One does not have to travel to Europe to see classically designed structures. Our cities and particularly our nation’s capital, are rife with this style and it is one that lends itself well to the landscape. There is a romance in how the clean lines of this form of architecture blends with a garden setting, whether punctuating the end of a flower border walk or taking advantage of the water’s reflection at a pond’s edge. Although we may refer to them by different names such as rotundas, temples, or pavilions, they are indeed all follies and Winterthur would be remiss by not including such a prominent architecture style in our own exhibition.

The classical genre was by far the most dominant in the English gardens that we visited on our folly/garden tour two summers ago. Stowe and Stourhead were filled with this formal architecture but many gardens, even the smaller gardens, included a Greek-style temple.

Lake Pavilion at Stowe.

Small seating folly at Painswick.

Temple Arbor with a hilltop view at Hestercombe.

The location that was chosen for our Neoclassical folly is probably one of my favorite. It is sited in a rolling meadow at the edge of Magnolia Bend with great views both to and from the folly and wide open skies surrounding it. The strong, sturdy lines of the pavilion will be softened by the wind blown meadow grasses and goldenrod.

Early autumn view (pre-folly). A great site!

We looked to Colorado based (U.S. headquarters) Haddonstone for the framework of this folly. We wanted to see the material up close so we contacted them and asked if there were any gardens that featured Haddonstone products. Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Massachusetts was recommended, so the folly team drove up to see these pieces and their placement in the landscape. The pavilion that we were interested in viewing was made into a ruin so that also allowed us to consider that as an option.

Haddonstone pavilion as a ruin at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Tower Hill also had a round temple in another finish so we were able to compare colors as well as “new vs. ruined”. We liked the quality of the Haddonstone product and also decided on the “new” look.

Haddonstone Rounded temple at Tower Hill

Coming back home, we decided on a finish and placed our order. Several weeks later, the “Lego pieces” arrived.

Folly parts!

I should say at this point that though we are nearing the opening of this exhibition, the planning started in the fall of 2015. There were lots and lots of meetings and during one of these meetings, the question arose: how were we going to dismantle the follies exhibition? What happens if someone wanted to buy one of the follies or if we wanted to loan out the exhibition to another garden once it was over? With each of the follies, we tried to build the dismantling factor into the planning. Through some engineering and design changes, what would normally be cemented together in the Neoclassical Folly could now be taken apart. (Going back a few blogs, you will notice that the Chinese Pavilion came in two pieces—again, thinking ahead about its disassembly.)

Meeting time to figure out the engineering and design of folly. (One of many!)

John Kastle of EDiS has been the point person behind the many facets of construction of this folly and has given great thought behind each component of its assembly. The foundation was laid. The steel reinforcement for the pillars were placed.

Steel reinforcement for columns.

The pillar “sleeves” were delicately fitted over the steel (in lieu of cement filling) and spacers placed between the various components to again “ease” in the dismantling.

Columns Up!

The architrave was set, then the pediment and at this point the folly form was taking shape. Scaffolding surrounded the building. Walls were erected, the roof was placed and then the shingles came to top it off.

Placement of the Architrave

Pediment forming…

Cedar shakes…and sky beyond.

Lathe was attached to the walls and plastering has begun–as of this writing we await the final skim coat. The exterior wall color will match the Haddonstone pieces. We painted large color samples for the accent color on the back interior wall. Which do you think we picked?

Color panels for the back wall.

Leagrave chairs, courtesy of Currey and Company are waiting to be nestled in the interior. Their “nod to classicism” as they describe the chairs, will fit right in with the design; being made from cement, they will match the solidity of the building and the circle in the center of the chair mirroring the window of the folly.

Leagrave Chair by Currey and Company

Window behind the scaffolding.

The Neoclassical Folly construction began in the September with the meadow surrounding it in its full autumnal glory. Varying shades of brown grasses and perennials provided a quiet color palette through the winter and now as we approach spring, the meadow has been cut and the folly awaits its vernal completion as the green returns to the landscape. We hope that this pavilion allows you to enjoy the views both to and from the garden and perhaps you will venture on the new paths through the meadow to discover and appreciate a different perspective of a familiar landscape.

If you Google “garden follies”, you are treated to some great images from around the world. Often these follies are inspired by classical architecture, sometimes they are whimsical, but rarely seen is a tent folly. Perhaps because a tent by nature is ephemeral. Many of the tent follies that are in gardens are much more permanent in nature—fiberglass or painted metal—but with the flow and feel of fabric. These solid structures are truly works of art as they recreate the delicate nature of textiles. Part of the fun of a folly is the element of surprise when encountered up close; who would guess that this ornate tent pictured below was made from painted metal?

My visit to England introduced me to two tent follies, one at Painshill and one at Hestercombe. The Turkish Tent at Painshill has an interesting history. The original structure dates back to 1760. The support was made of brick and plaster and covered with white painted canvas with blue fringe. In any “normal” landscape, especially a moist, English landscape, that covering would be fleeting and so it proved to be. When it was recreated, the structure was again covered in white painted canvas, like the original, but lasted only 18 months. It was then fabricated from fiberglass, holding up better to the public and to the English weather.

Turkish tent folly at Painshill.

As far as I can tell, the tent at Hestercombe was created in 2009 and is a canvas tent. It is much more diminutive in stature than the tent at Painshill and thus easier to recover when the need arise.

Smaller stature of Hestercombe tent–but real canvas.

Interior of Hestercombe tent.

Since our tent—and our follies exhibit—are temporary fixtures in the landscape, we had the luxury of going with the “authentic” use of fabric but finding that fabricator was a feat within itself. Most tents used in the modern landscape are both vinyl and white; elaborate Turkish designs fall a bit out of the norm. We found someone whose designs were edging nearer to our aesthetic when they graciously pointed us to someone who they thought could better fulfill our needs: California based Raj Tents. A quick call from my boss Chris Strand (the author of this exhibition) to the owner, Dominic Mitchell and it all came together.
Chris excitedly shared this information with me to which I replied, “I guess I will have to fly out to California to check it out.” Chris’ answer, much to my astonishment was “I think that is a good idea.” It pays to think aloud sometimes.

Moroccan styled tent from Raj Tents. One of hundreds of choices.

If you look at the Raj Tents website, there are many frame and fabric options and before I flew out we had to narrow down a design scheme. After several meetings, we reigned in the options while leaving some room for flexibility and sent along that information prior to my arrival. I packed my bags, headed out to LA last April, and met with the folks to make those options come to fruition.

Sorting through the options.

The nature of what we were asking for veers from the normal business model for Raj Tents. They traditionally rent out tents for temporary occasions in the sunny and dry landscape of California. We are neither temporary nor sunny and dry so some thought had to be given to the types of fabric we used. What colors would work best in our landscape? What will help resist fading? What can help keep the fabric from getting dirty? How do we guard against some of the violent “pop-up” gusts associated with our thunderstorms? These are questions that a rental company does not often have to wrestle with so our meeting dealt much on these logistics.

The Grand Pavilion tent frame was assembled for my visit to give me a feel for the size and how the fabric was fitted on the frame. I also was able to see up close some of the amazing hand detailing on these custom-made tents. In talking over the exhibition with Dominic, some design changes were made to make for a more “permanent” tent covering for our needs (rather than one that is designed to go up and down in a matter of days) and the fabric patterns and colors were chosen.

Tent set up in parking lot.

Hand stitching detail.

An example of block print pattern on fabric.

Back at home, we assembled the top of the tent frame to mark out the location for the decking posts. We have few flat areas here at Winterthur and the location chosen for this folly fit that mold. The tent frame was leveled to the slope and then marked.

Tent Frame leveled out on location.

Tent frame from a distance with Bristol Summerhouse as scale.

With our toolcat and auger, I set out to auger the first of many footings. Comfortable with the toolcat but never using an auger bit, I started out as a novice and ended up feeling capable (after 42 total holes for 3 different folly foundations, I certainly would hope so!).

Toolcat with auger attachment.

Holes for footings.

An octagon decking foundation was put in place and at present, grading work is being done to help soften the existing level of the deck to the surrounding area. Our intent at this moment is to find an artful way for the meadow to encroach toward the structure. Our desire is to have the meadow envelope the folly from a distance but when in the tent, provide pathways for either the eyes or body to meander out into the landscape. This will develop into its full potential when the grasses and forbs awaken in the late spring. I almost can’t even think that far ahead…

Grading work surrounding the Ottoman tent deck.

In December, a trip up to Material Culture in Philadelphia with Winterthur interior designer Sandra Brown was in store to help select furniture that would fit the style of an Ottoman tent. Having never been there before, I wandered around a warehouse of imported and unique furniture and accessories; I could have stayed for hours! We went in with one mindset for furniture design and came out with another, which is part of the fun and certainly an ongoing theme with the follies exhibition.

Sandy then set out to find appropriate fabrics for the outdoor pillows. Looking at all of the options, for me, was half the fun then decided on a fabric and color that helped pick up on an accent in the tent pattern.

Tent panel with fabric swatches for pillows.

With all things in place, we now wait for the opening day to draw a little closer before assembling. It’s like having the nursery all decorated and waiting for the due date to arrive!

To me, February is about as deep in the thralls of winter as one can get.  Even with the spring-like weather we’ve been having, the threat of snow and freezing temperatures still hangs in the air.  I, personally, cannot wait until our gardens come alive with spring ephemerals, budding trees, and carpets of bulbs in just a few weeks!  In the meantime, I like to look back on our trip to the New York Botanical Gardens we took in the fall.  The colorful and unique Chihuly glass pieces provided bright accents to natural fall color, and cheerful distraction from the impeding winter.  Enjoy these pictures from our trip to ease the winter blues!



Recent walks on the Winterthur Estate have proven to me the subtle variation of winter’s beauty, often vacillating between two different poles in the blink of an eye. Here are sights from two of those walks.

A gentle snow was falling as I traipsed beside the reservoir near Armour Farm in late January. A patch of still-standing grasses and weeds drew my eye, like a new world in its dusting of white. The view over the water towards the woods gave glimpses of future walks, the snow illuminating pathways yet to be explored. A flock of Canada geese soon wrested my attention from the land: how fun to watch these hardy creatures paddle their way in the open places, waddle through the slushy margin of ice, and stand tall and proud upon the frozen surface of the pond! A sudden movement along the shore (did I step on a twig?), and the geese took off into a third element, leaving behind in their flight two lone, bewildered birds.

Only a few days later, as the month skipped into February, my ramble in the Old Cutting Garden area introduced colorful fireworks of just-blooming witchhazels. The blossoms were the complete inverse of the brown, dreary edge of the field where I walked. Two very old shrubs (probably different varieties of Hamamelis x intermedia) put forth blooms in hues of crisp yellow and golden yellow-orange. How lovely the flowers against the blue sky! With eyes upward, I noticed yet another “flower” — the dried remains of tulip-tree flowers. Their little cups reminded me of their namesake flowers, which will burst into full color in only a couple more months.

Week 7 of the Folly Frenzy Countdown! Featuring: the Chinese Pavilion.

I am very fortunate to have been able to do some folly reconnaissance in England two summers ago. It was a whirlwind tour of 18 gardens in 16 days and it was pure heaven! All but 2 of the gardens featured at least one folly while five of the gardens were devoted primarily to follies in the landscape. One of those such gardens was Stowe Landscape Garden in Buckinghamshire.

One important and historic folly that we wanted to replicate for our exhibition was the Chinese House at Stowe. Built in 1738, it is folly with historic relevance and to an historic garden attached to a museum of American decorative arts, that is a win-win!

Overall photo of the Chinese House at Stowe. Filled with detail!

This folly is an example of Chinoiserie, or the European interpretation and imitation of Chinese and East Asian artistic traditions. A folly of this age has also seen some sights; originally, sited in water, it moved around in England and Ireland to return to Stowe in a new location, restored…, and now has moved, in spirit, to the US for an even more western interpretation of its design.

Close up of a painting with the Chinese House (in water) in the background.

After copious documentation of the Chinese House (photos, drawings and measurements), we approached Rob McKeown of Elk Creek Cabinetry to see if he wanted to recreate this folly and Rob was up for the task! So as Rob was busy building the structure, we had to come up with how to decorate it. The original folly is embellished with hand painted pictures, evoking the look of Chinese paintings on glass. We knew that we could not replicate that artistic talent but used some techniques implemented by our exhibitions team to create the effect that we desired.

And so it begins…framing of the folly base.

Unfinished lattice.

Finished lattice and interior paint colors.

A template was created of the placement of the paintings on the original folly and then we looked within our own amazing collection for inspiration and found it. The outside images are taken from scenes in the late 18th century, hand-painted Chinese wallpaper in the Chinese Parlor, and the interior is wallpaper from the Port Royal Entrance Hall.

The Chinese Wallpaper in the Chinese Parlor.

Nat Caccamo with paint swatches against the wallpaper in the Port Royal Entrance.

High quality, close up photography was taken of images of the Chinese wallpaper that could be used in our interpretation of the exterior paintings. The interior of the Chinese House was less distinctive and appeared to not have been fully restored so we opted to draw inspiration yet again from our own collection and replicate the wallpaper in Port Royal Entrance Hall, but still use the molding pattern from the interior of the Chinese House. All of the photographs are then placed on weather resistant, 21st century materials. Where science and art meet.

Template for an exterior wall using images from the Chinese Wallpaper.

Template for the interior back wall using images of the wallpaper from the Port Royal Entrance

The designs on the exterior molding of the original folly were all done in free hand. We replicated the “dot molding” as we ended up calling it, by Rob routing out the molding and painting it to create the outer lines followed by me “going to my happy place” while stenciling dots.


Dot molding complete and no, I wasn’t seeing spots!

The ribbon molding (as we refer to it on the original) went beyond our stenciling expertise and after much consternation, we came to the conclusion that this is our interpretation of the Chinese House and since we were changing other aspects of the original design, why not that? Again, the solution was the routing out and painting of molding to create another complimentary repeat pattern.

Close up of molding details. “Dot and Ribbon Molding” as we refer to it.

Unlike many of the other follies which are being built in situ, this folly was created off site in two different locations; the base in a barn and the roof in Rob’s driveway (Did I mention he has a patient wife?)

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Folly with Christmas lights!

Delivery day came and the follies made a trek from their locations, up I-95 to the West Side of the Galleries. Can you imagine the quizzical looks as drivers passed this on the highway? The next day, a crane came on site to place the two pieces together.

Base of the folly being delivered on site.

Crane placement of the base of the folly with the roof waiting in the foreground.

The stylized dolphin finials on the original were changed again to a more Winterthur-style aesthetic, the Hippocampus. The current Hippocampus in the Reflecting Pool was replicated from the original lead sculpture that sustained damage over the years. We reused the mold and with the help of objects conservator Adam Jenkins, a graduate of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, two new lightweight, gold-tone finials were born!

Hippocampus mold off to make us some finials!

Unpainted Hippocampus getting fitted for attachment brackets.

A viewpoint that most won’t see.

Hippocampus in their new home!

As of this writing, the interior wallpaper and exterior pictures await installment and the final touch will be the Chinese calligraphy on the red side panels of the exterior. We are working on the content so brush up on your Chinese characters to see what it says!

If you haven’t caught folly fever yet, that’s ok, there is still time. You saw how Rob strung lights on the roof of the Chinese Folly and folly fever even worked its way into our gingerbread contest at Yuletide…who knows how it might inspire you.

The Chinese House served as an inspiration for our Yuletide gingerbread contest!

We have entered the countdown to the April 1st opening of the Winterthur Garden’s first outdoor exhibition, Follies: Architectural Whimsy in the Garden. It has been a day that I have been dreading for a while but as it moves ever so closer, the anxiety has lessened, being replaced by a mix of anticipation and adrenaline and, on April 2nd, a chance to catch my breath.

As with all construction, some follies are ahead of schedule, some are behind, but all are progressing forward and for that, I am thankful. So, to get this “folly train” movin’, in true countdown form, a new folly will be featured each week, which will take us to the week of March 18th, and the week preceding the opening, March 25th, we’ll feature the reason behind this exhibition; our own historic follies. I will start with the folly that is closest to completion but will intentionally leave out some of the finishing elements because, well, they are not all finished but also to entice you to come in and see the follies for yourself.

I will start the folly-frenzy countdown with the Green Folly. This is a concept that we swirled around in our heads for a while; what would this folly be? In the conceptual phase, we spoke of this folly reflecting the garden yet it took a trip to England to come up with the bones of this folly. It was a visit to Prince Charles’ garden Highgrove that a spark ignited our Green Folly imagination.

Folly at Highgrove that served as inspiration for our own.

The appeal of this folly, for me, was the use of the massive tree trunks as the pillars holding up the roof. Anyone who has walked the Winterthur Garden and wider estate marvels at the size of our trees and in fact, we have several state champions on our property. Trees are both the bones and the soul of the Winterthur Garden and this Highgrove folly captures the grandeur of trees.

Bringing the concept back home and flushing out some details, we came up with the framework of our green folly. For the pillars, we chose to go with a tree that is throughout the property: American beech. The smooth, grey bark contrasts the darker, furrowed bark of other species in our forests and no trunk flair is as consistently dramatic as beech. For the roof, we could have gone with thatch but we already have two thatched roofs in Enchanted Woods. Cedar shingles are used on two of our featured historic follies, the Umbrella Seat and the Bristol Summerhouse, but we don’t have any bundled twigs featured anywhere…so in came that idea.
Free-form furniture and wall options were inspired by a trip to West Dean and also by Martha Stewart! (Sorry West Dean, but Martha won.)

Seating and wall at a folly at West Dean.

Original wall inspiration courtesy of Martha Stewart.

We approached Hugh Lofting Timber Framing with the concept of helping us build the folly. Over 40 years in the business, they never have built something quite like this. They accepted the challenge so our arborists scouted the grounds, looking for trees with the right dimensions and evenly-flared trunks that were also easily accessible for removal by a crane. Brandywine Tree and Shrub had all the right equipment to gently remove the trees and move them to the location.

Skillful cutting of the beech.

Setting of the two front pillars. Not your average timber framing project!

Months of planning got executed in 2 weeks, from cut to assemble, to create the bones of the folly in time for Truck and Tractor Day. We did not want to miss that opportunity to whet the folly appetite at that event!

Green Folly structure completed. Now for embellishments.

At the completion of the timber framing, we decided to not fully “twig” the roof but leave the top portion open to look at the canopy above and the wonderful pattern of the framing. A decision inspired by the moment.

Roof design highlighting canopy. Too pretty to cover completely.

Illuminated at Winterthur After Hours.

Branches from the removals were piled in our fields. The original thought was to use bundled branches without leaves but the removals occurred while in full leaf and true to beech, the leaves persisted. That would be a lot of leaves to remove by hand…and beggars can’t be choosers so the design changed to include leaves on the twigs! Those piles were sorted and then later bundled.

Branch sorting begins…

A sidebar of this story, Enchanted Woods had a lot of improvements this past year: the installation of a new hand pump and plumbing, reworking of the stone pathways, replacement of the exposed timbers on the Faerie Cottage and some thatching repairs. Fortunately, for me, the thatching was the last to occur and William Cahill extended his stay to help in our “twiggery” (our made up name for twig roofing!) We placed grapevine and bittersweet vine down as the “rafters” and then attached the bundled twigs (with leaves) to it.

Twisted vine rafters.

A piece of braided vine did not make it to the rafters but instead comes out of a stump and provides the illusion that the rafters stem from this living connection to the ground. Again, some decisions made in the creative process.

“Living vine” sprouting from a tree stump.

In conversations with architect Bob Grove and engineer Gary Gredell, both involved in the follies exhibition, the cut-disk wall idea morphed into stacked wood. I think it came by a very practical observation of my description that the wall would be made of disks that looked like stacked wood. The response was simply, “why don’t you just make it out of stacked wood?”


The seat design evolved with the stacked wall idea, with two pieces of the wall being longer, forming a cantilevered seat. Then came, “Wouldn’t it be neat if there was a window in the wall?” Enter blacksmith Seth Barchowsky who created the oval framework (embellished with leaves) for the window.
Oh, did I mention that the wood for the wall came from river birch trees removed earlier in the year from my property? At the time of their removals, I was not sure how or if we would use the logs but I figured that the ornamental bark of the birch logs had folly potential.
As of this writing, the wall is not yet completed but one can get a picture of what it will look like.

Cut wood for walls and vines for rafters, courtesy of our arborists!

A not yet finished wall and seat prototype.

The finial is the last piece to go on. We approached Ron Brown, who turns bowls from Winterthur wood for our gift shop, to turn a piece for us. (check out his work in our Clenny Run Museum Store!) We chose an urn whose contents we could alter seasonally to reflect the changes in the garden.

Finial turned from Winterthur wood.

As you can see, there have been many hands involved in the creation of this folly: in all of our follies, really. Each person who has been involved has had a bit of a twinkle in the eye about their particular part in its creation. A collaboration of professionals and craftsmen with years of experience, but not on a project quite like this. The construction of each folly brings out the kid in us and that unbridled imagination is just the inspiration that is needed to create these whimsical structures.

ome say that the word January derives from the name of the Roman god Janus—god of doorways and doubles, beginnings and endings. Known for its dual countenance, one face looking backward and the other forward, the image is an appropriate one as we pause momentarily on the verge of a New Year, both to reminisce and to dream.

As we say goodbye to 2017 and welcome in the New Year, it seems fitting to reflect on an outdoor exhibit that the Garden Department recently contributed to Winterthur’s now-completed Yuletide season. Called Winter Doors, the exhibit featured doors from days gone by installed alongside other existing doorways in the Greenhouse Area, all of which were decorated by staff on the theme of “Treasures from the Winterthur Garden.” The following Yuletide greeting depicts highlights from that exhibit.

By giving staff members a blank canvas, each door opened up an opportunity to share something special about Winterthur, gardening, and nature as a whole. Decorations crafted mostly from plant materials highlighted Winterthur’s beautiful tree canopy, lush meadows, diverse conifer collection, and renowned children’s garden, to name a few subjects. One notable door was decked out entirely with garden tools, while another displayed a Christmas tree covered tip to base with natural materials.

As the creator of one of those doors, I will now offer a little behind-the-scenes peek at the creative process, in hopes of sparking future creations.

My door was a tribute to iconic examples of garden ornament at Winterthur. Among them are the much-loved Hippocampus (half horse, half fish) in the Reflecting Pool; the central Sundial in its namesake garden, the Sundial Garden; and two stately Iron Lily urns, also in the Sundial Garden.

Hippocampus (photo by Bob Leitch)

Lantern slide, c. 1922-1925, showing Sundial in its original location, the now-lost formal flower garden of Mr. du Pont (W.C. Spruance Lantern Slide Collection, 1984.217, Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE)

Iron Lily urn, one of two (photo by the author)

Now the challenge: How to re-create all of them using natural materials?!

The fish tail of the Hippocampus immediately brought to mind scales of pinecones, perhaps glistening with pine pitch. The horse’s head? How about the muscular looking shards of exfoliated black locust bark littering my front lawn!

Himalayan pinecone scales and pieces of fertile fern fronds comprise the Hippocampus’s fish tail

Black locust bark, lightly mottled with lichen, and the hairlike strands of male dawn redwood cones comprise the horse’s head of the Hippocampus

Head and tail united

Hippocampus swag in situ

The Sundial and its ornate perch required further thought. Grapevine soon presented itself as the perfect raw material for spinning this celestial orb, while acorn caps and female dawn redwood cones (among other things) provided a tapestry of sculptural forms for the base.

Grapevine “Sundial” wreath atop decorative base

Detail of the Sundial’s base showing acorn caps, female dawn redwood cones, milkweed pods, fertile fern fronds, and lichen-encrusted bark

Finally, the Iron Lilies: How to make flowers from the leftover materials of winter? Suddenly an abundance of dried okra pods, remnants from the summer’s Kids Grow! garden, became useful. Who would have thought that an okra pod, when split along its ridges, could be coaxed into a lily-like shape, complete with central “stamens?” Provided with picks and floral tape, the okra pods could then be made to appear as if emerging from the tulip poplar branches that I collected from the woods. A coat of rough-finish, iron-black spray paint completed the job.

Okra pods in various stages of becoming “lilies” (albeit only 5 petaled!)

Branches of “iron lilies” frame the door

The completed door showing Iron Lily urns, generous containers filled with mixed evergreens and branches of okra-blooming branches

Happy New Year to you all! Through the wonders of today’s digital technology, I will close with a tribute to Janus…Winterthur-style!

Hippo-Janus: A Janus-inspired version of Winterthur’s Hippocampus

Experiment 50

As Winterthur’s horticulture staff brave the freezing temperatures, here is a welcome tribute to something that happened at our main department office (“Building 50”) during the steamy days of summer. Many thanks to this blog post’s author Natalie Duerr, former Garden & Estate Intern and currently a landscape architecture major at Penn State. Can’t wait until spring to see more of the results of her inspired “experiment”!

2017 Interns in front of Building 50 (Natalie second from right, Rachel second from left)


Why I Wanted To Take On This Project

I feel the best way to learn is by doing. It’s my last name: I am a Duerr. I saw an opportunity to improve my understandings and skills in landscape architecture, and I took it with excitement. I was so excited to plan, design, and implement the whole project. It feels really good to complete a project for which I had so much ambition. I also wanted to confirm that I was in the right major and that I would be successful. This project was a big commitment for only having one hour a day, but with the help of some other interns, it came to life. I can’t thank Rachel enough for helping every single day, rain or shine.

The name comes from the idea that I was doing an experiment. I was testing out different things, testing my love for my major, and testing how well I could remodel this site. “Experiment 50” is my first real and completed landscape architecture project.

What We Did

Before designing, it is important to do site analysis. Our conclusions after observing the areas and talking to the horticulturalists were that there was heavy rainfall/snowfall from the roof and that sometimes there were tables set up outside for gatherings. Rachel and I took this information and accommodated each space to fit its needs.

Prior to demolition, Rachel and I decided to create a plan that would be simple, low maintenance, and most of all pretty. Although most of it was planning on a day-by-day schedule, the end goal was to create a rain garden and a lunch space.

The rain garden just sort of happened. We asked the horticulturalists if it was okay to take out the lilac tree in front of Carol’s team’s office, and they gave us the go. Without the lilac tree, a nice rectangular space opened up where we placed a variety of plants that Carol brought in. Then, we replaced some of the Solomon’s Seal with Astilbe that Amy had dug up from her area. This garden was really a collaboration between interns and horticulturalists.

The lunch area required multiple treatments of weed killer and multiple rounds of mowing. We weeded the surrounding area and sprayed the poison ivy. After that there was some heavy lifting to place in tables and chairs (and even a small fairy door!).

The site

Building 50 (minus lilac tree!)


The new rain garden

Another view

Before: Huge hosta!

After: Sweeps of Solomon’s seal

Before and After: The lunch area

Whimsical addition: A fairy door!

Conflicts and Challenges

Our biggest challenge for the rain garden was the shallow soil. Building 50 is on a platform, which means that soil needs to be manually brought in and that it can only hold so much.

The lunch area was much different because of its existing nature. It was easy to mow, spray, and repeat. However, to really make this area come alive, we had to weed and weed and weed.

Despite having two areas of work, other little problems also came up along the way. The Hosta had finished blooming, so there was a day spent deadheading. Some days were focused on thinning out other plants. Other days were spent simply talking with horticulturalists on what we could do next or what they wanted for the space. As a designer, it is important to design for an audience, not just yourself.

Then, nature itself is always a challenge. There were a lot of spots of poison ivy, but we also got stung by bees. The heat and humidity challenged our physical strength and determined how tired we were at the end of the day.

Some of the challenges…

Concluding Thoughts

Being an intern at Winterthur means pushing yourself to learn more and also to do more. This internship is not just weeding, pruning, and planting. Every day I was challenged to learn something new. The way plants interact with the environment is sometimes ignored in landscape architecture, so it was both valuable and interesting to learn what types of plants work best in different areas. It also taught me a lot of plant names, which already makes me ahead of my classmates. The garden staff has such a vast knowledge of horticulture, which they love to share and which helps the interns grow in their knowledge. This project was fun to take on not only because I love landscape architecture, but also because I was able to use the new skills I had learned from my colleagues. There has been a drastic change in the way I design, and I use everything I’ve learned from Winterthur almost every day.

As we celebrate today’s opening of the Yuletide season, here is a backward glance to this past summer and the fascinating work that was happening on one of Winterthur’s most iconic trees — the famous “Dried Flower Tree”!  Winterthur Flower Program Coordinator Heidi Militana offers us this special behind-the-scenes glimpse, demonstrating that great things can indeed come from small beginnings.

August 4, 2017

In a tiny basement room under the Cottage, the process has already begun.  Walking into this room you will find hundreds of flowers strung on clothes-line and hundred’s more waiting in boxes.  The drying of multi-hued flowers, of all varieties, is the beginning of the process to produce Winterthur’s signature tree, the Dried Flower Tree, now a thirty-two year tradition for the museum.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the flowers that adorn the rooms in the Winterthur Museum?  After a week of design duty, they are removed by the Floral Team, stripped of their leaves, and brought to that tiny room in the Cottage basement, dubbed the Drying Room.  The arrangement below can be dried entirely, and flowers are purchased this time of year with exactly that in mind.

Sunflowers, Millet, Statice, Queen Anne’s Lace, and Safflower

The Dried Flower Team, consisting of the floral designers and some of our garden guides, dry the flowers by two methods.  Flowers that can be hang dried like larkspur, roses, yarrow, allium, safflower, and statice are bundled in small bunches.   Those are the ones you see immediately upon entering the Drying Room. 

After a week to ten days hanging upside down, they are carefully placed in long floral boxes and shelved, awaiting their time to be placed on the tree.

Boxed Larkspur

Usually, the first flower to be dried in March is the daffodil, taken from the gardens.  Many flowers, because of their form or structure don’t dry well hung on a line.  Instead they are placed carefully in a desiccant called silica gel. Terry Colonna, Winterthur Garden Guide and ‘Silica Gel Guru’, leads this endeavor.  This year she was particularly tickled with blue lacecap hydrangea.  Terry has taught many on the Dried Flower Team her secrets in obtaining the perfect everlasting bloom. 

Flowers dried in silica gel

In October, the Dried Flower Team gets together for a “bundling party.”  At that time, spread out in the basement hallway, all the flowers that have been hung dry are grouped into threes and fours, wrapped in floral tape and placed in boxes according to color and variety.

This year on November 13th, the boxes of flowers will ascend from the basement and make their way to the conservatory, where this year’s dried flower tree will reside.  The flowers are laid out according to variety and color, making the decision of what flower to place where on the tree an easy one. 

The hours of drying are over.  Next year’s blooms will begin the process all over again in March.  The process happens quietly in the tiny basement room, under the unsuspecting bustle of activity in the Cottage’s store and café.

To view a YouTube video of the making of Wintherthur’s Dried Flower Tree, go to:

To hear some of Terry’s silica gel secrets, watch the video clips of her drying flowers!



Photography by Rob Cardillo

November 10, 2017–February 25, 2018

The America’s Garden Capital Maze returns to Dilworth Park’s Wintergarden for a second season at City Hall in Center City, Philadelphia. Wintergarden features horticulture displays, ice skating, fire pits, and more. One of Wintergarden’s must-visit spots is the America’s Garden Capital Maze–a holiday-inspired garden that recognizes the more than 30 public gardens in our region—including Winterthur! Enjoy picture-perfect moments with friends and family amid the vibrant plantings, topiaries, twinkling lights, and festive décor. Tune into your creative side, and take advantage of 10 weeks of free Garden Workshops, provided by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society hosted on-site at the Rothman Cabin. Advance registration is required for Garden Workshops. The America’s Garden Capital Maze was created in partnership with Greater Philadelphia Gardens. Learn more at americasgardencapital.org/wintergarden.