Friday, May 31, 2013

A Tour of Landis Valley's Flowering Trees and Shrubs

Guest Blog Entry by Shayla Carey.

“This is one of the most interesting plants that we have here,” says Dr. Irwin Richman on this exceptionally fine afternoon as we stroll the grounds of Landis Valley. We’ve stopped at the stout bush closest to the path that leads to the back of the Country Store from the parking lot. Burgundy-colored flowers that look like shredded paper teacups decorate an otherwise unremarkable plant. “Its common name is the “Sweet Smelling Shrub” [left] and it is a native of the Carolinas. It was probably introduced up here by the Moravians. “

He takes a branch and bends it my way. I bend over and take a whiff: my nose is almost assaulted by the smell of over-ripe apples. “It has a very nice aroma and an old Pennsylvania German custom was that women would tie it into a handkerchief as a scent.”

“It is sweet,” I say. “Do the young flowers smell better than the older ones?”

“When they’re fresher they have a stronger aroma.”
I lean over and try a younger flower. The apple smell definitely seems younger, more fresh. I like it.

This is one of the many types of flowering trees and shrubs that provide the backdrop for the interpretive buildings, animals, and people here. Enter the museum grounds in the springtime and see flowering cherry and dogwood trees grace the space around the Tavern. Beyond the Tavern, a trumpet vine climbs over the arbor. A tall smoke tree lends visual interest to the Crafts Barn. Walnuts line the pathway to the Log Farm where quinces, lilacs, and chestnuts bloom at different times in Spring. Stately hundred-year-old sycamores dominate the areas around the Brick Farmstead and the Landis Valley Hotel and roses climb fences in between.

We get questions about the plants at Landis Valley all of the time, and, since he is leading the upcoming Summer Institute tour, “Genius at Work: The Wharton Esherick Museum and Chanticleer Estate,” I thought I could tap Dr. Richman’s fountain of horticultural knowledge. And he doesn’t disappoint.

Below is a list of some of the many flowering shrubs and trees you may encounter:

  • *In Flower
  • **Already Flowered
  • ^ Not Flowered Yet

Millstone Grove:
  • Black Walnut**
  • Flowering Cherry**
  • Dogwood**
  • Ginko [right] (not in bloom, but a very interesting tree, as the species is older than the dinosaurs)
  • Buckeye** (a relative of the Chinese Chestnut with drooping, white flowers)
  • Forsythia**
  • Lilac (next to Tinsmith Shop)**
  • Bayberry**
  • Japanese Lilac**
  • Trumpet Vine^
  • Broom Plant (a native of England and Scotland. It is not a bush, but as big as one and with pretty yellow flowers right now)*
  • Smoke Tree (an American native)^
  • Maple**
  • Sycamore (is just finishing up its bloom, then it’s huge leaves will come)*
  • Mulberry (One between the Hotel and the Schoolhouse and one beside the Blacksmith Shop. Will produce tasty fruits later that resemble raspberries)**
  • American Boxwoods (behind the Hotel)
  • Grapevines (beside the Isaac Landis House)**
  • Yucca (beside the Isaac Landis House)*
  • White Hydrangea (beside the Isaac Landis House)
  • Sweet Smelling Shrub (beside and behind the Country Store)*
  • American Holly (in front of the Country Store)^
  • Rose of Sharon (behind the Blacksmith Shop)**
  • Japanese Red Maple (behind the Heirloom Seed House)**
  • Magnolia**
  • White Rose [above, right] (behind the Landis Brothers’ House)*
  • Pink Rose (At gate to Landis Brothers’ House. Definitely smell this one!)*

Log Farm:
  • Quince (a white-flowered tree that bears fruit so sweet early settlers made candy from it)**
  • Walnut**
  • Chinese Chestnut**
  • Apples**
  • Wineberry (A vine along the snake rail fence that will bloom later in the summer and provide a wonderfully tasting fruit similar to raspberries. Don’t touch, though, as it is absolutely covered in thorns!)^
Brick Farmstead:
  • Sycamore (is just finishing up its bloom, then it’s huge leaves will come)*
  • Chinese Chestnut**
  • American Persimmon Tree (these flowers resemble the Sweet Smelling Shrub in appearance)*
  • Peach (beside the pasture fence)**
  • Rose (there are two of these bushes: one beside the Brick Garden and one beside the pasture)* 
I know that I can’t count them as shrubs, but my eye is naturally drawn to the peonies that partially line the old road to Reading. Their pale, cheery blooms hide such a sweet and wonderful fragrance that I can’t help but stop and smell them. Dr. Richman keeps going, though, as he heads to the old rose at the corner of the fence surrounding the Federal Barn’s pasture. This rose is the quintessential rose--headier than any rose I’ve ever smelled before and an absolute joy to be around. I can even share it with the bees that normally send me running.

Our feet take us to trees that have already flowered, too, with baby apples, walnuts, and grapes peeking out from nests of leaves. Quinces, apples and mulberries will provide fruit for hungry birds and small mammals.

“Actually,” Dr. Richman says as we leave the quince tree, “There was a time when quinces were more commonly grown than apples in America.”

“When did that change?” I ask.

“The changeover occurred in the late 18th and early 19th century,” he says. “It was discovered that apples could keep longer and, more importantly, they could be made into cider—hard cider.”

Later, Dr. Richman shows me the mulberry tree and sagely says with a smile, “It should be a chestnut.” He then quotes from “The Village Blacksmith” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Under the spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

A tour with Dr. Richman is always enlightening and, with him, I’m starting to appreciate Landis Valley’s incredible scenery anew. It’ll never be just a background again.