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.

The following was written in August by Natural Lands Intern Madeline Banks. This is a follow-up piece to her first post about the prescribed burns that took place in April, which can be viewed here: http://gardenblog.winterthur.org/2017/05/16/prescribed-burn-at-winterthur/.


A version of both posts was recently included on the blog of the Ecological Landscape Alliance and can be viewed here: http://www.ecolandscaping.org/10/restoration/functional-fire-prescribed-burning-winterthur/. On November 14, Winterthur will be hosting the day-long ELA conference, “The Evolving Role of Urban Landscapes.” For more information about the day’s speakers and schedule, please go to: http://www.ecolandscaping.org/event/conference-evolving-role-urban-landscapes/.


Continuing the project

One thing I am grateful for is the opportunity to monitor Armour Farm meadow after the burn. It is incredible to see the changes it goes through as the seasons progress. Through weekly surveys, I have been able to identify over 50 species of flowering plants in the meadow! This kind of documentation (however rudimentary it is with what limited time I can spend on it) had never been done for our natural areas by Winterthur staff before. It is beneficial to have a species content list so we know what we have — good and bad — so we can work on management plans for the future.

Armour Farm meadow, 1 month post burn

Reforestation efforts

Post burn, we went ahead with our efforts to reforest the north side of the meadow. First, we staked out saplings present so we knew what we were dealing with. Fortunately, there are good stands of young oak and tulip tree saplings with sprinklings of sweet gum saplings throughout our desired area.

oak sapling marking

Knowing there was a good seed bank, we mowed a new line of definition. Everything to the north of the line will be left alone from now on while everything south of the line will be maintained as a meadow. Currently, we intend on allowing this area to regenerate naturally, even though this is the long way around. Our hope is that one day, the plot will return to the forested wood lot it once was.

New boundary line which separates managed meadow (right) from forest regeneration (left)

Hidden treasures

In my extremely biased opinion, Armour meadow is Winterthur’s hidden gem. Neatly tucked away on the edge of the property, one can only catch a glimpse of its south side looking left past the pond as you enter the property coming down the main drive. In the summer, the absolutely-visitor-accessible meadow presents visitors with bright yellow black-eyed Susans, deep purple ironweed, abundant goldenrods, and waves of warm season grasses. To the more dedicated guest, one discovers the truly special such as Virginia mountain mint, green milkweed, and even a few species of native terrestrial orchids.

Asclepias viridiflora– Green Milkweed

In July, a walk all the way down the north side of the meadow rewards the visitor with over 90 individuals of ragged fringed orchid, and a substantial amount of ladies’ tresses orchids in August.

Platanthera lacera– Ragged Fringed Orchid

Spiranthes lacera– Ladies’ Tresses Orchid

Since this is the first year we have burned this field, and the first year a vegetative survey has been conducted, I can’t say whether the burn helped bring out these interesting plants. However, with more monitoring after annual maintenance will hopefully come some answers. As I write this in late summer in the threshold of autumn, the meadow is a mosaic in goldenrods and purpletop grass. It has most definitely been a lesson in nature’s resilience and response to human inflicted management practices.

4 months post burn, the meadow is alive again in shades of goldenrods and grasses

Last Wednesday was a perfect fall day in the Winterthur Garden — sunny, crisp, and with that little autumn “tang” in the air. Fortunately, it provided a golden opportunity to explore a venture that will debut in the fall of 2018: Land Art, or Nature Art, or Garden Art. Whatever we wind up calling this special event, it was definitely evident from the enthusiastic participation of Winterthur guests and staff that the subject is ripe for the picking!

Thank you to our willing Garden Insider participants and Garden staff for assembling Winterthur’s very first land art installation! As a series of squares, each as unique as the individual who created them, the finished work resembles a patchwork quilt that covers a slumbering patch of earth. What a great symbol of the day’s creativity, collaboration, and community.

A colorful quilt of nature-inspired art (digitally re-stitched!)

Fall Folly Frenzy

The Winterthur Garden is busy preparing for its first outdoor exhibition, Follies: Architectural Whimsy in the Garden, opening April 1, 2018. We are creating 7 new follies, or garden structures, that one might find in an historic landscape. These new features will be threaded between the follies that H. F. du Pont placed in his garden and will allow us to better highlight the stories behind our historic structures.

Our own folly such as the Latimeria Summerhouse and the Umbrella Seat in the Peony Garden, have all gotten spiffed up for the occasion and work to the Faerie Cottage in Enchanted Woods will be happening in the next two weeks. After planning, meetings, and setbacks (and subsequent planning & meetings for the setbacks), new folly construction is underway. Here are some highlights to date:

The Chinese Folly is being created off site and will “magically appear” in its new home near the West Galleries later this fall.

Illustration of Chinese Folly

The Green Folly has been under construction on site at the end of Greenhouse Lane.

Illustration of the Green Folly

The Neoclassical Folly stage is set and on the brink of construction. You may have noticed the mowed path and circle in the field outside of Magnolia Bend for a bit.

Illustration of the Neoclassical Folly

The footing outlines for the Mirrored Folly are in place outside of the Pinetum. Decking will appear this fall with the construction of the actual folly taking place off site.

Illustration of the Mirrored Folly

The top portion of the frame for the Ottoman Tent has been on site below the Quarry Bridge marking the placement of the footings. Decking will occur this fall with the tent-covering happening closer to opening day.

Illustration of the Ottoman Tent

The footprint of the Gothic Tower on Oak Hill has been placed in the lawn with footings coming soon. This, along with the Green and Neoclassical Folly will be ones that we will be able to watch come to life during their respective constructions.

Illustration of the Gothic Tower

Lastly, the Needle’s Eye will be constructed off site and then “launched” into place in the front entrance pond closer to our exhibition opening.

Illustration of the Needle’s Eye

Blog updates will ensue as more gets underway and you can follow the progress on the Winterthur Facebook page as well as on Instagram @winterthurbloom. If you would like to add your own pictures of the follies—existing or new—to our Instagram, use #gardenfolly .

We are very excited about this new opportunity for guests to see a familiar garden with new eyes!

(Illustrations by Eric Leland)

Goats of Winterthur

This article was written in June 2017 by Natural Lands Intern Caroline Toth. Sadly, one of the goats that she portrays, Stanley, passed away at the end of August. This wonderful blog post offers not only a joyful glimpse into a little known world at Winterthur, but also timely solace to those of us saddened by the loss of a much-loved four-footed friend. Thank you, Carrie, for providing both.

As the weather warms and the meadow grasses flower, Winterthur’s herd of seven Boer goats is set to work munching areas of Brown’s Woods where invasive shrub-layer plants have taken over. Although our goats can’t discern between native versus non-native plants, the act of defoliation and damage to the non-natives suppresses the populations’ reproductive success. Plus, judging by our goats’ zealous appetites, it would seem that these greens are quite the delicacy, indeed!

Although our sweet (and sometimes spoiled) goats took some time to become accustomed to their temporary pen in the woods, they soon grew to love their home of prolific tasty treats.


It’s not always easy to get goats to do what you want, especially when you are introducing them to something unknown. When our livestock first saw the contraption we devised to transport them from pasture to forest, they harbored some serious reservations. Luckily for us, a mere handful of treats was compensation enough for them to voluntarily enter the cage strapped on to the trailer.  

Goats on the move!


The “Who’s Who” of the Small Ruminant World

All seven of our goats are purebred Boer goats. Originally from South Africa, the Boer goat was bred to be as large as possible to maximize profits in the meat market. “The bigger, the better” was the idea behind breeding Boers.

Here at Winterthur, our Boers were all given to us as donations from herd owners who loved the goat in question so much that they could not bear to send them to market – and we are so glad, because now, we can’t imagine life without them!


Our first goats were Franklin and Stanley. Stanley is the alpha goat – kind of the wise caretaker of the herd. Franklin came from the same herd as Stanley, but Franklin is as loud as Stanley is quiet! Franklin is determined to make his presence known to every person and animal in the visual vicinity. When he is feeling affectionate, he lets you know by way of rubbing his head on you. When he is annoyed with you, he’ll emit a high-pitched whinny of frustration before slowly clopping away.




Morgan is a former show goat. Although she was born and raised on a meat farm, her good looks saved her from going to market. When she was pregnant with her kids, however, she developed a sway back. Around that same time, the tag on her left ear became stuck in a fence, and she ripped herself free, resulting in a permanently ripped ear. Because show goats are expected to be physically perfect, Morgan’s looks weren’t enough to save her anymore. We are lucky, then, that she had her babies Minnie and Missie. When Morgan’s previous owner saw how sweet they all were together, she donated the three of them to Winterthur to spare them a life of hardship.



Minnie and Missie are twins. They are now one year old – old enough to fend for themselves, in goat culture. But up until April, Morgan defended her kids with her life. She fiercely attacked any goat who came too close to her precious babies, and every human who came near was put under immediate scrutiny. Due to living such sheltered lives, Minnie and Missie developed exceptionally playful and affectionate attitudes. Although they now each fend for themselves, they still maintain the sweet and mischievous affectation they were notorious for when they were babies.




Nora and Riley are half-sisters who came from the same farm. Although they had different mothers, they were born around the same time. As kids, they bonded closely when both of them were donated to Winterthur in 2016. They are each fourteen months old – only two months older than Minnie and Missie – but they didn’t have their mothers around to protect them when they were smaller. Because of this, they had to learn to fend for themselves at an early age. Even though life is much more pleasant for them now, a youth of hardship instilled in them a quiet cleverness that still manifests itself every day.




It’s been a privilege introducing you to Winterthur’s goats! Just one glimpse of these creatures, whether out in the fields grazing or sitting atop their jungle-gym of giant tree stumps, will likely be one of the happiest sights you will see at Winterthur!

Minnie gazes up at Franklin


Check out the below “Goat Gallery” for more great pictures!

9/9/2017 – Garden Architecture & Sunset from the Train Station [re-scheduled]

Due to a rescheduling, we will have two Director’s Garden Walks with Director of Garden and Estate Chris Strand this Saturday. The first one, 1:00–2:30 pm, features garden architecture and water features. The second is a sunset walk to Winterthur’s train station, which was originally cancelled due to rain. Enjoy a sunset walk over the meadows to the train station and back at 6:00 pm.

1:00 pm walk leaves from the Visitor Center patio.
6:00 pm walk leaves from the Visitor Center Parking lot.

Walks last about 90 minutes. Be sure to bring a flashlight for the evening walk and wear walking shoes.

The following was written by Garden & Estate Intern Emma Relei. 

Early every Saturday morning, families begin to roll up to the Brown Horticulture Learning Center at Winterthur. In front of the building, bordered by billowing catmint and a row of vintage greenhouses, over 40 garden beds lay bursting with life. Despite the early hour, young children are full of excitement as they reach their individual patch. Ripening tomatoes, developing eggplants, unruly cosmos, vibrant lettuce and coiling beans flourish in front of their eyes. Observing the growth from the previous week, shouts of giddy delight can be heard all around:  

Dad! We can cook radishes with dinner tonight!

Wow, my garden has so many weeds. It’s adorable!

It is like a forest of zinnias!

Through a child’s eyes

How is it that just a little bit of soil, sun and water are all it takes to grow a plant from an insubstantial seed? One might also ask how a little bit of soil, sun and water are enough to spark a child’s sense of awe and wonder. In the garden, so many lessons are sown and so many memories are reaped. As an intern, these bright and early Saturday mornings have become some of the fondest moments of my time here at Winterthur.

When first arriving in May for my internship, I was anxious for the privilege to learn under experienced and knowledgeable horticulturists. Plant identification, landscape design and garden cultural practices were all courses included in the intern schedule. Yet, above all, I was most eager to be involved with the Kids Grow program. The thought of helping children to plan, sow, tend and harvest their own vegetable gardens completely captivated my heart. However, while assisting with teaching, I had no idea how much I would learn in return.

Unruly cosmos

Kids Grow is a free summer course for children, ages 6 to 14, of Winterthur’s member families. This year nearly 40 children from 15 different families participated. Not only do the kids care for their own garden plots, but there are numerous educational activities, as well. From flower arranging to gourd painting, every week’s activity is slightly different from the last.

With row upon row of individual raised beds, this is a community vegetable garden of sorts. Every patch is unique. Some children have meticulous attention to detail. Others are brimming with creativity. Some painstakingly plant one seed at a time in a perfect row. Others spill the entire contents of their seed packet in a single spot (and two weeks later begrudgingly have much thinning to do). Each garden patch reflects the child who cares for it. A wonderfully made and grown personality shines through in every marigold, eggplant and tomato arrangement.

Watering station

We have all heard the saying, “You reap what you sow.” If a little hard work and effort are sown in, much can be reaped out, right? Well…garden planning does not always guarantee a bountiful harvest. Poor weather, old seed, pesky critters or encroaching weeds are a few of the many things that can cause problems for even the most skillful gardener. There is always much trial and error. Yet something is always reaped, vegetable or naught. Growth is a miracle, whether a tiny seed or a child’s knowledge. In fact, at Kids Grow we are nurturing more than just a garden. Families are raised up and inspired to garden together at home. Children are encouraged to learn and appreciate the world around them. Character and self-esteem are cultivated in down-to-earth conversations (literally). A community is grown up from the grass roots.

So…at the end of the day, if you were to ask me, “Emma, what did you learn while working with Kids Grow?” I might tell you that I learned how heat tolerant carrots are not really a thing, despite what the seed packet may say. More likely, I would report that sowing seeds in good soil reaps countless blessings. This summer I learned to keep a sense of childlike wonder—where weeds are adorable and zinnias grow into flower forests. I learned that growth, whether of plants or knowledge or relationships, develops confidence. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that gardening is more than a horticultural science. It is an act of patience and love.

Families gardening in their plots

It has been a learning experience for which I am eternally grateful. This summer we sowed beans, sunflowers and radishes. Little did we know that family memories, cherished moments of discovery and sweet friendships would also be reaped along with all our veggies. I can joyfully say that our harvest is plentiful this year. While our gardens provided abundant crops, our hearts are no less than overflowing.


See below for more photos from this year’s Kids Grow program!  

The Wonders of Nature

Unless you have totally unplugged from the world (which is doubtful if you are reading this blog!) we all either witnessed with our own (protected) eyes or saw images through the media of our recent phenomenon of the total—or in our case partial—eclipse. It occurred on Monday, which is a day that we are closed to the public so it gave staff a little more leeway to come outside and revel in the spectacle. All of the usual contraptions were in place: approved viewing glasses, homemade boxes and cameras to capture some of the images that resulted from the eclipse paired with a lot of chatter and excitement to be witnessing such an event.

Leaves from trees showing the crescent shape of the sun.

Since we only experienced a partial eclipse, the day was still bright but with a different feel to it. At a loss of how to describe it, I can only say that it was bright with a shadowy overtone. The contrast was certainly higher when looking into sunlit areas from the shade as the shade was much darker than usual. It seemed as if the outside was vailed with a screen—and it was.

A cut-leaf outline of a tree shadow.

As I heard people talking about their experiences and saw pictures that were posted marking this event it caused me think, “what if people took time out of their day, every day, to marvel at what miracles of nature surround us all the time to which we just don’t pay any mind.” A simple example of this is that light changes every day so theoretically our perception has the potential to change every day. Nature is different now from how it was a month ago, responding to the incremental shifts that happen, slowly, with the passing of each day.

I stopped gardening at my house the other day due to a cacophony of bird song in my neighbor’s yard. It was a flock of goldfinches, working at the ripening seeds of purple coneflower, an event that would not happened just a few days earlier since the seed was not then ripe. Though this maybe a yearly event, it is still a magical moment to witness. Whether at the Winterthur Garden or in your own home garden, keep your eyes peeled and take time to notice what is happening all around you, the daily miracles of life.