which display every kind of fairy house imaginable. Years ago, I had  carved a few houses for my garden and enjoyed the project.

This house required a great deal of measuring for all the pieces to come together. Not all parts, especially the windows, are perfectly square. With clay, it is easy to add a bit here and there to make the pieces line up. I gained a new-found respect for carpenters, knowing that they could not do as much fudging with wood as I did with clay. The most difficult part was getting the roof to align with each side, especially the tall center window. Eventually, I would like to create a terrarium around the house.

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Imagine, Make It So: Following my Own Advice

My last project was more abstract and larger than the other two. At one point attempting to close it up at the top, I thought I might have inadvertently caused the entire piece of fall to pieces. I quickly added extra clay on the inside to support the structure. I applied Bobby’s white glaze and sent it to the gas kiln. A little Jon Luke Pickard and a little John Lennon were the inspiring forces to this project, which will find its way into the garden.

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Creating a Faerie Garden (Part 2)

Inspiration from the Isle of Skye

In the previous post, I described the Faerie Glen and Faerie Bridge on the Island of Skye, Scotland, the inspiration for creating my own magical garden. In pottery courses at the Community Arts Center I learned some basic techniques in hand building, carving and throwing on the wheel. My instructor, Bob Deane, had a special interest in making houses, castles and dragons, and guided our classes in the various techniques in constructing these pieces.

Bob created a ceramic house for Tyler Arboretum tree house display.

Making little houses completes the first requirement for a faerie garden. I made the first group of houses using white clay processed through an extruder tube. This device quickly produces a perfect cylinder from a clump of clay. I then cut these tubes to various lengths. For some of the roofs I worked with a piece of the cylinder, cut it in half and turned it inside out for a sloping concave shape. I carved different exteriors, such as stone, stucco or wood into the clay using simple tools. Different glazes created the variations in textures and colors.

The extruder tool proved its usefulness again for crafting large cylinders to make a castle. I used carving tools to cut the details for the shingled roof and stone façade. I added a clear glaze on the roof and doors after painting them blue.

A combination of paint and glazes decorated the bridge. A troll, waits patiently next to the creek.

I used a low-fire clay that would take majolica, a glaze which is left to dry on the clay and then painted with special pigments in a water-color technique.

I arranged the houses in the garden with a meandering stone path connecting the pieces together and added a few accessories: wishing well, fountain, bench, just to name a few.

The mysterious and magical Isle of Skye casts a spell and guides the recreation of a whimsical and winsome garden on a distant shore.

The fairies are dancing — how nimbly they bound!
They flit o’er the grass tops, they touch not the ground;
Their kirtles of green are with diamonds bedight,
All glittering and sparkling beneath the moonlight

                                Carolina Eliza Scott ~ The Fairy Dance

Good luck with your gardens! Send me your link if you have created such a place.


Anne Valley, Walk through the Fairy Door

A Guide to Finding Fairies: 15 Magical Places in Ireland

Does Scotland Really have Fairies?

Scottish Highland Fairies

Seven Whimsical Garden Accessories for just a Few Dollars

Over the years I’ve added accessories to the garden, which cost just a few dollars . . . either because of having some luck, making it myself or fixing up a cast-off.   Sometimes I had some mini disasters along the way, but in the end these whimsical additions enhanced the garden.

Gazing Ball Pedestal: When enrolled in a pottery course, I hand-built this stand for a gazing globe.  The globe cost about $20 but unfortunately, I dropped the first one which fell into dozens of pieces. I guess it really cost me $40 as I had to buy a second one. The globe is supposed to give off a solar light, but because our lot is too shady for absorbing sunlight, it doesn’t really work. For all of its faults, I still like it.  Sometimes I put colored lights inside the cylinder.

Trellis: I found this trellis while hiking along a back road and saw a small part of it sticking out from under a pile of leaves.  It took me a few minutes to pull it out from under the debris. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that an ant colony had taken up residence inside the hollow metal, and the trunk of my car was swarming with the little guys by the time I arrived home. After shaking them out, I let it sit for a while before deciding where it should go. Purchased a clematis and attached the trellis to the side of the porch.

Donkey and Cart: This piece traveled through four states and found a new home when my parents moved to Pennsylvania. When they sold their house, we debated whether this kitschy and very heavy lawn ornament should just stay behind. The cement on the legs had totally deteriorated, and the paint was pealing off. I decided to keep it, and began the restoration including cementing the pieces back together even though I had no experience with cement. At first, the cement just oozed into pile instead of sticking to the iron core posts but eventually it dried out and began staying in place.

Bench: This was another rescue from a family move. Rust covered the metal, and the top covered with mildew. After scrapping the rust off, painting the stand and cleaning up the marble, the bench found a place in the side garden. I added a couple small ornaments and planted hostas on either side.

Cider Press: Found this piece at a yard sale. After giving it a quick coat of stain and inserting a plant, it was ready for display. The press was not in the best condition to start with and the water flowing on the wood contributed to some decay, so I added a piece of clear plastic at the bottom, which has kept it intact now for ten years.

Bird bath: My pottery instructor was ready to throw this dish away because of a serious crack that ran along the bottom rim. The patterns in the glaze were beautiful, so I took it home to see what I might do with it. I used clear caulking to patch the crack and placed the plate on top of a pot. The caulk has held up well for several years now.

Watering Can with Floating Spigot:  Ok, this one cost me a few dollars, but I splurged for no other reason except the floating spigot looked cool.  I once put it in one of the window display for Bindlestiff Books, and children would stare into the window wondering how the magic happened.  Kitty knows the magic of getting a drink of water from anything but her water bowl.

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