Won’t You Be My Neighbor?–Neighborhood Inclusion at Awbury  

Celebrating the Spirit of Play: Awbury al Fresco

BioBlitz Zaps Awbury

Programs and Events: Here Comes Summer!

Landscape News: Spotted Lanternfly Alert  

Field Studies News: Autism Grant

Botanical Musings

TLC News: Know, Do, Show

Charles Emlen Exhibit  

Volunteer Focus: Friends Central School

Board Member Spotlight: Sheryl Wright

Welcome New Staff: Arborist Interns

 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Neighborhood Inclusion at Awbury

by Beth Miner, Grants Manager

Awbury Fair, 1981

Harvest Festival, 2018

In the spring of 2018, we shared the exciting news that the Awbury Arboretum Association had been awarded a major grant from the William Penn Foundation to support neighborhood inclusion efforts. Over the past year we have been immersed in the first phase of the work supported by this grant: research, assessment, and “discovery programming.” Surveys and focus groups provided us with a wealth of information about neighborhood needs, interests, and current perceptions of the Arboretum. Collaborative programming with local organizations and partners, including The Johnson House Historic Site, The Colored Girl’s Museum, and The Awbury Community Garden Club, engaged many neighbors who had never experienced Awbury before, and generated a number of ideas for future partner programs.

Visitors viewing master plan of Awbury by Douglas Kane, 1980

This year, we are focused on several initiatives that build on the assessment work undertaken in 2018. These include two major goals: developing a Neighborhood Inclusion Plan and forming and formalizing a Community Think Tank. The Neighborhood Inclusion Plan will be a “living document” which will be updated year to year and which will provide us with a roadmap for improving neighborhood engagement. The Community Think Tank will comprise a body of neighborhood stakeholders who will meet throughout each year to strategize about the best ways Awbury can serve the neighborhood.

Longwood Community Read: “Seedfolks” in Cope House parlor, 2019

Neighborhood inclusion has been central to the mission of the Awbury Arboretum Association since its founding days. When it was established as a public arboretum in 1916, Awbury was managed by an organization called The City Parks Association (CPA), composed of many of the original Cope family members who lived in the historic homes surrounded by the Arboretum. Over the decades, as family members moved away from Germantown and sold their properties, fewer and fewer ties to the community remained. The CPA grew neglectful in its care of Awbury and, by the 1970’s, the Arboretum and its historic Francis Cope House were in a desperate state of disrepair.

Betty Endo and Jean Graves bring cakes to the Awbury Fair, 1977

Neighbor Bring a Neighbor picnic, 2012

A group of concerned neighbors headed by Spencer Coxe, the first executive director of Philadelphia’s ACLU, decided to take action. They founded a new organization – the Awbury Arboretum Association – focused on service to the community, and took over the management of Awbury Arboretum in 1984. The founders of the Awbury Arboretum Association wrote community engagement into their by-laws (one third of the Board of Directors must be comprised of people living within two miles of the Arboretum’s Francis Cope House), and one of the first things the Association undertook in its new role as steward of Awbury Arboretum was a neighborhood survey.

Building the Community Garden at Awbury, 2000

After 35 years, the current Board and staff of the Awbury Arboretum Association recognize that the work of neighborhood inclusion is never complete, but rather an ongoing effort that requires time, energy, and intention month to month and year to year. Our current inclusion work, supported by the William Penn Foundation, is helping us to establish a critical framework for feedback, evaluation, and idea-generation that will last far into the future. This work will help us move closer to our goals of engaging all members of our community in our work; effectively connecting Awbury’s resources to neighborhood needs and interests; and empowering community members to become active stewards and interpreters of this landscape and its natural and cultural history.


Celebrating the Spirit of Play: Awbury al Fresco

by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor

Trying their hand at archery

After torrential rains the night before, sunlight filtered through the trees this past May 15 as 130 guests meandered around Awbury’s Secret Garden, sipping cocktails and wine while strolling through AdventureWoods, the natural playground designed by Studio Bryan Hanes and built by Awbury landscaping staff in 2016. Some tried their hands at the archery range, some made leafy, flowery garlands for their heads, some roasted marshmallows over a campfire, and all reverted briefly, to one degree or another, to the child within.

Crowning glory

This event, a fundraiser in honor of the Gay Gilpin Johnson Archives and Education Fund, was also a celebration of AdventureWoods and the new generation who have been drawn to the Arboretum. Chairperson of the Board Mark Sellers addressed the assembled guests just before the locally harvested dinner prepared by Birchtree Catering. Gesturing to the play structures created from trees harvested at Awbury (and currently decorated with brightly-colored yarn bombing as part of the Year of the Natural Fiber), he remarked, “Three years ago, there was really not much here…. [But] there was an appetite to have a place where children could come and be enclosed in a space that was not oppressive…” a place where they could play in nature and use their imaginations. Among the gains of the past three years, Sellers noted that AdventureWoods has welcomed 175 families, 3,000 students, and 1,000 visitors each season, provides nature-based programming through Field Studies, coordinates three nature programs with our partner school, Wissahickon Charter School, and offers a 4-H afterschool archery program.

Honorees Meg Wise and Bryan Hanes

He then introduced the assembled guests to the honorees for the evening: Bryan Hanes, chief architect of the studio that designed AdventureWoods, and Meg Wise, former director of Smith Memorial Playground and current director of Philadelphia Outward Bound, both of whom have made significant contributions “to keeping the spirit of play alive.”

Meg Wise began by thanking Awbury for making such a welcoming space and asked everyone, “Don’t you just feel better?” Her work focuses on nature, and she is concerned that children have natural spaces in which to play: “Play” she stated, “is an iterative process, and there is autonomy for the child…. I hope there will be kids running around and no parents hovering over them.” She ended her brief acceptance speech by urging everyone present to “talk about [AdventureWoods] to everyone you know and tell them all about Awbury!”

Guests at Awbury Al Fresco in AdventureWoods

Bryan Hanes talked about creating the design for AdventureWoods: “We did a couple of sketches, but it’s the fantastic staff [at Awbury] and the energetic kids” who have made it a success. “I’m thrilled to see how it turned out, when I hear a woman say to me that, after five hours of playing here, I have to drag my child away kicking and screaming.”

Finally, Sellers called attention to the clearing that the goats of the Philly Goat Project had made of invasive weeds and vines so that the chefs could set up their tables. “It is extraordinary how much goats have invigorated this place!”

Guests settled around the picnic tables to enjoy a delectable dinner of coffee-smoked brisket, a hearty grain salad, and baked gourmet macaroni and cheese. Then, as the sun set, they enjoyed s’mores over the campfire before returning once more to their regular lives.

 


BioBlitz Zaps Awbury

by Beth Miner, Grants Manager

On Sunday, April 28, 25 intrepid citizen scientists gathered at Awbury Arboretum to participate in Awbury’s first BioBlitz, part of the worldwide City Nature Challenge.

For those unfamiliar with the world of citizen science, some definitions are in order. “Citizen Science” refers to real-world research that capitalizes on the power of ordinary people to collect data. Citizen scientists are amateur (or non-professional) scientists who volunteer to collect and submit data, which is then used by professional scientists in their research.

A “BioBlitz” is a survey of biological diversity limited to a specific time, geographic region, and often to a specific type of animal or plant (insects, birds, aquatic invertebrates, fungi…). The term “BioBlitz” was first coined in the 1990s and since then, these types of events have multiplied and grown in popularity. BioBlitzes have been held at Central Park in New York City, in all of the U.S. National Parks, and in many countries across the world. Often, BioBlitzes uncover the presence of previously unknown species in a given area, or, more disturbingly, the lack of expected species. Leveraging “people power” enables scientists to cast a much wider net than would otherwise be possible, and gives them a better understanding of a region’s biodiversity. Information collected by citizen scientists provides researchers with the raw data they need to compare current trends with historic data and track movements and changes over time.

Smartphone technology in particular has been a boon to citizen science. As handheld devices have grown more and more sophisticated and have become practically ubiquitous, scientists and software developers have joined forces to create a whole new genre of mobile app focused on public engagement in this type of research. Citizen science apps capitalize on the ability of smartphones, tablets, and other “smart” devices to capture a range of data (images, sounds, location, etc.), allowing laypeople to participate in specific projects that range from tracking migration patterns of birds or insects to cataloguing the spread of ocean debris to tracking meteor showers, precipitation patterns, or invasive species.

The free app used by the citizen scientists at Awbury for our BioBlitz was iNaturalist—one of the world’s most popular citizen science apps, with over one million users. iNaturalist is a joint project of the California Academy of Natural Sciences and National Geographic, and serves as a tool for recording biodiversity: users can keep track of all of the species (plant, animal, fungi, etc.) they’ve observed in nature, seek help identifying what they’ve seen, and help others with their identifications. iNaturalist’s powerful built-in image recognition technology assists by providing I.D. suggestions, but final identification requires human confirmation. The founders of iNaturalist say that their primary goal is to connect people to nature—just like Awbury—and their secondary goal is to collect scientifically useful data.

The creators of iNaturalist started the City Nature Challenge in 2016 as a friendly, week-long competition between the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco to see which city could observe the most species and get the most people involved. Since then, it has grown to become a global phenomenon—a celebration of citizen science and urban biodiversity engaging nearly one million people across the globe annually. In 2019, Philadelphia was one of 159 cities taking part in the City Nature Challenge, and Awbury was one of several organizations across Philadelphia hosting BioBlitzes in concert with the Challenge. Participants had three days (May 26-29) to make observations. Awbury’s observers made over 350 observations of over 130 species of plants, animals, lichens, and fungi. Philadelphia as a whole finished in 24th place for number of species observed (1,584) and in 16th place for number of observers (565).

The organizers of the Philadelphia City Nature Challenge are already gearing up for 2020, and at Awbury, we are looking forward to another BioBlitz in concert with next year’s event. You can contribute to Awbury’s biodiversity data year-round through iNaturalist, and we welcome citizen scientists of all ages and experience levels to help us catalog the myriad species that occur across our 56 acres. To get started, visit www.inaturalist.org to download the free iNaturalist app to your mobile device. Interested in getting younger citizen scientists involved? iNaturalist’s sister app, Seek, is specially designed for children, and can be downloaded at https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/seek_app.


Programs and Events: Here Comes Summer!

by Heather Zimmerman, Program Director

Now that summer’s here, children will be happily roaming the Arboretum, playing games, engaging their imaginations, eating popsicles to cool off, and learning valuable wilderness skills during our Awbury Summer Adventures Camp days. If your kids don’t yet have summer plans, it’s not too late to sign up for some of our camps (ages 8-13).

Families can enjoy open hours in the AdventureWoods on Saturdays 10am to 2pm and Wednesdays from 3pm to 6pm.  (Wednesday hours will extend to 9am to 6pm beginning August 7th, following the conclusion of summer camp.

In addition to our regular summer fun, we have several pop-up dinners, including a reprise of Chef Gail Hinson’s Juneteenth Celebration and our first collaboration with Weaver’s Way executive chef Bonnie Shulman in July at the Cope House.  Tickets to both dinners are now available!

In the Cope House galleries you can see Charles Emlen’s Regressive Continuities through July and his sculpture “Doppelganger” in the landscape. On August 8th you can join us for the opening of Bronwen Henry’s gorgeous horticultural acrylic paintings on display through September.

Our Year of Natural Fibers programming continues with ongoing workshops each month hosted by members of the talented Handweavers Guild.

Hope to see you here at Awbury soon!

JUNE

6/17—Awbury Adventures Summer Camps start

6/27—Germantown Supper Club: Juneteenth Celebration with Chef Gail Hinson

JULY

7/11—Germantown Supper Club: Weavers Way zero-waste, farm-centric, BYOB Summer Dinner. The Co-op’s long-time Executive Chef Bonnie Shuman will present a seasonal menu starring organic ingredients from Weavers Way Farm.

7/14—Year of Natural Fibers class: Making Beads from Recycled Fabric

AUGUST

8/8—”Creativity Heals” Exhibition: Artist Opening for Bronwen Henry in Cope House galleries

8/11—Year of Natural Fibers class: Eco Printed Scarves

SEPTEMBER

9/6—The Philadelphia Film Society in partnership with Awbury and Weavers Way will be hosting Movies on the Block: a BYOB picnic for families followed by an outdoor screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s “Ponyo,” free and open to the public

Hope to see you here soon!

Click here for more information on upcoming programs and events.


Landscape News: Spotted Lanternfly Alert

The scourge is officially upon us in Philadelphia—the Spotted Lanternfly! While we in the landscape preservation business are all too familiar with this invasive pest, so many have never heard of it. The spotted lanternfly and other invasive pests are a great threat to our local environment but really hit much closer to home.

Invasive pests like the spotted lanternfly cause significant damage to our trees and crops. This ends up affecting everyone from the increased costs of produce to ruined backyards covered in the lanternfly’s sticky residue. The list of damages goes on. It is our responsibility as community members to work together with our local organizations not only to bring awareness but also to carry out efforts to prevent the spread of the insect.

Here at Awbury we have taken strides in scanning the property for each stage of the lanternfly’s lifecycle throughout the year. This includes taking time to check our trucks and materials before we go anywhere, keeping items under tarps, observing our trees while doing regular maintenance, and providing information to visitors.

Right now the spotted lanternfly’s egg masses are hatching into instars. Instars are the young forms of many insects before they reach their final adult form. Instars do not look like the adults. It is necessary to know what they look like so they can be controlled before reaching the adult egg-laying life stage. Everyone can still be on the lookout for the egg masses and now the instar forms of the spotted lanternfly.

The United States Department of Agriculture and Penn State Extension have been providing information so everyone knows what to look for and how to react if it is found. Click here for more information. Come to the Cope House for pamphlets, and photos of the current insect form. Also, see the poster at the Agricultural Village-Ardleigh Street Entrance.


Field Studies News: Autism Grant

by Nancy Pasquier, Field Studies Director

Awbury’s Field Studies program was awarded a $500 grant by the Philadelphia Autism Project this spring to pilot a new initiative for students with autism. In partnership with the Philly Goat Project, Awbury provided hands-on programming to autistic students from Roosevelt Elementary School. The students visited Awbury’s Agricultural Village two times to learn about goat training and care, as well as to receive positive reinforcement in life skills areas including healthy habits and the appropriate language and behavior to use with animals (and friends). For their third and final visit, the students walked the goats from Awbury to their school, where they introduced the goats to the two Roosevelt first grade classes. There was a lot of excitement for all of us, and especially the people out and about in the neighborhood, as we walked down Washington Lane with the goats.

The pilot program was hugely successful, due in large part to the wonderful staff at Roosevelt and the supportive facilitators at the Philly Goat Project. During the first visit, a couple of the students were too scared to interact with the goats, but, by the third visit, everyone had increased their comfort level. The teacher took pre- and post-surveys of the students to check for emotional growth, and the teacher and support staff were also asked to complete surveys so we can continue to offer the best program moving forward.

Awbury’s Field Studies program would like to give a big thank you to the Philadelphia Autism Project for their support. Our hope is to offer this program to other local schools, as well as to continue to offer the program at Roosevelt in future years.


Botanical Musings

by Karen Flick, Landscape Manager

In the 2019 winter article “Winter Exploration at Awbury,” I highlighted several plants for their unique features, focusing in particular on tree bark. One of those featured trees is now making a statement from all viewpoints in the English Landscape. This is the kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa. It is in full bloom, but it is not really the flowers that are so eye-catching; it is really the creamy white bracts.

Bracts are modified leaves that act like petals by attracting pollinating insects (Another very familiar plant which the bracts are really the showy part are poinsettias). Look closely to see where the very small clusters of flowers really are. If you visit Awbury soon, the bract can lead you to this tree in order to take a closer look at the bark as highlighted in my winter article.

Every year this article comes out right when the bottlebrush buckeye, Aesculus parviflora, is already in full bloom. This year the blooms are lining up just right—no one can miss these mountains of white plumes. The bottlebrush buckeye is a native shrub which forms colonies. Awbury has several colonies of bottlebrush buckeyes throughout the landscape: the island of buckeye in front of the Cope House and a hillside display along Washington Lane, which can be viewed from the sidewalk or the path along the Wingohocking Creek. In addition to these, there is a woodland understory in the AdventureWoods Natural Playground in the Secret Garden.

Another shrub that is on the verge of blooming is Virginia sweetspire, Itea virginica. This native shrub also forms colonies by sending out suckers from its root system. While homeowners may want to control this spreading, in nature it serves an ideal purpose; these dense growths of branches and root systems prevent erosion of soil along wetland areas, making it an ideal riparian plant. A large colony is growing along the Beech Hollow bridge. Here it catches and slows down the rainwater runoff from the driveway as it enters into the rain garden on the other side. Look for the clusters of white flowers arching over as if pouring out of each branch.


Teen Leadership Corps News: Know, Do, Show

by Anna Herman, TLC Program Director

At TLC, high school-age youth have multiple opportunities to participate in activities and projects where they will learn about farming, cooking, value-added products, and the connections between this work and the wider environment here on Planet Earth. Both youth and adults have many chances to “show what they know” and to earn badges to celebrate these accomplishments. XP’s (short for eXPeriences) are the building blocks of our badges. These experiences may take place in the field, in the kitchen, around the agriculture village, and on the computer.

Our Urban Farm badge checklists guide learners through what they need to know to work on our urban farm—and in any garden, park or place that plants grow. Students learn about propagation, planting, transplanting, harvesting, weeding, mulching, soil health, and more.

We believe that what we cook and eat and what we buy matters to both our personal health and to the health of the planet. Students learn why and how to cook nutritious affordable meals with food grown at TLC with the Green Kitchen Badges.

We grow food to cook and eat, and to turn into a variety of value-added products. Students learn what value-added means, and how to make money from farm-grown goods. Gaining skills adds value to the learner. TLC Make and Sell Badges help youth learn and earn.

 


Charles Emlen Exhibit

by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor

Charles Emlen with “Industrial Mirage” print on canvas and media display

Currently on display in the Cope House Parlors and in an inconspicuous spot along Awbury drive are the artworks of Charles Emlen (yes, a descendant of those Emlens, who, as part of the Cope family, lived on the Awbury grounds before it became an Arboretum). His father grew up in Awbury, but Emlen was born and raised in Paoli, PA. He received his BFA in sculpture from Penn State University and his MFA from Arizona State University.

Starting in 1999, he worked at an avionics company for 18 years as a software engineer, where he did programming for flight display graphics that appear in the cockpit of a plane. Since his retirement from avionics in 2017, he has devoted himself full-time to his art. He used the skills he garnered in that industry to design his current 2-D work, a series of extremely high-resolution computer graphic designs printed on canvas. These works feature photographs, diagrams, mechanical and nature illustrations, and odd, fantastical objects that could be alien tools or machine parts, which he terms “metamoles”: “It’s the fictional name I gave them.” These large canvases are on display in the Cope House galleries in an exhibition entitled “Regressive Continuities.”

Madeline Emlen Ivanovski, Elizabeth Emlen, Ruth Emlen Abbot & Charles Emlen

On Sunday, May 25, a small crowd of art enthusiasts gathered for the Opening and Artist’s Reception at the Cope House. Emlen wandered among the guests, discussing his work and the various features on his canvases and in two electronic works: one, a looped video of animated versions of some of his two-dimensional works, and the other a food-truck-type billboard of scrolling digital text entitled “The Library of Babel,” his personal reflections and summary of the short story of the same name by Jorge Luis Borges.

Charles Emlen’s career as a sculptor spans nearly 50 years, starting when he was a child: “The truth is, I used to want to build things, so I would gather tools and materials around the house and do it.” Later, when he was studying at Penn State, he gravitated toward the sculpture department. “For any reason I wanted, I could build something,” he explained, “That’s the beauty of [sculpture]: I can do anything I want!”

“Doppelganger”

Emlen’s sculpture, “Doppelganger,” made mostly of found items like trash can lids and colanders, is a simulacrum of a cell phone tower and sits to the left-hand side of the drive up to Cope House on Awbury Road, partially obscured by trees. When you come upon it unexpectedly in the natural landscape, it is startling, and the notion that it is a work of art only dawns on you slowly, as you study the construction of the sculpture. Emlen calls it “Doppelganger,” because it is a doppelganger of those ubiquitous towers: “Once you start looking up and seeing them, you can’t stop seeing them.” As for viewers’ possible confusion, Emlen states: “I’d prefer they didn’t put a label on it [marking it as a sculpture]. I’d almost rather that it wasn’t thought of as an artwork. I like that. A person who saw it participated in a mystery but didn’t even know it!”

Charles Emlen’s works will be on display until the end of July.


Volunteer Spotlight: Friends’ Central School

by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor

Chris Guides and student volunteers from Friends Central

Awbury could not function without its many volunteers; we owe so much to them. Sometimes, there are people or organizations that stand out for their commitment to the Arboretum: one of these is Friends’ Central School of Wynnewood, PA.

Friends’ Central has a middle school community service program every Wednesday, and the upper school has three full days of service every fall and two full days in the spring. Chris Guides, an upper school science teacher, started coming to Awbury with a team of students five years ago: “We get contacted by organizations interested in having Friends’ Central kids working on their sites…. Kids get to choose what service they get to be in: interacting with people, working outside, working with kids, or doing something just because their friends are doing it.” When I encountered him this past April coordinating work with Landscape Manager Karen Flick in clearing and refurbishing the AdventureWoods playground, he had a group of 11 students with him.

Students restring the “Weft and Weave”

Guides commented, “I’ve been incredibly impressed with the amount of work that’s been done [by the Awbury landscape crew] in the past five years: removal of invasive species, creation of AdventureWoods, the Co-op program with students.” He added: “I love being outside…. It’s nice to see trees we’ve planted over the years.”

I talked with some of the students. Noah Thomas, a freshman, says he picked Awbury for his service project in the fall, not necessarily knowing what the work would entail. “[That] time we just planted trees…. One of my favorite things is directly impacting the community. I like planting trees and clearing invasives—it’s the most effective way to make an impact. Also, it’s fun—it’s not a boring service.”

Redigging the hole for the archery post

Another freshman, Gray Fox, commented, “I usually spend a lot of my free time inside, so I thought it’d be really good to go spend time outside.” She said one plus was meeting other kids: “It was really cool to work with others who I wouldn’t necessarily talk to.” She was engaged with a small group in digging a hole to reseat the pole for the archery enclosure, which had been knocked over in a storm by a falling tree. As for her impressions of Awbury: “It’s really interesting to see all these plants, and to make it become a better place for everyone—it’s awesome!”

Ridding trees of invasive vines

This is sophomore Aiden McLean’s second time volunteering at Awbury; like Noah, he was here in the fall planting trees and “saw no point in changing—it was fun last time and even very productive. We even impressed Mr. Guides: we got pizza!” For his service projects, he enjoys “doing something a little more physical, something to keep me active.” He enjoys “active stuff” like basketball, running, and climbing, so yanking out enormous snaking invasive vines seemed to suit him just fine.

As I left, they were breaking for lunch. I asked the students what the next day held for them, and they said they’d heard that more tree planting was in store. None of them seemed daunted by the prospect. With enthusiastic young volunteers like these, the Arboretum is building a natural sanctuary for the next generation of nature guardians.


Board Member Spotlight: Sheryl Wright

New Board member Sheryl Wright shares some of her thoughts about community, service, nature, and the Arboretum.

Tell us a bit about yourself: where are you from, and how did you end up in Philadelphia?

I’m from Philadelphia—I grew up in West Oak Lane and attended Girl’s High. I went to Amherst College in Massachusetts where I was a sociology major. After college, I moved to New York; I got my Masters in Sociology from the City University of New York. I lived in New York (Brooklyn) for more than 20 years. Mostly, while I was there, I worked as a paralegal—early on, I worked for the District Attorney’s office, and then for some midsize and large private firms. I came back [to Philadelphia] at the end of 2013 just because I thought I needed a change. Since then, I’ve been kind of figuring out what that change can look like.

Were you aware of Awbury before you joined the Board?

I did grow up in the area but I’d never been here. Through volunteering at Share Food Program [a Philadelphia-based food distribution organization] I met [Board member] Sydelle Zove. She told me about Awbury and asked me if I’d be interested in serving on the Board. I didn’t actually set foot here until October 2018!

Can you tell us a bit about your work outside of Awbury?

As I said, I have worked mostly as a paralegal, but at different points I took breaks from that to do some community-oriented work [for organizations] that I believed in. For instance, after September 11 [2001], I worked as a documentarian and researcher for an initiative set up by the government, Project Liberty. I also took a break and worked as a short-term consultant for the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault. I started a small non-profit for teenage girls in Brooklyn: a mentoring and leadership development program which I ran for five years. [Since moving back to Philadelphia] I’ve been volunteering around in the area of healthy food access: with programs like Share and Greensgrow Farms. I also volunteered at the Free Library of Philadelphia and am now working there as a Library Assistant.

Has your work benefited from and/or been influenced by your work at Awbury?

The overlap [in working at the Library and being on the Board at Awbury] is that both serve a community need. Part of my deciding to leave New York and coming back to Philadelphia was my wanting to serve a community.

What do you think makes Awbury a unique place in the City of Philadelphia?

Throughout my life I’ve been awed by trees. Being in nature brings me a lot of comfort; it’s a grounding thing. When I step onto the ground at Awbury, it’s like stepping into a different world: it’s like an oasis of calm. For me, that’s what makes it unique and sets it apart from most places in the city.

What is your vision for Awbury 10, 20 years down the road?

I would hope that the grounds will be thriving and there [will be] more programs and more people, particularly people of color, enjoying the Arboretum and partaking in the natural environment here. It’s important that people, particularly people of color, spend time to be in spaces that’ll allow them to breathe and feel free—being in nature can help do that. Studies show it improves health outcomes. I just think open access to nature will make for a better world. Living in cities, I think we easily become disconnected from the natural world. Awbury is a slice of nature. Ten, twenty years down the road, I hope that Awbury is a place that more and more people contribute to and recognize as a tremendous community resource.


Welcome New Staff: Arborist Interns

Thanks to the generous support of the TreeVitalize grant program, two arborist interns joined the Awbury team this season.

Ben Sellers

Junior Forestry major Ben Sellers started working at Awbury early this summer as an intern. Born in Towson, MD, he grew up in Racine, WI and is currently attending the University of Wisconsin in Madison. His love of trees started young: as a boy, he loved climbing them, and by the time he was a senior in high school, he was learning to climb with ropes and harness. “I’ve always climbed trees; I’ve always loved heights,” he states, estimating that the highest he’s ever climbed was to the top of the 80-foot white pine that grew outside his classroom window in Madison: “You can go right up to the very top and the wind blows you around.” Ben came to Awbury to get forestry experience in a place where the focus was not on cutting down trees, but rather on planting and nurturing them. He hopes eventually to find a career that incorporates remote sensing botany—analyzing forests through satellite imagery.

Devika Jaikumar

Newly minted degree from Rutgers University in hand, Devika Jaikumar comes to us as an intern in search of new experiences. Born in Kerala, India, she has lived most of her life in New Jersey. In addition to her degree in Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources, she had two minors in Sustainability and Art History, so she is up for just about anything. While in college she worked for two and half years in the Chrysler Herbarium at Rutgers, and, when casting about for an internship, decided “It would be really useful to work with live plants, not just dead ones.” She got a taste of forestry while taking undergraduate classes, and decided “this is definitely something I wanted to learn more about.” While researching arboretums in Philadelphia, Devika came across Awbury and is now setting about getting “as much varied experience as I can.”