Awbury Arboretum- Reflecting on 100 Years
Article by Nicole Juday, Board Member
Shaped like a many-sided puzzle piece, at first Awbury Arboretum doesn’t seem to fit into the surrounding puzzle; it seems impossible that this one green fragment really fits into a large section that’s almost completely built out, gridded with busy streets, train tracks, parking lots, remnants of 19th and 20th century industrial development, and thousands of inhabitants.
But in 1853 the entire area of East Germantown was green, its native woodlands having mostly been cleared for farming by the preceding generations. This is when the Cope family first set down roots in the neighborhood, buying a large tract that gradually became an idyllic family compound of generous country seats. Quakers who built a fortune in the shipping industry, successive generations of the large Cope family built their primary residences at Awbury. With no through-roads and no fences, families sited their homes to take advantage of the high elevations, picturesque setting, and long views stretching to the Delaware River.
The grounds at Awbury were designed in the style of 18th century English country house landscapes, incorporating copses and belts of trees cradled into the contours of large expanses of undulating lawn. Eschewing the prevailing Victorian aesthetic of garden artifice and its complicated bedding patterns, gardening at Awbury was undertaken with a much lighter touch, more as a response to nature rather than from a desire to change it. Meant to be enjoyed from a distance, the landscape also rewards the visitor who enters into it to appreciate the naturalistic layers of ferns and wildflowers weaving a carpet under the canopy of trees. As Quakers, the Copes connected their belief in simplicity to their deep appreciation for and love of the natural world, to learn from which would bring one closer to the divine.
By 1916 when most of the Cope estate was given over to the public, East Germantown had already greatly transitioned from an area of mostly small farms dotted with country estates into an urban working-class neighborhood largely made up of immigrants drawn to Philadelphia’s manufacturing industries. Retaining the areas immediately surrounding their homes as private property, the family entrusted the remaining open space to the public, intending “to preserve and maintain a public arboretum for the cultivation and study of trees and flowers and as a refuge for migratory birds.” For the last hundred years Awbury Arboretum has carried out the intentions of its founders, remaining accessible to the public every day of the year at no charge. Thousands of schoolchildren attend environmental education programs, festivals throughout the year create a hub for the neighborhood, a thriving agricultural village provides food and community for area families.
Today Philadelphia is known for its large number of exceptional public gardens, where horticulture is practiced at a level largely unknown in most other regions. Visitors to these gardens may not realize that most of these public places were originally private estates of wealthy families who valued horticulture, a long tradition of which exists in the region. But even fewer realize that it was the Cope family that created the model for the public garden. Unprecedented at their time, their decision to turn over a beautiful, cultivated landscape beloved by generations of their family for public use was both radical and astoundingly generous.
One of the Cope family’s wishes was to engage with “suitable societies for forming or improving public parks and pleasure grounds or preventing the destruction of trees and green plants.” In Awbury’s 100th year this desire has been fulfilled by the establishment of a conservation easement placed on the arboretum by the Natural Lands Trust, guaranteeing that the landscape will exist in perpetuity as open and inviting green space available to all, forever.
TWO WAYS TO CELEBRATE THE CENTENNIAL:
Attend our centennial gala on Thursday, April 14, 2016Join us for an evening of festivity celebrating our 100-year legacy as we present the Thomas Pym Cope Award to Author, Garden Historian, and Senior Director of PHS Meadowbrook Farm Jenny Rose Carey, whose horticultural work and interests embody the values and passions of Awbury’s founding family.
Introduction by Matt Rader, President of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
April 14, 2016, 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Cocktails and Dinner
Location: The Cope House, One Awbury Road, Phila, PA 19138
Tickets: $150Kindly RSVP by April 10, 2016Proceeds support the Fund for the Gardens & Grounds at Awbury Arboretum
Attend our Heartwood Music Festival on Sunday, June 12, 2016
Programs and Events
by Heather Zimmerman, Program Director
Spring of our centennial year is brimming with activity. Our signature programs: field studies, Teen Leadership Corps (TLC), Hearth and Horticulture, summer adventures, homeschool programs, and volunteer opportunities continue to grow and thrive, serving more community members and earning more grant money.
In addition to those tried and true activities, in 2015 we instituted three new programs: the Longwood Community Read, Cope House Parlors Gallery Space, and the Heartwood Music Festival in partnership with The Philadelphia Folksong Society. These promise to be lasting additions to our diverse and inventive selection of programs and events.
This year the Longwood Community Read will be focusing on two books: Ben Montgomery’s Grandma Gatewood’s Walk and Henry Cole’s On Meadowview Street, a children’s book. Awbury planned three events in connection with the Read: a book circle for volunteers, a wild edible and medicinal walk for adults, and a Meet the Author event for over 150 kids from Wissahickon Charter School.
We are especially excited to have hosted author Henry Cole at Wissahickon Charter School on April 1st. Mr. Cole spoke about being an author and illustrator as well as exploring creating habitats for young WCS students who worked on an author study in preparation for his visit. We are grateful to Longwood Gardens for funding this visit and to librarian Kate Bowman for preparing WCS students to meet the author.
In November we hosted our first art show in the Cope House Parlors and, based on that success–standing room only for guests the opening night–we have decided to install professional gallery hardware and to welcome local artists to exhibit works on a regular basis. A big thank you to Mark Sellers for spending hours on scaffolding helping to install the OOK Gallery system. The next art exhibit will be “Old and Recent Paintings, Including Alaska and Maine” by artist Cathy Hozack. Opening April 9 Please join us for light refreshments and a brief talk by the artist while we view her lovely watercolors.
You will not want to miss this! Mark your calendars now. On Sunday, June 12th the Philadelphia Folksong Society, The Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, and a host of community organizations will help Awbury celebrate its centennial year. The second annual Heartwood Music Festival will feature two stages of folk and world music for children and adults, stilt walkers, and an hour-long circus performance, a petting zoo, food trucks, craft and flea vendors, and the ceremonial burial of a 50 year time capsule! Wow, that is quite a birthday party!
Keeping programming fresh and inviting to new demographics and while fulfilling our mission of connecting an urban community to history and nature requires on going innovation. In 2016 Awbury will pilot hosting documentary films that focus on environmental, social, and historical subjects. Our first film showing will be July 14 in the Cope House Parlors where we will view “KOMBIT the Cooperative.” There will be refreshments and a discussion following the film.
I hope to see you often at Awbury! If you have questions or thoughts about programs at please reach out to me, I would love to hear from you.
by Leslie Cerf, Volunteer Coordinator
The biggest news to relay to our members and fans of Awbury Volunteers is the seamless transition and seriously genuine teamwork effort that goes into working with Awbury’s new Assistant Landscape Manager, Karen Flick. So welcome Karen, thanks for your help!
The first official Volunteer Appreciation Day held on the last Second Saturday of November 2015 was the most well attended and fun to supervise Second Saturday of the season. Twenty-five new and well-versed volunteers attended. We had a Brownie troop from Cheltenham, along with a supportive set of parents to direct the children’s energy and smiling enthusiasm. There were two Master Gardeners from my Penn State Extension and Pollinator Habitat connection; Nick Woody, who goes way back with me here at Awbury; and solid mentorship action from a A+ crowd of young ladies from Bryn Mawr College. Great weather, with lots of leaves and bags of bulbs to plant made this a new Awbury tradition.
A strong showing of a weekly garden group (dare we whisper Awbury Garden Club?) led to 10 solid hours of quality garden care a week. A big thank you needs to be extended to Nate, Sam Morris, Nancy Kam, Chelli Dillard, Larry Moyer and Marty Hudson. From planting wildflower donations to cleaning out the barn and sharpening of the tools—it was top-notch quality fun. Thank you, guys!
The last highlight of this past half year for me has been the strong support of the many pollinator-friendly volunteers who put more effort into learning the benefits to pollinator-friendly gardening than I ever could have ever asked for. Tons of team effort went into designing, planting, maintaining, and enjoying the living beauty of Awbury’s pollinator garden. And in the midst of nurturing this rediscovered gift of the Philadelphia Garden Club we threw in a four-part pollinator workshop series.
Two parts down, two more to go! Part I, masterminded by Marty Hudson, called “Tips to Maximize Benefits for Pollinators when Overwintering Your Garden,” and Part II, “Creating Pollinator Habitats: Making Nests and Structures to Benefit Pollinators” assembled by myself, Leanne Finnigan, Steve Zambrano, and Nancy Kam covered butterflies, birds, native bees and bats and what we can do to enhance their livelihood. Both well-attended workshops (12+ visitors at each) came about through 200 volunteer hours. Each was two hours long and included slide shows, Q&As, and hands-on learning. Now on to Part III: Howard Goldstein, President of PHS’s Horticultural Center’s Pollinator Garden, will lead the next workshop at the April 30th Arbor Day event entitled, “The Best Pollinator-Friendly Plants to Grow in Philadelphia.”
And we can’t end before thanking the many, many people who came out to help with these events:
- P.S. Extension Master Gardeners
- St. Vincent DePaul Young Adult Center
- Parkway High School for Peace and Social Justice
- Cheltenham Brownie Troop Leader Christina Moresi
- Why Not Prosper’s Michelle Simmons
- LaSalle University
- Arcadia University
- Philadelphia University
- Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, Upper School
- Penn Charter, Upper School
- Friends Centrall, Upper School
- Shipley School Middle School
And the MLK Day participants:
- Awbury Arboretum Board Members and Staff
- LaSalle University’s Sigma Phi Lombda
- Awbury’s Teen Leadership Corp.
- Drexel University Medical School
- Phila. Fire Dpt Engine 19
- Jr. Knights of St. Peter Claver
- Parkway HS for Peace and Social Justice
- P.S Ex. Master Gardeners
Volunteers make it happen at Awbury!
Click here for more information about upcoming Volunteer Opportunities!
Upcoming Programs and Events
April 9 – Philly Spring Cleanup
April 9 – Opening Reception for Cathy Hozack’s “Old and Recent Paintings”
April 14 – Centennial Gala
April 16 – Bird Walk through Bird Philly
April 17 – Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants of Spring
April 22 – Astronomy Night through the Philadelphia Science Festival
April 30 – Earth and Arbor Day
May 14 – Second Saturday Season Opener through Historic Germantown
June 12 – Heartwood Music Festival and Centennial Celebration
July 14 – Film Showing
Yoga at Awbury
Homeschool Class: Grow and Eat; Make and Do
Awbury Now Offers Garden Tours
- Guided tours on weekdays: $5 person, up to 15 people (min. charge of $25)
- Guided tours on weekends: $100 for up to 15 people
The tour can begin with a power point presentation on the history of the Cope family prior to the landscape tour. We can accommodate larger groups, pricing varies by the size of the group and the type of tour requested.
For more information or to schedule a tour, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-849-2855 x 20 for more information.
Click here for more information.
Welcome New Staff
Christina Moresi—Program Manager for Teen Leadership Corps (TLC)
Christina, who joined the Awbury staff in October 2015, is primarily responsible for the administrative and communications side of the TLC program, but also supports and learns from teens in their forays into urban agriculture, culinary arts, entrepreneurship, leadership, service, food justice, and personal development. She was involved with Fox Chase Farm (an ag program for high school youth), majored in Communications at Penn State, where she lived and worked at the Dairy Animal Facility, then went on to earn a Masters of Education at Chestnut Hill College She has spent the past 12 years teaching with the Wissahickon Environmental Center, Schuylkill Center, Germantown High School, Wyck Historic House, Garden, and Farm, and volunteering with numerous organizations. She is excited and honored to be able to continue her passion for the outdoors and working with children here at Awbury. In the next year, she plans to give the kids and plants the five things they need to grow: soil, sunshine, water, patience and love.
Gail Hinson—Culinary Educator for TLC
Gail has been working at Awbury as an educator since January 2014, teaching teens in the TLC program the A to Z of food, which includes growing (often from seed), harvesting, learning the nutrient value of different foods, kitchen safety, cooking skills, and food preparation. She has a degree in Applied Science in nutrition and biology from CCP, and has experience developing and running cooking workshops for adults and children at Wakefern Corp. She loves interacting with teens, being a source of information for them, cooking, and getting her hands dirty. In the coming year, she plans on digging deeper, both literally and metaphorically.
Window and HVAC System Improvements
Over the past four years, we have worked diligently to address deferred maintenance at the Francis Cope House, including painting and cosmetic repairs to first floor hallways, parlors, reception room, and welcoming area, as well as reconstruction of many of the columns on the porch and a complete replacement of the porch deck.
We are excited to announce that, with grants received in late 2015 from the McClean Contributionship and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, we will be making over $95,000 of capital improvements to the Cope House in 2016.
Funding from these two sources has enabled us to address two major improvements at the historic Francis Cope House that have been deferred far beyond what is desirable: an overhaul of the 30-year-old heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, and restoration of the House’s deteriorating windows. Together, these improvements will serve to preserve the structure of the historic Francis Cope House, to make the Francis Cope House a more usable venue for community events and rentals during hot and cold months, to recover dollars spent on heating and cooling with inefficient systems (money that can be re-allocated to provide increased community programming), and to help the Awbury Arboretum Association to reduce its carbon footprint.
Window restoration has already begun, and is slated to be complete within 4-6 weeks. The engineering analysis for the new HVAC system is nearly complete, and we expect the installation to be finished this summer. Previously, cooling in the hot summer months was accomplished with the use of small residential air conditioning units painstakingly installed and removed in office windows each season. No cooling system was available for the parlors and front room, limiting the use of these prime rental spaces in the hot summer months. The addition of a building-wide air conditioning system is truly a game-changer for the Francis Cope House.
Current Blooms – March/April 2016
We have reached the seasonal point of transition! There may still be cold days or even frost, but we have the hope of blue skies with warm breezes. Here at Awbury, we keep a sharp eye out for signs of change. This was an unusual season at Awbury, as elsewhere in the region. Snowdrops, Galanthus spp., started early, paused, and thanks to record-breaking heat, were almost finished as of mid-March. Winter aconites and crocus tomazinianis (“tommies”) were early and now gone. The late winter blooms are still going strong with our Vernal witchhazels, Hamamelis vernalis, and the bright yellow flowers of the leatherleaf mahonia, Mahonia bealei. The captivating fragrance of the fragrant honeysuckle, Lonicera frangrantissima is stopping everyone in their tracks as they move along the side of the Cope House.
If you are ready to get out and breathe some fresh air, here are some blooms we are expecting in the next two weeks. In our English Landscape the hill is lined with different species of magnolias: The saucer magnolia, Magnolia x soulangiana, and star magnolia, Magnolia stellate, are just starting to peak through their fuzzy bud covers. The daffodils, Narcissus spp., and Okame cherries, Prunus x incamp ‘Okame’ are quickly opening up throughout the Arboretum. Looking through the flower beds and woodland areas perennials are starting to send out their first leaves.
Native spicebush is opening. Soon, adders tongue, then spring beauty, then violets will cover the floor of forests and meadows. We look forward to clove currants scenting the air as weeping cherry petals blow by.
While we set our excitement for spring free, remember to take advantage of the winter-spring transition. This is an ideal time to closely observe our woody plants before their buds start to swell. Prune out just the dead and damaged branches without worry of removing potential flowers. Plants without leaves on them also enable us to view the plants structure. Early removal of branches which may tend in an undesirable direction is easier and leads to less pruning in future.
Media, Pa. – On December 16, 2015, Natural Lands Trust placed a conservation easement on 38 acres of Awbury Arboretum, located in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood. Under an easement, property remains in private ownership, but is protected from future development in perpetuity.
Awbury Arboretum is a vibrant landscape with a rich history. In 1852, Henry Cope purchased land in then-rural East Germantown on which to build a summer home for his family. Named Awbury after the Cope family’s ancestral village of Avebury, Wiltshire, England, the estate’s stone manor reflects Quaker ideals of simplicity. The 55-acre setting includes a variety of habitats: wetlands, wooded headwaters, stately trees (including the second-largest river birch in Pennsylvania), wildflower meadows, formal gardens, and community garden plots—all linked by trails.
Open to the public free of charge as a public park and arboretum for nearly 100 years, Awbury Arboretum is an open space refuge in a densely populated urban setting.
“We are thrilled to help ensure Awbury Arboretum, which has been a beloved oasis of green in Philadelphia for a century, will remain so forever”, said Molly Morrison, Natural Lands Trust’s president. “Whether city, suburb, or countryside, we must value and protect the places that revitalize our spirit and bind our communities together.”
After experiencing population losses for decades, Philadelphia has begun growing again. Since 2010, the city’s population has increased by more than two percent. Such growth makes the city’s remaining green spaces of even greater value as places for people to connect to nature and to each other. Over the last five years, Natural Lands Trust has worked with a variety of partners to permanently preserve more than 400 acres of open space in Philadelphia.
“It is impossible to adequately convey our gratitude to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for its financial support that makes this permanent conservation easement possible, and to Natural Lands Trust for their agreement to assume the perpetual care of the conservation easement on our historic landscape,” said Chris van de Velde, Awbury Arboretum’s general manager. “As this conservation easement is formally put in place, a special ‘thanks’ must go to the creative and collaborative staff of Natural Lands Trust. They give clarity to their motto: ‘land for life.’”
Support for this conservation success was provided by City Parks Association of Philadelphia, PA DCED – Commonwealth Financing Authority’s Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program, PA DCNR – Community Conservation Partnerships Program, and Virginia Cretella Mars Foundation.
ABOUT: Natural Lands Trust is dedicated to protecting the forests, fields, streams, and wetlands that are essential to the sustainability of life in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. Since its founding in 1953, Natural Lands Trust has preserved more than 100,000 acres, including 42 nature preserves totaling nearly 22,000 acres. Today, millions of people enjoy the healthy habitats, clean air and water, bountiful recreational opportunities, and scenic beauty provided by the lands the organization has preserved. For more information, visit www.natlands.org.
Awbury won a Wedding Wire COUPLES’ CHOICE AWARD!
Check out our reviews and Pinterest page to see why.
The Cope House is a unique venue that offers both indoor and outdoor party areas surrounded by nature and history. Proceeds from our rental program support Awbury’s mission of providing our urban community free access to nature and history 365 days a year.
Questions? Contact Branda O’Neil at email@example.com or (215) 848-2855 x10.
Board Member Spotlight – Sydelle Zove
Tell us a bit about yourself: where are you from, and how did you end up in Philadelphia?
Unlike many Philadelphia-area residents, I didn’t “end up” in the city, I got my start here. From that first twinkle in my father’s eye, to my debut at the old Mt. Sinai Hospital in South Philadelphia, to a K-8 public school, followed by the Philadelphia High School for Girls, and Temple University—I have deep Philly roots.
Were you aware of Awbury before you joined the Board?
Yes! When my children were young, and our family lived in Germantown—the Penn-Knox neighborhood—I took a position with Awbury as an office assistant, working under Executive Director Jim Alexander. My husband and I have been Awbury members since that time and, although we no longer live in Germantown, our two grown children have returned—one to Southwest Germantown and the other to the Tulpehocken Historic District.
Can you tell us a bit about your work outside of Awbury?
Throughout my career, I have worked in the nonprofit sector, primarily for organizations with social justice missions—affordable housing, community development, food access, and worker’s rights. For a few years, I took a short detour, and pursued a somewhat misguided career as an editor with an academic press. I have always been active in civic matters, and during the early 1990s, was chairperson of my neighborhood association. More recently, I served several terms on the board of directors of my local public library and helped lead a capital campaign for a major renovation and expansion. Currently, I am working with concerned residents in my community to prevent the construction of a townhouse development on a parcel of land that served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. This land and the structures on it—the Hovenden House and Abolition Hall—was home to the Corson and Maulsby families—families with Quaker roots, not unlike the Copes of Awbury.
Has your work benefited from and/or been influenced by your work at Awbury?
I was elected to Awbury’s board just last fall, so it is a bit too soon to assess influence. I am eager to walk the 55 acres, taking in significant landscape features, learning about the trees and perennials, and developing a deeper understanding of the arboretum’s role in the community.
What do you think makes Awbury a unique place in the City of Philadelphia?
An urban arboretum is inherently unique, and Awbury is especially so because of the meshing of public and private spaces. This presents challenges as well as opportunities as there no doubt are times when self-interest competes with public purpose. The agricultural village is a remarkable asset, but like much of Awbury, is too much of a hidden gem.
What is your vision for Awbury 10, 20 years down the road?
Given my tenure on the board, it would be premature for me to lay out a vision. I have too much to learn before drawing conclusions and making recommendations. Although I believe it is the role of the board to define a vision and work toward its implementation, to do so responsibly requires thoughtful analysis and planning. I do not doubt that Awbury’s board has engaged in such due diligence, however I want to know that a diversity of voices has been heard. In the short-term, I would like to see Awbury’s Chew Avenue entrance made more visible and welcoming—lighting at the curb cut and a sign easily noticed from one’s car. But perhaps there is a reason for the low-profile gateway. I have much to learn, and as spring unfolds, I hope to explore all that Awbury has to offer.