A Happy Oaktober at the International Oak Society Conference

Second year Longwood Fellow, Andrea Brennan, was excited to be able to take part in the recent International Oak Society (IOS) Conference in Lisle, IL.  The conference was hosted by the Morton Arboretum in late October – prime time of year to catch the trees resplendent in their fall color!  The oak is the state tree of Illinois. In honor of this, and of the value contributed by Morton Arboretum to the state, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner recently declared October to be State Oak Awareness Month, better known as “Oaktober”.


Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) leaves frame the view of a pond at the Morton Arboretum

In reference to the genus name of oaks, Quercus, oak fans proudly call themselves “quercophiles”. The IOS conference was quite inclusive and welcomed anyone with a love of oaks, from the hard-core scientist to the homeowner with the majestic trees planted in their yard. The wide diversity of attendees made for a fascinating variety of presentations, workshops, and tours in areas such as conservation, propagation, breeding, phylogeny (evolutionary history), collections management, and ethnobotany (study of the relationship between plants and people).

A line of trees, including a White Oak (Quercus alba), silhouetted against the setting sun at the arboretum

A line of trees, including a White Oak (Quercus alba), silhouetted against the setting sun at the arboretum

Andrea presented a poster on her thesis research of oak conservation through tissue culture. Tissue culture involves taking a piece of a plant, called a tissue, and placing it into a small container such as a test tube.  At the bottom of the container is a gel-like material that contains all the nutrients the tissue needs to survive and grow into a new plant.  Oaks tend to be difficult to grow via tissue culture, and so more research is needed to determine the best conditions for reproduction.

Oaks play a vital role in ecosystems across the globe, but the survival of many species is under threat. Tissue culture could be a valuable tool in saving these important trees.

Andrea’s remaining “oak army” growing in tissue culture

Some of Andrea’s “oak army” growing in tissue culture

Andrea had a number of oak tissues, called explants, still growing in tissue culture left from her recently concluded experiment, so she took the conference as an opportunity to give them to one of her committee members, Dr. Valerie Pence.  Dr. Pence is Director of Plant Research of the Center of Conservation Research of Endangered Wildlife at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, and will continue to study and grow the young oaks in her lab there.

Oaks standing tall at the arboretum’s Schulenberg Prairie

Oaks standing tall at the arboretum’s Schulenberg Prairie

The International Oak Society Conference was a wonderful experience with immense and enjoyable learning, engagement, and networking opportunities. This gathering of quercophiles gave attendees the chance to … branch out.

Supporting Pollinators

In mid-October, Longwood Graduate Fellow Keith Nevison attended the inaugural Protecting Pollinators in Ornamental Landscapes Conference (PPinOL) at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, NC. The conference was co-sponsored by North Carolina State University and Michigan State University Extension and featured presentations assessing honeybee and bumblebee health in the face of numerous environmental stressors. Speakers discussed industry and extension office efforts to promote beekeeping and pollinator protection while balancing consumer desires to safely apply pesticides to combat pest and disease outbreaks.

Interesting presentations abounded.

Interesting presentations abounded

The PPinOL conference was quite timely, as the White House recently released a National Strategy to Promote Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. To further promote pollinator conservation, the National Pollinator Garden Network (NPGN) was formed to register one million public and private gardens in support of pollinators. NPGN is an unprecedented collaboration between national gardening clubs, conservation non-profits, and garden industry partners, including the American Public Gardens Association, the National Wildlife Foundation, American Hort, the Xerces Society, and others.

Fall in full effect in the Smoky Mountains.

Fall was in full effect in the Blue Ridge Mountains

The Kanuga Conference Center was an ideal setting for the conference and provided ample opportunities for recreation and reflection, with its 1,400 wooded acres and miles of trails. Kanuga has operated since 1928 and welcomes over 25,000 guests each year to its conference facilities, retreat center, summer camps, and Mountain Trail Outdoor School.

Kanuga Lake forms the heart of the property.

Kanuga Lake forms the heart of the Kanuga Conference Center property

After the conference, attendees were offered the chance to tour the Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned house in the United States. Our tour was provided by Director of Horticulture Parker Andes, who formerly served as Landscape Superintendent at Longwood Gardens. Parker painted a picture of the early Vanderbilt family and their efforts to turn their property into America’s first forestry education school, with opportunities to study the effects of logging and reforestation, among other practices. At its height, the Vanderbilt Estate encompassed over 125,000 acres, and in 1911 a significant parcel was sold to the United States Forest Service to become Pisgah National Forest.

Very fine greenhouse on the Biltmore Estate.

Exquisite greenhouse on the Biltmore Estate

Asheville in mid-autumn is beautiful and provided a perfect setting for this fall conference–Thanks to the team who came together to make it a success!

Volunteer Engagement in Santa Barbara, California

Volunteers are the heart and hands behind many public gardens and play an integral part in garden operations and engagement. First Year Fellow Tracy Qiu represented the Longwood Graduate Program at the 2015 American Public Gardens Association Volunteer Engagement Symposium, held in sunny Santa Barbara.

Fellow Tracy Qiu examines the beautiful tilework at Ganna Walska Lotusland

Fellow Tracy Qiu examines the beautiful tilework at Ganna Walska Lotusland (photo credit: Allie Skaer, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens)

The Symposium kicked off with an opening reception at Ganna Walska Lotusland, and docent-led tours provided attendees with fascinating insight on the life and loves of Madame Ganna Walska, a Polish opera singer and garden enthusiast. Her sense of style was visible all over the themed gardens in the form of lush tropical plantings, soda glass-lined gravel paths, oversized seashells surrounding a decadent pool, and many other details. “I’m an enemy of the average,” Ganna Walska is often quoted, and her vision of Lotusland certainly supports her words with its dramatic and whimsical designs.

The enchanting soda glass of Lotusland is also available in the giftshop as a souvenir!

The enchanting soda glass of Lotusland is also available in the giftshop as a souvenir!

Presentations began with a keynote address from noted environmentalist Sigrid Wright, followed by a risk management session – always an important topic when working with volunteer groups. The afternoon brought about an excellent exploration into diversity within volunteer workforces. Nayra Pacheco of Just Communities used a combination of guided exercises and free discussion to dialogue with the audience about the complex issues of race and privilege and how it relates to our volunteer workforces.

In the evening, shuttle buses whisked attendees to Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, where native plants, sustainable practices, and conservation highlight over 1,000 species of indigenous plants. A highlight of the event was an installation of yarn and fiber arts, surprising guests with bursts of color throughout the California landscape.

The breathtaking skyline of Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

The breathtaking skyline of Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Leadership was the central theme of the final day, with sessions that discussed leadership roles within the volunteer workforce and the multiple roles that volunteer program leaders must fill on a daily basis. The Symposium closed with a tour and reception at the spectacular Casa Del Herrero, a fine example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.

Tracy’s favorite memories of the Symposium include Lotusland’s charismatic cacti and succulent garden, the “mirrors and windows” exercise for diversity and representation, “extreme examples” in liability and risk management, and dinner at Mesa Verde with a fabulous group of garden and volunteer professionals.

Beautiful Santa Barbara, California

Beautiful Santa Barbara, California

Many thanks to the American Public Garden Association and planning committee for organizing the symposium, and to the staff and volunteers of Ganna Walska Lotusland and Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens for such a welcoming and invigorating experience! Fellows always look forward to opportunities to develop professional skills and to network, and the 2015 Volunteer Engagement Symposium surpassed expectations.

Vita Nova: A Farm to Table Arrangement

“Vita Nova” in Latin means “new life,” and that is exactly what Longwood Graduate Fellows bring to the Vita Nova restaurant each Monday morning. As a way to connect with the greater University of Delaware community, Fellows bring fresh flowers and cuttings from the University of Delaware Botanic Garden to this fine dining restaurant located on north campus.

Tracy Qiu with flowers for you

Tracy Qiu with flowers for you

Vita Nova is run by students in the University’s Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management program and provides hands-on experience they will use in their careers. The flowers are arranged by the students and used to decorate the tables for the week.

Winter arrangements Winter arrangements utilize greens, dried flowers, and seasonal berries

Winter arrangements Winter arrangements utilize greens, dried flowers, and seasonal berries

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens is a research center, laboratory, and living classroom for the students and visitors that enjoy its beautiful 15 acres. The gardens have more than 3,000 species and cultivars of perennials, shrubs, and trees. Picking flowers or other greens in the garden is strictly not allowed, but the Fellows have special permission to harvest plant material for Vita Nova.

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens is a research center, laboratory, and living classroom for the students and visitors that enjoy its beautiful 15 acres. The gardens have more than 3,000 species and cultivars of perennials, shrubs, and trees. Picking flowers or other greens in the garden is strictly not allowed, but the Fellows have special permission to harvest plant material for Vita Nova.

Felco pruners in action

Felco pruners in action

For some Fellows, long trained not to pick the flowers in a botanical garden, it can feel a little naughty to be let loose with a pair of pruners in the garden!

Fellows enjoy the chance to get outside and see what is in bloom, as well as to support Vita Nova and their delicious and educational mission. You can connect with Vita Nova on Facebook, and check out their dramatic and excellently produced new video on their blog.

2015 Outreach Project Update: Bright Spot Farms

Over the past few months, the Fellows have been busy working on their annual Professional Outreach Project. This experiential project is designed to offer the Fellows an opportunity to engage with regional professionals, gain project management experience, and work collaboratively within a specific area interest in public horticulture. This year the Fellows have partnered with Bright Spot Farms, a social enterprise program of West End Neighborhood House in Wilmington that offers hands-on horticultural job training to young adults aging out of Delaware’s foster care system. Together with the staff from Bright Spot, the Fellows are working to create an updated business and program plan to serve as a guide to increase the efficiency and sustainability of this unique and important initiative.

Bright Spot Farms Team at the Cool Spring Farmers' Market (photo courtesy of Bright Spot Farms)

Bright Spot Farms Team at the Cool Spring Farmers’ Market (photo courtesy of Bright Spot Farms)

So what exactly have they been busy doing all summer with this project? The Fellows have conducted interviews and surveys, engaged in benchmarking with similar programs all over the region and nation, become regulars at the Cool Spring Farmers’ Market (which is run by Bright Spot), followed the Mobile Market all over Wilmington, and have eaten some seriously delicious local produce grown at Bright Spot.

Read more about the great work of Bright Spot Farms or see (and taste) for yourself at the Cool Spring Farmers’ Market!

Summer Summary: Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now

Beginning the 2015-2016 school year this week has us reflecting on our accomplishments this past summer and looking toward what is ahead:

The Class of 2016 traveled throughout Massachusetts to visit The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, Mount Auburn Cemetery, and other locations owned by the Trustees of Reservations at the beginning of June. Fellows also presented their research and experiences at the American Public Gardens Association Annual Conference in Minneapolis in late June.

July brought the Class of 2017, who dove into learning about all the departments that comprise Longwood Gardens, meeting public horticulture professionals in July and August, and formulating their thesis research topics.

Several Fellows attended the American Society for Horticultural Science annual conference in New Orleans, LA at the beginning of August. They received the following awards and presented their research:

2015-07-14 00.02.57 (1)Elizabeth Barton, Class of 2017
Award: Industry Division Student Travel Grant

Research: Moderated an oral session and presented her research, “A Comparison of Organic Matter Amendments for Use in Extensive Green Roof Substrates”


Andrea ASHS Poster

Andrea worked hard this spring to complete experiments central to her thesis research on oak trees

Andrea Brennan, Class of 2016
Awards: 3rd Place in Scholars Ignite Competition for her speech Tissue Culture for Oak Conservation: Graduate students share their research discoveries and creations to a non-specialist audience in under 3 minutes; ASHS Travel Grant

Research: Presented posters on her research, “The Effect of 6-Benzylaminopurine (BAP) on Bud-forcing of Twelve Quercus L. Species” during two sessions: Propagation I and the Graduate Student Poster Competition

2015-07-14 00.06.12Erin Kinley, Class of 2017
Award: American Society for Horticultural Science Scholar Award





Most recently, the Class of 2016 have been guiding the Class of 2017 throughout this year’s Professional Outreach Project, which is focused on Bright Spot Farms and creating an updated program and business plan. Lead Fellow Stephanie Kuniholm will share our experience at the beginning of October.

Fellows are also gearing up for the 2016 Symposium, the annual International Experience (for the Class of 2017), attending conferences and looking forward to classes this semester. Check back for updates every two weeks this fall!

Adkins Arboretum, a Welcoming Landscape


Native Joe Pye Weed attracts pollinators

Native Joe Pye Weed attracts pollinators

The first year Fellows piled into the mini-van and headed south to Adkins Arboretum for the last of our summer field trips. This 400-acre arboretum on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a model for land stewardship and interpretation.

The gracious Ginna Tiernan, Acting Executive Director, Joanne Healey, Nursery Manager, and Will Cook, Board President, ushered us into the light-filled visitor center. From the Arboretum’s open gate policy for dogs to the locally roasted coffee available to visitors, the Arboretum has many small touches that make the guest feel considered and taken care of. The excellent graphics and signage are key to the visitor experience.

Bug spray on offer before heading out to the garden

Bug spray offered before heading out to the garden

Goat signage

Goat signage

Knowledgeable and engaging docent volunteer Margan Glover led a tour of some of the main paths. The Fellows learned about Adkins’ history, native species, and research efforts. Along the way, blue bricks marked the installations of the art exhibit, “Unnatural Nature.” The pieces are created with materials found on site by environmental artists Howard and Mary McCoy. These subtle works create a new and interesting way for visitors to engage with the space.

The presence of multi stemmed trees like this one indicate that a landscape was once clear cut

The presence of multi-stemmed trees like this one indicate that a landscape was once clear cut

Adkins has an excellent array of educational programming, including volunteer-led docent tours, environmental education for schools, and adult education classes. The Arboretum, which is located just off of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, also offers a well crafted and unique audiotour that explores the connections between nature and the Underground Railroad.

The map and audio guide to “A Journey Begins”

The map and audio guide to “A Journey Begins”

The Fellows toured the Arboretum’s nursery facilities, the children’s garden and, of course, paid a visit to the Adkins goats. The goats first came as employees, hired from the company Eco-Goats to clear brush and invasives from the property. One of the visiting goats was pregnant with triplets and was unable to care for the third kid. A gardener adopted the baby and over the years other goats have been added.

A Fellow meets a Goat. A Goat meets a Fellow.

A Fellow (Stephanie Kuniholm) meets a Goat. A Goat meets a Fellow.

Many thanks to the staff and volunteers at Adkins for a wonderful tour of a unique and inspiring place!

Shaping the Future of Horticulture at Ladew Topiary Garden

The first year Fellows visited Ladew Topiary Gardens on a gorgeous sunny day in August. The naked ladies (Lycoris squamigera) were in full bloom and the topiaries were looking sharp!


Naked ladies and a view of the hunt topiaries

As a Maryland Historic Site, Ladew Topiary Gardens faces unique heritage challenges. Harvey S. Ladew purchased the property in 1929 and created the gardens with intentional imperfections and an eye for whimsy. This brings up questions for current staff such as: should the original bright colors be maintained? What about the off-centered focal point of the sculpture garden? Some bright colors have been kept and some now live only in historical photographs. The sculpture garden focal point is maintained as it was in Mr. Ladew’s original design.


Mr. Ladew created this fountain by combining different sculptural elements he found during his travels

Although projects such as upgrading aging hardscaping, replacing invasive species, and addressing the occasional fallen tree are present throughout the field of horticulture, considering them in light of Mr. Ladew’s original intent adds a layer of intrigue.

Thanks to a talented horticultural team and inspired garden leadership, the Ladew Topiary Gardens are thriving. The staff strikes an admirable balance both maintaining historical integrity and modernizing to fit the times.

Erin cropped

First Year Fellow Erin Kinley enjoys a visit from a monarch during her time in the Butterfly House

One of the modern choices made in recent years is the Butterfly House. Opened in 2014, this beautiful structure houses native butterflies found in the surrounding meadow and provides ideal space for community education. The caterpillars are collected from the area and adult butterflies are released back into the ecosystem. The Fellows are looking forward to the growth of the Butterfly House in addition to everything else Ladew has in store for the future!

Winterthur: Experiencing the “Peace and Calm of a Country Place”

Winterthur simply cannot be explored in one day. A 60-acre naturalistic garden, surrounded by 1000 acres of soft meadows, the grounds provides visitors with the “peace and great calm of a country place,” in the words of Henry Francis du Pont. One could easily spend a year there, discovering new delights, especially within the 175-room museum of American decorative arts, which boasts an impressive collection of over 90,000 objects.

Upon our arrival, we were warmly welcomed into the Brown Horticulture Learning Center. Here, we began our day with an engaging round table talk lead by Estate and Garden Director Chris Strand, Director of Horticulture Linda Eirhart, and Gardens Associate-Curator Carol Long. We were given an in-depth history of H.F. du Pont’s legacy, complete with marvelous tidbits of information, such as the fact that Winterthur once housed a prize winning herd of Holstein-Friesian cows!

Photo Jul 31, 12 02 56 PM

Beautiful scenery from our garden tour

Our discussion moved onto current topics in public horticulture such as family programming, narrative interpretation, public engagement, agricultural visibility, and the potential shifts a garden may need to make for a changing visitor demographic. The Director and staff were gracious enough to answer all our questions, providing yet another perspective to add to our public garden experiences.



Following the discussion, the Fellows were led through the gardens and grounds. Notable features included the Renaissance-inspired Reflecting Pool and the KIDS GROW Children’s Vegetable Garden, which is open to young families for an engaging 8-week course in vegetable cultivation. We quickly fell under the spell of the Enchanted Woods, which tickled our fancies and fueled our imaginations. My personal favourite: the Tulip Tree House, carved beautifully out of a fallen Liriodendron.

Photo Jul 31, 11 42 29 AM

Tracy enjoying the Enchanted Woods

The Fellows would like to thank Director Chris Strand, Linda Eirhart, and Carol Long, as well as the rest of the Winterthur staff. We appreciated your hospitality and can’t wait to come back to continue exploring!

A Walk in the Shade at Jenkins Arboretum

Sweeps of ferns blanket the ground beneath the mature tree canopy.

Sweeps of ferns blanket the ground beneath the mature tree canopy

Despite its proximity to Valley Forge National Historic Park, the massive King of Prussia Mall, and countless residential developments, Jenkins Arboretum has been a source of respite and cultural value to the surrounding community since 1976.

As soon as the Fellows entered the Arboretum gates, we were swept away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world through an immersive tour with Director of Horticulture and Curator of Plant Collections, Steve Wright.

Steve Wright guided the fellows throughout the Arboretum and gardens.

Steve Wright guided the Fellows throughout the Arboretum and gardens

As we explored the winding paths of the azalea-lined hillside, we were fascinated to learn that the property, left by H. Lawrence Jenkins as a living memorial to his wife, Elisabeth Phillippe Jenkins, began as natural woodland with no formal design. Today, a stunning display of rare and unusual rhododendrons, including Rhododendron macrosepalum ‘Koromo Shikibu’ and Rhododendron periclymenoides, greets visitors daily. The garden is free of charge from sunrise to sunset.

Executive Director Dr. Harold Sweetman guided us through the newest addition to the arboretum, the John J. Willaman Education Center. The Center is a remarkable testament to Jenkins’s commitment to environmental sustainability as well as fiscal responsibility. An advocate of passive education, Dr. Sweetman highlighted the subtle signage of the building, an intentional tool that extends throughout the gardens in support of a less traditional educational experience. Dr. Sweetman explained, “…people come here everyday for all kinds of reasons: to walk with their children, to fall in love, to be in nature. Every time they visit the gardens they have learned something new.”

Not limited to humans, the arboretum is a source of respite for a wealth of insects and pollinators.

Not limited to humans, the Arboretum is a source of respite for a wealth of insects and pollinators.

The Fellows would like to thank Dr. Harold Sweetman, Steve Wright, and the entire Jenkins Arboretum staff for their time and hospitality.