‘Earth Perfect?’ symposium to take place at UD, area gardens June 6-9

May 28, 2013 under CANR News

ApplecrossAnnette Giesecke is a professor of classics and chair of the ancient Greek and Roman studies department at the University of Delaware She also is the mastermind behind “Earth Perfect? Nature, Utopia, and the Garden,” a June 6-9 symposium taking place at UD and several local horticulture venues.

It may seem unusual for a professor of classics to organize a horticulture symposium. But this isn’t a garden-variety garden conference. If you’re only looking for tips on pruning or growing the perfect tomato, you’ve come to the wrong place.

“’Earth Perfect?’ will showcase the garden as an emblem of the ideal human relation with nature,” says Giesecke. “Anybody who is interested in the importance and meaning of gardens, and the politics of gardens, will want to attend. It’s not just an event for academics and garden professionals.”

Frankly, even those of us who never stopped to think about the meaning of gardens – we just know we like them — may find the symposium worthwhile. The eclectic program includes a lecture by UD professor McKay Jenkins on the environmental and health risks of lawn chemicals. There’s a workshop on creating “night spaces” and another on designing with edible plants. You can learn about slave gardens in the antebellum South or contemporary urban vertical farms.

Keynote speakers include Emma Marris, author of Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, and UD’s Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. Mixed in with the lectures and workshops are special tours of Winterthur, Longwood Gardens, Chanticleer and the Mt. Cuba Center.

Giesecke, who has written widely about the gardens of ancient Greek and Rome, was inspired to create the symposium after co-editing a publication also called Earth Perfect? Nature, Utopia and the Garden.

Sue Barton, an ornamental horticulture specialist with UD Cooperative Extension, is excited to be speaking at the symposium because she wants to get more people thinking and talking about her lecture topic — livable ecosystems as a model for suburbia.

What’s a livable ecosystem?

The easiest way to explain it is to say what it’s not – a livable ecosystem isn’t a chemically treated monoculture of turfgrass with a few non-native, invasive trees plunked down in the front yard, too far from the house to shade it in summer or serve as a windbreak in winter.

In other words, a livable ecosystem is a far cry from what many suburban yards look like today.

“The traditional home landscape contains a limited palette of plants, has large areas of regularly mowed lawn, and provides relatively few ecosystem services,” says Barton. “Forests and meadows, on the other hand, provide many ecosystem services.”

Rest assured, you don’t need to remove every blade of grass and turn your yard into a jungle to create a livable ecosystem.

Take, for example, the attractive new landscape at a home in the Applecross neighborhood off Route 100 in Greenville. It does look a bit different than the neighbors’ yards – for one thing, there’s a 6,000-square-foot meadow of native grasses. It also features a newly reforested area, adjoining an existing wooded tract.  Invasive plants have been removed and replaced by white oaks, blueberry bushes, ornamental grasses and other native species.

Grass plays a role, too, but it’s been bumped from star of the show to a member of the supporting cast.

“Turf on the property is used purposefully, for recreation areas, circulation, or as the green carpet that sets off other plantings,” says Barton.

The yard is part of a UD research project on livable ecosystems. “We want to see if replacing the typical suburban yard of mostly grass with one containing diverse vegetation can help protect the environment and make landscapes more sustainable,” she says.

The Applecross property is one aspect of a multidisciplinary project involving five UD faculty members and dozens of undergraduate and grad students. Another research site is located at Winterthur, where the UD team is collecting water quality data in three streams that drain from three different landscapes – mowed lawn, meadow, and forest. They’re also collecting data on the diversity of plants, insects and birds in each of these settings.

If you won’t have a chance to hear Barton at the Earth Perfect symposium, you’ll have a second chance on June 14, at a Sustainable Landscape Tour. Sponsored by UD Cooperative Extension, the program includes a visit to the Applecross property, as well as a tour of a bio-swale and wetlands on the UD farm. Barton also will be hosting a shorter tour of the Applecross property later this season. To find out more about these Extension events, email Barton at sbarton@udel.edu.

To register for Earth Perfect or learn more at this symposium, call 831-2793 or go to this website.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


Longwood Graduate Program symposium looks at ‘Shifting Landscapes’

January 24, 2013 under CANR News

Longwood Graduate Program offers shifting landscapes symposiumThe Longwood Graduate Program at the University of Delaware has announced that its 2013 symposium, “Shifting Landscapes: Cultivating Connections with a Broader Community,” will be held Friday, March 15, at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa.

The symposium will focus on one of the greatest challenges that public gardens face today — remaining relevant within their communities.

Societal behaviors constantly shift with changes in local demographics, generational preferences and cultural traditions yet seldom are these social patterns reflected in the audience of the public garden.

By presenting some of the brightest minds in public horticulture, social cohesion, environmental psychology and education, the symposium will explore how public gardens can integrate a broader audience into their garden and become an invaluable asset to all of society.

Registration will be open until March 8.

For more information regarding registration, speakers, schedule of the day and other important information, visit the symposium website.


UD’s Longwood grad students donate time, energy to Awbury Arboretum

September 25, 2012 under CANR News

“If you build it, they will come” may work for baseball fields but it’s not always enough for arboretums.

Case in point — the Awbury Arboretum, a 55-acre public garden laid out in a series of open spaces, with mature trees and shrubs overlooking scenic vistas. It’s a pocket of lush greenery in the Germantown neighborhood of northwest Philadelphia.

“Even though the arboretum is free and open daily, it’s underutilized by the community,” says Sara Levin Stevenson, a student in the University of Delaware’s Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture.

Stevenson and her fellow grad students hope to make positive changes at the arboretum via their Professional Outreach Project (POP). As part of the project, the students recently completed designs for signs in and around the arboretum. One set of signs should create more inviting entryways around the perimeter of the arboretum; another set will help visitors better navigate their way through the property. The students also have developed plant lists to add color and seasonal interest to several entrances.

Each year, the Longwood students tackle a new POP in early July, shortly after the first-year students arrive on campus. By the end of September, the bulk of the project is completed. As the POP acronym implies, the students pop on to a site, assess the situation, determine what can be done quickly and effectively, and then complete the job.

“I love the Professional Outreach Project because the students learn a tremendous amount in a brief period of time,” says Bob Lyons, director of the Longwood Graduate Program. “They’re immersed in a fast-paced, short-term assignment and have to think on their feet. Plus, it’s great to see how area organizations have benefited from this program.”

Past POP projects have included a design for a therapeutic garden for mental health patients at Delaware State Hospital; a program and membership development strategy for Scott Arboretum in Swarthmore, Pa.; and a meadow management plan for Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia.

Last spring, the students reviewed proposal requests from gardens throughout the tri-state area before deciding to work with Awbury. Choosing which organization to play fairy godmother to wasn’t easy, recalls Stevenson, who is a co-leader of the project.

“There were many deserving organizations but since I have an interest in community outreach I was excited that we decided to go with Awbury,” says Stevenson.

The Longwood students hope that their project encourages residents to visit Awbury more often and see it as their community’s special cultural institution with a focus on plants.

“We really want to get Awbury on people’s radar screens,” says Stevenson.

Stevenson learned about urban gardens and community outreach before she arrived at UD. After several years as a Latin teacher in Seattle, she decided she wanted an outside job, working with her hands. She joined an all-woman, organic landscaping company in Seattle and after several years became the education intern at Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia.

Her master’s thesis will focus on the ways that gardens and local communities can support each other. “Places like the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and the gardens at UC Davis are doing some really exciting things to engage the local community,” notes Stevenson.

First-year Longwood student Josh Darfler says he learned a lot from the Awbury project.

“Awbury is a great organization that faces some challenges,” says Darfler. “However, their ability to reach outside their walls and connect with the community is something I hope I can start to learn before this project is over. Various organizations have formed a great core network that strives to keep Awbury thriving and active through good times and bad.”

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


UD grad student, local botanic gardens work to protect threatened plant species

March 29, 2012 under CANR News

Last spring, Raakel Toppila trekked through Atlanta’s Stone Mountain Park and other wooded areas in Georgia and Alabama, collecting leaf samples from the Georgia oak, a scrappy little tree that grows on granite and sandstone outcroppings.

A student in the University of Delaware’s Longwood Graduate Program, Toppila’s intent was to discover how each leaf — and the particular oak population that it came from — differed in its DNA make-up. Armed with this information, Toppila says that botanic gardens and other natural areas will be able to better protect and revitalize the Georgia oak, which is listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Ontario native is interested in the role that botanic gardens can play in cultivating tree species that are at risk of extinction. “Thousands of plant species world-wide are currently threatened with extinction,” says Toppila. “Just as zoos have been at the forefront of animal conservation, gardens can start to play a similar role.”

Locally, she notes that several botanic gardens, including Mt. Cuba, are ahead of the curve and already have done considerable work focused on the conservation of native species. Since its inception as the private garden of Lammot and Pamela du Pont Copeland in the 1930s, Mt. Cuba Center has maintained well-documented, wild collected plants.

Since the early 1980s, plants from the Piedmont region, which stretches from northern Delaware to central Alabama, have been a special focus, says Phil Oyerly, the center’s greenhouse manager.

Most of Delaware — from south of Kirkwood Highway to the beaches — lies in the Atlantic coastal plain region. Plants from this region also have received conservation help from Mt. Cuba.

One notable example is seabeach amaranth, an annual plant that grows on beach dunes from New York to South Carolina. This plant had not been seen in Delaware for 125 years until one day in 2000 when state botanist Bill McAvoy found a single tenacious seabeach amaranth plant at Delaware Seashore State Park. He promptly collected its seeds and brought them to Oyerly, who propagated them in Mt. Cuba’s greenhouses.

Year after year, Oyerly has continued to propagate seabeach amaranth seeds, which McAvoy distributes on Delaware’s beach dunes each April. Today, seabeach amaranth grows at Cape Henlopen and Delaware Seashore state parks.

“Numbers fluctuate annually, but we find at least a few plants every year,” notes McAvoy.

Toppila would love to see her research into the Georgia oak be the impetus for a conservation partnership similar to the seabeach amaranth project.

“Botanic gardens could serve as a safeguard against the complete loss of the Georgia oak species,” says Toppila. “They could work on its propagation and cultivation and augment existing populations in the wild.”

Every plant species has its own particular conservation challenges and in the case of the Georgia oak (and oaks, in general) one issue is its tendency to hybridize.

With the legwork portion of her research over, Toppila is now busy analyzing the allelic variations and understanding the genetic diversity of the wild populations of Georgia oak that she surveyed last summer.

“By looking at DNA from different wild populations, botanic gardens can determine how to best represent the full diversity of the species,” she says.

Currently, the greatest threat to the Georgia oak isn’t its tendency to hybridize but human impact. At woodlands such as Atlanta’s Stone Mountain, which receive lots of visitors, Toppila saw numerous Georgia oak seedlings that had been trampled.

Likewise, people are one of the greatest threats to the seabeach amaranth plant, says McAvoy.  When he first began re-seeding the dunes, he used to see tire tracks on the tiny plant, which is particularly vulnerable because it grows on the foredune, the dune closest to the waves — and closest to the vehicles that are allowed on certain state beaches. However, state park staffers now fence off areas where seabeach amaranth grows.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily


University reaches articulation agreement with Longwood Gardens

January 13, 2012 under CANR News

The University of Delaware and Longwood Gardens have reached a five-year articulation agreement that will allow students who graduate from Longwood’s Professional Gardener Program to complete their bachelor of science degrees in the agriculture and natural resources major in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

The Professional Gardener Program at Longwood Gardens is a two-year, tuition-free program offered every year to approximately eight individuals who have obtained at least a high school diploma and have one year of horticulture experience. The program trains students to be gardeners skilled in the art and science of horticulture. Students work in all areas of the garden and receive classroom instruction from Longwood staff and outside instructors, some of whom are professors at UD.

Kimberly Yackoski, assistant dean of student services in CANR, was heavily involved in the process for the University and said she is excited for the benefits that the program offers for both the University and Longwood Gardens.

Concerning the benefits for UD, Yackoski said she is excited to have students from the Professional Gardener Program attending the University and bringing their real-world experiences to the classroom. “For the students who choose to continue at UD, I’m confident they will make a positive impact on other UD students by sharing their horticulture knowledge and the experiences they had during their time at Longwood.  It’s a win win for everyone involved.”

Doug Needham, the head of the education department at Longwood Gardens, Robin Morgan, dean of CANR, and UD Provost Tom Apple signed the agreement by the beginning of December, 2011, which delighted Yackoski. “Our goal was for the articulation to be approved by the end of 2011 and we were thrilled when that goal was accomplished.”

Working with Yackoski on getting the agreement finalized were individuals from UD and Longwood Gardens. They included Tom Sims, deputy dean of CANR and the T.A. Baker Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences; Bob Lyons, professor in UD’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; and Needham and Brian Trader, Longwood’s coordinator of domestic and international studies.

Lyons said he is “very excited about this new articulation agreement because it adds an undergraduate dimension to the already strong graduate program relationship between Longwood Gardens and the University of Delaware.  It also recognizes a high standard of rigor by Longwood’s course work instructors who are committed to excellence in the classroom.”

Said Needham of the agreement, “Education is deeply embedded in our mission at Longwood Gardens, and we are passionate about providing our students with a rigorous academic experience, coupled with experiential learning through rotational work internships in the gardens.”

Because of this, Needham said, “It is critical to us that our students have the option to continue their education toward a baccalaureate degree, and we are very pleased to further our ongoing educational partnership with the University of Delaware through this articulation agreement. Graduates of our two-year Professional Gardener Program now will be able to transfer their coursework and complete a B.S. in agriculture and natural resources at UD.”

Trader, who is also an adjunct faculty member at UD, said that his role in the agreement was to meet with faculty from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and familiarize them with the classes being taught in the Professional Gardener Program to make sure the courses were of the same caliber as the courses being taught at UD.

Of the Professional Gardener Program, Trader said that it is “really a program that allows students to couple academic learning in the classroom with an immersive hands-on applicable experience in the gardens.”

Longwood currently has an articulation program with Temple University, and Trader said that about a dozen students from the Professional Gardener Program have received their degrees from Temple or are currently taking advantage of the opportunity. He said that after the success with the Temple articulation program, it only made sense to try to form one with UD.

“Longwood already has a strong association with UD because of the Longwood graduate program and because most of the Ph.D. staff here at Longwood are adjunct faculty at UD,” said Trader. “Some of the students in the program come from Delaware and the opportunity CANR provides is very attractive to our students.”

Trader also sees the benefits for both sides, saying that for Longwood, “It shows the caliber or the strength of the academics that we’re delivering here. It will allow us to recruit better and it could potentially increase some of the diversity and enrollment in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, not necessarily in number but in background and experience.”

Now that the agreement has been finalized, Yackoski said that she looks forward to seeing the relationship between Longwood Gardens and the University of Delaware grow even stronger. “We’ve had a relationship with Longwood for quite some time, but this has made it even stronger. They have a lot of the same goals that we have, which includes helping students grow and be the best they can be.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Evan Krape

This article was originally published on UDaily


Native Gifts for the Holidays

December 15, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Gift certificates for UDairy Creamery ice cream make a great holiday treat.

The holiday season is right around the corner. Some folks wrapped up their shopping on Black Friday but plenty haven’t finished the task – and some haven’t even started.

No worries. We’ve rounded up some great gift ideas. Best yet, these gifts have a uniquely Delaware focus. Some choices – like landscape design classes – are tailor-made for outdoorsy types. Others gifts – like Delaware wool blankets — work equally well for couch potatoes who just gaze at the landscape from their windows.

From spices to vines 

A few years ago, New Castle County Master Gardeners began offering winter workshops in addition to their regular fall and spring classes. “The response was overwhelming,” says Carrie Murphy, the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension horticultural agent for New Castle County. “January and February aren’t good for gardening but they’re perfect for learning new ways to garden and planning for the season ahead.”

Winter workshop topics include vines and espaliers, downsizing your garden, and the origin of cooking spices. For the complete list, go to this website.

To purchase a gift certificate for a Master Garden workshop, call 302-831-COOP.

Keep warm with Delaware wool

UD’s flock of Dorset ewes get sheared every spring before going out to summer pasture. Previously, their wool was sold at a regional auction to wool processors. Then farm superintendent Scott Hopkins and animal science professor Lesa Griffiths put their heads together and, soon after, Blue Hen Blankets and Yarn was born. Now, after the sheep are sheared, the wool is sent to a Canadian mill to create cozy blankets in two styles — a lap throw and a queen-size version.

The blankets have plenty of heft — each lap throw requires four pounds of wool and the queen-sized contain 12 pounds.  The lap size is $100 and queen-size $175. Buy them at the UDairy Creamery on UD’s South Campus. For creamery location and hours, see the website.

A gift that lasts all year

Surfing at Indian River Inlet and swimming at Fenwick Island. Hiking at Alapocas Run and biking at White Clay Creek. Pond fishing at Killens Pond and surf fishing at Cape Henlopen. Give them an annual pass to Delaware’s state parks, where they can enjoy their favorite outdoor activity — or try something new.

Annual passes range in price from $12 for a senior citizen to $54 for an of-state resident. For more info, or to buy a pass online, go to the state parks website.

UD profs and other experts at Longwood

Don’t let “Tips for Turf Diagnosis: Insect and Disease Management” scare you. Sure, Longwood Gardens’ continuing education program has serious classes for pros. But there’s also “beginning bonsai” and “orchids for beginners.” Your gift recipient doesn’t even have to be a gardener — birding, photography, art and flower arranging classes also are offered.

UD prof Sue Barton teaches the fundamentals of sustainable landscape design in a five-session class; UD adjunct instructor Jon Cox presents the secrets to photographing water in an all-day session. For the full schedule of classes go to the Longwood website and click on “education.”

Longwood gift cards can be purchased on Longwood’s website or at the Kennett Square, Pa., gardens.

Give ’em Delaware River Mud

Mud pie ice cream, that is.

Delaware River Mud Pie is the most popular flavor at the UDairy Creamery, according to manager Melinda Litvinas. This ice cream pairs vanilla and chocolate cookie with swirls of fudge.

Plus, the creamery offers seasonal selections, including peppermint bark, eggnog, gingerbread and peppermint hot chocolate. Gift certificates are available in $5 denominations, perfect for stocking stuffers.

You may want to pick up All Nighter for yourself. This concoction of coffee ice cream and cookie dough chunks, crushed cookies and fudge swirl won a recent flavor creation contest. It was concocted by UD senior Kate Maloney. According to her contest entry, “Every college student has to pull an all-nighter at some point… [this ice cream] gives you the sugar rush you need to survive a 24-hour cram session.”

All Nighter could be just thing for assembling toys late on Christmas Eve, too.

The UDairy Creamery is located behind Townsend Hall on the Newark campus. The creamery closes on Dec. 23 at 5 p.m. (and re-opens Jan. 3). For more information, see the UDairy Creamery website.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley


Natural materials make great holiday decorations, even on a budget

December 15, 2010 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Six years ago, Americans spent almost $8 billion on holiday decorations, according to research firm Unity Marketing. That averaged out to $115 per household.

Hot trends included multiple Christmas trees in the family room, living room, foyer and beyond. Pam Danziger, president of Unity, said in 2004, “Families are spreading the holiday cheer to the bedroom too, with personal trees placed in each bedroom.”

My, how a recession changes things. Last year, the average household spent $40.75 on holiday decorations, according to the National Retail Federation.

But the size of one’s decorating budget doesn’t have much to do with the end result. Take Sue Barton’s greenery-bedecked home in Landenberg, Pa., which sports gorgeous, oversized evergreen wreaths on every door, lush evergreen magnolia in the dining room and an elegant arrangement of Carolina silverbell branches in the foyer.

These warm and welcoming decorations cost her about $5 annually — the price of florist wire, a can of spray paint and glue. Barton, the ornamental horticulture specialist for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, decorates her house with natural materials — greenery, pine cones, berries and more — that she collects in her backyard. Although Barton uses plenty of American holly and Virginia pine, she goes beyond such tried-and-true favorites and collects seed pods, native grasses and even red-twig dogwood branches to create out-of-the-ordinary decorations.

She’s been decorating this way for years and regardless of economic conditions, wouldn’t think to use store-bought wreaths. “I look forward to making decorations from the trees, shrubs and native grasses growing on my property,” says Barton. “It’s a lot of fun and a lot more relaxing than shopping for tinsel and garland.”

If you’re not the neighborhood Martha Stewart, no worries, it’s not that hard to make holiday decorations, says Barton. She creates her wreaths free-form, bending branches into shape and wiring them together. But if you’re a fumble fingers, spend the extra dollar or two on a pre-made wreath form.

If you’re stumped as to what to put on that wreath, Barton suggests a visit to Longwood, Winterthur, Hagley or one of the other holiday hot spots. For example, at Christmas in Odessa, Barton was so captivated by a pineapple decoration that she now creates a similar piece for her own home.

To make it yourself, cut a pineapple in half, scoop out the fruit, and stuff one half of the rind with newspaper. Then attach the pineapple rind to a board that has four rows of nails. Place apples on the nails and arrange magnolia leaves around the perimeter. Feel free to experiment, says Barton, and substitute oranges or another fruit for apples, and any kind of evergreen for the magnolia leaves.

Don’t compare your final product to professionally crafted creations. The point is to be inspired by the pros, says Barton, and then add your own personal touches. Besides, the local museums and gardens get a lot more help with their decorating efforts than you do.

It takes about 100 people, including staff, students and volunteers, to transform Longwood Gardens for the holiday season, says Longwood’s Patricia Evans. “In three days we transform the conservatory and decorate the trees but we start putting the outdoor lights up on the trees in September,” she says.

At Hagley, horticulturalist Renee Huber is the creative mastermind for “Christmas at Hagley.” She makes the outside decorations and oversees floral designer Chris Metzler, who decorates the inside of the 1803 du Pont ancestral home, Eleutherian Mills. Both are assisted by a team of volunteers. Most of the natural materials come from Hagley’s cutting garden and include greens, flowers, native grasses, and, new this year, cotton.

“I had never grown cotton so I gave it a try,” says Huber. “We added cotton pods to our wreaths, both inside and outside the mansion, for something totally different.”

Huber has never been afraid to try something different. One year, she made a wreath of onions — red, white and yellow varieties — interspersed with apples. It looked great but wasn’t suitable for museum conditions because it only lasted a week. “An onion wreath is a great idea for the home, as you long as it’s made shortly before the holidays,” notes Huber.

Native grasses are another natural material that she recommends for home use. Put the plumes in wreaths, table arrangements or in a vase, perhaps combined with a few sprigs of holly. “Cut off the plumes and give them a shot of hair spray so the seeds don’t scatter,” she says. “Or, depending on your decorating theme, hit them with gold or silver spray paint.”

Barton also likes to use spray paint to jazz up her natural materials. For a festive front porch, she suggests spraying osage orange balls with gold paint and arranging the balls in a container by the front door.

Article by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily.