by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor
What is a Forest School? It’s a concept and a practice that has come to us from Britain, Germany, and Scandinavia around the turn of the millennium that emphasizes unstructured learning in natural settings of woods or wilderness and fostering a close relationship between the child and the natural world. And now it has come to Awbury Arboretum, courtesy of Rachel Schwartzman and the dedicated teachers of Wissahickon Charter School.
Schwartzman got her start as a teacher at the Brooklyn New School in New York, where she worked for a decade. There she helped to organize a weekly Forest Day program for the preschool children. “This sort of movement—a nature-based program—originated in Europe, mostly in Germany and Sweden,” said Schwartzman. “[In it], young children are outdoors all day, every day: …it’s a cultural belief that it’s healthy for children to be out in nature.”
In 2015 Schwartzman was the early childhood curriculum coordinator at the Brooklyn New School. The city of New York sets the curriculum for the school year, and in 2015 the theme happened to be trees. Schwartzman had just read an article about a Vermont teacher who took her class to the woods every Friday. She shared it with her fellow teachers and asked them, “What do you think?” The result was that they decided to pilot a Forest Day program.
Schwartzman estimated that there are now about a thousand forest-based programs in the U.S., but, of these, fewer than 50 serving diverse or urban student populations: “You mostly will find [these programs] in a private school setting.” Her mission, as she sees it, is “to bring this experience to public schools while simultaneously training teachers to run these programs themselves.” Schwartzman is currently the director of the Forest Days program at Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools (ERAFANS), based in Baltimore, which offers training in Forest Days to public schools.
She explained how she came to pilot the Philadelphia program at Wissahickon Charter School and Awbury Arboretum: “I was looking for a school that was walking distance from a forested area, because busing is prohibitively expensive. It’s not a field trip: they’re having an ongoing relationship with the environment and with each other, they’re returning to the same place season after season.”
Wissahickon Charter School, which has a mission of environmental education, welcomed the idea with enthusiasm: “When I approached them, the principal was really excited. It was something they had already heard about, so that made it an ideal place to pilot the program.”
Liz Biagioli, the K-8 environmental and biological sciences teacher at Wissahickon Charter School, is the lead teacher for the school’s Forest Days program. She described last year’s program: “Basically, every Wednesday [kindergarten] students started school over in the Secret Garden. Parents would drop off their children at Ardleigh and [the children and teachers] would walk in together. We would start off in a circle; we would sing a song and talk about the day. The adults would inspire some inquiry around the topic of the day. Students were then off! Adults were there just to give direction.” She reflected, “The whole motivation [of Forest School] was this idea of self-directed nature play and learning.”
She gave an example of a student-led independent research project: “For instance: worms. The children would look at worms, dig them up, observe them. Their questions would drive the learning process.” Once back in the classroom, they could continue their research with the help of their teachers, who might read books on worms to them. Classrooms also contain a Forest Table, with natural materials the children had brought back with them from the forest.
Biagioli remarked that “Last year there was a lot of learning on the part of adults with all of the logistics. But we built a lot of momentum.” This year, she and the kindergarten teachers “have worked to continue that momentum: we feel that we can develop some of the ideas more. We’re going to integrate more structure, bridge more between [subjects in the] curriculum.” For instance, “If students are learning their letters, maybe they’ll make their names out of sticks.”
Awbury Arboretum takes no small part in this new way of teaching. “This programming would not be possible without this amazing partnership with Awbury and the resources it provides,” Biagioli remarked. “There’s enough of the wild natural element there that so many kids in Philadelphia don’t have access to.”
Also in the works are two Family Forest Days: “The feedback we get from parents is enormous.” This brings adults to the Arboretum who may not have come otherwise. Ladale Martin, a WCS parent wrote: “[My daughter] learned a ton about nature, teamwork and leadership. The skills she learned during those days she would bring home and couldn’t wait to display them for us. The teachers did a phenomenal job explaining different things that they would find while they were out…. When they allowed the parents to come participate and see how forest school was, it was a fantastic experience. To see how well the children worked together to solve problems and find different things as a team and individually was very refreshing.” He was particularly impressed with Quiet Time: “To see how controlled the children were and to give them the freedom to find a personal space to take a moment of silence was outstanding. The self control that was displayed during this moment for children at that age was very interesting especially from a parent’s point of view.”
Biagioli sees the Forest School as an extension of her reason for teaching: “A big goal for me,” she said, “is supporting our environmental mission…. Our school is trying to cultivate this appreciation and love for the environment. We want the children to come to a place where they want to take care of it and become stewards of it.” She paused. “Stewardship is a word we use a lot.”
Contact email@example.com if you are interested in bringing a grant-funded forest days program to your Philadelphia public school.
And if you are interested in visiting on your own, open hours for Fall 2019 are Wednesdays 9am to 6pm and Saturdays 10am to 2pm. Click here for more information and directions to AdventureWoods.
Save the Date for our Members’ Autumn Social!
by Branda O’Neil, Administrative and Facilities Manager
Donations to Awbury Arboretum support the preservation of our historic house and landscape and our mission to connect our community with nature and history. Here are a few of our favorite above-and-beyond opportunities about which you may not know:
1) Tribute Gifts
Looking for a unique and thoughtful way to commemorate a wedding, an anniversary, the birth of a child, or the life of a loved one? Whether it’s a tree, a bench, a native shrub, or a milkweed patch in the meadow, tribute gifts are an immediate contribution to the landscape that you’ll be able to visit as a special spot for years to come.
2) Facebook Birthday Fundraiser
Facebook now allows you to create and post a fundraiser supporting your favorite nonprofit organization. Click here to see their simple steps for selecting a recipient, a fundraising goal, and a timeframe. If you’d like to rally your Facebook friends to support Awbury, simply select “Awbury Arboretum Association, Inc” from the list of nonprofits.
3) Planned Giving
Planned gifts often allow givers to make a more substantial contribution to a charitable organization than would otherwise be possible. By incorporating a planned gift, also known as a legacy gift, into your overall financial or estate planning, you can arrange a contribution now that will be granted in the future. This is often incorporated in a will or trust to be given once the donor has passed away and can generate significant tax advantages for loved ones.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Do you shop using Amazon? AmazonSmile, operated by Amazon, offers the same experience, same products, and same prices, AND they donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice. This is a remarkably easy way to contribute a little bit at a time!
And… Support for appeals and campaigns
While it might not be the most unique or wacky way to give, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention donating to our annual appeals and campaigns. Awbury wouldn’t be here today without the continued generosity of our contributors, who serve and care for the Arboretum by providing sustaining funds. Keep an eye on your mail and our eblast for our special AdventureWoods campaign (or give today!) and of course our annual appeal in November, or click here to donate at any time. The donations of our community and friends are the financial lifeblood that keeps our programs running and our lights on! We thank you for believing in and supporting our mission.
by Heather Zimmerman, Program Director
Over the summer Awbury was the setting of many memorable events, including:
Juneteenth Celebration and Weavers Way Farm dinners—delectable and informative meals shared with members of the community.
Summer Camp—our biggest camp season ever, with seven different camp offerings
And, as the leaves begin to change, we are looking forward to art exhibits, community celebrations, workshops and more!
Here is a quick list of events not to be missed:
9/26—rescheduled Awbury Live! outdoor concert with Jonifin Marvin and the Philly Reggae Band
9/29—Autumn Social and annual meeting (see announcement above)
10/6—Forest Therapy Walk with Wild Philadelphia: the forest as restorative for our frenetic lives
10/12—Harvest Festival–come take a hayride, enjoy live music and face painting, and eat seasonal goodies in our Ag Village
10/13—Year of Natural Fibers class: making Fabric Wreaths
10/14—Indigenous People’s Day Celebration Dinner: Enjoy Chef Sue Wasserkrug’s third annual dinner based on Native American cuisine.
10/20—Jonathan Greenburg art opening and reception
And don’t forget our natural playground AdventureWoods is open Wednesdays 9 to 6 and Saturdays 10 to 2 through the end of October (call ahead if weather is inclement).
11/10—Year of Natural Fibers class: Tablet Bag Weaving
12/7—Holiday Open House and Greens Sale
12/12—Pennsylvania Horticultural Society holiday centerpiece workshop
by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor
If you haven’t come to one of our featured events in this Year of Natural Fibers so far, you’ve been missing out on a lot. From the many workshops to the standing-room-only lecture on Underground Railroad quilt codes to the yarn bombing of AdventureWoods, there has been something for people of all ages and interests. Most of these events have been produced in partnership with the Philadelphia Guild of Handweavers (PGHW).
According to Sara Robbins, PGHW Outreach Coordinator and the teacher, along with Judy Donovan, of most of the workshops, “So many people have been very enthusiastic about the classes and charmed by Awbury… and subsequently very interested in pursuing fiber arts.” She found that some people who came for one class have ended up taking a second or third class and some have even joined the Guild. “We’ve had repeat customers at Awbury. Most of our classes have sold out and all of our customers have been happy customers. The year has been so much fun!” she enthused.
Though a few of the classes were geared toward children, those were not as well attended as the ones for adults. Robbins was not sure why. As for the adult students, many of them were not at all familiar with Awbury before they signed up. According to Robbins, “Some of our adults have come in from the suburbs: they found the classes online, … signed up, came, and ended up being completely engaged with the Arboretum.”
Since nearly all the adult classes were sold out, it was hard for Robbins to say which workshop had been the most popular, but she concluded, “I’d say the most joyous classes have been the eco-printing and the indigo dyeing classes. I don’t know what’s behind that. People were completely blown away by their creations. Possibly it was the connection between nature and color… and, of course, yummy silk!”
Robbins attributes the popularity of the workshops to the fact that you make something tangible to take home. She remarked, “I think it’s a huge draw that [you end up with] a thing you can take away and wear or give as a gift to someone…..”
This past weekend there was a basket weaving class, but, never fear, if you’ve missed all the other workshops, there still remain two more: one making a holiday wreath from fabric scraps (upcycling is also an eco-friendly activity), and another making a bag for a tablet or iPad on a rigid heddle loom.
Finally, in December, there will be a dinner lecture on “The Fiber Mills of Northwest Philadelphia,” by Barbara Parman. Robbins asserts, “The lecture should appeal to anyone who’s a history buff, anybody who lives in the Northwest, and anybody who’s interested in fiber. I know [Parman] and I know she’s done a lot of research on the fiber mills of Philadelphia. She’s also an experienced weaver and a history buff and a Northwest Philly resident.” This whole area, and Germantown in particular, was filled with fiber mills that processed cotton, flax, and wool. Philadelphia was known as the “Workshop of the World” for a time.
Looking back over the Year of Natural Fibers, Robbins reflected, “…this has been an absolute delight for all of us who have been involved. We’re always happy to do anything we can for Awbury. And we’re just so happy to bring the fiber arts to people who may not have been aware of it before.”
by Nancy Pasquier, Field Studies Director
Dragon egg hunts, fairy house construction, and unicorn tracking were just a few of the activities that campers participated in at Awbury’s new summer camp for 6-8-year-olds. Forest Creatures camp encouraged these young campers to use their imagination as well as practical skills while we focused on various mythical creatures and real animals at Awbury over a two-week period.
Each day provided a craft opportunity. Some of the highlights included making unicorn horns, dwarf beards, and dragon headdresses. For Mermaid Day, we played a lot of games and got sopping wet. We also visited the goats at the Agricultural Village, which led to learning a bit about fauns, mythical half-human, half-goat creatures. It was a wonderful two weeks for all involved and we look forward to offering the camp again next summer.
Forest Creations camp was a one-week camp that gave campers the opportunity to explore Awbury’s grounds while foraging for food and craft supplies. They made necklaces from leaves and tree “cookies,” spring rolls with foraged greens, and bug hotels out of plastic bottles filled with natural materials. They each “adopted” a tree in the Arboretum and got a certificate with its species and circumference. The campers played an important role in deciding what they wanted to make, which then helped us determine what part of the Arboretum to explore each day. We barely scratched the surface of all the cool things that can be made by foraging, so it has been decided to offer Forest Creations as a two-week camp next summer.
Awbury was happy to be able to provide camp opportunities to younger children and appreciates the support and positive feedback from the parents as well as the enthusiasm and smiles from the campers. We are off to a great start with our new endeavor!
Summer 2019 Awbury Adventures Camp
by Heather Zimmerman, Program Director
This past January Awbury launched a new educational endeavor: Wild Wisdom. This 12-month program grew from our ongoing successful partnerships with Wild Foodies of Philly founder Lynn Landes and horticultural and herbal educator Alyssa Schimmel.
The fact that the workshops and lectures taught at Awbury by Alyssa and Lynn were always sold out encouraged an ongoing program that approached wild foraging by teaching basic botany and plant families, year-round seasonally appropriate plant collecting, and inclusive peer-to-peer learning experiences. Awbury is perfectly poised to provide this learning opportunity, with our “wild edges” and fantastic variety of plant species.
Wild Wisdom opened with a sold-out roster, a waiting list, and a fantastic group of avid plant lovers with backgrounds in many horticultural related fields. Biologists, fiber artists, farmers, entrepreneurs, permaculturists, herbalists, chefs, health practitioners, and backyard gardeners have gathered once a month under the passionate and knowledgeable tutelage of Lynn and Alyssa to forage, cook, create herbal products, imagine new culinary delights, and share laughter and learning.
Hawthorn berry fruit leather? Forest oxymel (a vinegar and honey plant-infused tonic)? Wild persimmon jam? Savory steamed shiso or Japanese knotweed? Yes! And so much more.
Registration for Wild Wisdom’s 2020 class will open October 15. Register here on that date to treat yourself to something wildly fun, inspirational, and informative.
by Devika Jaikumar, Arborist Intern
Awbury’s featured plant this month is the oak tree, which is part of the genus Quercus. Oaks are a common yet majestic tree found across the United States. The oldest oaks in the country are over one thousand years old, and their vast canopies can be seen from space. Most oak trees are deciduous, dropping their leaves every fall, and a few are evergreen, keeping their leaves year-round. The fruit of these trees is a nut, more commonly known as an acorn, each of which contains a single seed. Oaks produce thousands of these acorns each fall, and this is the time of year that they drop, much to the delight of squirrels and much to the chagrin of car owners parked under oak trees.
The genus Quercus splits into two subgroups, red oaks and white oaks. It is easy to differentiate the two simply by looking at their leaves: the leaves of a red oak have pointed, angled lobes that end in small spines or bristles, while the leaves of a white oak are rounded and smooth at the edges. Oaks of both kinds can be found throughout Awbury Arboretum.
Awbury was recently awarded a TreeVitalize grant, given through the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which assisted in planting and caring for many young trees on the property. Through this grant, Awbury has been able to plant 105 oak trees, comprising six different species. These include red oaks like the scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea), pin oak (Quercus palustris), and black oak (Quercus velutina), and white oaks like the the swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor), white oak (Quercus alba), and the chestnut oak (Quercus Montana).
If you are looking for a particularly impressive example of a red oak at Awbury, the northern red oak (Quercus rubra) that resides right behind the Cope House is one of our many Heritage trees and number 2 on the self-guided Heritage Tree Tour. If you are in search of a white oak, the bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) in the meadow is another of our Heritage trees and number 10 on Awbury’s self-guided tour. Click here to find a copy of this guide or pick up a copy in the Cope House foyer during office hours. Visit during the leaf-changing season to see them in their full autumnal glory: the red oaks ablaze with hues ranging from fire-engine red to a deep burgundy, the white oaks with hues ranging from saffron to pumpkin to persimmon.
by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor
It’s not every art opening that is preceded by a yoga class. However, on August 8 this summer, that is exactly how the exhibition of painter Bronwen Mayer Henry’s began. This was no yielding to a whimsical impulse, but a deliberate choice on the artist’s part. Henry sees art as a form of healing (hence, the title of her exhibition, “Creativity Heals”), so why not preface her show with a form of exercise known to promote serenity, balance, introspection, and peace?
After guests rolled up their yoga mats, Henry began her talk by giving a little personal background. “Many of you know my journey, but I’d like to recap it”: in 2013, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and, after swallowing a radioactive iodine pill as part of her treatment, was told she needed to stay in isolation for a week. She resolved to use that week to create an acrylic painting on a 3’x4’ canvas. Coming out of the treatment in remission and with a completed painting, she decided to continue creating art. “I made a conscious decision that I would continue to paint, even without having to be sick,” she laughed.
As of this date, she has completed over 300 canvases, approximately one a week. Each painting begins with what she calls an “intention”: she starts by writing out a prayer or hope connected to each painting, and she begins painting from that perspective. “That way I don’t get distracted into performance or perfection,” she explained. Rather than feeling pressure to produce a canvas a week, Henry claims that “Painting is a regular rhythm of my life. I’m committed to it as I’m committed to taking my medicine.”
Henry hopes to inspire others to creativity and healing. Her motto is: “Choose joy over perfection.” She runs monthly Open Heart studio classes geared toward beginners learning to face their fears about creating art. She also leads painting retreats from time to time. This year’s sold-out retreat is in Umbria, Italy, in mid-October.
As for her inspiration, Henry finds nature to be her greatest muse. “I paint whatever I see [in nature]; I follow the seasons…. In winter, I’ll [paint] succulents.” Sometimes she takes photos and brings them back to the studio, but she painted her ocean series on site: “I find it absolutely exhilarating to paint en plein air…. You can’t do anything wrong because it’s already always changed.”
Henry’s subjects vary from houseplants to trees to blossoms to entire landscapes, and her animal paintings encompass elephants and giraffes (influenced by her father’s childhood in South Africa), and sea creatures. Her brushstrokes are broad, her colors are warm and pastel-like, and many of her compositions are so minutely observed as to seem abstract. A canvas entitled “Find Hidden Light” at first strikes the eye as a welter of irregular shapes exploding into spirals in shades of pale lavender, green, and yellow, before resolving into an extreme close-up of white peony heads.
Bronwen Mayer Henry’s vivid nature paintings are on display in the Cope Gallery until the end of September.
by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor
This past Sunday curious passersby might have noticed a group of brightly costumed people accompanied by musicians playing flutes and pennywhistles and dancers wielding bamboo poles wending its way across the Awbury landscape in the historic watercourse. This was “Waterview: In Search of the Wingohocking”—an interactive performance-art procession celebrating the liberation of the Wingohocking Creek, which is above ground only within Awbury Arboretum.
This celebratory performance was the inspiration of artist Cecilia Dougherty. She was born across the street from the Arboretum, so staging a work there was “like coming home.” She knew she wanted to do “something nature-based, processional.” Why choose the Wingohocking Creek? “Honestly,” she said, “mostly because I fell in love with the watercourse. Finding out it was going to be renovated made me want to [stage] this as soon as I could.”
Together with her husband, artist Richard Metz (who created the Moth Men paintings on trees in the Secret Garden and elsewhere), several musicians, and six members of the Mt. Airy Dance Collective, she put together an at-times contemplative, at-times mystical, at-times joyous celebration of the Wingohocking.
Participants (and everyone was expected to be a participant) were asked to gather at the lower pond at a given time, to silence phones, and to speak in hushed voices. “The whole idea is to walk through the landscape and experience it,” explained Dougherty. “If we listen closely, we might find the stories are in the landscape.”
She then handed out frog masks, paper cattails, turtle helmets, musical instruments, and strings of silvery metal and paper fish dangling between two branches to everyone present. Donning a heron costume, Dougherty motioned us all to follow in the footsteps of a man in a giant bald eagle costume. The procession wound along the banks of the Wingohocking (its watercourse now mostly dry in the late summer), pausing now and then for a musical or dance interlude.
Just before we returned to the Lower Pond once more, Dougherty explained how there used to be many streams and creeks in Philadelphia, which came to be used for animal, human, and chemical waste. These were all eventually rerouted underground in sewers. “If you have walked Belfield Avenue or Mansfield Avenue or Wingohocking Street, you have traveled the path of the Wingohocking Creek, or now the sewers that have replaced it.”
At one point in the procession, a musician asked us to chant in call and response an Irish phrase that meant, roughly, “See beyond what we can see.” This might have been a metaphor for the Wingohocking Creek itself: invisible except within Awbury, and dry at the moment, but, if we can learn to see its potential, a source of life and energy in spring. As the crowd broke up at the end of the procession near the Washington Lane train station, the stone archway where the Wingohocking dives back underground and becomes part of the sewer system was just visible through weeds.
I spoke with new Board member Will Ellerbe as he was fixing tomorrow’s lunch for his 4-year-old, all part of a long and busy day for this Center City litigation attorney.
I was born and raised in Columbia, SC and then I went to college up here in the Northeast and after college went to law school in the Midwest. That’s where I met my wife: at the University of Michigan law school. After that we moved to New York. We moved to Philadelphia in 2014, when we decided to start a family, because she had family who lived in Philadelphia and she went to undergrad here.
Were you aware of Awbury before you joined the Board?
So, when we first moved to Philly we lived in Fishtown, because I was working in Trenton, but that was only a one-year job. After that we began looking for a new place to live in Northwest Philly. I was aware of Awbury—I knew that there was an arboretum in the middle of Germantown, but I didn’t know much about it until we came to look at one of the homes [for sale] at Awbury. [The house] was listed on a Tuesday and we came and looked at it on a Saturday and by the end of the weekend we were under contract. [I joined the Board because,] living here in the Arboretum I just wanted to do something to get involved in the community and try to give back to the Arboretum and help take an active role in maintaining it and helping it flourish and reach its potential.
Can you tell us a bit about your work outside of Awbury?
I am an attorney in the firm Berger Montague. That’s a plaintiff-side firm based in Center City. I mostly [litigate against] companies that defraud the federal government.
Has your work benefited from and/or been influenced by your work at Awbury?
I wouldn’t say [that there’s a link] professionally. My job is fairly unconnected to Awbury. But a lot of my passions are in the outdoors, and, having a young child, I love Awbury as a place for children to get exposed to the natural world, while still being within the city of Philadelphia.
What do you think makes Awbury a unique place in the City of Philadelphia?
It’s that it’s … an arboreal oasis in the middle of an urban environment. That the natural world goes on in a place where it’s still accessible to so many people. That it’s a place where you can see generations of history. That you can see what this area of the country looked like before, when it was forestland, then when it was farmland, then when it was a vacation place for the Cope family, and now it … acts as a park in a public space.
What is your vision for Awbury 10, 20 years down the road?
I would hope that there’s just as many more interesting activities going on here to serve people in the community and that Awbury will be a destination both in the immediate neighborhood and in the whole Greater Philadelphia region—a place to visit and to come back to. I hope that we’re thriving and self sustaining and there are more and more generations of people who come here to make new memories and share old memories.