by Heather Zimmerman, Deputy Executive Director
At Awbury, serving our community has always been a focus. During the last few months the Arboretum, staff have been hard at work keeping our grounds clean and safe for our guests to enjoy outdoor exercise and relaxation. Many people have found Awbury for the first time during the COVID-19 shutdown and have fallen in love with our lush green landscape where we provide Nature for All. But we aren’t stopping there!
“Philadelphia currently ranks in the top 10 U.S. cities with food-insecure residents. Almost 12% of households in the Greater Philadelphia region are food insecure, with that number expected to double as a result of COVID-19. Many food pantries have experienced a 50% increase in demand over the last few weeks, thereby heightening the need for broad collective action.”
from PHS website
Awbury has one of the most vibrant agricultural programs in the city. The Agricultural Village/The Farm at Awbury hosts 15 different projects—everything from bees and goats to fruit trees and ornamental plants—both by itself and with various partnering organizations. As some of our educational programs are on hold and other areas are able to be converted to growing space, Awbury is helping to grow food for the community in three different ways.
First, with support from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), Awbury is growing squash, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs for local food pantries. Awbury staff and summer interns are planting and tending the crops.
According to PHS, “The expected collective action from PHS’s Harvest 2020 will bring at least five million pounds of fresh produce to Philadelphia-area kitchens and food banks, supporting the health and well-being of communities across the region.” Click here for the full story.
In addition to growing food with PHS, we have partners and tenants who are also gardening to share.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church of Germantown is tending the St. Luke’s Kitchen Garden. St. Luke’s, when able to be open, serves over 9,000 meals a year to people in need. Currently they are preparing food boxes for families.
A third project helping to produce food at Awbury is Jasmine Thompson’s Philly Forests, growing food for families in need. Thompson’s work in nutrition and with the Food Trust helps guide her passion for farming for others and breaking down barriers to access for fresh food to people of color.
The Agricultural Village/The Farm at Awbury is open to the public from dawn to dusk every day of the week. It is a fabulous place to meet animals with the kids, to discover what asparagus looks like sprouting out of the ground, to take a healthy walk, to learn about pollinator plants, and so much more.
Also, check out our FUN DAY SUNDAYS!
hosted by Awbury Arboretum and the Philly Goat Project
- Explore the Farm
- Meet the goats and chickens
- Participate in family fun activities
by Branda O’Neil, Director of Workplace Strategies & Facilities
One of the most striking features of the Francis Cope House is its dramatic floor-to-ceiling parlor windows. The windows of the parlors and reception room open to the wrap-around porch, with the exception of the bay window, which opens to the Cope House gardens. Thanks to a grant from the PA Museum and Historical Commission, we were able to restore the wood and glasswork of our first-floor windows, improving their function and appearance and ensuring that they will be a key element of the space for years to come.
Many of the windows are “pocket” style, in which a solid wood panel slides over either one or two layers of window sashes. When we give tours of the house, the moment where we slide one, two, and then three layers aside to step through the frame out onto the porch is invariably a delightful surprise for guests. The open windows bring light, fresh air, and maneuverability to other parts of the house, and this direct connection to the outdoors is part of what makes the parlors such a special venue.
Over the years, the windows had become difficult to slide open and closed, and with visitation, rentals, and programmatic use of the Cope House increasing, the deterioration had become a major concern.
George Draguns Historic Preservation Carpentry performed the restoration, which started in December and wrapped up in early April and took Draguns and his team over 400 hours to complete. The project began with the removal of each window (several of which are nearly ten feet tall!) as well as the inner panels and all accompanying hardware. Once off-site, Draguns and his team stripped off the many layers of paint that had been added over the decades down to the original bare wood before re-priming and painting using Awbury’s historic palette of colors. Revitalizing the windows themselves included a combination of epoxy repairs, repairing and replacing muntins, and applying new glazing as needed.
Draguns also reinstalled the chain-and-pulley system of counterweights that allows the massive windows to be opened and closed, as well as restoring the jambs, molding, brass hardware, and sills. As much as the original glass as possible was reused. Finally, Draguns placed weatherstripping on jambs to prevent scraping as the doors open and close.
One unique challenge was figuring out how to replace the brass wheels at the bottom of the door, which allowed the heavy doors to slide open and shut. The existing Victorian-era hardware, original to the house, was badly worn from a century and a half of use, and we were not able to find this rare item in a typical hardware store. Instead, we sought help from a friend of Awbury Board President Mark Sellers, an airplane mechanic who was able to fabricate and install ball bearings to ensure that the wheels slide smoothly on their tracks.
Draguns confirmed, “It is rare that a large job is on time and on budget. The restoration of the large pocket doors and double hung sash went relatively smoothly from start to finish. Mark Sellers was instrumental in making sure that was the case. It was his idea for the upgraded bearing system for the large paneled doors in the parlor. It is a noticeable upgrade and will hopefully make things much easier for the event staff.”
In order to interfere as little as possible with the ongoing use of the parlors and reception room by visitors, homeschool classes, and programs, the project primarily took place during the slower winter months. In addition, rather than working on similar pieces of each window at a time, Draguns removed and repaired all elements of just a few windows at time, working in three phases so that only certain areas would be boarded during a given phase.
The restored windows now raise and shut, slide open and close, and lock and unlock completely smoothly. They look gorgeous, and we are glad to have this historic element of the house preserved. Special thanks to Mark Sellers and the Facilities Committee and Chris van de Velde for overseeing the project, as well as the PA Museum and Historic Commission for recognizing the value of this asset and helping to fund it. Draguns also notes his special thanks, “to Sebastian Palmier for his brains, experience and muscle.”
Awbury depends on the Cope House parlors and reception room to be versatile rooms that welcome guests as a meeting space, dinner party venue, wedding dance floor, classroom, art gallery, and much more. Once the pandemic is safely over, we hope to welcome guests once again to these beautiful spaces, and we know visitors for years to come will enjoy the unique look and historical interest of the renovated windows.
by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor
The last organized program we were able to sponsor before the COVID-19 pandemic shut us down was the January 25 Birdwatch, led by neighbor and avid birder Bill Reaume. A school counselor during the week, Reaume is a dedicated birder on the weekends, and has been a steady contributor to the Great Backyard Bird Count for years.
Reaume explained the Bird Count to a rapt group of experienced and would-be birders of all ages who attended his birding workshop at the Cope House. It’s a yearly snapshot of what birds are in any given area at a given period of time (4 days): “It’s a long-term record of birds, part of the permanent data record,” he explained. Through this annual count, scientists can pick up on trends, such as the declining of bird populations, and tie them to reasons such as climate change, habitat loss, and pesticides.
Reaume then gave a quick lesson on the app eBird, which all the participants had downloaded onto their phones prior to the workshop. He enthusiastically championed this tool as a game changer for bird watchers: “eBird is changing how we learn things. If people hadn’t been doing hawk watches [and logging them in eBird], we wouldn’t know that we were losing eagles and ospreys.”
As he led the group through the Arboretum and pointed out various birds in the winter landscape, he meditated on the health benefits of birding, and the clarity it can bring: “I consider [birding] working on mindfulness, because you’re forced to slow down and really look at things.” He ended the walk and the lesson by encouraging everyone to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count in February.
by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor
Though our offices are still not open, we now have staff on hand on the weekend to welcome you to Awbury Arboretum, whether you’re headed to the Cope House and its surrounding gardens, the Farm/Agricultural Village and its many delights (Goats! Chickens! Bees! Crops!), or with your kids to our natural materials playspace, AdventureWoods.
These Awbury Ambassadors sit in central locations: on the Cope House porch, at the Farm’s Education Center, and at the gated entrance to the Secret Garden, and are available to answer questions, hand out self-guided walking tours and maps, and, in general, to orient you and to fill you in on what Awbury has to offer.
I recently caught up with Awbury Ambassador Naseem Baksh and heard her story of how she came to be involved in the Ambassador program. In 2017 her job had ended and she was casting about for something to do, so she got involved in volunteering at Awbury, primarily with the Woodworkers. In 2019 she got a job with the City, but continued working here on weekends. In winter of 2020, “Heather [Zimmerman] approached me about hosting in AdventureWoods, and then she reached out right after that and said that [Awbury] was looking for a Coordinator and would I be interested. And then the pandemic hit.” She laughed.
Baksh enjoys her shifts as Ambassador on the Cope House porch: “It’s really great. You’re meeting a lot of different people. A lot of [visitors] are neighbors who come every day, but a lot are coming from far away. I met a man with two young girls who drove here from Phoenixville.” She reflected, “I think people are going online and looking for green spaces.”
In addition to helping visitors find their way around, Baksh is learning on the job. “I’m just enamoured with Nature! I want to learn more about trees, about native plants, about bees, about how everything in the environment works in a partnership.”
Cope House Ambassador and AdventureWoods Ambassador hours:
Saturdays and Sundays, from 10am-2pm
Farm/Agricultural Village Ambassador hours:
Sundays from 1-5pm
Stop by this weekend and see what we have to offer!
by Karen Flick, Landscape Manager
Midsummer in the garden can mean a lot of watering and weeding. In many cases, certain plants have been pre-labeled as weeds by past generations of farmers. Awbury, however, has taken a different stance on some of these “weeds.” Some visitors to the Arboretum might be baffled by the unmown patches of the English Landscape meadows. These are completely intentional: while the English Landscape meadow paths are mowed regularly to accommodate walkers and the main areas mowed periodically to control invasive plants, these patches are never mowed.
Take a closer look to see why. This cluster of weeds in these patches is common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca. This wonderful plant has many desirable attributes. For starters, it is a native plant, meaning it has adapted to this habitat and thrives with little to no assistance. No need to water established plants, so it does not impact our water sources and requires less time and money to grow. It is commonly found in Philadelphia’s sunny wet and dry areas with low nutrient clay soils—thus, ideal for the English Landscape meadow habitat. Not only does it tolerate the habitat, but it also improves it: milkweed forms colonies through its roots, making it able to compete with aggressive invasive plants. Despite the numerous vines and other invasive plant species in the landscape, the milkweed patches keep expanding each year.
Milkweed’s presence is also a new method of combating the invasive Spotted Lanternfly (SLF). Milkweed gets its name from the milky white sap inside the stems. This sap, a known toxin that can cause skin irritation in humans, is fatal to the pest. The SLF are unknowingly feeding on the milkweed and dying from the toxic sap. This is one time to skip the squishing and just sit back and watch the cursed insects feed.
Another insect you may find feeding on the milkweed are Monarch caterpillars and butterflies. The monarchs have evolved symbiotically with the milkweed. As they have formed a tolerance of the sap, monarch caterpillars feed off it as a form of defense. This makes them toxic to their main predators, birds. Mid-summer and into fall, the milkweed patches are really an experience as the monarch butterflies are migrating through Philadelphia, attracted to the milkweed to lay their eggs, and, in the process fertilizing the flowers. As part of the Year of Citizen Science, you can participate in our local nature tracking by posting sightings of monarch butterflies.
There are many more wonderful traits of this weed. What gardeners and garden visitors love to experience is, it is pretty, featuring big pink pincushion flowers that last for weeks and turn into interesting seed pods. The seed pods give the final show as they burst open in the fall and send out soft white tufts with small brown seeds flying though the air.
Embrace this wonderful weed throughout the Awbury Landscape, as well as some of its relatives like butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, and swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata.
by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor
The sudden appearance of the coronavirus pandemic cut short our last art exhibition before we could have the artist’s reception, but painter Andrew Christman went into the closed up Cope House galleries in early April and had photographers Kyle and Linette Kielinski of Kielinski Photographers take pictures of his work for a virtual exhibition which can still be seen here.
Having grown up in the Philadelphia area, first in West Philly, then on the Main Line, Christman left to attend art school in Brooklyn at the Pratt Institute, where he majored in painting and education. “For a while,” he says, “I was a pure abstract painter: totally non-figurative art.”
Later, he went to England to earn a master’s degree in East Asian Art History at the University of Manchester with the Sotheby’s program, specializing in ancient Buddhist portraiture. After he returned from England, he “started using field guides, zoological guides and bestiaries” as a basis for his paintings. “I’ve always been interested in history, music, and science, but always filtered through art.” Combining the scientific field guide illustrations with painting was a way to blend modalities: “Painting is kind of an outdated medium for art. I try to stay current by bringing in all kinds of influences into the painting.”
He remembers loving art from childhood, but claims he had no particular talent. “I have just always loved painting and drawing from my earliest memories…. I just kept doing it and doing it and doing it and eventually got better,” he laughed.
He got into the role of educator primarily through museums: his first teaching job was at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. At present, he is a teaching artist for the Philadelphia Museum of Art (though currently furloughed by the pandemic). The Museum “sent me out to do residencies through the Delphi Program”—these were primarily middle school programs, and some after-school programs. “The cool thing about the after-school program was that it was with the same students all year long, so you get to really know them.”
Christman also collaborates regularly with a local Germantown poet, Veronica Bowlan, making community-based art. Together, they founded Way of Words, in which they create “large-scale accordion-style books… [and] invite participants to write spontaneously, using poetry and collage.”
Some of Christman’s earlier shows featured titles like “Aviary,” “Arboretum,” and “Copse,” but he felt that “since this show was in an actual arboretum it seemed a bit redundant.” When pressed, he claims, “I like to be generic. I like to leave a lot to the imagination. I do a lot of untitled triptychs, so when I do a series of paintings… you see a connection. It allows the viewer to experience or create a story themselves.” This practice makes him feel part of the contemporary artistic tradition of keeping names of works free of connotations: “The generic titles also are a nod to titles used by abstract expressionist painters like DeKooning or Gorky.”
The paintings Christman created for this exhibition are actually multi-media works. He started with black-and-white digital photography printed on watercolor paper, then overlaid a wash of watercolor on top of those images, and then “overtop of that…acrylic, more watercolor, sumi-e ink and spray paint.” Sometimes he lays the paintings on the floor, sometimes sets them upright, allowing the paint to drip, all in the name of keeping the work spontaneous.
And why trees? “These are all trees that I have a close relationship to,” ones he encounters on his daily walks, in his neighborhood. “The whole idea of painting the same tree in different ways mirrors our experience of passing it every day” and experiencing it differently each time. He is hoping that this will be the first of many shows at arboretums.
If you are interested in seeing more of Christman’s work, you can visit his website by clicking here.
by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor
If you come to the Arboretum often, you might spy a woman with a wet slab of clay carefully incising flower shapes into it or sitting under a tree painting a miniature landscape onto a rectangle of cardboard. This is Karen Singer, of Karen Singer Tileworks in Germantown, and she has been coming to the Arboretum to make art en plein air (French for “in the open air”) for years. She and then-Program Director Heather Zimmerman worked together several years ago to offer classes in plein air sculpting, and in 2018 they collaborated on the Year of the Pollinator tile project.
The pandemic has slowed down her professional work: “I’ve had a lot of projects that have been postponed, some indefinitely,” but, on the bright side, “I’ve had more time to develop new work without it being something that someone has commissioned.” With the shutting down of business as usual and the warming of the season, creating art in the open seemed like one thing she could do.
Singer loves the Arboretum: “I just think of it as this wonderful place in the middle of Germantown that people don’t know about.” She delights in making new discoveries; for instance, someone this spring directed her to a rare tree in bloom on the grounds, a yellow magnolia: “Finding that yellow magnolia was really special for me. That was like—oh my gosh!” She was momentarily rendered speechless.
She continued, “I came back four or five times to document the magnolia. When I first looked at it, it was all buds. Then [I sculpted it] at different stages in the plant’s flowering. When I started posting [my work] on Facebook, ….many people were [responding] ‘Where’s Awbury? I want to see that magnolia!’ Which has been a lovely thing.”
Singer is also active in the Germantown United Community Development Corporation. She reflects on her community and the dangers of gentrification: “I really care about Germantown. Clearly, the community needs improvement, but it’s not a blank slate. People outside of the community are buying property and prices are going up, [but this neighborhood is] a really interesting mix of incredible history, people of different races, artists, black artists, people who really get along…. It’s important not to push out people who won’t be able to live here if property values dramatically go up.”
by Nancy Pasquier, Field Studies Director
We are excited to share that Awbury has received a grant to help pay for interpretive and directional signage in the Arboretum. The goal is to install permanent wayfinding signs, as well as to add welcome kiosks at multiple entrances to the property some time in the fall.
There are now temporary wayfinding signs in both the Historic Landscape and at The Farm at Awbury, which include location and directional information. You will also notice signs throughout the Historic Landscape that give more detailed information about various features of the Arboretum, including Cope Lane, McNabbtown Field and the Scattergood Memorial Witch Hazel Garden. In addition, we are working on signs that identify our many partners at The Farm.
These “first drafts” of our wayfinding signage will help us learn what works well and what we need to change; please consider taking our signage survey that can be completed online after your next visit to Awbury, or you can stop by on the weekend (Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-2pm at the Cope House) and fill out a paper copy available from our weekend Ambassador. Our survey will be open until the end of July. As always, we appreciate your feedback!
by Alex Bartlett, Awbury Archivist & Curator
This issue I am featuring a portion of an October 1942 aerial photograph taken by Pennsylvania State University in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture. The University took aerial photographs of the entire state, with the exception of urban areas.
This view shows Awbury Arboretum towards the center, with the railroad tracks of SEPTA’s present-day Chestnut Hill East line at the left, and the houses along East Haines Street and vicinity visible in the lower right-hand corner. Note that even in 1942 the area around Awbury Arboretum was quite rural. Look carefully, and you will see a series of faint rectangles in what is now the Agricultural Village, formerly referred to as the Northwest Tract, especially in that portion closer to the railroad. These were a series of Victory Gardens, which may have existed prior to World War II, and this photo documents that the site now occupied by the Agricultural Village and the Awbury Community Gardens has been cultivated on and off for at least 75 years.
You can see that Ardleigh Street was but a dirt road in spots, and in the area of Awbury Park, was once a curved road, much in the shape of a bow. Ardleigh Street would be straightened and widened in about 1950 to that which exists today. Also visible are baseball diamonds, and, if you look carefully, you will see a network of pedestrian paths throughout the area, cutting across lawns and open spaces, and through wooded lots. Much of these latter features are very fleeting and fragile; often, we only know of their existence through a review of aerial photographs. And though these photographs aren’t generally taken as an act of preservation, they are an invaluable tool in the interpretation of how people have used the landscape in years past.
Want to review other aerial photographs of the Philadelphia area and of all over the state? Click here. If you have any items documenting the history of Awbury and/or the surrounding neighborhood, we would love to know about them! Please contact Alex Bartlett, Archivist and Curator, at email@example.com, 215-849-2086 x16 to share any details you might have.
Raven is no stranger to Awbury Arboretum—in fact, he grew up right down the street: “I consider this to be, like, my backyard. Growing up, I walked my dog here.” Currently a senior at Brandeis University majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in Anthropology, he already has a couple of serious internships under his belt: one in western Massachusetts, creating a tick survey, and another at Yale University in partnership with the Smithsonian, developing forest geo-networks (sampling forests around the world), but this summer he has come home to work on the Arboretum side of Awbury. He explains his interest in conservation thus: “I basically wanted to be able to help people, but I didn’t want to work in an office. Changing the environment can improve the quality of life.” He feels his varied experiences make him more adventurous and willing to take risks: “I just want to experience as much as I can; I’m willing to explore.”
Elissa grew up in various parts of New England, earning a degree in Arts Administration and having a career as an audio technician along the way. She has worked as a teaching artist in audio engineering throughout Philadelphia, taught gardening at Girard College, and worked as an after-school teacher at the Philadelphia School, as well. But, due to the coronavirus, “concerts don’t exist right now,” so she took her love of nature and applied to be an intern on the Farm side of Awbury. She is not, however, a newcomer to Awbury: she has been volunteering with the Philly Goat Project for a year and “I’ve done a lot of volunteer work on farms; I’ve done of a lot of outdoor education…. I saw this as an opportunity to learn more about farming, and, specifically, horticulture.” She finds working on the Arboretum Farm a way to expand her skill set: “I think that, with our ever-changing climate, it’s hard to see what our future is…. It’s important to be able to harness skills we need to live off the land… these seem like essential skills.”
With an abundance of caution, we are reopening registration for our Awbury Adventures Summer Camp for half-days for the second half of the summer, after cancelling the first four weeks of camp. We will be following strict pandemic safety guidelines put out by both the State and the City for summer camps, and keeping an eye on potential changes.
Your child can attend either Ilvermorny Camp for Witchcraft & Wizardry from July 20-31 (ages 8-12) or Advanced Wilderness Survival from August 3-14 (ages 10-13), or both! For more information or to register, click here. Registration will remain open until July 13, unless conditions change.