Journeys of Dr. G at Tyler Arboretum

A sabbatical project, exploring all that Tyler Arboretum has to offer

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Tyler Arboretum contributes to Smithsonian tree biomass research

DSCN4704Early yesterday morning I headed out to Tyler Arboretum, taking a brief stroll along the Scenic Loop with a chorus of birds and seeing various critters scurry across the pathway (some scurrying not-so-fast, as this friendly slug).  But as I started my journey and walked by the pond, a shiny silver band caught my eye, and I’m hoping this blog post will encourage more of you to take a look at this band and realize its significance.

If you walk towards the pond, and if you stand with the pond on your left, look towards the right and you will see this bench, with this tree right next to it:


The silver band is a dendrometer, a metal band with a spring that allows us to measure an increase in the tree diameter – in effect, measuring tree growth.  The tree band and the data it will provide from measurements are all part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Tree Banding Project.  Scientists from the Smithsonian are starting the first global database to see how trees respond to our planet’s changing climate.  With increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, are trees growing faster?  Is the rate of growth linear?  Is the growth the same across different regions?  The answer will be in the data, and what the Smithsonian needs now is more data!

This is where Tyler Arboretum and other schools and public gardens come in.  The Smithsonian sent Tyler Arboretum a kit to set up these tree bands on different trees scattered around the Arboretum.  Below is a close-up of the tree by the pond with its band.  The spring on the back side allows the band to expand and the tree continues to grow.



It is the space within the “notch” under the tree label where Tyler’s horticulture staff will be measuring the increasing gap with digital calipers over time.  It is incredibly exciting to see that Tyler’s trees are not just for our own enjoyment but are also contributing to significant climate research.  To learn more about the Smithsonian research and the tree bands, check out this YouTube video.

Most importantly, please do not touch the band!  The tree needs to expand and grow on its own, and any human fingers/hands that touch the band can throw off the band placement and therefore impact the measurement.

The Smithsonian Tree Banding Project is just one example of the citizen science projects that are taking off at Tyler.  I encourage everyone to go back and check out Director of Public Programs Amy Mawby’s column titled “Engaging in Science at Tyler” on page 4 in the Summer 2014 Tyler Topics Newsletter.  Read about the other scientific data being collected at Tyler, and how YOU as a citizen scientist and help with these projects!


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Carl W. Fenninger and his Holly Collection

I am always looking for new sites around Tyler Arboretum that previously have not caught my eye. Not far from the collection of birdhouses and the giant Cape May Birdhouse (one of Tyler’s treehouses), by the sign that describes the lilac collection and diversity at Tyler, I saw this stone under the shade of a nearby tree:


This certainly left me curious!  I had already learned about Tyler’s holly collection and blogged about the arboretum being an official holly arboretum, but the name Carl Fenninger did not come up in my initial search.  In addition to the information on the plaque, this is what I have learned about Mr. Fenninger:

  • Elected to the Philadelphia Botanical Club in 1947
  • Active member of the American Rock Garden Society (at least from years 1947-1948)
  • Lecture Committee for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in 1956
  • Member of the American Daffodil Society in 1958 and 1959 and 1968
  • Director of the American Horticultural Society (years I could not locate)
  • Served for ten years as the Secretary/Treasurer of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboretum
  • Recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (March 10, 1964)
  • Named an Honorary Life Member to the American Public Gardens Association in 1973

Certainly, Mr. Fenninger’s contributions extended well beyond his dedication and work with Tyler Arboretum!  What I have not yet found in my internet searching is his connection specifically to holly.  Time to keep digging (digging virtually, that is…).




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The sabbatical comes to an end… but the journey does not!

My sabbatical at Penn State Brandywine began on July 1, 2013.  One year ago, I made a promise to myself that one of my sabbatical activities was to get to know more about Tyler Arboretum – the activities and events, the people, everything!  I have thoroughly enjoyed my time blogging about my adventures volunteering, participating in programs, and getting to know more about the fascinating history, culture, and science of this public garden.  Alas, my sabbatical time has officially ended, and now – it is back to work!  I’ll be back in the classroom this fall semester, off doing research on an oceanographic cruise, and working with students (the most rewarding part of my job).

Interestingly, before my sabbatical even came to a close, I was surprised to find several people asking me… “so what is going to happen to your blog?”  I was pleased to hear that others were hoping I would continue with stories about Tyler Arboretum.  And I certainly feel that I still have so much more to learn.  So…. the [blogging] journey will continue!  My posts will not be coming out quite as frequently, but I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned about the holly collection, and it is going to be fascinating to report what I experience at Nightfall on July 15 (such an innovative idea for Tyler!).

In the meantime, as I type this post while on a US Airways flight, look at what is mentioned in the June 2014 US Airways Magazine – a shout-out to Tyler Arboretum (in the Pushing Boundaries article on page 185)!  Let the journey continue, even from the friendly skies…


See my first post from one year ago – The journey begins!


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Raising Bass for Delaware County (1967)

Screen shot of the article from the January 1967 issue of Pennsylvania Angler.

Screen shot of the article from the January 1967 issue of Pennsylvania Angler.

The title of this blog post may seem a bit strange – but there is a direct connection to Tyler Arboretum!

Back when I was doing some internet research for a future blog post on Carl W. Fenninger, the person for who the holly collection at Tyler Arboretum is named, my online journey took me to an article in the January 1967 issue of Pennsylvania Angler.  On page 21, I came across an article titled “A PFC Co-Op Project – Bass for Delaware County.”  You can access the article at this link:

There seems to be quite a history between the Delco Anglers and Conservationist (a co-op trout nursery) and Tyler Arboretum.  From the History section of their website, I found the following:

Delco Anglers and Conservationist were first incorporated in October 1962. … Trout that we use to stock our local streams for the benefit of all fishermen. The nursery’s location for the first 37 years was on the grounds of Tyler Arboretum in Media Pa. We had fish pens that were rectangular raceways about 125 ft. long by 10 ft wide. The nursery has been dedicated to raising various types of trout including Brown, Rainbow, Golden and Pennsylvania’s state fish, the Brook trout, also called “Brookies”. We are proud to be one of the few co-op trout nurseries in the Southeastern part of Pennsylvania that are given fingerling Brook trout to raise.

Pennsylvania Angler is now titled Pennsylvania Angler & Boater Magazine, with its first issue published in December 1931.  The magazine is published by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission.

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Tyler Tales and Labels in Braille

One of the ways I prepare posts for this blog is to have several entries “in progress” and select one to finalize and have go “live” each week.  One post I had in a very early draft form was on the connection of Helen Keller and Tyler Arboretum – and it looks like one of Tyler’s student interns for the summer beat me to getting a post online on this very topic!

So I first have to give a “virtual shout out” to Tyler Arboretum’s latest blog, called Tyler Tales.  This new blog journeys through the fascinating history and legacy of Tyler Arboretum.  Early contributors to Tyler Tales includes Tyler staff members Kathryn Ombam and Chris Lawler, as well as new Education Department summer intern Shannon Crowe (who just happens to be an undergraduate student at my school, Penn State Brandywine!).  Note that you can sign up to receive email updates every time a new post is added – just enter your email in the box on the right side of the Tyler Tales home page, and you will soon receive posts on a range of topics.  My favorite post so far has been the very first one – it contains a photo of the original land deed between William Penn and Thomas Minshall (circa 1682).

Shannon recently wrote a post titled “An Unexpected Connection: Helen Keller and Tyler’s Fragrant Garden.”  This post includes photos from a letter Helen Keller sent to the Arboretum, dated December 3, 1950, adding her support for the creation of a fragrant garden.  Please read Shannon’s post – again, another fascinating story from Tyler’s history!

In my early searching for information on Tyler’s efforts to establish a garden for the blind, I came across this 1949 newspaper article that pre-dates Helen Keller’s letter:

From the Chester Times newspaper archive, August 26, 1949, page 7. Accessible at:

From the Chester Times newspaper archive, August 26, 1949, page 7. Accessible at:

I also found an article called “Notes and Comments: Garden for the Blind,” in the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboretums Newsletter 2 no.1, (January 1951): pages 7-8, that references “in 1951 the John J. Tyler Arboretum, in Media Pennsylvania set up labels in Braille for the blind.”  Clearly, Tyler’s work made local and national news!

Tyler’s Fragrant Garden is definitely going to be on my “list of places to explore” the next time I stop by the Arboretum!


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Geocaching begins at Tyler Arboretum on National Trails Day


For those of us that love navigating the outdoors with a GPS unit in hand, I have some exciting news to share.  During the National Trails Day celebration on Saturday, June 7, two official geocaches will be activated at Tyler Arboretum!  If you are unfamiliar with geocaching, check out the short introductory video below.

Maybe you aren’t a geocacher, but you would like to learn more.  You are in luck!  Andy Harobin and I, both on the Board of Trustees at Tyler Arboretum and avid geocachers, will be at Tyler for National Trails Day from 11AM to 3PM to teach you about this outdoor game (think of a scavenger hunt).  We will have handheld GPS units to loan you if you want to practice geocaching on a mini-course we have set up “in the fence” at the Arboretum, appropriate for young and old, individuals and families.  Then, if you are feeling adventurous, you can head out and find the two official geocaches set up on the official Geocaching network.

Of course, if you have your own GPS unit, bring it along to try our practice course and to find the caches on your own.  Don’t have a GPS unit and want to get a jump start geocaching on your own?  The official Geocaching app is also available for download on the iPhone, Android, and Windows 7 phone at:  Get your app downloaded and ready ahead of time to join us for the fun.

Don’t forget that there are several other activities going on at Tyler Arboretum for National Trails Day, such as:

  • From 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. volunteer your time to work with our horticulture crew on some much needed trail maintenance and gain free admission for the entire day. Pre-registration required by contacting Julia Lo Ehrhardt at 610-566-9134, ext. 205 or; must be 13 or older to participate.
  • Orienteering demonstrations led by the Delaware Valley Orienteering Association (DVOA) and self-guided hikes from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. They will offer maps with a shorter family hike and maps for a longer adventurer hike, perfect for Boy Scout requirements.
  • Adult Critter Hike from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
  • Bluebird education from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., with a Bluebird Hike appropriate for all ages at 11:30 a.m.
  • Adult History Hike from 1:30-3 p.m.
  • Educational displays

I hope to see you at Tyler for National Trails Day!


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A Rhododendron Stroll at Tyler Arboretum

Rhododendron gardener Jerry O'dell, pointing out features on one of the shrubs.

Rhododendron gardener Jerry O’Dell, pointing out features on one of the shrubs.

The rhodendrons are in full bloom, with gorgeous shades of white, pink, fushia, and vibrant reds.  I knew I only had a short time to experience this 13-acre site within Tyler Arboretum’s fence.  On Friday, I headed out to join the tour of the Wister Rhododenron Garden (and since I had just blogged about Wister last week, I was now ready to see the beauty of his hard work).  The walking tour description follows:

Revel in the beauty of 13 acres of azaleas and rhododendrons on an informative tour led by Jerry O’Dell, Tyler’s Gardener responsible for the care and rejuvenation of the Wister Rhododendron Garden. This amazing heritage collection contains hundreds of varieties and species with a bloom season that stretches from spring to early summer. Each week is different as new plants come into bloom so come back often to enjoy the show.

There were seven of us that joined Jerry on the tour, with 3 people coming back for second tour, and one person that had been on the tour every single week!  This hour-and-a-half tour was filled with enjoyable conversation and questions expertly answered by Tyler’s rhododendron gardener.

Jerry said that the peak of the blossoms is typically between May 10-16, but the plants are running a little late this year.  As we started walking, we quickly noticed that there are many more plants beyond rhododendrons and azaleas!  We learned that Tyler is moving this area away from a “collection” and having it as more of a “garden,” complete with “rooms” that will have unique plants and a focus.  For example, the impressive hostas, especially the blue hostas, were in beds donated by the Delaware Valley Hosta Society.

But first – a little more history on the Rhododendron Garden, from Tyler Arboretum’s website:

It took years before Dr. Wister was able to begin planting the extensive rhododendron collection adjacent to the Pinetum (collection of pines and other conifers). Cultivated fields in the 1930s and 1940s, by the 1950s Dr. Wister described the area as a thick jungle of weedy tulip and ash trees, many of which had blown down in a hurricane in 1954 and snowstorm in 1958. Compounded by inadequate labor, planting was impossible until 1959. Dr. Wister described the establishment of the Pinetum rhododendrons as the most important development undertaken at the Arboretum, and by the end of 1959 the collection numbered more than 500 rhododendrons and 200 azaleas. He wrote, “These quantities are not so important as the number of species, varieties and hybrid strains… these alone should make a collection second to none in Pennsylvania.”

Below are some photos from the tour – please enjoy!


I learned from Jerry that the garden contains cultivar and hybrid strains of rhododendrons.  Wistar only utilized a few hybridizers – primarily,  Joseph Gables, Guy Nearing, and Charles Dexter.  All three of these horticulturalists have fascinating histories and followed interesting naming rules for their hybrids.  For example, Gables named the Caroline after his daughter, and Dexter named several of his hybrids from towns on Cape Cod.

Jerry mentioned that the construction of the deer fence really helped the health of the rhododendrons. Before the 110 acres were protected by the deer fence enclosure, deer freely roamed the property and would “enjoy” these beautiful plants for themselves! A few of the shrubs are still bare from the deer grazing, but most have recovered remarkably.

In addition to not taking any photos of the fence (actually, I didn’t even notice it on the outermost edge of the garden), I also did not take any photos of the wonderful porous asphalt pathway that provides accessibility to anyone that wants to stroll through the gardens – and also plays an important role in stormwater management!


You have one more opportunity this year to join Jerry on a Rhododendron Stroll on Friday, May 30, from 10AM to 11:30AM.  The tour is free with admission, and no pre-registration is required.  And if you are looking for a more scientific introduction to rhododendrons, be sure to check out the online Journal American Rhododendron Society.

This is one of my favorite photos from the stroll.  This little visitor had her own digital camera and was snapping photos of all the pink blossoms, the leaves, and more!  I think Tyler has helped spark an interest in a future nature photographer!

This is one of my favorite photos from the stroll. This little visitor had her own digital camera and was snapping photos of all the pink blossoms, the leaves, and more! I think Tyler has helped spark an interest in a future nature photographer!



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