Missive From the Director’s Desk

by Heather Zimmerman, Executive Director

creek with stone footbridge

Dear Community,

Exciting changes are happening at Awbury: new committees, new structures, new programs, new members and a growing sense of new connection.

For the first time in our long history, a Nominating Committee, made up of community members and board members worked together to approve the board nomination slate.

The slate of nominees and voting dates can be found here.

If you would like to vote in the 2021 election you must become a member by September 1st; click here to join. (If you are a current member you will receive a postcard with details via mail by the end of August.)

Members are welcome to join us on September 19th from 3 to 5 PM for our Annual Autumn Social and Member’s meeting. Hear about what is happening at the Arboretum, meet Awbury Board members and staff, and enjoy light refreshments with neighbors and friends. The event will be held outside at the Cope House tent pavilion.

We hope you will join us.


Harvest Fest 2021: Save the Date!

October 9, 2021 11am-3pm

Harvest Fest is back! Watch our eblast for more information on events, food, and activities for the day.

The Farm Report

by Grace Wicks, Director of Community Engagement at The Farm

It’s been a beautiful growing season on The Farm. In addition to vegetables, fruits, nuts, flowers, herbs, fabric dyes, bees, chickens, pollinator friends, goats, and trees, we’ve been cultivating community.  Below are a few specific ways in which the Arboretum has been engaging the public at The Farm.

Sunday Fun Days have been well attended with an average of over a hundred participants every Sunday. While certain aspects of Sunday Fun Days remain constant—it is always from 1-4pm, free, open to the public, and family-friendly—the themes and activities change every week. Fun Days have featured local leaders, as well as our on-site Farm partners sharing their work in beekeeping, weaving, gardening, goat loving, and farming.

Some Fun Day highlights have included featured guests Philadelphia Poet Laureate Trapeta Mayson, who will be returning Sept 12th to lead another Germantown Poetry & Water Workshop with the Philadelphia Water Department; CeCe from Cosmic Hoop & Flow, who led over 40 people ages 3-75 years old in fabulous hula hooping dance moves; and Leomar Cooper, who facilitated a kids terrarium making workshop.

Some Fun Day themes in the works for this fall include wellness, music, circus arts, watershed stewardship, celebrating seniors, nutritious cooking, and for the grand finale: Halloween! If you have ideas or talents to share, please contact thefarm@awbury.org.

The Kitchen Garden was started in July 2021 by neighbors of the Arboretum who want to learn about and to practice growing food with other folks. The Kitchen Garden is located in the “uptown” section of The Farm, next to the Education Center.

The purpose of the Kitchen Garden is to provide

 Opportunities for regular garden volunteers who want to learn while being of service

– A place for the public to engage in hands-on educational programming about urban gardening

– A food source for culinary demonstrations such as workshops and special events

Weekly group gardening days are ongoing. Contact thefarm@awbury.org for specifics, as the schedule is shifting this fall. Extra produce will be donated to St Luke’s Food Pantry.

Chef Gail Hinson and others will be using the Kitchen Garden for cooking classes and gardening lessons this fall. We plan to offer more robust programming through the Kitchen Garden in the 2022 season. Click here to share your thoughts for Kitchen Garden planning or to get involved.

Renting Farm Facilities for special events has become increasingly popular. In addition to the Education Center, we now offer our spacious new Pavilion for event rentals. On the weekends most event rentals are for birthday and graduation parties, while during the work week we have strong participation from school groups and other education-focused organizations. These facility rentals are competitively priced while helping to generate critical income that supports  the free community programs and amenities at The Farm. Consider hosting your next event at The Farm!  Click here to view our rental information.

Pizza Farm has been a delicious addition to our life at Awbury.  Weavers Way Executive Chef Bonnie Shuman prepares grilled pizzas highlighting seasonal ingredients, including produce grown at the Weavers Way Farm at Awbury. The generous pizza tasting menu and tours of The Farm at Awbury make for a yummy, fun, and affordable farm-to-table evening out.  Below is a sampling of some of the offerings:

The Bitter Truth – grilled radicchio, Weavers Way Farm’s sautéed mustard greens, golden raisins, anchovies, pine nuts and fontina

The Summer Squash – Weavers Way Farm’s yellow squash, zucchini and basil with whipped ricotta, corn, and pumpkin seeds

The Papa Picanté – Martin’s Sausage pork chorizo, Weavers Way Farm’s swiss chard, roasted potatoes, and a mix of Conebella Farm’s smoked and jalapeño cheddar cheeses

Check our weekly eblast for current menus and registration information.

In addition to these Arboretum-sponsored events the 15 partners at The Farm are doing exciting and important work every day. Click here to view our list and links to their individual websites.

Capital Improvements: The Pavilion at The Farm

by Chris van de Velde, Project Manager

Excitement is palpable for the newest improvement at The Farm at Awbury. While the final floor and landscaping remain to be completed, our new outdoor pavilion is in place! Our first rental event was held on a lovely summer evening: on Saturday, August 14, the well-known Dixieland band Tuba Skinny performed a benefit concert to support the work of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project.

The new pavilion is a gift from the Rosenblatt family—Sid, Ruth, Anna, David, and Brooke—as an expression of their appreciation for the many volunteers who have contributed so much to Awbury Arboretum over the years. [They particularly cited the more than a decade of voluntary service to the Arboretum given by former General Manager Chris van de Velde]

The structure is of a post-and-beam type construction, typical of barns and outbuildings constructed during the 19th century. The post-and-beam components were crafted and erected by The Challenge Program, a non-profit vocational training program whose members also built the newest shed structure behind the Cope House. The footings and stone base were installed by Joseph Manero & Sons. The roof is a metal roof installed by our frequent project contractor Brian George Construction.

Over the next few months, staff will be assessing use patterns and needs to determine whether or not the structure will be of a more long-term benefit if it is eventually enclosed for use in the colder months of the year. Come witness the Pavilion’s grand opening at our Harvest Fest on October 9!

Wellness Team News

by Megan Do Nascimento, Wellness Coordinator

Summer wellness at Awbury has been delightful. We start the week off on Mondays with a 7:00 a.m. hour-long Wellness Walk through the Arboretum, which, despite the early hour, is attended by a robust number of people. Some live near enough that they can practically roll out of bed for the walk; others, like Kathleen Kingsley of Conshohocken, have a bit more to travel.

Walkers said the Awbury experience was special for them.

“There is something about walking onto the grounds of Awbury that envelops you in nature. It gives you a sense of wellness, tranquility, and transports you through the liveliness of the Farm to the peacefulness of the meadow.” –Cat Robinson, Roxborough

“I have always wanted to be more in touch with nature. With each walk I learn useful things: [For example,] you don’t eat pokeberries [even though] they look like blueberries.” –Michael Barney, Awbury neighbor

“Living through the pandemic, I found the chair yoga class not only helped me physically, but emotionally. I have never met such a wonderfully embracing group of women. I enjoy the weekly class and the opportunity to walk my dog around the beauty of the Arboretum.” –Mary Reynolds, Manayunk

“I have maybe missed one Monday walk since January. It is a great way to start your week because you meet all kinds of people, people that are slow walkers and people that are fast. There is a sense of camaraderie, even among the people you never met before. And Awbury is such a beautiful park in the middle of the city, Germantown. It is a great testament to the city. It is friendship and exercise at the same time,”  –Dale Mezzacappa, Mt. Airy

“With every walk I see something new: sometimes I notice a different tree, new vegetables that will soon be harvested, and, of course, the animals. I love watching the goats, but on my walk this week I found myself fascinated by the different breeds of chickens. Just watching them eat their breakfast and interact with each other gave me a feeling of peace and joy.” –Pat King, Mt. Airy

Our Yoga classes have been well attended, and the people that participate love the sounds of the cicadas, birds, and even the soothing patter of rain falling on the Cope House tent during Savasana. Participants  can’t seem to get enough of the goats and welcome them when we are in cat/cow pose on Wednesdays. Romeo, the most flirtatious cat in Germantown, loves to visit the morning yoga crew at The Farm.

The heat has not wilted the vibe and enthusiasm of Afro-House Dance class members. Afro House classes were held on the patio of the Cope House, sometimes attracting some of the kids from Awbury’s camp to join in the fun.

Hula Fitness with Cece has been such a hit that we have made it a weekly class on Wednesdays at 6:30 pm at The Farm. Come on out!

September is looking like a busy month for the Wellness Group. We have a full schedule in store: Qigong with Margaret Kinnevy on Tuesdays, chair yoga on Wednesdays on the patio of the Cope House, Afro-Vibes with Rasdaq on Mondays at The Farm, Rise and Shine yoga with Sarah, monthly pop-up Family Karate, Hula Fitness on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. Awbury Evening Flow with Megan on Tuesday nights.

Also stay tuned for an African dance workshop with “Peaches” Jones, Zumba pop-ups, and weekend Wellness Walks with We Walk PHL.

Check out our Facebook group: Awbury Arboretum Wellness Group for more info on new classes, cancellations, and pop ups. Please contact Megan Do Nascimento for any questions at wellness@awbury.org

Botanical Musings

by Grant Folin, Landscape Manager

The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), with its bright orange color and bold black stripes, is one that almost everyone, even very young children, can easily identify. I remember a summer 9 years ago when my mom raised monarch caterpillars in large jars so that my 4-year-old niece could observe the development of monarch caterpillars first into pupae and then into adult butterflies.  But how did my mom know where to find the tiny caterpillars?  She only had to look for milkweed plants in the high summer season (July–September/October).

Monarch butterfly larvae (caterpillars) are only able to feed on milkweed species—plants in the genus Asclepias. Milkweed plants are common in abandoned agricultural fields, vacant lots in cities, and many open, unforested areas that receive lots of sunshine.  These plants have even popped up in the small area of soil in front of the apartment building where I live in Philadelphia. Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is often seen as a pest plant by avid gardeners because of its habit of producing large colonies quickly by sending out root runners.

The numbers of monarch butterflies in North America have been in rapid decline during the last decade or more.  The scientists studying this phenomenon have not pinpointed a primary cause of this decline, but some have concluded that habitat loss or degradation has been a major contributing factor.  The monarch butterfly habitats important to sustaining robust numbers of these insects are their overwintering forests in Mexico, as well as marginal agricultural land in the US and Canada. With farming becoming ever more efficient and relying more heavily on herbicide-resistant varieties of plants, the places where milkweed once thrived are becoming smaller and fewer.

If you find a small area in your garden or yard that you can dedicate to a few milkweed plants, you can assist in keeping monarchs from becoming a creature of the past.  Milkweed is easy to care for and can grow under very adverse conditions.  For hot, dry, sunny well drained areas, try planting butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which has narrow delicate leaves and clusters of bright orange flowers.  For wetter areas with partial shade, try planting swamp milkweed – (Asclepias incarnata), a tall plant that develops clusters of bright pink flowers in late summer.  The most versatile species of milkweed is common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which will be happy in any type of soil, so long as it has adequate sunlight—more than a half a day.

Planting milkweed does not guarantee that the plants will produce caterpillars, but the more habitat we provide for the monarchs, the more opportunities they will have to grow and to develop into the adult butterflies that we all enjoy seeing in the summer.  Plant milkweed and enjoy another of Mother Nature’s miracles!

A note:  Awbury Arboretum has been designated as Monarch Waystation #30349 by Project Monarch Watch.

Above:  Monarch larva on A. syriaca; above right: Monarch butterfly on A. incarnata – photos © Grant Folin

From the Archives: Awbury’s boardwalk

by Alex Bartlett, Archivist & Curator

 This photograph taken around 1900 by Reuben Haines shows one of the plank walkways which once existed at Awbury. The exact location shown in the photograph is unknown but might be in the vicinity of Cope Lane.

When walking around the Arboretum, one might wonder about the history of the Arboretum, its houses, and associated landscaping throughout the last 150 years. Of the latter, the Arboretum’s system of curvilinear walkways and drives are particularly old, with many dating to the mid- 19th century. Though short sections have been realigned over the years, many are in the same location in which they were originally laid out.

According to the nomination of the Awbury Historic District to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, many of these landscaping features—including the walkways and drives as well as planting beds near the houses—were the design of William Saunders, an Englishman who had formed a partnership with fellow countryman Thomas Meehan. Meehan owned and operated a plant nursery in the vicinity of what is now known as Sedgwick Farms. Local historian Edwin C. Jellett, very much active around the turn of the 20th century, believed that much of Saunders’ work occurred at Awbury during the period 1856-1859, as implied by the latter’s account records. This might suggest that some of this work may have been completed in anticipation of the construction of the Francis Cope House, completed in 1862.

As documented by several photographs in the collections of the Awbury Arboretum Archive, sections of plank walkways also existed at the Arboretum at the turn of the 20th century. Shown above is one of those sections of plank walkways, at an unknown location. The relatively flat, wooded land and straight right-of-way suggest that the view was perhaps taken of Cope Lane or of a similar, nearby location. None of these plank walkways are still in existence today.

If you have any items documenting the history of Awbury and/or the surrounding neighborhood, we would love to know about them!  Please contact Archivist and Curator Alex Bartlett, at abartlett@awbury.org to share any details you might have.

Campers Learn Wilderness Skills, Spells, and Wildcrafting

by Hideko Secrest, Leaflet Editor

After a year and a half of pandemic, children (and their parents) were eager to get out of the house and out from behind their computer screens to interact with nature, each other, and their imaginations. For children ages 6-13, Awbury Adventures Summer Day Camps offered a place to do just that. Every single one of our camps sold out by the end of March, and all had waiting lists.

With six 2-week offerings, there was something for every child. The two camps aimed at younger children—Forest Creatures and Nature Foragers—featured  flights of imagination with creatures real (goats, birds) and imaginary (dragons, fairies), and crafting with materials found in nature, making solar prints with leaves, getting muddy in the pond, and creating anti-itch sprays, soap, and yummy pesto from foraged plants.

Camp Katniss, the perennial favorite, had two sessions this year so as to be available for larger enrollment. Even so, both sessions had long waiting lists. The camp, based loosely on Suzanne Collins’s young adult series The Hunger Games, taught basic survival, self-defense, and camouflage skills the first week. In the second week, campers were separated into Districts and played teamwork and trust games while honing their survival skills. The week culminated with an all-day survival contest in which District was pitted against District. One parent wrote: “[Camp Katniss] was [my daughter’s] first camp at Awbury and it was a huge hit. It made me so happy to pick [her] up each day and listen to the retelling of everything she learned, explored, ate and played…. I am so happy [my daughter] had this experience, and I’ll be signing up for more camps next year.”

Ilvermorny Camp for Witchcraft & Wizardry, now in its fifth year (it was the only camp that ran during last summer’s pandemic season), filled the need for kids whose imaginations run toward magic and fantasy. Based on the world of J.K. Rowling, Ilvermorny offered campers classes in Potions, Charms, Divination, Care of Magical Creatures, Herbology, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and History of Magic. Campers also made amazing treats under the tutelage of Ilvermorny’s Chef Whisketter (Sheila Foster), played Quidditch, and took part in a magical Dueling Tournament. On the last day, they took their final exams and enjoyed the End of Term Feast before receiving their diplomas in Elementary Magic and their Pennsylvania State wand learners permits. A parent wrote: “[M]y 8-year old attended [Ilvermorny Camp for Witchcraft & Wizardry]. [She] came home energized and nourished each day…. She said that she had never felt more like she belonged as she did at this camp…. I sincerely appreciate all of your efforts and recognize the care and effort and love you put into these two weeks. We cannot wait for next year.”

Our last camp of the summer, Advanced Wilderness Survival, was directed at older children, many of whom had attended Camp Katniss for years. Though we were unable to have our traditional camp-out on the last day because of pandemic restrictions, the campers learned all the advanced techniques from summers past: shelter building, water filtration, orienteering with a compass or the sun, making solar ovens, learning advanced knots, building matchless fires, sending distress signals, and advanced foraging. A special treat was homemade root beer, made from the roots of sassafras trees the campers had dug up the day before.  The last day was a day-long Survival Decathlon, with campers proving their skills in 10 categories. A record 13 of the 24 campers got perfect or near-perfect scores in all categories, earning them the “Master Token” and the adulation of their fellow campers.

So now as the shadows begin to lengthen into autumn, we leave the memories of summer behind and get ready for a return to school. But wait! Registration for next summer’s camp opens next February—watch our weekly eblast for the notification.

Local artist Susan Breitsch had been wanting to curate an art show of contemporary artists for some time, but had no idea if or when it would happen. Then by chance she met Executive Director Heather Zimmerman at a neighborhood cleanup in Germantown. Upon learning that Breitsch was an artist, Zimmerman told her about the Cope House galleries here at Awbury. When Breitsch mentioned her dream of curating an art show, Zimmerman responded with “Okay, let’s talk about doing that.”

Soon thereafter, Breitsch got to work planning the show, and in January of this year, she started contacting artists to be in the show. A few people she invited were acquaintances, like Robert Zurer, who started Philly Crit Group, a gathering of artists who meet once a month to view and critique the work of three featured artists.

photo, right: Susan Breitsch (left) with Nancy Cohen (right) at the Opening Reception

But Breitsch needed a way to reach out to a wider range of artists. “Since I know very few people, even after living here for four years, I turned to the arts organizations CFEVA and InLiquid. … and posted calls for art on their websites, but only got a handful of responses,” she remarked. “So I turned to their art registries, culling them for artists whose work I admired. I contacted them to discern interest, and then set up a studio visit. I looked at almost all the work in person. I also contacted a few friends from NYC to invite them to be in the show, and a few artists were recommended by another artist.” Breitsch estimates that, of the 36 featured artists, she was familiar with slightly more than a third of them before the show.

The requirements for entries were fairly simple: the included works had to be 2-dimensional, and within certain size limitations. “As far as the work went, there was no [explicit] theme; I just wanted to see what pulled together,” she commented. Much to her surprise, since her own work is mostly figurative (collages that appropriate images from other sources), the majority of the works she chose for “Up Against a Wall” are abstract. In keeping with this, the piece she chose for her own entry is mainly abstract: “I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s my favorite work, but I wanted something that would fit in.”

photo above: Artist Dawn Merritt and family under her painting “Tweeting Harmony”

The title of the exhibition, “Up Against a Wall” flowed from two sources: one, that Awbury’s parameters for the show were that all works would need to be suitable for hanging on a wall, and two, “the fact that this past year and a half has been that kind of a time, in one way or another, for all of us.”

Since this was her first time curating an art exhibition, Breitsch wanted to feature a broad swath of artists: “I knew that to have a lively opening, it would have to be a big show.” She was happy to be at Awbury, rather than at a professional gallery: “It was so nice for my first curatorial endeavor to be more casual and relaxed.” She also let the artists know that this would not be a typical gallery venue; she remarked, “I laid it all out for them before they committed so that they knew what they were getting into.” Though the setting is not that of a downtown gallery, many of the artists appreciated the bucolic surroundings: “I got some feedback about how beautiful [Awbury] is.”

photo: Artist John Mitchell (left) under his print “Untitled” (upper right)

The artist’s reception was held on the afternoon of July 11, and the Cope House Galleries were lively and well-attended. Over 150 visitors and artists circulated in and out of the galleries over the course of four hours, pausing for refreshments on the porch of the Cope House and gathering in the lobby to chat and admire the artwork. In total, 29 of the 36 artists came for the reception, including all but one of the four New York artists, and most seemed eager to discuss their work. Breitsch received feedback from several of the artists that they were pleased with the show and proud to be a part of it. Her own memories of the opening are “a bit of a blur”—despite the crowds coupled with the heat that day, the reception was a swirl of positive impressions.

Breitsch had two other observations about the experience of curating this exhibition: one positive and one challenging. The positive was that three of the featured artists are graduate students (two at Tyler School of Art & Architecture and one at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts). Thinking back to her own graduate-school days, she was impressed that they had the interest and the confidence to take part in an exhibition. The challenging part was that “The hanging of the show was a daunting task over two days. We all feared we would never pull it together.” But thanks to the help of the following artists, they managed to get it all done in time:

Becca Aidlin
Andrea Wohl Keefe
Sandra Benhaim
Matt Bender
Dawn Merritt

Afterschool Classes for Kids

Are your children yearning for something hands-on for after school? Awbury is offering two fall classes for 8-12-year-olds: Archery & Whittling and Intro to Wilderness Survival. The first of these classes will meet for 6 weeks and will touch on the basics of archery: bow parts, safety, target practice, and familiarity with both recurve and compound bows. The second class will meet for 8 weeks and will touch on all the basics for survival in the wilderness: shelter building, water collection, food foraging, fire building, knot tying, field first aid, and knife skills. All classes will meet outdoors, rain or shine, and will follow current City COVID-19 safety measures.

Archery & Whittling

Wednesdays, Sept. 22-Oct. 27, 2021 from 4-5:30pm
Cost: $90 for 6 weeks

Intro to Wilderness Survival

Tuesdays, Sept. 14-Nov. 2, 2021 from 4-5:30pm
Cost: $120 for 8 weeks

Scholarships and sliding scale fee available. Contact hsecrest@awbury.org to apply.

Click here for more information and to register.