What’s Poppin’?

As if the pleasure of walking on a sun filled, 50 degree day in the winter is not enough, there are more flowers added to the list to see. Adonis and snowdrops continue their display along the main path on the March Bank with a few winter aconite showing to the keen eye. Next to the spring on the lower path a clump of snowflakes is in full flower. This particular area is a warm pocket and always previews what’s to come though this showing is by far the earliest that I can remember.

Leucojum vernum, spring snowflake, reflecting the sun

Walking up the Reflecting Pool steps toward the East Terrace, I noticed a member bending over with a camera. I inquired and she said a crocus was in flower. As I watched beside her, we noticed that they are flowering sporadically throughout the lawn. I would have walked right past them if not for her. She mentioned that she walks her every week so she does not miss anything. I appreciate those who also like to hunt for the newest flower.

Crocus tommasinianus, tommies, in the East Terrace lawn

Circling back to my office, I saw the unmistakable soft yellow petals of the witchhazel ‘Pallida’ unfolding, backlit by the sun. No doubt that all of these early flowers are being visited by bees during these 50+ degree days. Not only are they beautiful to our eyes but they are feeding insects who are also awakening with the temperatures.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’, witch-hazel, unfurling in the winter sun

This weekend’s rain and forecasted mild temperatures next week will surely keep adding to the floral display. If you are not a member, consider joining and getting this (very early) preview of what is only going to get better.

In the 28 years of caring for the Winterthur Garden, I don’t think I have ever seen the March Bank awaken as early and as prolifically as it has this year. Typically in mid-January, we will see a peppering of snowdrops; this year, there are masses of them alongside the first flowers of Adonis with sitings of winter aconite in warm pockets of the sunny hillside. Soon, we will be experiencing some more winter-like temperatures to stave off this mad rush toward spring but the flowering on the March Bank has begun, only to increase with every warm, sunny day that we have.

Members have access to the garden and wider estate during our closure. Come in and shake off some of the winter blues with a walk through the garden to experience spring happening before your eyes.

Snowdrop at the base of a tulip-poplar trunk

Adonis flowers opening in response to the sun

Winter Aconite emerging

A Quiet Awakening

As the world bustles, a quiet awakening occurs on the woodland floor of the March Bank; the arrival of the first snowdrops.

H. F. du Pont would walk the path from his house through the woods in search for these early bloomers, noting the date of their appearance in his correspondence as well as in his garden journal. This first sighting marks the beginning of the wonderful progression of a flowering masterpiece.

If you find yourself in need of a little peace this time of year, stroll the woodlands and search for the for these early flowers while the rest of the garden lay in slumber.

Giant snowdrops at the base of a tulip poplar on the March Bank

I am very happy to be able to share this gallery of beautiful images of the Winterthur landscape. We recently invited three of our members – including two former board members – to come photograph Winterthur in the fall. The following pictures of the property were taken by Penny Ashford, Robert McCoy, and Cal Wick on a crisp autumn day using their drones, which provide a fresh perspective on the distinctive rolling terrain of Winterthur, so characteristic of the Brandywine Valley.

Please enjoy this ‘Holiday Greeting’ of wonderful images thanks to our friends!

Winterthur is a wonderful place to go birding. This summer we began offering a monthly bird walk with naturalist and birder, Jessica Shahan. This has created new opportunities for our visitors to explore the Winterthur landscape and get to know the property. As part of this, Jessica has been using eBird to record her tallys – something you can take advantage of by loading the eBird app on your smart phone or by visiting the webpage eBird.org. The most recent eBird Checklist is available here as a PDF.

UPDATED Note that because of the holiday the walk has been scheduled for December 18 starting at 9:00 am in the Visitor Parking Lot.

For the Birds: Birding Walks at Winterthur
Wednesday, December 18, 9:00–11:00 am – starting in Visitor Parking Lot

Explore some of the hotspots for birds at Winterthur. Naturalist and birder Jessica Shahan will guide you through wetlands, meadows, the woodlands along Clenny Run, and outlying areas, such as chandler Woods and Brown’s Woods. These natural areas provide a great habitat for a wide variety of birds year-round. Observe resident birds as well as migrating raptors, warblers, and sparrows. Beginner and experienced bird watchers are welcome. Bring your binoculars! $10 per Member. $20 per nonmember. Call 800.448.3883 to reserve a spot. Free for Winterthur Garden and Landscape Society and Garden Associate Members.

We hope to see you out in the garden with your binoculars!

It is a lot of fun to get images from families and staff who worked on the estate while Mr. du Pont was alive. These few images are from 1958 through 1967 and show families enjoying sledding and skating on the estate and attending the annual Christmas party in the Clubhouse.

From all of us at Winterthur, Happy Holidays!

Christmas Party in the Clubhouse

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A Reminder to Mulch Mow

How many trees do you have in your garden? Two? Five? If you have five trees on your property, then you might find yourself raking up to a million leaves! By watching the efficiency of our Winterthur staff as they take care of tons of leaves each autumn, I have learned a few tricks. In fact, last year I didn’t rake a single leaf and I don’t plan on raking any leaves this fall either. 

One of the secrets to Winterthur’s success with leaves is the use of mulch mowing. We still rake and suck up a lot of leaves – but thankfully not as many as they used to in Mr. du Pont’s day. I am re-posting some information from a presentation on this process. If you haven’t tried mulch mowing I encourage you to test it out, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how efficient it is.

“… a mature, healthy tree can have 200,000 leaves. During 60 years of life, such a tree would grow and shed 3,600 pounds of leaves, returning about 70% of their nutrients to the soil.”
Wisconsin County Forests webpage

Think about how many millions of leaves will be gathered here at Winterthur and in the many gardens throughout the Brandywine Valley this autumn. Cleaning up leaves in fall is one of those meditative, seemingly inescapable, chores that come with caring for a garden. Here at Winterthur we still rake and blow millions of leaves, but more and more we are supplementing leaf removal with mulch mowing.

If you hate raking leaves you have a simple alternative – mulch mowing. Mulch mowing is a process that cuts up and macerates the leaves, leaving them in place in your garden to decompose over the winter and following growing season. While not promising a total escape from gathering leaves, it offers gardeners an alternative to dealing with piles of leaves.

Mulch mowing is not terribly complicated. I’ve illustrated the basic steps below with photos and captions.

mower at Winterthur mower deck at Winterthur

Set up your mower for mulching; most mowers allow you to run them without a bag and with an insert that closes off the mower deck. This keeps the leaves and grass from being discharged and allows the mower to cut the vegetation into finer pieces.

safety equipment at Winterthur

Wear proper equipment. You should wear safety glasses, hearing protection, and boots when using this equipment. Leaves can conceal rocks, roots, and other obstacles – better to be safe than sorry.

mulch mowing at Winterthur hostas at Winterthur cut back hostas at Winterthur

Mow over leaves and any plants ready to be cut back. You don’t need to confine yourself to lawn areas. You can mow over plants, such as hosta, that are going to lose their leaves anyway.

after mulch mowing at Winterthur after mulch mowing at Winterthur

Repeat mowing weekly or as needed. The photographs above were taken 5 minutes apart. You can see how the mower reduced the leaves to finely chopped pieces that will filter down to the surface of the soil. Whole leaves left in the garden tend to mat down and can smother grass, bulbs, and other perennials. The process of mulch mowing chops the leaves into finer pieces, allowing your plants to grow freely as the leaves decompose and return to the soil.

I enjoy garden projects – as opposed to chores. To me a project is something that will improve or add lasting value to your garden. Raking leaves, for example, is a chore. Naturalizing bulbs, on the other hand, is a project because a sweep of naturalized bulbs will add years of low maintenance beauty to a garden.

The following is a list of some simple projects to consider. A couple are “quick hits” that will add some interest to your garden right away; others will take a little longer to yield their results.

Winter Sowing
Fall is a good time to order or gather seed for winter sowing. If you have never raised plants from seed in the winter, it is a far cry from the chore of raising seedlings in the spring. Winter sowing seems almost too easy. The process can be as simple as broadcasting a few handfuls of seed over a garden bed – a technique frequently used here in the Winterthur garden – or it can involve sowing seeds into pots that you leave outside through the winter. Either way, you won’t need to do much with your winter-sown seeds until spring. This technique works best with native plants, perennials, and hardy annuals. For more information about winter sowing there is a winter sowing website and a forum on houzz.

lily of the valley at Winterthur

lily-of-the-valley fruit with seed ready to be harvested

Hardwood Cuttings
Some plants are easy to propagate by cuttings, especially hardwood cuttings. Hardwood cuttings are taken in late fall through winter from woody plants such as forsythia, willow, and dogwood. The pencil-thick cuttings should be taken from last season’s growth and should include two sets of buds. Insert the cuttings directly into a nursery bed or plant them in pots that are heeled-in somewhere in your garden where you won’t forget them. The Royal Horticultural Society website explains the process clearly. Your cuttings should begin leafing out the following growing season and yield plants ready for transplanting by next fall.

Plan and Fine Tune Plantings
One of my favorite activities in fall is walking through the garden with a cup of coffee and several rolls of flagging tape. Enough of the garden is left from the growing season for me to remember what was successful and what failed, making it easy to tie flags around the plants that need to be removed, divided, or moved. I also like to put stakes and flags as placeholders in the ground for plants I want to add, which helps me make up my shopping list for next spring. The flags I use are color coded: white for removals (white = trash), green and white striped for divisions (2 colors = divisions), and red for additions and relocations. Fall can be a great time to shift plants to new locations. Most plants look bedraggled and sad in the fall anyway and will recover, for the most part, by the next growing season.

Buy Discount Bulbs and Plants
Fall is an excellent time to find bargains at local nurseries and on-line retailers. Just as the plants in my garden already look bedraggled, but will transplant fine, so too do many of the plants at my local nursery. On-line bulb retailers will often offer deals on overstocks of bulbs; sometimes discounting them up to 50%. This is the time of year I find myself purchasing plants and bulbs for trial purposes. For example, I have often contemplated adding a variety of the poet’s daffodil named ‘Actaea’ to one of my borders and routinely find it on sale, on-line, for half the regular price. I’m going to purchase a few dozen more just to see what the drift will look like in the border next year. If they are successful I’ll order more and add to the drift; if they don’t work I’ll pass them on to a friend or compost them.

DelaWILD Is Almost Here!

Saturday, September 14, 2019, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm

Join us and celebrate nature at this family-friendly event!

The day’ activities will include talks, walks, family fun, and demonstrations for nature-lovers of all ages. The event will feature a presentation by Charlie Engelman, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and television host for National Geographic and former Winterthur garden intern. His television work, including the television show Weird but True currently in production of its’ second season, has taken him on many adventures but it all started at Winterthur when he filmed his first video about the frogs in Enchanted Woods.

Learn about our bluebird and kestrel programs at Winterthur with our natural lands team, how to create a garden for butterflies with Delaware Master Gardeners, and discover the watershed conservation and restoration work on the property on a walk with the Academy of Natural Sciences. Bring the kids to go on a vegetable garden discovery walk and test their veggie IQ with Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids, learn about the Jack A. Markell Trail and other trail projects with Delaware Greenways, and enjoy unique specimens and activities with the Delaware Museum of Natural History. Be sure to meet the Winterthur goats to learn how they help us with invasive control on the estate and read your way through the pages of Planting the Wild Garden and Over in the Meadow as you embark on two different Storybook Trails.

Click here (winterthur.org/delawild) for more information about DelaWILD.

The evening was a great success with a delightful tour by Jeff Groff. The food was creative and the drinks were refreshing – our compliments to our restaurant staff. Thanks to all who attended and especially to Jeff for his insights on estate history.

 Tailgate Tour set up at the Ottoman Tent Folly by the Quarry Garden
Waiting for our guests to arrive…

The Garden staff have come up with a new way to encourage our members and visitors to enjoy the garden – Tailgate Tours. Join us for an even walk through the garden and midway through the tour we will stop and have some refreshments and a little time for socializing. Last month we invited Carol Long, Curator of the Follies exhibition, to walk guests through the garden and to take a break at the Ottoman Tent Folly.

On July 10th, Jeff Groff our Estate Historian, will take visitors on a walk to the Armor Farm with a pleasant break at the reservoir. We hope this new program will encourage our guests to explore and will help them learn more about this wonderful estate. Details below…

Tailgate Tours – Exploring the Winterthur Estate
Join our staff for adventures in the Winterthur Garden and wider Estate. Learn about Winterthur’s history, design, and plants on these leisurely strolls through the estate then stop for some refreshments in picturesque locations to enjoy hors d’oeuvres along with curated selections of hard and soft beverages. Be sure to dress for the weather and wear walking shoes. In case of inclement weather, an update message will be left at 302.888.4915 approximately 3 hours before cancellation.

Wednesday, July 10, 5:30-7:00 – starts at Visitor Center
An American Place: Winterthur History with Estate Historian, Jeff Groff

Tuesday, August 13, 5:30-7:00 – starts at Visitor Center
Hydrangeas in Summer with Interpretive Horticulturist, Suzanne French

$30 members, $35 non-members, preregistration required; Tailgate Tours involve moderate walking. Proceeds from Garden & Estate Programs benefit Enchanted Woods.

To register for any Winterthur Garden programs, please call 800.448.3883 or 302.888.4600.