December’s Bloom Where You Are Planted Edition
Photo by Paul W. Meyer
Our History at Home offerings typically sprout from history and architecture. Today, and once every month, we offer a conservation cornucopia from the Conservancy and some friends on trees, gardening, and stormwater management. We hope to help you “Bloom Where You Are Planted.”
What Community Means in a Difficult Year
This past spring, as it became clear that 2020 would be a year unlike any other, Conservancy staff began working with our neighbors to share stories about the people, places, and spaces around us–to help us remain connected as a community during the Covid crisis.
We’re so grateful to our supporters for sharing how valuable you’ve found our History at Home activities and our expanded event for this year’s Night of Lights, and we wanted to spotlight some of your neighbors who contributed their time and expertise to make this year’s virtual learning and storytelling possible.
“In this year of a health and economic crisis, I gained solace by being part of a Conservancy Committee that re-imagined how to safely conduct our Night of Lights program. I volunteered to do historical research on the buildings that showcased the Conservancy slideshows, featured in our new mobile experience. As I delved into the Archives’ records and photographs, I was amazed at how many small grocery stores, pharmacies, and general stores operated in Chestnut Hill in the first half of the 1900s. I am grateful that the Conservancy, with Night of Lights, is recording our current-day vital business owners’ memories for the future as well as sustaining our sense of community during this chaotic time.” –Conservancy Board Secretary Carolyn Adams
“Despite the general isolation that this Pandemic has caused, I’ve enjoyed a surprisingly deepened connection this year to our community by diving into its history. From work on the History at Home videos, I’ve seen the quiet park at the bottom of my street transformed back into the amusement park it once was at the turn of the century. I’ve toured elaborate historic houses in the area, explored the Wissahickon of years past, learned of the courageous Italian artisans who emigrated here — all from my office chair! I’ve also really enjoyed meeting owners of favorite local businesses through interviews for Night of Lights. And I was particularly moved as I poured through hours of archival tape bringing to light powerful remembrances of segregated Germantown from years past — very poignant in 2020.” –Molly Murphy
The Chestnut Hill Conservancy must raise $35,000 in contributions by December 31st to continue defending, educating, protecting, and celebrating the community that sustains us. Your gift is more important than ever. Please join us as a champion of this resilient community by supporting the Conservancy!
Heartfelt thanks to our members and supporters who have already contributed to the Conservancy during our appeal! We’re getting closer to our goal and December is winding down. Will you join us?
The Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Securities Act, also known as the CARES Act, offers important tax incentives for charitable giving. Taxpayers who do not itemize can take an above-the-line deduction of up to $300, while those that do itemize their returns can take deductions for gifts made up to 100% of their adjusted gross income. Contact your tax adviser for details.
December – Norway Spruce
by Paul W. Meyer, Conservancy Board Member and
Morris Arboretum’s Retired F. Otto Haas Executive Director
Norway spruce is a very tall, evergreen tree. This conifer is widely distributed in the wild, native to Scandinavia, as well as central Europe and much of Russia. It was introduced into cultivation in Britain around 1500 and to the US in the 19th century. It was listed in Chestnut Hill’s famous Andorra Nursery 1895 catalogue, under the botanic name of Abies (fir) excelsa. It is described as “a valuable tree either as a single specimen or for a grouping, and it also makes a fine evergreen hedge.” Plants were offered at 25, 50, and 75 cents and $1.00 each. ($1.00 in 1895 is equivalent to $31.00 today – still a bargain.) Andorra Nursery was probably the origin of the many fine, old trees still growing in Chestnut Hill. Some of these monarchs exceed 100 feet in height. Occasionally, a line of closely planted trees suggest it was once a hedge which outgrew their bounds.
Today, Norway continues to be the most common spruce planted in the Philadelphia region. It is fast growing, pyramidal when young, developing a more open habit with graceful drooping branchlets as it matures. It is relatively resistant to insects and diseases. This species is highly variable and many cultivated varieties have been selected and asexually reproduced. . Many are slower growing and more compact than the species, while some have a weeping or very narrow, upright habit. The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs lists over 40 different cultivars, though only a fraction of these are commonly grown.  These compact cultivars are more useful in small landscapes than the massive straight species.
In Europe, Norway spruce is an important forestry tree. Its wood is widely used in construction, furniture, pulp and musical instruments. It is also grown as a Christmas tree in many regions.
Interestingly, the young green shoots were used to flavor spruce beer (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). The needles are rich in vitamin C and thus, this beer helped prevent scurvy. In recent years, craft brewers have revived these old spruce recipes. Locally, Yards makes a spruce ale based on Ben Franklin’s original recipe.
As an evergreen, Norway spruce is a welcomed sight in the winter landscape, while providing cover for birds and other wildlife. The cones are the largest of the spruces, and they fall to the ground intact when ripe. The seeds provide food for many birds and small mammals.  Fortunately for us, Norway spruce is not a preferred food for whitetail deer, though I have learned not to say that any plant is deer-proof.
The Norway spruce is an important element of our cultural and historic landscapes and continues to be well worth planting where space allows.
See the entire gallery of images for this month’s article at our Tree of the Month page! Visit our History at Home page for more information.
Chestnut Hill Conservancy is regularly highlighting special trees in our community, both large and small, as well as common and obscure. In doing so we hope to promote an appreciation of our arbor legacy and foster a culture of stewardship and renewal of this invaluable resource.
Photos by Paul W. Meyer:
Top: The lawn of the Woodmere Museum features a fine, old, Norway Spruce.
Second: A sculptural specimen of a weeping Norway SPruce cultivar growing at the Morris Arboretum.
Third: Pendulous branchlets on mature specimens are a distinctive characteristic of Norway Spruce.
Bottom: Norway Spruce has the largest cones of all the spruce species. These fall to the ground intact and are useful in holiday decorations.
December – A Season of Greens
by Emilie Lapham, Conservancy Board Member, avid gardener, botanical artist, and active participant in several noted local and national garden organizations.
The landscape is more gray in this season so we crave green inside and outside of our houses. This has been such a challenging year in so many ways but there are some good aspects many of us have experienced also. We walk more, we garden more and we appreciate the natural world more. I would like to share some green ideas for this season and I am challenging myself to decorate the house entirely from what I find in my garden and house. Sustainable decorating.
Start with clipping and gathering. Most evergreen shrubs and trees have grown well this year and there is extra growth to clip. Cut a generous selection of textures and colors to work with but snip here and there to cover your tracks. There might be sap so wear gloves.
Here is an easy way to make a wreath. Take 2 wire coat hangers and pull them into a circular shape and twist or join them together. Take advantage of the hook for hanging later.
Make bunches of greens combined or solo. Wrap and twist bunches with fine wire on a spool.
Attach one bunch at a time to the wire circle with a continuous wire. Overlap the bunches and plan the design as you go. It is possible to include nuts and pods for contrast or add later. The bunches help make a repeated pattern and spinning direction.
Garland Make your entrance green. It looks inviting and cozy to enter through greens and you can add lights too. I used garden twine for the base material. Measure a length somewhat longer than the doorway and fold it back to double it. Make a knot about every two feet to keep it strong and together. For our door I found the center point and made a loop to hang the garland from.
Make large bunches or clip branches to regular lengths. Wire the bunches or branches to the twine base with continuous wire on a spool. Think about the direction or flow desired. I start at the center loop and work a flowing line in each direction, then I add a tassel of greens to the center. The garland can also flow one way.
Table Trees
It’s fun to create small trees for surprise arrangements around the house. I made 3 very different “trees” from what I found in the garden.
One traditional, one mixed and one modern. The traditional tree is a assembled on a small block of floral foam. The foam is made with formaldehyde so I do not buy it anymore but have some in my basement to use up. It is very easy to work with and I just stick small branches in the foam block working around in a circle from bottom to top. Keep the tree moist and it will last for a month. Add decorations or keep it simple.
The mixed tree is less shaped with a soft look including a variety of greens and pods. The pods have been sprayed gold. This is arranged in a pronged wire holder (kenzan). Kenzans are heavy and help secure the arrangement and they can be reused for years .
The modern tree is the branch tips of Euonymus Green Spire. The branches are assembled in a kensan container and dried yellow Billy Ball or Craspedia added to the greens.
There are no rules, let your garden be the local supplier and let the ideas flow.
If you don’t have a garden, maybe your friend will share or it is time for a walk in the country with clippers. Enjoy creating festive decorations from nature.
All Photos by Emilie Lapham
Top: Entrance Garland Second: Wreath
Third: Bunch greens Fourth: Form wreath.
Fifth: Festive Garland.
Sixth: Garland detail. Seventh: Traditional table tree.
Eighth: Mixed table tree. Bottom: Modern table tree.
Introducing our A Gardener’s World webpage, featuring the full gallery of articles and images. Check back each month as we contribute these wonderful features! Click HERE.
Were you forwarded this email?
Sign up to get Conservancy updates sent to your inbox!
  • January 10 – 2021 Virtual Annual Meeting
  • January 21 – Discovering Chestnut Hill Virtual Lecture – Accidental Master Plan: The Fortuitous Open Spaces of Chestnut Hill with Rob Fleming
Thank You!
Sponsors and supporters are community champions and make all of this work possible!
Always feel free to contact us with any questions about the Conservancy, our programs and events, or your membership at
Chestnut Hill Conservancy | 8708 Germantown AvenuePhiladelphia, PA 19118