August’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.”
Women in the Spotlight
Chestnut Hill’s own Lydia Morris
To celebrate the Centennial of the 19th Amendment, and Women’s Equality Day on August 26th, this month we’ve been spotlighting remarkable Women and their achievements. We would love to hear about other remarkable women and their achievements! Who are your female heroes? Let us know about those that inspire you! Contact us at
Lydia Morris
Born into a wealthy and prominent Philadelphia Quaker family, Lydia Morris was a well-educated, forward-thinking, amateur horticulturist. She and her brother, John, traveled extensively and collected art and plant specimens. In 1887, they bought property in Chestnut Hill and spent the rest of their lives tending to and building up extensive gardens that, by 1913, would occupy 166 acres.
Lydia dreamed of preserving these gardens for the community to use as a public garden for educational purposes. This dream became a reality one year after her death when the property she left in trust to the University of Pennsylvania opened as the Morris Arboretum. It is still open and educating the public today.
Photo courtesy of the Morris Arboretum Archive. Bio courtesy of the Laurel Hill Cemetery.
August – Franklintree: A Botanical
and Historical Treasure
by Paul W. Meyer, Conservancy Board Member and
Morris Arboretum’s Retired F. Otto Haas Executive Director
Franklinia (Franklinia alatamaha) is a relatively rare, small tree or large shrub, with exquisite white Camellia-like flowers in the late summer and early autumn. As its flowers suggest, it is a member of the Theaceae, a plant family that includes Camellia.
It was discovered by Philadelphia’s own, John and William Bartram, and they named it in honor of their friend Ben Franklin. They first found it in 1765 growing on the banks of the Altamaha River (the spelling has changed over the years) near Fort Barrington, Georgia and brought it back to Bartrams’ Garden in southwest Philadelphia. William Bartram reported in 1795, “I have never saw it growing naturally north of ye banks of the Altamaha in Georgia yet it completely resists the frosts of our severest winters and flourishes [in Philadelphia] even excelling any I saw in its native land.”
Franklinia has not been seen in the wild since the early 1800s and is considered extinct in the wild today. Fortunately, the Bartram trees and their descendants were propagated and distributed over the centuries and they are grown in gardens throughout the world.
By 1775 Bartram plants were already being grown in England. Today, in the botanical world, Franklinia is considered to be a ‘poster child’ for the importance of ex-situ conservation.
In cultivation today, Franklinia is a rather finicky plant. I have observed it does best in acidic, moist but well drained soils, rich in organic matter… the same conditions where Rhododendrons thrive. If you are nurturing healthy Rhododendrons, you can probably successfully grow a Franklinia. Once it is well established in an appropriate habitat, it can live for many decades.
Recently, Franklinias were planted in Pastorius Park on a knoll just above the lake in memory of Quita Horan, a long-time supporter of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy and the Friends of Pastorius Park. By early August they were already in full bloom.   Keep an eye on these plants as we go into the autumn. Often there will be a few late flowers which persist into October and contrast beautifully against the red fall leaf color. In the winter, the white striations against the relatively smooth, dark gray bark are interesting.
Flanking the Franklinias in this same planting, are plants of an exciting new, bigeneric hybrid of Franklinia and Gordonia lasianthus, an evergreen tree of the same family from southeastern USA. Named xGordlinia grandiflora, this semi-evergreen tree is new to the Philadelphia region. The flowers are similar to Franklinia and it is reputed to have greater vigor and disease resistance. It will be interesting to watch its landscape performance here in Chestnut Hill in the coming years and compare its performance with its Franklinia parent.
Paul W. Meyer
The F. Otto Haas Director, retired
The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania
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.
Visit our History at Home page for more information, and also our new Tree of the Month page!
Photos by Paul W. Meyer:
Top: Franklinia flower in Pastorius Park taken July 31st as it was just starting to bloom.
Second: Newly planted Franklinias in Pastorius Park dedicated to the memory of Quita Horan, a supporter of both the Friends of Pastorius Park and the Conservancy. The smaller tree (left) is a new bi-generic hybrid xGordilinia grandiflora.
Third: Franklinia will often bloom late into the autumn providing contrast to the red autumn foliage. This photo was taken October 20th.
Fourth: A mature, 20 foot specimen of Franklinia growing in a home garden in Chestnut Hill. It was planted about 20 years ago.
Bottom: Franklinia flower close up.
August – Grasses are a must in your garden
by Emilie Lapham, Conservancy Board Member, avid gardener, botanical artist, and active participant in several noted local and national garden organizations.
Grasses are in the Poacae family and account for 26% of plant life on Earth. This impressive family also provides the world’s most significant food source. Rice, wheat, oats, barley are just a few or the foods from grass. Appreciate the importance of grass, but what does this mean for gardeners?
Lawns can be the backdrop of your garden rather like a mat sets off a picture. Grass can be so much more for your garden! Ornamental grasses can add real excitement to a garden design and can provide scale, texture, line, color, form, contrast and extended seasonal interest even in winter. There are so many choices in the grass family and they are some of the easiest plants to grow. Most grasses require little water and care, making them a good sustainable choice. Grasses can be incorporated into a herbaceous bed as a detail or accent but it is also possible to design a wonderful garden that is just grass. Few plants capture light and motion the way grasses can. Sometimes a meadow can resemble the rolling waves of the ocean on a breezy day.
Here are just a few grasses that grow well in this area and all are available in local nurseries:
Pink Muhly – Muhlenbergia capillaris
This grass is evolves slowly producing abundant radiating lines over the season and is spectacular in late summer and into the fall and winter. It creates a soft pink cloud like bloom. A large group will produce a dreamy effect for months. Full sun to light shade, ordinary well drained soil, heat tolerant. Tufts 2-3 feet high.
Bouteloua gracilis – BlondeAmbition, blue gana
Gentile tufts with small brush-like inflourescences that are like floating musical notes. Attracts birds. Cut to ground late winter. Full sun, well drained average soil, 2 feet high.
Hakonechloa macra – Japanse Hakone grass
Native to South Asia this vigorous grass grows in graceful mounds that cascade in a wavelike form.
It is variegated bright green and likes shade to light shade. It creates a dramatic bright color in contrast to a shady location partners well with bronze and deep purple plants. 12-14” high, average to fertile soil soil, not too dry, spreads slowly, cut back in winter.
Sorghastrum nutans – Indian grass
Native to central and eastern United States this sturdy grass is very easy to grow and sometimes naturalizes. Tall tufts of blue blade foliage with blooms of pale wheat color. Average well drained soil, full sun to part shade, 2 -3 feet high Drought tolerant.
Emilie Lapham
Conservancy Board Member
Photos by Emilie Lapham, except where indicated.
Top: Pink Muhly Muhlenbergia capillaris in July
Second: Sorghastrum nutans growing in an old horse trough
Third: Pink Muhly Muhlenbergia capillaris in August
Fourth: Pink Muhly Muhlenbergia capillaris at the end of summer (Photographer unknown)
Fifth: July Bouteloua gracilis Blonde Ambition
Bottom: Hakonechloa macra Japanse Hakone grass
Missed our Ask the Experts Presentations?
Not to worry!
Our August 20th Ask the Experts presentation, Homeowner Strategies for Planting and Maintaining Trees in a Changing Climate, presented by Hal Rosner, certified arborist with Conservancy sponsors Shechtman Tree Care, is now available to view for free!
Earlier this season, our successful virtual series of Ask the Experts lectures brought you Long Live the Raised Bed, with Chris Mattingly and Mike Bennett from Backyard Eats, Energy-Efficient Residential Lighting with Gerry DeSeve, and Landscape Tools to Protect Our Watershed, presented by the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) and a Chestnut Hill homeowner for whom PWD installed a fabulous rain garden.
These recorded lectures are available to view for free, and can be found on our Ask the Experts Program page.
The Morris Arboretum Rose Garden: A Century of Evolution
A photo montage of changing design visions of the Rose Garden over the past century.
Video courtesy of Paul Meyer.
Photos: courtesy of Morris Arboretum Archives, Chestnut Hill Conservancy and Paul W. Meyer.
Music: Courtesy of Mixkit
Please forward! And don’t forget to tag us on social media, @chconservancy on Facebook and Instagram and using the hashtags #HistoryatHome, #chconservancy, #commonground, #together, #wegotthis
Stay well, and keep in touch.
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