Awbury finds Many Ways to Say YES!
by Heather Zimmerman, Deputy Executive Director
Around the end of March I was postponing and canceling so many of Awbury’s annual, traditional events. No Spring egg hunt or Adventure-Woods opening, no Thomas Pym Cope Award Dinner, no summer solstice dinner, no Juneteenth celebration, no Camp Katniss….
No. NO. NO.
But then, as June rolled around and we all started reluctantly to acclimate to masks, and to not hugging, and to talking just slightly too loud so that our friends six feet away might understand what we are trying to communicate, NO started turning into YES!
YES to walking in the woods; YES to sitting on the porch in the sunshine; YES to petting goats and tramping through the AdventureWoods once again. Awbury, with its 56 acres of lovely landscape, is able to safely say yes to so many engagements.
Here are the highlights of what we have been able to say a joyful YES to, and what is on the horizon for the next few weeks:
Awbury Ambassadors are welcoming guests every weekend in three key areas, the Cope House porch, the AdventureWoods and The Farm. Between May and August, over 2,500 visitors have said yes to spending the day at the Arboretum. This new program has been a great way to connect with the community and evaluate visitation during the pandemic.
Wellness Series, organized by community volunteer Megan Ambros Nascimento, offers free (donations appreciated!) yoga, afro dance, fitness and zumba classes 4-6 days a week. Students bring their yoga mats and meet outdoors.
Community Relief Concert Series, in partnership with Weavers Way and Barry Wahrhaftig of Hot Club Philadelphia, consists of seven limited-ticket outdoor concerts featuring local musicians playing to sold-out crowds at the Cope House tented patio. These concerts support musicians struggling with little work during the COVID crisis, and also contribute money to local nonprofits. Awbury will be the beneficiary for the September 27th show.
Sunday Fun Days, in partnership with the Philly Goat Project, take place every Sunday from 2-5 pm at The Farm. Visitors can meet the goats and chickens, participate in a nature scavenger hunt or family yoga, and more. Activities are being offered for free.
Family Field Studies—As we are unable to visit schools or to host field trips at the Arboretum since the pandemic took hold in our city, we have started to host ‘family field studies’ exploration stations in the AdventureWoods. For seven Saturdays starting September 5th, guests will be able to explore a nature topic with one of our educators.
Citizen Science Events— Volunteer teacher Julie Kring successfully ran a monarch tagging event at The Farm for about 20 people in early September. We plan to continue to offer programs in monarch tagging, bird counting and bluebird box monitoring. We also will continue to participate in the Philadelphia Fall BioBlitz.
After School Programming—We will be running a six-week after-school wilderness survival program for 8-13-year-olds starting October 6th, in the AdventureWoods.
Cope House Galleries and Art in the Landscape will present three art events between now and the end of the year:
Andrew Christman will have a sold-out outdoor artist’s reception and an exhibition of his recent works on September 17th, with timed tickets to view the art in the galleries. Music, refreshments and an art project will entertain guests while they take turns entering the galleries.
Richard Metz has completed The Aviary in the AdventureWoods, paintings of over 30 local birds on trees which are soon to be featured in a scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt will be revealed and the artist will be available for questions about his work on October 17th in the AdventureWoods.
Julie Kring will be having a show and reception in the late fall featuring beautiful botanical drawings and paintings. We will again host an event with timed tickets to the galleries.
Lest We Forget: Tile Making Workshop—A Way to Share our Stories, in partnership with the Lest We Forget Slavery Museum and Karen Singer Tileworks, is a tile-making workshop at Awbury focusing on sharing our stories about racism. This is a two-part workshop: the first evening is October 15th outside under the tented patio.
Learning about Gardening at Awbury with three classes for home gardeners led by Awbury Landscape Manager Karen Flick. Students will help plant both existing and new garden areas while they learn how to make more cohesive gardening design choices. The first class will be October 8th and will focus on adding blooming perennials to the gardens around the Cope House.
Autumn Harvest Social: September 20th
We hope to see you at this fun community event. You can choose from three free events: live music at the Cope House (tickets still available), Circus Performers in the AdventureWoods (SOLD OUT), or you can join in the Sunday Fun Day activities at the Farm. Photos with the Philly Goat Project goats are a special attraction for this day!
So say YES, and come join us for some safely distanced, social outings. We look forward to seeing you!
Growing Food for the Neighborhood
by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor
This year, Awbury, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) Harvest 2020 program set aside some of its arable land and cultivated it to provide food for those in our neighborhood who are suffering food insecurity during this global pandemic. Awbury horticultural intern Elissa F. was in charge of maintaining the 50’x50’ plot and eight raised beds, keeping them watered, weed-free, and fertilized, harvesting the vegetables when they were ready, and delivering them to drop-off points. The seedlings were donated by PHS, and the internship was sponsored by the Evans family, so this was truly a collaborative project.
Elissa was quick to point out that she had some help with the plot: several of her friends volunteered to help, and a group from the Student Conservation Association came in one day to help with weeding and general landscaping. Crops were shared with Food Not Bombs and the Germantown Supply Hub Mutual Aid and Protest Support (GSH). GSH works along the model of a mutual aid society, which means it is not a charity, but rather a resource for neighbors to help each other. Formed this year in response to the pandemic and protests against racism and police violence, it is located in a warehouse near Uncle Bobbie’s, a beloved local bookstore/café on Germantown Avenue, and it is run by a collective of Germantown community members. GSH offers food, diapers and toiletries to the community twice a week, and everything is free.
“I drop off on Wednesdays, maybe an hour before they’re all set up,” said Elissa. A particular point of pride to her was the quality of the vegetables she grew: “I was talking to some of the people who run [GHS] and they say the Awbury produce is the first to go.”
Elissa harvested around 4 times a week at the busiest point of the summer, storing the produce in the Education Center refrigerator until time to drop it off at GSH. She grew zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, blackberries, winter squash, potatoes, and eggplant.
Difficulties this summer included uninvited guests to the garden plots—the melons were the first to suffer: according to Elissa, “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to harvest any of them, because the squirrels were ruthless! They ate about 30 melons!” She tried to combat them with a cayenne pepper spray that seemed to be the best deterrent, but it washed off whenever she watered the plants or it rained.
Despite the depredation of the squirrels, Awbury was able to bring forth 205 pounds of produce this summer, 185 pounds of which went to help those in need. “I feel really excited about the amount of food [we donated],” said Elissa. Deputy Executive Director Heather Zimmerman remarked, “Awbury Arboretum is fortunate to have the unique asset of The Farm to provide education, engagement, and resources related to urban agriculture to our community. It is one of the small ways as a community hub in East Mt. Airy and Germantown that we strive to give back to our neighbors.”
Zimmerman noted that we are only one of many organizations who donate to the neighborhood: The Awbury Community Garden regularly donates hundreds of pounds of food as part of the City Harvest program, and St. Luke’s Kitchen Garden, also located on The Farm at Awbury, grew produce this summer for the supplemental food boxes they give out to families in need. The list goes on, but the most important thing is that we are all working together to help our community.
by Branda O’Neil, Administrative & Facilities Manager
Between socially distanced programming and more visitors than ever discovering the Arboretum as a nature oasis, the area around the Cope House has had no shortage of activity. We have, however, been missing one energetic and joyful presence—weddings! Covid-19, among its many devastations, turned 2020 wedding couples’ plans upside-down, limiting group sizes and obliging everyone to prioritize their family and friends’ safety over dream details that were often years in the planning. While we worked with couples through the sadness of cancellations and postponements, we drew hope and excitement from several changes and enhancements to our venue.
First of all, Awbury is pleased to announce that we have recently entered into an exclusive long-term catering partnership with Peachtree Catering and Events. We know that their years of experience and terrific customer service will bring new verve and luster to our event program, and that their focus on sustainability and commitment to supporting local purveyors and farmers are principles that marry well with Awbury’s mission. Portico, the name Peachtree has chosen for this venture, will focus on weddings and larger social events.
Clients selecting Portico for their wedding or special event will enjoy the spacious elegance of our Victorian mansion, the enchantment of Awbury’s gardens and meadows, and Peachtree’s expert planning services. Guests will love Peachtree’s boutique food options, which feature seasonal menus ranging from classic to on-trend. They excel in customization and special requests, from gluten-free and vegan to dishes made according to your Grandma’s recipes—all of it lovingly prepared and professionally served. In addition, their full-service planning includes the time and attention to support your particular vision: “It’s likely you’re doing this for the first time. Let us help you. Know that everyone’s planning journey is a little different!”
While they are busy booking events in 2021 and 2022, Peachtree has also created a fantastic lineup of micro-weddings and small dinner party options that offer safety and joyful celebration during this pandemic. Couples and their guests—up to 50 people (though this number is set to increase shortly)—have been able to gather with social distance, thanks to Portico’s vast outdoor options and tented patio, alongside Peachtree’s individually boxed meal options, which are delightfully beautiful and delicious.
We encourage you to learn more about Portico here and to follow us on Instagram!
Secondly, we are very excited to share our new wedding suites. In order to give couples a more roomy and stylish area to get ready for their big day, we’ve converted several of our second-floor offices into preparation rooms, featuring dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows, gorgeous period furniture (some original to the Cope House in the 1800s), and a lovely private restroom. We are still finalizing the layouts, but we know wedding parties will love prepping their outfits, hair, and makeup, raising a toast, and simply relaxing during that special time before the ceremony starts.
The renovations included restoration of the original wood floors by Oak Heart Wood Floors, as well as a complete painting of the ceilings and walls. The windows had recently been restored in 2017. These rooms are picture-perfect and a great addition to our venue.
We are grateful to be part of the intimate weddings and social events that seem more precious than ever in this moment, and we look forward to the days of grand festivities to come!
Botanical Musings: Rain Walking
by Karen Flick, Landscape Manager
This summer has presented us with dramatic storms that have created a lot of flooded roads, fallen trees, and disrupted routines. But what about all the sun showers and steady rainy days? It is easy to run in from out of the rain, but maybe this is a missed opportunity for another experience in nature. During one of the next mild rains with no thunder and lightning, seize the chance to walk with the rain.
Start your adventure in a location with hills and valleys like Awbury Arboretum, or the local Fairmount Park. The next step is simply to observe the rainwater on the ground, watch, and wait. The rest of the adventure is the rain walker’s choice: to follow the water where it leads or to continue walking on the path and observing how the rainwater’s movement changes. Moving through the landscape, observers may see the water forming puddles large and small, gathering in ephemeral streams that cut into the landscape or disappearing altogether.
In all of these situations, the shape of the ground, the soil type, and the plants are all interacting and determining where the rainwater will go. Areas where water stays form wetland habitats. Plants that thrive in wet soils are a part of that. Cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis), bayberry shrubs (Morella virginica), willow trees (Salix ssp), and river birches (Betula nigra) are a few plant species commonly found in wetlands in the Philadelphia area. The full habitat is comprised of the micro-organisms, insects, animals, and birds. Some species found in the Awbury wetland habitats are salamanders, dragonflies, red-winged blackbirds, and turtles.
The Awbury watercourse and ponds are currently undergoing a restoration. The watercourse, an area with a canal for the water to move through and two ponds to retain the water, was designed by Arthur Cowell and installed in the 1920s. This innovative design is getting some modernized features: clay fabric liners, filtration systems, and increased connections to the drain outlets on Washington Lane. The habitat has been created, like many being installed all around Philadelphia, to cut down on the amount of water flooding the roads and overwhelming the sewer system and, ultimately, the rivers, during heavy rainstorms. The more rainwater is studied and followed; the better we become at designing landscape that can control and regulate excess water.
Whether in your backyard, at a local park, or on a rainy vacation when the opportunity arises, instead of running for cover or feeling trapped inside, grab some galoshes and a raincoat and take a walk with the rain. You’ll be glad you did.
Richard Metz Art Installation: The Aviary
by Nancy Pasquier, Field Studies Director
Many of you may remember discovering whimsical fairies painted on trees in AdventureWoods last year. These were the works of local artist Richard Metz. This year, Metz has created a new exhibition based on some of the birds that visit Awbury. He is an environmentally focused artist who, in addition to his non-toxic tree painting (“I use natural, non-toxic pigments and eggs: pigments such as red and yellow oxide, lac dye, indigo, sandalwood, charcoal, calcite and white clay, and turmeric”), creates prints and paintings. His work seeks to connect viewers to the natural world in a playful, engaging way—a perfect fit for Awbury’s Secret Garden and AdventureWoods, our natural materials playground.
Why birds? Metz feels that “Birds are an important part of the living fauna on earth, and the ecosystems that all life depends on…. Birds and bird-flight have intrigued and fascinated humanity for thousands of years.” In choosing the 30 specific birds that he painted on trees here, he relied on a recent eBird hot spot bird count.
Metz has had the spark for this installation for quite some time: “The concept of The Aviary has different dimensions. I have been considering the idea of a large tree painting installation of birds for a few years as a piece focusing on the migration as a result of climate change. I also liked the idea of activating the natural space with images of the birds that already live there, but couldn’t always be seen.” He uses the tree’s natural shape to guide the viewers’ experience of his paintings: “I also started using the whole tree in the round, engaging the viewer when possible to walk around the tree, to create a more inquisitive, active, participatory experience.”
These “ephemeral installations,” as Metz terms them, will eventually “fade away in 2-3 years, depending on weather conditions, leaving the tree unharmed and as it was. In my mind, these paintings are born, live their lives, and die, as living things do. The works exist on and in relationship to the trees and the woods, and would not make sense indoors.”
You can visit the paintings now during AdventureWoods open hours on Saturdays and Sundays, and we also invite you to a reception featuring the artist on Saturday, October 17th. Our Family Field Studies programming will be focused on birds that day and there will be a scavenger hunt to see if you can find all the tree paintings.
Family Field Studies
by Nancy Pasquier, Field Studies Director
Following the public school move to remote learning in the wake of the current pandemic, Field Studies at Awbury ground to a halt. However, in order to keep students learning about nature and the environment in these difficult times, we have decided to pivot to family-based Field Studies for this fall.
For seven weeks, beginning September 5th, we are offering free programming in AdventureWoods on Saturdays from 10am-noon. Our first two topics, Butterflies & Moths and Decomposers, drew small but enthusiastic family groups. Future topics to be covered include Water Cycles, Animals at Awbury, A Look Back at Nature in the 1700s (in conjunction with Revolutionary Germantown Festival), Trees, Seeds & Leaves, and Birds.
These lessons have no timed formal presentation, but rather informational materials and table-based activities to be enjoyed on your own with assistance from a Field Studies Educator. More information can be found here.
Summer Camp Casts its Spell
by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor
In an abundance of caution, Awbury canceled the first four weeks of summer camp, but when Philadelphia entered the green phase, decided to go ahead with the second half of the summer. The final two weeks of camp fell away as enrollment dropped, but 15 hardy children ended up in Ilvermorny Camp for Witchcraft & Wizardry. Though they had to have their temperatures taken at drop-off, wear masks, keep 6 feet of distance between themselves and other campers, and have frequent applications of and sanitizer, they still managed to cast some spells, search for healing plants, brew some potions, make owl cupcakes, duel each other with wands, and discover and use the legendary Philosopher’s Stone. Say “alohomora” to unlock the door to adventure!
From the Archives: Signage Through the Years
by Alex Bartlett, Awbury Archivist & Curator
As Awbury Arboretum is presently beginning a program to update its signage throughout the Arboretum, it is a perfect time to reflect on the roles signage has had at Awbury over the years. This 1975 photograph of signs on the 6100 block of Ardleigh Street illustrates one of the difficulties with signage—that faced by Awbury and at many other locations like it.
Layers of signage with different systems of meaning often compete with (and sometimes contradict) each other. At Awbury, various systems of signage include street signs on the periphery along public rights of way; wayfinding signs directing visitors into and around Awbury and informing them of points of interest, and those posted along property lines noting boundaries between Awbury and private properties.
The presence of all of these signs can create a cluttered appearance as shown in the photograph, with a “no parking any time” sign at left, a zoning notice below it at right, another noting the entrance to houses at 6100-6130 Ardleigh Street, with a residents’ directory on a separate sign hanging on a tree, at far right. When not planned carefully and correctly, these signs can detract from a visitor’s experience—that which should ideally be centered on the enjoyment, understanding, and appreciation of nature.
[Ed.: Stay tuned for updated signage throughout the Arboretum, coming later in 2020. Thanks to support from PECO’s Green Region Open Space Program, we are in the process of designing new wayfinding and informational signage for our 56 acres. Guests visiting right now will see temporary signs in the landscape, which have allowed us to survey visitors and evaluate our needs. Thank you to all who participated!]
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to share any details you might have.
Welcome New Staff: Naseem Baksh
Naseem Baksh started at Awbury as a woodworking volunteer in June of 2017 soon after a job had ended. She worked here on and off as both a volunteer and a parking attendant for events until this spring, when Deputy Executive Director Heather Zimmerman reached out to her and asked if she might be interested in serving in the newly formed Awbury Ambassador program. Since then, she’s probably the first face you see when you come to the Cope House on weekends between 10am and 2pm. In her capacity as Ambassador, she loves greeting visitors and answering their queries. Baksh notes that you can “definitely tell who the first-timers are—‘Where do I park? Can I park behind the House?’” As for the effect the Ambassadors program has had on Awbury, she is unequivocal: “Oh my goodness, this was definitely a program that was needed!” She notes that Awbury has seen a definite increase in visitors since the pandemic started, with people coming from as near as down the street and from as far away as Conshohocken and Center City and even Florida. “Just having a place to come and decompress and walk and just feel the air on your face” is key in these stressful times, she feels. She also feels that she is doing her part by letting them know all the programs going on here, and all the resources that are available here.