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The following account was written by Natural Lands Intern Madeline Banks. 


First things first

Any kind of prescribed burning has a lot of thought and careful planning behind it. Everything from safety to environmental impact need to be considered to ensure that a burn is beneficial, not detrimental.  

Keeping this in mind, here is the story of two prescribed field burns that we had right here at Winterthur on April 5th! The fields we chose to burn were Armour Farm Meadow and our Route 100 field.


But why burn at all?  

Armour Farm Meadow is an old agricultural plot that was previously maintained for hay production, but more recently it has been maintained as a meadow. Since it is out of agricultural production, wouldn’t it be better to leave it alone to let nature run its course? Well, not necessarily.

We chose to burn this field mainly because there are two wood lots on either side of the field (Chandler Woods and Armour Farm Woods). The field was still full of grasses and thatch materials, like broom sedge, from its days as a hay field. Our hope is that we can redefine the line of the field in order to join the two wood lots. There is already a strip of young woods at the west end of the field which barely connects the wood lots, so the redefinition of the field will extend that strip a bit into the northwest corner of the field.

We’re hoping that the fire will provide good conditions for native tree seeds, like birch, tulip poplar, flowering dogwood, and oak, to come out of dormancy and essentially begin to regenerate the forest that has been separated by the field. Fire can help seeds come out of dormancy through several mechanisms – whether it’s changing the temperature and moisture levels of the seed itself, or reducing competition for light, nutrients, and water by burning away invasive or aggressive plants.

As to the Route 100 field, our main reason for burning was to help with the control of invasive species. At the time of the burn, our native plants hadn’t started leafing out yet, whereas the invasives, like multiflora rose, had. The fire kills the leafing part of the invasives and sets back their growth schedule. So, when the plant sends up new, young growth, it will be easier to treat with herbicide. When we can suppress invasives, it gives our beneficial native plants a better chance to obtain resources and thrive.


The burn process

For brevity’s sake, I’ll only recount our burn of Armour Farm Meadow. In preparation for the burn, we mowed firebreaks around our fields to ensure that the fire would not escape the burn unit into wooded areas. Furthermore, we obtained a burn permit from the Delaware Division of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Division of Air Quality to make sure our burn would have minimal environmental impact. We also met with the Winterthur fire chief to ensure public safety, as well as the safety of our burn crew.  

On the morning of the burn, we were up bright and early to prepare for the day! We got out our small fire engine to stage on top of the field, and the Winterthur fire department was staged at the bottom of the field with a 750-gallon fire engine. Both trucks were filled with water and ready to go. We also made sure to contact local fire stations to let them know when we were burning. We didn’t want them unnecessarily sending out firefighters to our burn!

Throughout the day our Natural Lands team as well as staff from Mt. Cuba Center and Longwood Gardens were all there to help with the burn. We assembled gear, suited up, and made a game plan. We decided to divide into two teams so that we could establish a black line around the perimeter of the field. We established the black line by lighting the edges of the field so that any burning that happened would not escape the burn unit. We started this by lighting a test fire.

Each team slowly began lighting in opposite directions around the field, both keeping in radio contact with one another to make sure they were working at an even pace. Members of each team were spaced out to make sure that the fire was completely out before moving up. Both teams met up at the bottom of the field and joined to two fire lines.


Something unexpected

By this point, the wind was strongly moving east, so it carried the fire into the center of the field on its own. This ended up being advantageous because no one had to walk into the center and light. Even though the fire was moving on its own because of the wind, it was safe owing to our established black line that surrounded the field. The fire would not go beyond it.

Still, this was a bit nerve-wracking…  

The fire burned so hot and so fast that the whole area was consumed in smoke. It was impossible to get any good pictures of this moment. I almost felt trapped, being positioned with the trees of the young forest strip behind me and fire and smoke in front of me.  

In that moment I could see how it could have gone so wrong if we had stopped paying attention to the wind – or if we had lost contact with the team on the other side.   


Extinguished

But just like that, after all the commotion, it was finished!

It sounds a little anticlimactic – but it kind of was, in a way. One moment, Armour Farm Meadow was a blazing inferno. The next, it was just over. All the prep work, careful planning, and strategic lighting left us with the exact result we desired – a blackened field!  

The physical fire was gone, but excitement still hung in the air. Even for a few days following the burn, I just could not believe what we had done!  

I am monitoring the field on a weekly basis now, watching it spring to life once again. Hopefully all the hard work will yield interesting results!


Special thanks to Linda Bailey, Winterthur Natural Lands Technician, for taking all the wonderful pictures. Also thanks to Nathan Shampine, Aaron, and Lou from Mt. Cuba Center and Erik Stefferud and Jordan Foreman from Longwood Gardens for helping make this project happen!  

This Saturday is going to be our annual Azaleas & Bluebells event, a celebration of the spectacular display of azaleas in Azalea Woods. Unfortunately, the weather – both the early spring and the rain forecast – has made it nearly impossible to celebrate. Nevertheless, if you are stalwart, intrepid, and dare-I-say daring, you will come to Winterthur this Saturday to enjoy the garden and to get access to some rarely available plants.

Tomorrow, we will have azaleas for sale that have been propagated from our Winterthur plants in Azalea Woods. The brief history is as follows.

As early as 1907, Cottage Gardens Company of Long Island began importing plants directly from the Yokohama Nursery Company in Japan. Cottage Gardens was one of HF du Pont’s favorites. On one visit to the nursery, he spied 17 compact azaleas covered with small glossy leaves but no flowers. Cottage Gardens had purchased them after Yokohama had won a gold medal for showing 52 varieties at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. They were called Kurume hybrid azaleas after the city on the Japanese island of Kyushu, where the azaleas were originally bred. HF purchased all 17 plants. These are the plants that HF du Pont propagated and planted in Azalea Woods starting in 1917.

Because many of these azaleas were unnamed HF du Pont chose to simply number them, so when you see them for sale tomorrow most of the plants will just have numbers. I have put together a photographic guide to the varieties that will be on hand tomorrow.

For me, these azaleas are special not just because of their history at Winterthur but also because they were some of the first Kurume azaleas available in America. The horticultural connections to Cottage Gardens and the Yokohama Nursery Company, as well as the Panama Pacific Exposition, make them living bookmarks from an important chapter of American garden history.

The azaleas will be for sale Saturday and Sunday at our Museum Store. Hope to see you there – I will be the one in a raincoat!

Saturday’s Schedule

Azalea Sale 10:00-5:00 (Museum Store)

Garden Tour 11:00-noon (Starting at Visitor Center)

Garden Tour 1:00-2:00 (Starting at Visitor Center)

 

 

Garden Insider: Amazing Azaleas—Getting to Know the Kurume Hybrids

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 – 11:30 am – Brown Horticulture Learning Center

Join horticulturist Susan Sibley for an easy stroll through Azalea Woods to examine the many beautiful examples of Kurume hybrid azaleas. Learn all about their history and see up-close the special color combinations that make Azalea Woods such an amazing destination in spring.

Kurume hybrid azalea (Rhododendron #10)

“Garden Insider” is a new name for a longstanding Winterthur tradition (“Wednesdays at Winterthur”). Join us for this unique series of walks, talks, and demonstrations which introduce you every week to a specialist from among the staff, volunteers, and other professionals affiliated with the Winterthur Garden. Presentations explore all aspects of the Winterthur Garden and Estate – their history, design, and plants – as well as current topics of interest in horticulture, agriculture, and environmental studies. All presentations start at 11:30 am at the Brown Horticulture Learning Center. About 1 hour. Free to Members and included with admission.

Postcard from the 1960s

For those of us who love and admire this well-known pair of statues in the Winterthur Garden, it is a delight to see how they inspire others beyond Winterthur and even beyond the garden realm. Check out the recent musings of an assistant editor from The Washington Papers at the University of Virginia: http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/the-washingtons-at-winterthur. You may never look at these two figures the same again! 

This article was written for The Washington Papers’ blog, Washington’s Quill.

Putting the Historic Garden on the Map

Wednesday, May 3, 2017 – 11:30 am – Brown Horticulture Learning Center

Thanks to a generous grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Winterthur Garden staff are busy at work inventorying and mapping the woody plants in the Winterthur Garden, updating plant records, and geo-referencing key historic maps. The ultimate goals include making Winterthur’s “living collection” available online. Mapping Specialist Lori Schnick and Plant Records Intern Cole Larson-Whittaker will discuss all aspects of their exciting work. Come hear about this giant undertaking from the professionals on the front lines!

Historic Map of Azalea Woods

“Garden Insider” is a new name for a longstanding Winterthur tradition (“Wednesdays at Winterthur”). Join us for this unique series of walks, talks, and demonstrations which introduce you every week to a specialist from among the staff, volunteers, and other professionals affiliated with the Winterthur Garden. Presentations explore all aspects of the Winterthur Garden and Estate – their history, design, and plants – as well as current topics of interest in horticulture, agriculture, and environmental studies. All presentations start at 11:30 am at the Brown Horticulture Learning Center. About 1 hour. Free to Members and included with admission.

Sometimes it feels like a waterslide of color… @winterthurmuse

A post shared by Winterthur Garden (@winterthurbloom) on

Drifts of color… @winterthurmuse

A post shared by Winterthur Garden (@winterthurbloom) on

 

Garden Design Duo—H.F. du Pont and Marian Cruger Coffin

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 – 11:30 am – Brown Horticulture Learning Center

Henry Francis du Pont’s earliest collaboration in building his Museum was with Bertha King Benkard, and in his Garden his chosen design partner was Marian Cruger Coffin, one of America’s first female landscape architects. Indeed, Mr. du Pont was gender-blind when seeking advice from the experts! Join Museum and Garden Guide Debra Shedrick for an exploration of this productive partnership. Following the 30-minute presentation, take a guided walk through the Sundial Garden and East Terrace – two lasting examples featuring the design work of this dynamic duo.

Marian Coffin and one of her drawings for the Winterthur Garden

“Garden Insider” is a new name for a longstanding Winterthur tradition (“Wednesdays at Winterthur”). Join us for this unique series of walks, talks, and demonstrations which introduce you every week to a specialist from among the staff, volunteers, and other professionals affiliated with the Winterthur Garden. Presentations explore all aspects of the Winterthur Garden and Estate – their history, design, and plants – as well as current topics of interest in horticulture, agriculture, and environmental studies. All presentations start at 11:30 am at the Brown Horticulture Learning Center. About 1 hour. Free to Members and included with admission.

Winterthur and Delaware’s Pollinator Protection Plan

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 – 11:30 am – Brown Horticulture Learning Center

Pollinators are a key component of U.S. agriculture, but sadly they are facing multiple stresses including parasites, pesticide exposure, and habitat loss. Thalia Pappas, of the Delaware Department of Agriculture, will describe Delaware’s “Managed Pollinator Protection Plan,” part of a wider federal effort to protect the health and habitat of honeybees and native pollinators.  Learn how Winterthur’s meadows are playing an important role in protecting pollinators.

Apis sp.

“Garden Insider” is a new name for a longstanding Winterthur tradition (“Wednesdays at Winterthur”). Join us for this unique series of walks, talks, and demonstrations which introduce you every week to a specialist from among the staff, volunteers, and other professionals affiliated with the Winterthur Garden. Presentations explore all aspects of the Winterthur Garden and Estate – their history, design, and plants – as well as current topics of interest in horticulture, agriculture, and environmental studies. All presentations start at 11:30 am at the Brown Horticulture Learning Center. About 1 hour. Free to Members and included with admission.

Beyond the Spring Bling

In the time of much “gardening bling” it is easy to overlook some of the subtler beauty that is awakening at the same time. A bright red tulip, a show-stopping yellow forsythia mass, or the lush pastel fluff of a cherry tree in full flower is likely to grab anyone’s attention but surrounding that is just as much eye candy minus the bling.

Walking from the Peony Garden yesterday I came across a beech tree unfurling near the Museum Store (with a lot of spring bling for sale!) and it was beautiful.  A fellow employee asked what I was doing and we both looked at this “ordinary sight” with eyes of wonderment.

Beech flowers emerging

The rest of the walk back to my office—through parking spaces and main road access (not the most glamorous of places) —was filled with the quiet beauty that surrounds us.

Miniature leaves of tulip poplar

Bright red emerging leaves of oak

Felted leaves of oakleaf hydrangea

Catkins of musclewood

A cooler spot in the garden where the beech have not yet opened up

After the subdued color palette of winter, it is great to celebrate the addition of color to the spring landscape but take time to look past that to what else is happening.  Look at your own garden, park spaces or even plants in the shopping centers with new eyes and see beyond the obvious to find the mystery that lurks behind the flowering flash.