Thursday, December 31, 2015

My New Job at Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

I finally did it. I found a way to combine my graphic design skills with my passion for gardening. I started working as a graphic designer for Pennsylvania Horticultural Society on November 16th, 2015. This move was a long time in the making, however, once the wheels were moving, they moved fast.

I spent 21 years working for a company that designs and manufactures CDs and DVDs for independent musicians and filmmakers. I had moved up the ladder quickly there – was training new hires after only 6 months on the job, then was made an art director a little over a year after starting my job there. I spent 16 years developing the Design Studio, training new hires, establishing best practices, and more. The company restructured about 4-5 years ago, laying off many people and eliminating middle management jobs. My art director job was eliminated and I went back to being a graphic designer. I counted myself lucky to still have a job, but it wasn’t easy watching the Design Studio go from 25 designers to a mere 6, and it was even harder no longer having a say in how the department was being run. I had started to look for a new job then, however, I learned quickly that most companies were looking for graphic designers who also knew web design. So after an unsuccessful job search, I decided to go back to University of the Arts (my alma mater) to get a certificate in web design. I spent three years working on that, got straight As, and graduated in April 2015.

I was still working on updating my design portfolio and website when I started looking at places that interested me – Morris Arboretum, Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, Bartram’s Garden, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, anything that was garden-related (I also happen to be a member of all of these places, and have been for many years). In August I noticed that Morris Arboretum was looking for volunteer guest bloggers and that seemed like a good start for combining my skills and interests. I sent them some examples of my own blog and they were interested. I started out writing about some topics that they provided, although now they let me come up with my own topics. I have loved writing articles for them and they seem pleased with my work, so it has been a mutually beneficial situation. Plus, it gives me an excuse to visit the arboretum more often! It is beautiful, especially spring through fall. I briefly entertained a part time graphic design there, however I decided that I really needed a full time job with benefits. That’s when I spotted the graphic design position at Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. They were also looking for someone with web design skills. I applied, and about a week later went for an interview, then a second interview, then a phone interview, then got a job offer. Once it happened, it happened fast, and before I knew it, I had a new job!

The commute into Philadelphia via public transportation, then 15-20 minute walk from there, has been a change to the 5-10 minute drive I was used to, but I knew I was at the right place when the Director of Marketing gave me flowers on my first day. She said, “Every new hire at PHS should have flowers on their desk.”

What is the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) all about, you ask? Most people think of the annual Philadelphia Flower Show when they think of PHS. Or you may know of the flower show, but don’t realize that PHS is the non-profit organization behind it and that the proceeds go to funding their various community greening and gardening programs. I have been going to the flower show every year since I graduated college and I have been a PHS member just as long.

Quick Stats about the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and their programs:

(Taken from their website and printed materials)

• The mission: PHS connect people to horticulture and together we create beautiful, healthy and sustainable communities
• has 64,000 members and 5,000 volunteers annually
• has an operating budget of $23.8 million for FY 2015

PHS Philadelphia Flower Show
• attracts approximately 250,000 visitors annually
• started in 1829 and is the nation’s largest and longest-running horticultural event
• has been honored as the best event in the world by the International Festivals & Events Association, competing with events such as the Kentucky Derby Festival, Tournament of Roses Parade, and other international celebrations.

Plant One Million
• has planted 500,000 trees as part of the P1M Regional Partnership since 2011, in an effort to restore the tree canopy in the Greater Philadelphia region
• the 500,000 tree (the halfway mark) was planted in honor of the visit of Pope Francis.

Tree Tenders
• has graduated 4,278 people since 1993, teaching them horticultural skills and about tree care maintenance
• has planted over 2,000 trees throughout the Philadelphia region in 2014

The Rain Check Program
• has worked with Philadelphia residents to control excess storm water by providing workshops and tools, such as rain barrels, downspout planters, depaving, permeable pavers and rain gardens
• has installed 237 rain barrels since September 2014, under contract by Philadelphia Water Department

Garden Programs
• have graduated 2,075 people as Garden Tenders since 1995, providing them with hands-on gardening experience and teaching them how to establish successful, self-sustaining community gardens
• have graduated 628 people as Green City Teachers since 2006, helping them to bring school garden projects to life
• have preserved 35 gardens through the Neighborhood Gardens Trust, a land trust dedicated to the preservation of community gardens and shared open spaces to enhance the quality of life in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods

City Harvest
• makes fresh, nutritions produce more widely available to underserved neighborhoods
• has 140 growing sites in its network of urban gardens and farms
• distributed 250,000 seedlings in 2014
• helps over 1,200 families get fresh produce every week during the growing season

Roots to Re-Entry
• Since 2010, the recidivism rate for R2R graduates has been 30 percent, as compared to the average rate of 65 percent for the entire population of Philadelphia ex-offenders
• has offered workforce readiness and horticultural programming to 850 inmates
• has broken previous year’s records by growing 12,000 pounds of produce in 2015, which was donated to a food cupboard in the city

Philadelphia LandCare
• collaborates with the city of Philadelphia to clean, green and stabilize vacant lots to help return them to productive use
• maintains 6,000 vacant parcels throughout the city
• maintains 2,100 additional parcels through Community LandCare

Civic Landscapes and Landscape Management
• Civic Landscapes has reinvented seven public landscapes so that they can be enjoyed by all, including South, Central, and North Broad Street, the Northeast Corridor, Girard Avenue, and the Airport.
• Landscape Management manages more than 50 acres, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Azalea Garden, Logan Square Swann Memorial Fountain, and Rodin Museum.

Pop Up Gardens
• has turned a vacant lot into an urban oasis for the past 5 years, providing food, drinks, workshops, and entertainment
• has welcomed more than 75,000 guests at its two Pop Up Gardens in 2015

• PHS hosts lectures and workshops at the PHS McLean Library, the Philadelphia Flower Show, and in collaboration with partners in the city
• The PHS McLean Library is the nation’s oldest horticultural library with 18,000 titles on gardening, plant care, botany, landscape architecture and urban greening, as well as 5,000 e-books

That is just a brief overview of the many worthwhile programs that PHS manages. Can you see why I wanted to work for this amazing non-profit? Their mission and goals are right up my alley and I feel great being even just a small part of this wonderful organization. 

During my first month at PHS, new hires were treated to a tour of some of the PHS managed gardens and green spaces. It was great to see these first-hand. 

One of the stops on the tour was the community garden at Bartram’s Garden. In this mild November, there was still some crops growing, such as broccoli and cauliflower.

Another stop on the tour was the Big Green Block, where PHS partnered with the Philadelphia Water Department and others to create stormwater management, as well as green space and a dog park for residents. This site includes tree trenches and rain gardens to help manage stormwater runoff. 

PHS is funded mainly through membership. One of the perks of being a member is a free subscription to their beautifully designed GROW magazine. GROW features articles on gardening, with a focus on the Pennsylvania area.

A fun thing that PHS did was to partner with Wyndridge Farm to create the PHS Cider, which is available at the Pop Up Gardens and the Philadelphia Flower Show. I managed to pick up a bottle on a recent visit to Wyndridge Farm.

It has been odd starting a new job after many years of working for the same company, but the mission and people at PHS has made for a smooth transition. I feel great about the organization I work for and its goals and accomplishments. I look forward to being a part of it all in the coming years, even in my small way as a graphic designer.

P.S. I am still guest-blogging for the Morris Arboretum blog when I can. (Some of my posts are also on their older blog website.) Some people have been confused and think that this is related to my job at PHS, but it is not. I love Morris Arboretum, have been a long-time member, and I do the guest-blogging on a volunteer basis. I really enjoy my partnership with them and I will continue to help them as long as I can and as long as they are willing to have me.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Guest Blog Post for Morris Arboretum – Decorating with Fresh Greens

For years I have loved decorating with fresh-cut greens for the holidays. It started out with just making my own wreath, then I moved onto topiaries, vases, outdoor containers, hanging baskets, and the fireplace mantle. My mom and I have a tradition of going to Bartram’s Garden for their annual greens sale every year. They have various cut greens that they pruned from their trees and you fill as much as you can into a grocery bag for $10. Can’t beat that! I also use cut greens from my own yard (as well as any of my neighbor’s evergreens that hang onto my property! Shhhh, don’t tell them!) So when Morris Arboretum was looking for a new blog post, I of course thought of writing about decorating with fresh-cut greens. Check out my “Decorating With Fresh Greens” post and photos!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Guest Blog Post for Morris Arboretum – Beautiful Bark

So much has gotten in the way of my blog this past month or so – mostly some major home repairs and getting a new job! I finally found a way to combine my passion for gardening with my career. More about that later, though.

In the meantime, check out my latest guest blog post (with my own photos, too) for Morris Arboretum. It is called “A Beautiful Bark Treasure Hunt.” When the trees have shed their leaves and you think they have nothing else to offer, take a closer look...

Paperbark Maple at Morris Arboretum

Flatspine Prickly-Ash at Morris Arboretum

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Flower Garden in August

Woah, August, really??? I sure am behind with my garden updates. Although I have to say, it is kind of fun looking back at August in November, when the garden is winding down. Seriously, look at what it looked like...

It looks nothing like that now! The two white hydrangeas would be better off not right next to each other, but I sure do love them in the summer. I thought my Black Eyed Susans had died last year from a disease, but they came back. They have been a staple in my flower garden since the very first year I planted the garden.

The one white hydrangea starts to take on pinkish hues here and there as summer progresses towards fall. That’s a Christmas Fern with it.

I really liked how the annual Limelight Coleus looked with the darker, maroon-ish leaves of the Weigela and the dark green leaves of the pink rose bush. I may have to plant more of these coleuses next year. You can see the lavender and white David Phlox in the background, as well as Purple Coneflowers.

This sweet, little, lavender-colored annual bloomed all spring and summer. The flowers almost look like asters. I don’t buy a lot of annuals, but when I do, they have to be long performers like this one. This little guy may be a new must-buy each spring.

Speaking of must-haves, Cardinal Climber vine will definitely make a showing in my garden again. A friend recommended I plant this annual in order to attract more hummingbirds. My male and female hummingbirds loved the red flowers of this vine that bloomed all summer. I am hoping it reseeds, but if it doesn’t I will be sure to plant it again.

I also saw the hummingbirds at the lavender Obedient Plants in August.

While on the subject of pollinators, August was definitely a good month for bees. They adore the Joe Pye Weed. Look at those fat, fuzzy bumbles! I just love them.

The Joe Pye Weed is in the back of my flower garden and tolerates a certain amount of shade there.

A lush, pale pink bloom of Abraham Darby, a David Austin rose, in the sunshine.

These blue Plumbago flowers make for a nice ground cover in summer.

The variegated Liriope blooms this time of the year in the gnome garden. Don’t be messin’ with those gnomes, they’re trouble.

Closer to the house, by the screened-in back porch, is where I have a lot of herbs. Two different thymes, rosemary, sage, and oregano are always within easy reach when doing some summer cooking with herbs.

The white Ladies Tresses were blooming in my bog container by the steps of the back porch in August.

The trough container that I made in the early spring was doing extremely well as summer went on.

The sedum was especially colorful in this container later in August. Look at the awesome magenta color. It was screaming “look at me!”

It was a warm, dry summer, so seeing the garden hoses out, like in the photo below, was a common sight. You would think I would have a better way of watering than dragging a hose or sprinkler around.

So that was August in the flower garden. Let’s see if I can get August photos of the kitchen garden posted before December!!!!

Guest Blog Post for Morris Arboretum – The Miniature World of Mosses and Lichens

My latest guest blog post for Morris Arboretum is called “The Miniature World of Mosses and Lichens.”

I first got really into mosses and lichens when I noticed a bunch growing on the cedar-shingled roof of our trashcan bin. There seemed to be many different kinds all growing in this same space. I started to look at them through macro extension tubes on my camera – and wow! What a curious, alien-like world. I have been trying to learn more about mosses and lichens and even took a class on moss about a year ago at Morris Arboretum. Now I always make sure to take a closer look at these miniature, non-vascular plants whenever I see them.

Check out my guest blog post and photos!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Guest Blog Post for Morris Arboretum – Visiting the Arboretum on a Drizzly Day

It has been such a thrill doing the guest blog posts for Morris Arboretum. I really love doing it. The latest one to be posted is called “Visiting the Arboretum on a Drizzly Day.” I was going to visit the arboretum to work on some future blog posts, one on mosses and lichens and another on tree bark, but the weather forecast was ominous. I was debating on whether or not I should venture over there when Brian suggested I go. He said that if it rained I could write an article about being at the arboretum on a rainy day. So this particular post was actually his idea, not mine. It ended up being an interesting day and gave me a chance to appreciate different areas of the arboretum. The post features photos that I took while there that day, as well. Check it out!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Creatures of the Garden

As we transition to fall, I find myself reflecting back on the summer. The garden is always full of life in the summer. Insects, birds, and the neighbor’s cats, plus some evening visitors like bats, possums and raccoons. I managed to capture a few on candid camera.

Some of my favorite summertime garden visitors are the hummingbirds. I had at least one male and one female that I would see constantly in the garden, flying from flower to flower. They especially loved the red Cardinal Climber and red Texas Sage this year. They never seemed to visit the hummingbird feeder that was in the flower garden, so I decided to move it close to the back porch where there are less flowers and where I could see them better if they decided to visit. It worked! They would visit several times a day. It took them a little while to get used to me and my two cats on the back porch, but they warmed up to us. I spent a lot of time sitting out there with my zoom lens on my camera and finally got an ok shot of the male hummingbird.

Butterflies are a constant presence in the garden during summer days. Usually it’s Cabbage Whites and Tiger Swallowtails. I sometimes get others, such as Skippers, Eastern Black Swallowtails, Monarchs, and recently a Fritillary. I found myself wishing this particular Tiger Swallowtail could tell me his story. He looked like he had been through the ringer with frayed wing edges and that big missing piece.

The past couple of years I have found Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars on my Parsley. Parsley is a host plant for these swallowtails. The butterflies lay their eggs on the plants, then the caterpillars eat and eat until they are ready to make chrysalises and become butterflies themselves. I had at least two of the caterpillars this year. It has gotten to the point that I don’t cut parsley to use it until I look under the leaves for eggs first! I have definitely found them.

Bees are my friends. I found myself going out into the garden every day just to check on my bees. I get a lot of native bumble bees. This year I actually saw some honey bees, which is not as common.

Another buzzing visitor this year was Digger Wasps. I don’t recall having seen them before. I think it might mean I have grubs, which I actually already knew. Females burrow into the ground looking for white grubs, stings them, and lays eggs on the them. The larvae pupates and overwinters in a cocoon within the host’s body. Gross, huh?

I see praying mantises every year, however, this year they have been particularly plentiful. I often see them near the back door, so I think they must live in the mint or other herb beds that I have there.

They are so alien-like. Such fascinating creatures.

I get many different birds in the garden. My favorite birds are the goldfinches. They are happiest when the purple coneflowers are loosing their petals. That is when the finches get the seeds. This year I tried hanging a finch sock near the back porch to see if I could watch the finches like I get to watch the hummingbirds. It worked! I get to see lots of finches up close now, as long as I sit still and as long as the cats behave and don’t try to jump at the screen. I get lots of females, but have only seen two males this year.

If you look carefully, you will spot a bluejay in the next photo. There were more bluejays than usual this summer. For awhile each morning I would witness two bluejay parents teaching their fledglings to fly. They would go from tree to shrub to tree, following each other. They were a noisy bunch.

Hard to see in this shot, but there is the bluejay on the left by the bird feeder and one of the neighbor’s cats, Tiger, on the right. My neighbor has at least four cats that visit the garden, three of them more regularly. It is rare for me to be out there and NOT see a cat. The three regular visitors are all orange and white.

Here Tiger has spotted one of the Tiger Swallowtails. Hmmmm, maybe that is how the one lost part of his wing.

Puss loves to nap in the garden. I have to be careful because there have been times when I have almost stepped on her or almost weeded her! Somehow she finds the gravel path comfortable. Not sure what that is all about.

There are many other creatures of the garden, these are just the ones that I happened to have gotten close enough to take pictures of! I love that my garden is welcoming to other creatures. After all, it is just as much for them as it is for me.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

2015 Philadelphia Honey Festival

The Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild held the first Philadelphia Honey Festival in 2010. It was to celebrate the placing of a historic marker honoring Lorenzo L. Langstroth, who was born in Philadelphia. Langstroth is famous for inventing the first movable frame bee hive based on the principle of “bee space.” According to their website, the mission of the Philadelphia Honey Festival is “to raise awareness about the importance of honey bees to our environment, our food supply and our economy, and to promote urban beekeeping and gardening.” I had never been to the honey fest before, so decided to check it out this year and see what it was all about.

The honey festival runs for three days at three different locations: Wagner Free Institute of Science, Wyck Historic House/Garden/Farm, and historic Bartram’s Garden. I attended the events at Bartram’s Garden. Here are some fun highlights.

The events included a fall native plant sale, honey related vendors, children’s costume making and bee parade, free Schuylkill River kayak paddling, a honey cooking contest, a bee-bearding demo, open hive talks, and a demonstration of honey extraction.

The open hive demo was in the meadow at Bartram’s Garden, where they have community bee hives. These hives are attended to by various people who live in the area. This is an example of a Langstroth bee hive. This is the most widely used hive design today. (These aren’t the greatest photos because they were taken zoomed in using my phone.)

Another type of bee hive is a top-bar hive. Some members of the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild showed us what this style of hive looks like. Unfortunately, this particular hive had not been properly taken care of and was falling apart when they tried to pull out the frames.

There is a really great view of center city Philadelphia from the meadow at Bartram’s Garden.

I always wondered how you get honey out of bee hive frames. Now I know after attending the honey extraction demo! The frame is removed from the bee hive and the outer layer of wax that the bees made is scraped off the honeycombs with a knife.

After the wax is removed, you see glorious, liquid honey.

The frames are then placed in a honey extractor, which is basically a stainless steel tank with a spigot valve at the bottom and a crank at the top.

You crank the handle as fast as you can and it rotates the bee hive frames so that the honey comes out of the honeycombs.

When you turn the valve open, out pours magical, golden honey.

Next time you get honey, think about what an amazing thing it is and the many bees that worked hard to make it.

The Philadelphia Honey Festival happens in September every year. Check it out next year!