Category Archives: Gardens

Glenwood Green Acres: An urban oasis

Darlene Marcus and Viery Thomas are the spirit and engine behind Glenwood Green Acres– a 3.5-acre community garden that sits on land formerly occupied by an abandoned cement factory, close to SEPTA’s North Philadelphia train station.
The garden bears the distinction of being the largest community garden in the the city of Philadelphia. It is also a site for City Garden, a program run through PHS and the Neighborhood Gardens Trust.

To learn about Glenwood Green Acres and its history, I went on a tour one warm spring morning, with Darlene and Vie stopping every few feet to pluck weeds along the way.

Blaine Bonham talks about Ernesta Ballard

Hard to imagine that Blaine Bonham, former head of Philadelphia Green, began his career as a portfolio analyst in the banking business. “I was probably the only young person there that was wearing platform shoes and wild Keon shirts to work,” he recalls. “I just knew that something was not right about this match.”

Under his direction Philadelphia Green grew from a small, grassroots initiative to the most comprehensive urban greening program in the nation. A natural storyteller, Blaine remembers his introduction to former PHS President Ernesta Ballard.

Jane Pepper: “I was lucky.”

Anyone who knows anything about Pennsylvania Horticultural Society knows Jane Pepper, who raised the stature of the Philadelphia Flower Show internationally and supported the expansion of the Philadelphia Green program into a national model for urban revitalization.
Jane talked with me about her arrival at PHS in 1976 as a volunteer for the Flower Show and the role Ernesta Ballard played in encouraging her to eventually succeed her as President. She led the organization for almost three decades and retired in 2010.
If you listen closely, you may hear evidence of her Scottish heritage.

Sensuality in the garden

As an independent audio producer, I am particularly attuned to the sound of things: early morning birdsong, the musicality of a voice, boots crunching in snow. Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I use my recollection of sounds to transport me to a place of serenity.

As part of a recent assignment for the Morris Arboretum, I interviewed horticulturists there to hear what garden features are their particular favorites. The experience heightened my appreciation for this magic place and also gave me a new “library” of sounds to which I can retreat when life gets too jangly and stressful.

Remembering Otto: the “second founder” of the Morris Arboretum

For the past three years I have been privileged to serve as interviewer and producer for Arboretum Voices, the oral history project of the Morris Arboretum. The project is a collection of audio vignettes, gathered, edited, mixed and posted on the Arboretum’s website, with transcripts of the full interviews saved to the museum-quality archive. I’ve traveled to Presque Isle, Maine to meet with the granddaughter of John Tonkin, Lydia Morris’s gardener. I’ve recorded Mintern Wright, who describes going to the “Big House” as a child to visit Miss Morris — a “forbidding, rather severe woman dressed entirely in black.” And I’ve marveled at Paul Meyer’s stories of plant expeditions to China, Japan and Korea. You can hear them all here.

Recently I was fortunate to meet with John and Janet Haas, who lovingly describe John’s father Otto Haas, referred to by many as the Arboretum’s “second founder.” Their memories reflect a gentle, unprepossessing man who left a rich legacy from his 17-year tenure as chair of the Arboretum’s Board of Advisors.


“People had never seen anybody like me before.”

paul-on-green-roof What an honor it’s been to accompany Paul Meyer, the F. Otto Haas Director of the Morris Arboretum, in the Way Back Machine as he recalls memorable experiences throughout his 40-year tenure at the Arboretum.

As he reminisces, he embodies several roles: botanist-explorer, during the early years when he was Curator of Plants; fundraiser, after he accepted the job as Director; and visionary leader as he imagines the next phase in the Arboretum’s growth.

I was particularly enchanted by his stories about plant exploration in China and South Korea. Listen and I bet you’ll see what I mean.

Colin and Carol Franklin: “Coming into a magic place”

The entrance road that Colin Franklin designed for the Morris Arboretum was, in his words, “the answer to a very difficult planning issue.” But, he added, “it also became a place in itself.”

Recently, I interviewed Colin and his wife Carol in Paul Meyer’s office to hear the story about that road and the master plan they designed for the Arboretum–one the Arboretum continues to follow almost 40 years later.

Colin and Carol are co-founders of the landscape architecture firm Andropogon:

Colin and Carol Franklin

Colin and Carol Franklin 


Photo: Paul Meyer

Arboretum as retreat from PTSD

IMG_5192 The Morris Arboretum served as a retreat for John Shober after he returned from active duty in Eastern Europe in the 1950’s with the Army’s Special Forces. Even though the garden was overgrown and neglected, he found solace there, and continues to do so.

His story is one of several oral histories that the Arboretum has commissioned as part of a larger effort to capture the stories that, collectively, describe the evolution of this public garden.

For more information about the Arboretum, visit their website.

Music: Jason Shaw, “Running Waters”


Morris Arboretum Oral History Project to capture a rich history

A member of the Morris Arboretum staff tells the story of a boy who lived with his father in the log cabin on the Arboretum grounds in the 1960’s. Today he is a botanist, influenced by the experience of growing up on the lush acres that make up what was once the summer estate of John and Lydia Morris.

Over the next year Barbara will be interviewing members of the staff, longtime volunteers and friends to help create a collective image of this historic public garden.

As a sample, listen to the Arboretum’s senior botanist Ann Rhoads describe the inspiration for her decision to pursue a career studying and documenting the region’s flora.