Galanthus Gift

This post was contributed by Eileen Scheck, Assistant Curator of Garden Education. Here she describes a walk in the Winterthur Garden a couple days after Christmas.

A much-needed break from the frantic frenzy of the holiday season led me out into the garden. Along the March Walk I spotted dabs of bright white standing out in a sea of brown leaf mulch.  Snowdrops! Spotting these tiny flowers is a horticultural treasure hunt enjoyed by many — including H.F. du Pont.  

In a Dec. 10, 1932 letter to his sister Louise, Mr. du Pont wrote, “I am glad to say I found my first Galanthus […] in bloom yesterday.”

I was glad, too, when I found my first Galanthus in bloom.  (P.S. Galanthus is the genus name for snowdrops.)  I had to admire this tough-as-nails little plant emerging from the cold ground.  It gave me pause. And that was the best part of my walk — stopping. The act of searching for tiny blooms on the ground slowed me down and forced me to focus.  A reminder to enjoy the moment was the perfect present to give myself this holiday season.  

Save the date! March 9, 2019 is “Bank to Bend,” a celebration of the early bulb display at Winterthur. For more details, see the garden events page on the Winterthur website.

DelaWild Tomorrow!

For a preview of tomorrow’s jam-packed schedule, check out the Delawild 2018 Day Sheet!

This Saturday, at the debut of a new Winterthur event called DelaWild, we have the great pleasure of featuring Charlie Engelman, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and television host for National Geographic and former Winterthur Garden intern. Charlie and one of his television shows, Nature Boom Time, were introduced on this blog in an earlier post. Check it out here and link to his highly entertaining episode about the Washington, D.C. cherry blossom festival!

Charlie will be making two presentations at Winterthur this Saturday. At a special member preview, to be introduced by Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long, Charlie will share about his work with National Geographic and the significance of his time as a Winterthur Garden & Estate Intern (9:00 am in Copeland Lecture Hall). Later in the day, there will be a premier showing from his new television series, Nature Parade, followed by an informal Q&A with Charlie (12:15 pm in Copeland Lecture Hall).

During the last four years of writing, producing, and hosting educational television shows that inspire viewers to become curious observers of their world, Charlie has found himself diving with sharks, sleeping at the top of giant sequoias, and hunting invasive camens under the cover of darkness in the Everglades. However, while his television work has taken him far and wide, it all started at Winterthur when he filmed his first video about frogs in Enchanted Woods.

Learn more this Saturday about how this rising science filmmaker teaches viewers by wearing fake mustaches, dressing up as pitcher plants, and officiating funerals for garbage!

Saturday, August 25, 2018, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm
Member Preview, 9:00 am to 10:00 am

Join us in celebrating nature at this family-friendly event! 

The day will include walks, lectures, and demonstrations for nature-lovers of all ages offered by a wide range of environmental and conservation organizations. Watch the premier of a new television show, Nature Parade, with its host Charlie Engelman. Learn about Delaware fossils and see live exotic animals in the Brown Horticulture Center with the Delaware Museum of Natural History. Go on a vegetable garden discovery walk and taste a variety of fresh veggies with Healthy Food for Healthy Kids. And much more! Click here for more information about the event.

Despite scorching heat and humidity so thick you could cut it with a knife, the late summer garden and estate continue to delight the senses of those who sojourn into them. Early-turning leaves of sour gum trees, for instance, are fun to spot — like bright red cardinals speckling otherwise green branches. Woodlands and meadows, while mostly swaths of green and brown, are also bejeweled in choice places. Leadwort sends sapphire-blue sprays across the feet of post-bloom azaleas, while patches of glistening goldenrod punctuate the amethyst haze of purple-top grasses. Sometimes it is a fragrance, not a color, that dazzles — like the sweet perfume of white-flowering hostas. All of these vivid highlights seem to proclaim the end of summer in the manner of a grand fireworks finale.

Poison Ivy Leaves

Leaves of three! Poison ivy is growing very rapidly with all this rain.

This is the time of year when I see evidence of gardening injuries among my friends and colleagues. One gardener I know broke her wrist and asked the doctor for a Gore-Tex cast so that she could wash the soil off after gardening. I once asked a visiting garden club from Virginia how many of them had ever been treated for Lyme disease and to my surprise every one of the 38 women raised their hands. Last summer I watched my neighbor hobble around his garden with his leg in a boot. He broke it after a fall – he was pruning from a ladder at the time. One gardener I knew in Virginia insisted on gardening with a patch over his eye – I really enjoyed giving him the nickname the “pirate gardener” (I think he enjoyed it too). These are hard-core gardeners, they are the kind of gardeners who are happy to go to plants sales in a downpour or to wake up at dawn on a Saturday to get outside. You know who you are!

I support this enthusiasm, but would like to temper it with a reminder to protect yourself. The basics of ‘PPE’ are pretty simple – PPE is short in our industry for ‘Personal Protective Equipment’ and includes recommendations for proper equipment you’d use for spraying pesticides and for using power equipment. When I say ‘simple’ just think of it this way, you ought to wear hearing protection, gloves, and eye protection whenever there is a risk of injury. You should also follow the label of any chemical you are applying and its recommendations for protective clothing. Put another way, if you have to raise your voice to be heard you should be wearing hearing protection; if something can get in your eye or strike your eyeball, you should be wearing eye protection; and use situation-specific gloves whenever there is risk of blisters or abrasion. It is all pretty common sense and you probably already do this to some extent. Here are some additional things I have learned over time.


I spray my boots and gardening pants with Permethrin. Once the spray has dried it will last for a couple of washes and it is an effective deterrent to ticks. I use Picaridin on my skin to repel mosquitoes and ticks – I don’t use DEET any longer – that’s my personal preference. If you wear light colored clothing it is easier to see the ticks crawling on you.

Hands & Gloves

For cuts and blisters I use lanolin and band aids. If you buy the pharmaceutical grade lanolin that is sold in the maternity/baby section of the drugstore you can use it over bad blisters or cuts and it makes an almost waterproof barrier. Add a band aid and you are all set to get back to gardening. I have a bucket of different kinds of gloves such as rubber coated cloth gloves and leather gloves that I am constantly rummaging through to find the right glove for the job. For cleaning up after gardening I use surgical scrub brushes and old-fashioned bar soap. You can scratch the soap with your fingernails and then scrub with a surgical brush to get rid of your green fingernails.


I mentioned hearing protection above but it is worth re-emphasizing. You will almost always see our garden staff at Winterthur wearing hearing protection, even when they are just driving their utility vehicles, because there is a growing awareness of the cumulative damage that noise can cause to your hearing. The earplug-type protection is easy to carry, and so they have the convenience factor going for them, but I find that people often don’t use them correctly. Personally, I like the earmuff type of protection because it is much easier to get it right and be properly protected. I have the kind I can plug my iPod into and can listen to music while I am mowing, string trimming, or using a leaf blower.

Poison Ivy

I am not allergic to poison ivy but I really don’t want to develop the allergy, so I am careful about handling the plants. Yes, I do hand-pull poison ivy seedlings in my garden. Here is my process in a nutshell. I wear disposable gloves, I put several plastic bags out before I start, I have soap (like Dawn liquid) and cold water setup so I can wash, and I also set up my shower so that I can rinse off without touching too many surfaces when I am done. The active ingredient in poison ivy is an oil called urushiol. Chemically, urushiol is a hapten, a molecule that only causes an allergic reaction after it is bound to the proteins in our skin. This means that if you wash the oil away, you eliminate the potential allergic reaction. Cold water and soap are effective at washing away urushiol, but you can also use more powerful commercial products like Tecnu. I double bag the pulled up poison ivy after I have pulled it and I am cleaning up. Then I carefully remove the gloves I’ve used and throw those away too. I kick off my shoes and wash them with car wash detergent and cold water. I wash my clothes in cold water with detergent and I double rinse them to try ensure I leave no traces of urushiol in the washer. With the right planning, and if you are careful about secondary exposure to poison ivy, you can minimize your chances of an exposure that will result in a rash.

These are just a few of the steps I take to minimize my gardening down time. I am sure you have your own tricks and insights. If you do, please include them in a comment and I would be happy to share them. Happy gardening!

Come take a walk in the Winterthur Garden! This ramble takes in late May highlights beginning with the Peony Garden, continuing through the Pinetum, and ending in the Quarry Garden — with a couple detours along the way. Colors, forms, and fragrances abound as the pace of spring quickens towards summer. ~Photos by E. Anderson.

It’s that time! Come take a walk through the Peony Garden and enjoy the large collection of A.P. Saunders hybrids, which flaunt colors as diverse as yellow, red, white, lavender, and fabulous pink.

This Wednesday, May 16, Garden Horticulturist Michelle Stapleford takes you inside the garden with her Garden Insider walk, “A Passion for Peonies.” See the spectacle and learn more about the care and maintenance of herbaceous and tree peonies. 11:00 am. Walk leaves from the Brown Horticulture Learning Center. About 1 hour. Members free. Included with admission.

Hot pink herbaceous peony by E. Anderson

Golden yellow tree peony by E. Anderson

Come out and see the spectacular display of azaleas bursting into full bloom in Azalea Woods!

This Saturday, May 12, make a day of it and join us for “Azaleas, Bluebells & Follies,” a special event featuring guided tours and a sale of Winterthur azaleas. For more details, go to: http://www.winterthur.org/education/garden/garden-events/.

Azalea Woods in Full Bloom by Erica Anderson

This Sunday, April 1, Winterthur will open Follies: Architectural Whimsy in the Garden – our first exhibition in the garden. Follies highlights 6 original structures, many with interesting histories, and 7 new imaginative structures. The exhibit can be seen from the garden tram tour and can also be enjoyed on foot (the walk is approximately 1.1 miles through the garden). Maps are available in the Visitor Center and there are signs throughout the garden that will help guide you and tell you about the follies.

If you like technology, you can access our ‘Follies App’ on your smartphone or iPad. The web address is winterthur.oncell.com and it will soon be available on the App Store and Google Play.

For events and activities related to Follies, check our ‘Garden Events’ page at the tab above or follow this link.

These photos were taken Thursday afternoon – we hope they pique your interest!


I can’t believe that I have reached the final new folly description in the garden blog. I have never run a marathon but I can imagine as one approaches the finish line, a mix of exhaustion, euphoria and anticipation surges through one’s veins. This about sums up my emotional state as April 1st approaches.

Being a gardener connects one to “real time”. We can plan all we want but Mother Nature has the final word. One thing that I really love about the garden department at Winterthur is that we know how to roll with the punches. As I type this, snow and sleet tap at my window screen. Winter’s last hurrah (hopefully) but not what I had planned. As the forecast waffled back and forth then solidified to a pretty big storm, I strangely found a sense of relief. I am not sure why, as I would have thought just the opposite. I think that I just let it go.

Our inhospitable weather is actually a very fitting metaphor for our last featured folly, The Needle’s Eye. We have had quite a journey with this one and it has caused many of us to “rise to the occasion”. So, the story begins…

The idea for the Needle’s Eye came from the folly of the same name in Wentworth, South Yorkshire England. At 46′ tall, this sandstone pyramid, topped with a funerary urn marks the end of a allee. John Carr was commissioned to build this structure in response to a bet; the 2nd Marquis of Rockingham wagered that he could drive his horse drawn carriage through the ogee door.

The Needle’s Eye

Originally, the Winterthur version of this folly was to be placed near the front pond as you enter the estate, announcing the folly exhibition to guests. Further discussion lead to the concept of a boardwalk leading to it out in the water, then the final progression was “what happens if we float it out in the water?” Now at this point I should say that my degree is in horticulture–as are many of the folks in my department. Had it been in engineering, I might not have been so excited about this floating folly. Ignorance is bliss.

A Photoshop of The Needle’s Eye on the pond.

Initial discussion of the framework of this folly was simple. Stick built frame, plywood siding and of course all materials and finishes being weather and water resistant. A faux finish would mimic the look of the sandstone. We tried to gauge the appropriate height for our folly and used what was on hand; varying lengths of pole saws and extensions. The term I love for problem solving by using what is available at your disposal is “applying appropriate technology”. Through the “high-tech” use of our pole saws, we determined that our folly will be about half the size of the original and at 23′, it will still make a statement.

Golf cart with pole saws. Let the jousting begin!

The planning for the floatation aspect of this folly ensued and we looked to the use of a floating dock for inspiration. Floating docks are used in marinas and waterfronts so in theory, if we calculated the weight correctly and tethered the folly, we could float the Needle’s Eye on the water. Sounds plausible, right?

Planning continued on this folly but with no resulting action. An early January snowfall came along with the news that we were going to have to find a new builder for the folly. Pulling the quickest about-face that we could, we spoke with our carpenters at Winterthur about the project but also had to considered the realities of their time commitments with projects already slated. We had discussions with some outside contractors but the director of the garden, Chris Strand, through the powers of the internet, found Tony Caulfield of Caulfield Associates who works in creating floating docks and fortunately for us, his work schedule was light due to the off season. He could create the entire folly but we were unsure of his team’s faux finishing skills so we found a compromise; the structure would be built off site and then finished on site by our carpenters who we knew could pull off the finish. And so it began.

Our carpenters, Benny, Carl & Terry (along with masons John and Dan) figured out the logistics of the finish. Using the Dryvit siding system, they first place on fiberglass meshing then a brown coat, a finish layer, then a paint coat to mimic the original. They gave us choices for the finish and we chose the one closest to a limestone coloring.

The underlayment.

Finish options.

The top of the pyramid was the first to arrive and the gang got to it. Working weekends to fit it into the schedule, we were greeted to the brown coat on the Monday morning.

Delivery of the top of the Needle’s Eye.

First coat.

The pyramid top comes equipped with a chain to be able to place it on the base. The top will then be fitted with the finial. Easy-peasey!

The base was the next section to arrive. It came in 4 pieces and was assembled on site.

Delivery of the base parts.

When pieced together, the base had a rectangular opening. The carpenters had to then artfully cut an ogee opening on both sides.

Base placed together.

Ogee arch cut.

The foam “blocks” had to be cut and fitted and then the outline of the ogee enhanced.

First layer.

Detailing of Ogee and base.

Skim coat and some folly scale…

The base had to then be separated again yet held upright by straps, to allow for the finished coat to cure.

Second coat. Base separated for drying the seams.

The final delivery, which proceeded our second Nor’easter snowfall, was the floatation system. Through many design discussions, we came to the conclusion of making it two floating docks or pontoons that would then be tied together underwater for extra stability.

Delivery of docks complete with the previous night’s snow!

Brackets for underwater guying.

We tried to unload the pontoons with a fork lift but found that it was not adequate to do the heavy lifting. Enter Frank Quinnette, exhausted and sleep deprived from long hours of snow removal the night before, and ready to leave for the day when Carol’s voice beckoned on the radio for help…
Frank came to the rescue with the fork on our front loader and gently placed the docks onto the Visitor Parking Lot for staging. (Frank said that I better mention him on the blog…thank you, Frank!)

Docks awaiting their assembly.

Speaking of docks, there have been many conversations with in-house and outside engineers over how to keep this folly in place. Anchors? Ballast? Tethering? I have to admit here, that Chris has taken the reigns of this folly while I tended the other 6 “folly fires”. Chris sought the help of fellow garden department folks to help with the plan; enter Marlin, John and Kevin. Marlin cares for the natural lands at Winterthur including the ponds and Kevin and John are our arborists. You may question why arborists were brought in for a water project, but if you ever have watch skilled arborists work ropes to maneuver large limbs down to the ground, you’d know why! Chris held a meeting with the three of them to go over the logistics of the tethering. Not wanting to tempt fate with this statement, I trust in the abilities of these four people.

Our plan for tethering.

The ponds had to be lowered to enable the placement of the anchoring systems in the wall and on opposing shores.

Pond lowered to place in anchoring points on shore.

Row boat in place for securing the folly.

So now the day of reckoning arrives. On Monday, Rich from Bob’s Crane Services will be set to task for placing not only the Needle’s Eye together and in the pond but also place the Mirrored Folly at the Pinetum’s edge. In preparation for Monday’s “launch”, Ben, Carl, Terry, John and Dan (plus a few extras, I am sure) will set the Needle’s Eye folly parts in place. The crane will roll in early Monday morning—blocking the entrance into Winterthur, to set the base onto the pontoons and the pyramid top onto the base. From there, the carpenters will attach and secure all of the parts to one another and the crane will move to Garden Lane to place the Mirrored Folly. We will break for lunch and then set up once again at the pond to set the finial onto the top of the Needle’s Eye and then launch the folly out to, well, pond. An initial tethering will occur with further cinching down the following day (by above stated “tethering crew”).

The last detail–the finial.

Our version of the funerary urn.

More urn detail–since it will be 23′ up in the air!

This is a folly that has challenged us in ways different from the rest. It has tested us as far as our timeline is concerned and has taken us to a point of discomfort and ill-ease. It’s at those points where we may want to throw in the towel, because we are confronting the unknown and the unknown is scary. What I am more proud of than anything is (despite some sidebar grumbling I am sure) that when the chips were down we all drew strength from adversity to make this come together. It will be the flagship folly that greets visitors as they come and go from the property and a reminder of making the challenging elements in our lives possible.

Deep gratitude and thanks to all who made the Needle’s Eye and the entire Follies exhibition a reality!