Heather and Grant Talk Spring

a conversation between Heather Zimmerman, Executive Director, and Grant Folin, Head Gardener & Landscape Manager

creek with stone footbridge

Heather: Hey, Grant, it’s finally spring!

Grant: Yes! Wonderful to see all the trees and flowers waking up after their long winter sleep. And the bees, too.

Heather: The Arboretum looks beautiful. You and Hector and Terence do an amazing job. I doubt many people know that just 3 staff members take care of 56 acres—that’s about 19 acres each.

Grant: Hector and Terence do the job of about 4 people and we’re really fortunate to have them here and on our team.

Heather: Well, we’re really fortunate to have you on our team, too, Grant. Let’s share some pictures of the Arboretum in spring.

Above: spring beauty.

Clockwise, from upper left: magnolia buds, scilla, cherry blossoms, quince blossoms, bluebells, crocuses

Thomas Pym Cope Award Celebration 2022

The Thomas Pym Cope Award is presented biennially to members of our community who epitomize Thomas P. Cope’s philanthropic approach in Philadelphia. In 2022, we will honor Connie and Eldredge “Rags” Ragsdale for their extraordinary philanthropic service to our city and community.

Eldredge “Rags” Ragsdale

After serving in the U.S. army for 28 years, Rags has dedicated his retirement years to “gardening for the greater good” – in the words of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Rags is the long-time president of the Awbury Community Garden Club and sits on the Boards of both the Awbury Arboretum Association and Food Moxie. He has cultivated and donated thousands of pounds of produce to the City Harvest program and given countless volunteer hours to many other gardens, green spaces, and green organizations across the city.

Connie Ragsdale

Connie brings the same level of commitment and service to our shared historic and cultural resources. Connie spent 32 years working with Philadelphia youth as an educator, and today she dedicates her time and talents to preserving and interpreting our local history. She is the President of the Board of Directors at Historic Strawberry Mansion, sits on the Board of The Concord School House and Upper Burying Ground, and supports many other local historic and cultural sites, serving in a variety of roles ranging from historian, to docent, to educational advisor.

Proceeds raised through the Thomas Pym Cope Award Celebration support the Fund for the Gardens and Grounds at Awbury Arboretum. Click here to find more information about this event or to purchase tickets.

Awbury 2021 Annual Report

2021 Annual Report

For a report on Awbury Arboretum’s last fiscal year (2021), click here!

Capital Improvements

by Chris van de Velde, Project Manager

For the past few months we have been making headway on several projects that are of considerable importance to the Arboretum—projects we think will have a positive impact on our programs and financial well-being. The most significant in terms of our landscape and programs is the restoration of our ponds and watercourse. Reversing the decades-long decline of this feature from extensive silting and vegetative growth occurred was made possible only after we received grants from the Philadelphia Water Department and State Department of Community Development and Economic Development to have our ponds and watercourse become part of the City’s program to better manage stormwater.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic brought an abrupt halt to all work, the project took a year longer than was planned. On top of that, when work finally resumed, we discovered an immense amount of rock that had to be excavated in order to connect the lower pond to the City’s stormwater line in Washington Lane. The finishing touches, including a water recirculation system, will be completed in the next few weeks. When fully finished, signage will provide information about the value of better stormwater practices and what creatures and wildlife visitors can expect to find enjoying this watery oasis.

The new open-air pavilion at The Farm at Awbury, erected last summer, quickly became a center of much new activity, including Sunday Fun Day events, workshops, concerts, picnics, and our Holiday Greens Sale. In the coming weeks, a concrete floor will be installed, and the area around the pavilion will be get user-friendly landscaping. In addition, a recent grant from the State Department of Agriculture to establish a Farm Market at Awbury will make it possible to build a small outdoor demonstration kitchen between the pavilion and Education Center. The outdoor kitchen will enable us and our Farm partners to offer cooking, pickling, and food preparation demonstrations.

Another change coming to the Farm at Awbury area on the east side of Washington Lane is a curb cut and service road about 300 yards north of the train overpass. This new access and roadway to The Farm area will provide access for several new Farm area partners and our landscape crew move to and from their operations and our equipment compound, without having to traverse the upper area of the Farm. This will be a benefit for our other partners and the programs utilizing the Education Center and pavilion.

The final significant project currently underway is the renovation of the property that once served the Cope House as a Carriage House. We acquired this structure and acre of land in early 2019. After much planning, and extensive discussions with the neighbors, the renovation of the Carriage House as a single-family home is now well underway, and planning for how to incorporate the land area continues.

Year of Birds: Destination Awbury!

by Nancy Pasquier, Nature Programs Coordinator

Many of us visit Awbury because we want to take a hike, picnic with friends, say hello to the goats or participate in one of the many programs. But there are some visitors to Awbury that come for the food, to rest for a few days or even to start a family: our bird friends! Providing a welcoming spot for birds was one of the express goals of the Cope family when they donated the property to the public in 1916. The grounds feature native plantings, water, and plenty of places for shelter, all of which are attractive for both year-round and migrating birds. The Arboretum is listed as an eBird hot spot with over 50 species identified so far this year.

We are celebrating our feathered friends with a variety of programming supporting our 2022 theme The Year of Birds. Highlights to date have included a presentation by Holly Merker on Ornitherapy, or how birding and wellness are connected, learning about the many (and often unattributed) contributions of women in birding from Debbie Beer (photo to the right) and two bird hikes, one led by Awbury’s resident birder and Board member, Bill Reaume, and the other led by the Feminist Bird Club.

This spring we have a number of exciting things planned, including a presentation in April by Jason Hall of the In Color Birding Club on the History of Birding and Ornithology among Black and Brown communities. Jason will also lead bird hikes both in April and in June during Black Birders week. In the Cope House galleries, an exhibition of mixed media prints/paintings entitled “Wild Gardens and the Birds that Love Them” by artist Julie Zahn is on display now through April 28 [see related article below].

In May the Bluebird Society of Pennsylvania (BSP) will share their expertise on how to attract bluebirds and will also give tours of Awbury’s Bluebird Trail that the BSP helped to establish. Artist Julie Kring will be leading a bird art activity for children (and adults if they wish) at a Sunday Fun Day at The Farm, and another bird hike will be offered in mid-May. We will conclude our spring Year of Birds programming with a tile workshop led by Karen Singer in June.

If all this talk of birds makes you want to learn more, check out our monthly bird blog by former Awbury intern Dan Sardaro that highlights birds you might find at the Arboretum throughout the year. If you would like to support birding at Awbury, please consider participating in our bird-a-thon. To learn more about all of our Year of Birds programming, click here.

Welcome Spring! Egg Hunt Returns

Children gather for the start of the egg hunt in 2018

After two years of pandemic caution, the Egg Hunt is back! Gather at the Francis Cope House (1 Awbury Rd) on Saturday, April 16 at 10am sharp with your basket and wait for the signal to hunt for 2,000 candy-filled eggs hidden across the Awbury landscape. Be sure to arrive early to find street parking and have ample time to walk up to the Cope House for the starting line.

Join us also for the seasonal reopening of AdventureWoods Natural Materials Playground (6060 Ardleigh St)! AdventureWoods features all-natural structures, live willow huts, woodpiles to climb, fairy tables made from tree stumps, and is open to the public from 10am-2pm every Saturday and Sunday (closed in case of rain) from mid-April to the end of October.

Wellness Team News

by Megan Do Nascimento, Wellness & Sunday Fun Days Coordinator

Winter does not keep the hardy Monday walkers affectionately known as the “Awberries” from their weekly trek through the  English meadow, The Farm, the Cope House grounds, Haines Field and McNabbtown field. The bluestone patio of the Cope House is the midpoint of our ramble. There we can be found stretching, learning self-defense moves (courtesy of the intrepid Martina Plag), offering sun salutations, and even dancing an early morning Cha Cha Cha. Martina, an Awbury Wellness Walk regular, educated us about all things witch hazel, which is found in the upper meadow.

Many walkers welcome the cold weather as it makes it a little easier to breathe and only adds to the quiet peace and calm of the early morning.

Chair yoga has been a popular offering during the winter months and early spring. Regulars seem to appreciate the hybrid class with in-person spots at the Cope House and a Zoom option for those at home.

Spring at Awbury is looking busy! We have added a Thursday late morning walk with and time to explore The Secret Garden, The Wingohocking Trail, and  Cope Lane. We have been loving the hawks and woodpeckers that greet us during our walks and chair yoga classes.

April brings outdoor wellness classes; click here for our schedule, and visit our Facebook page for weekly updates. Sarah Charlesworth will be teaching a yoga class on Monday evenings; Awbury Evening Flow with Megan is set for Tuesday nights; Chair Yoga will be outside on the patio; and Afro-House with Antoinette is coming out of the hybrid model as well in April. We are hoping to add pop-up classes of tai chi, Zumba, Afrovibes with Rasdaq and hula fitness.

Walks partnered by We Walk PHL will be back on Saturday and Sundays in May. They will start at 10 am and be led by Awbury neighbors Barbara Philmon and Gary Gaston.  I also will have a table promoting Awbury at Mt. Airy Day on May 7th. Come by and visit!

Summer will bring morning yoga classes at The Farm, a meditation and writing walk hosted by Jenny Bulkholder, and classes for seniors under the pavilion.

I am pleased to be leading  the Longwood Community Read this year. We will be reading “The Song of Trees” by David George Haskell, and all registrants get a free copy of the book. Register now: slots are filling up fast! We are meeting on May 22 at The Farm for discussion and conversation.

Sunday Fun Days couldn’t be any more fun and I am looking forward to  coordinating family friendly activities. Come visit as at The Farm starting in May.


This spring saw the opening and artist’s reception for Julie Zahn’s print & painting works on the theme of gardens and birds. The event was well attended, with visitors coming from near and far. Julie grew up in Bethesda, MD, daughter of a printmaking mother, and always loved art, but deliberately did not major in art in college, choosing instead to focus on a double major in English and French. While in college, she took a semester abroad in France, where she met up with a Japanese ceramicist. When he asked to see her work, she realized she had none to show him. By the time she returned to college, the art bug had bit, and six months after graduation she headed to Japan: “I just wanted to do my work, without the American pressure to socialize. I went out early every morning to draw and paint in the rice fields near [Utsunomiya].” She also informally studied with a painting teacher and woodcut artist in her free time. In this way, she felt she had developed a vision for herself as an artist before she ever attended art school.

Upon her return to the States, Julie’s mother helped her put together a portfolio of her work and she immediately enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art: “I was starting over again at age 25!” Though her major was painting, she specialized in printmaking, a combination one can see in her work today. She returned to Japan on a travel scholarship and worked with an antique screen restorer in the Kyoto area. Toward the end of her stay there, she discovered katazome or Japanese stencil dyeing, a paste-resist technique traditionally used for textiles. Attracted by its painterly potential, she adapted it to paper using acrylics and pigments with gojiru, a soybean binder, creating paintings with a printmaking element.

photo above: “Pair in Underbrush”

Julie’s association with Awbury Arboretum started over two decades ago, when she became friends with the mother of one of her son’s friends who lived on grounds adjacent to the Arboretum. Then last year, she saw Jonathan Eckel’s show in the Cope House Galleries, and admired the spare aesthetic of the rooms: “I really loved how his work looked; I loved that [the space] wasn’t overhung. So I immediately got in touch with Heather [Zimmerman, Executive Director],” and requested to have her own show.

photo to right: “Evening Grosbeak Depths of Forest”

The bird theme for her recent works sprang from two sources: one was that, several years ago, she needed a wedding gift for her ornithologist brother, and the other was that watching birds in her garden gave her “a much-needed diversion during Covid and I named this body of work the Covid Bird Series.” The works are semi-abstract, with textile-like backgrounds, bright splashes of color, and birds captured in mid-motion: looking over shoulders, pecking at the ground, clinging to swaying grass, perched on a branch. The effect is at once decorative, whimsical, and serene: the subtly colored birds (most rendered in shades of grey) provide a locus of calm amid vibrant colors.

Julie’s studio is nearby, and she welcomes visitors. Julie’s works are on display at the Cope House Galleries from Monday-Thursday, 10am-4pm until April 28. Admission is free.

photo above: “Cardinal in Pink”

Awbury Adventures Pilots a Farm Camp

by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor

Registration for Summer Day Camp at Awbury got off to a roaring start this year, with four camps selling out on the day registration opened, and two more in the next couple of weeks. This summer, we are offering 7 different camps, an experience for every child: our original camp and perennial favorite, Camp Katniss, based on the popular Hunger Games YA series and featuring wilderness survival skills; Year 6 of Ilvermorny Camp for Witchcraft & Wizardry, based on the Harry Potter world and featuring classes in Magic and an adventure; Forest Creatures & Nature Foragers, our camps for younger campers featuring native Pennsylvania wildlife, wildcrafting, and STEAM activities; the return, after a 2-year pandemic hiatus, of Welcome to Wakanda, featuring adventures based on the Marvel Comics Black Panther series; and Advanced Wilderness Survival, featuring advanced campcraft for kids who have outgrown Katniss; and, for the first time ever, Farm Camp.

As The Farm at Awbury takes ever more prominence in Awbury programming, with the burgeoning popularity of Sunday Fun Days, the bustle and excitement of Harvest Fest, and the relocation of Awbury’s Holiday Party and Greens Sale to The Farm, there is an interest in expanding programming there. One project that has been envisioned over the years has been a Farm Camp, where children would be able to learn the basics of urban agriculture, organic farming, farm-to-table cuisine, and caring for animals. This year, that idea has finally come to fruition, with the piloting of a 1-week camp for 8-13-year-olds. Heading up this camp this summer is Shannon Herlihy, who served as an EAT 360 program coordinator with Vetri Community Partnership, which provided hands-on cooking and nutrition lessons for children K-6 at 3 charter schools. Prior to that, Shannon was a fermentation specialist at HEX Ferments in Baltimore, and an AmeriCorps Farm Assistant at a farm in Maryland. She plans to bring her expertise as a fermenter, educator, farmer, and cooking instructor to teach campers about pickling, nutrition, sustainable agriculture. She believes passionately in food justice, a community approach to food access, and creating a more equitable and sustainable planet.

At the moment, Farm Camp is very nearly sold out. We have several spots for scholarship and sliding scale fee registrations, or you can put your child’s name on the waitlist for regular registration. We hope to make camps at The Farm at Awbury part of our regular summer offerings.

For more information on any of our camps, click here.

Welcome New Staff: Vivian N. Rowe

Vivian Rowe, our new Awbury Ambassadors & Rentals Manager, grew up in Germantown and Mt. Airy and went to Central High—a through-and-through Philly Girl. She majored in architecture at Hampton University, and then worked at various architecture firms for around twelve years before deciding to switch gears and open a floral design business in 2005. Shortly thereafter, she began working with a landscaping firm, and gradually brought landscape design into her own business. Her current business, Compass Rose Spatial Design, incorporates elements of floral design, landscaping, horticulture, and garden design: “I have an interest in placemaking and public space design; I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors, “ she says. Her specialty is designing beautiful spaces that people will actually use, bringing them into contact with the outdoors, and subsequently into a greater awareness of environmental issues.

Vivian has also worked as a teacher in the Mural Arts program, and taught art at the Buildabridge Artology program, a camp integrating art and science with an emphasis on nature. In 2014, she served as the chairperson of the community service project for the National Organization of Minority Architects Annual Conference, held in Philadelphia.

Her first professional contact with Awbury was in 2011, when she collaborated with the Arboretum in developing a living wall installation: a wooden wall with planted fabric pockets. Her relationship with Awbury is of long standing, however: “I love Awbury,” says Vivian, “I use the grounds, I walk the paths. In my architecture thesis I used this landscape as the [basis] for my project.” Her new role as Manager of the Awbury Ambassadors program will allow her to welcome more visitors into the landscape she loves.

Board Member Spotlight: Linda Owens

Tell us a bit about yourself: where are you from?

I’m from Philadelphia, from Germantown; I’ve lived in Germantown my entire life. We’ve lived here [next door to the Arboretum] a little over 50 years. I believe I was 17 when I moved here. I went to Drexel, where my major was fashion design. I always took art classes. I used to take classes at a small school on Rittenhouse Street while I was in middle school. In high school I went to Girls High; they had after-school art classes that I attended. They warned us at Drexel that you sort of had to know someone to get into the fashion field. I was very introverted and shy, so I [left and] took the easy way and went into public service. But I’ve made few prom dresses and wedding gowns in my time.

What was your relationship with Awbury before you joined the Board?

When I was a child, I used to walk over and we would sled. When I was a little older, I would ride my bike over. Most recently, my relationship with Awbury was just enjoying it with my dog Sandy (who I just lost in 2020). Even when I didn’t feel like walking, I had to go out; Sandy forced me to go out. It was good for me.

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

I’m retired. I worked for the Department of Public Assistance most of my career. Toward the end, I worked for the Office of Children, Youth and Families.

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

It is what it is in the center of a community. It’s hidden in the middle of a city. Most people don’t really know about it, even though we try to tell them. I’m the editor of the Awbury Arboretum Neighbor’s Association newsletter…. A week or so before the monthly meeting we distribute the newsletter and I always make sure the Arboretum’s website is included in the newsletter. There’s a lot going on there that’s of interest to the community.

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

I like the way it was when we moved here. Haines Field used to be usable; there was an annual spring fair and Gay Johnson was very much involved: they would have bake sales and pony rides there, open to the public. I would like to see some things like that come back. I would like to get the community more involved. That being said, I do enjoy the quiet. But that’s okay; I can’t be selfish, I have to share! It seems like now people don’t have the time, or don’t have the commitment to be involved [in things outside of their own circle]. I don’t know how to bring them in—I think the answer might be to talk to some kids and their parents and ask them what activities they would be interested in. We need to get the kids involved if we want to have a future.