Journeys of Dr. G at Tyler Arboretum

The sabbatical project continues, exploring all that Tyler Arboretum has to offer

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Volunteering at the Butterfly Festival

ongoldenrodWho isn’t fascinated with the beauty of a butterfly?  Each and every time this summer when I have visited Tyler Arboretum, I have been greeted by lots and lots of butterflies, and I have taken so many pictures of these marvelous winged creatures.  It is only fitting that Tyler hosts a festival in honor of the butterfly.  Held on August 24, below is the description Tyler provided of the Butterfly Festival:

Say a fond farewell to the monarch butterflies as they are tagged and released for their southern migration to Mexico! Experts will be on hand with tips on creating a butterfly friendly habitat in home gardens with all their favorite plants. Learn all about butterflies native to our area, transformation from egg to caterpillar, then to chrysalis, and finally to butterfly and hear about butterfly secrets. Discover bugs like never before with amazing live and mounted specimens brought by Jon the Bug Man Insect Educators. Games and make-and-take crafts round out the day.

I figured it was about time for me to “step up” my participation in a Tyler festival.  In the past, I had always attended Tyler’s events.  Except for Pumpkin Days, I had yet to serve as a volunteer to help an event.  Through a simple online form, I was able to sign up to volunteer – it was that easy!  Tyler’s volunteer coordinator, Melissa Hamblin, sent me a reminder email before the event, and I was then on my way to volunteering at the Butterfly Festival.

I arrived at 9:30AM, the start time of my volunteer shift, and immediately jumped to help Director of Public Programs Betsey Ney with whatever was needed.  After helping move some materials from the Barn to behind the Butterfly tent, I was told that my assignment for the day was to be in charge of the “Feed the Hungry Spider” Game.  Betsey provided me with a few educational talking points about spiders and spider webs, and I went off to set up my game to be ready for the official 10AM start to the Festival.

If you have not seen this game before, it is very cute!  A spider web is created from a hula hoop, sticks and string.  Small pieces of cardboard with Velcro on the front are attached to the web to make the web “sticky.”  Small rubber balls had the opposite side of the Velcro attached on one side, with a picture of an insect (a fly, beetle, bee, etc.) taped to the other side.  After my short story of how spiders trap their food, kids then tried to throw the balls to attach to the Velcro pieces on the web to – well, feed the hungry spider!

2013 Butterfly Festival

I hung two “spider webs” from this dogwood tree, and then, I let the game begin!  You can see one of the trapped insects in the upper left corner of the web to the right.

I was busy during the entire festival, which ran 10AM to 2PM.  The kids were so cute and determined in trying to get the insects to stick to the web.  Some of the parents couldn’t hold back from participating in the game, either.  I even had some repeat players, kids that came back to play a second time because they had so much fun.

Being a volunteer meant that did not get a chance to participate in the other activities during the festival.  I did not see Jon the Bug Man (actually, I still remember doing a bug collection in the 7th grade and mounting my own specimens), and I could only glance across the lawn and here a mini-crowd express their oooo’s and ahhh’s each time a tagged Monarch butterfly was released.

2013 Butterfly Festival

Butterfly-attracting plants, and Monarch release crowd

2013 Butterfly Festival

Arts and crafts tent

But, typical of all of my Tyler experiences, I still learned something that was unexpected.  By volunteering, I was able to witness for myself how much fun kids have learning about butterflies, and how they liked to share their knowledge with me.  I learned that families greatly appreciate the range of activities available during Tyler festivals.  And I was able to meet so many interesting people, if even for a brief time.  The last report I heard was that there were over 1,500 people that attended the Butterfly Festival.  Not all of those attendees came and played the Feed the Hungry Spider Game (a missed opportunity, for sure!), but even some adults without children came over and asked how the game was constructed and played.  Two adults thought the spider web was a great idea for a Halloween decoration, and one mother talked with her son about using the hula-hoop web as a way to make his spider Halloween costume.  I even met one woman who was seeing a Monarch butterfly for the first time in her life that very day.

Wow!  There are lots of take-home messages for me from this experience.  I’ve learned that by volunteering just a few hours of my time, I can really make a difference in helping Tyler with its educational and outreach mission.  I’ve learned that an event at Tyler with a defined topic or theme can create an incredible range of takeaways for visitors, ranging from Halloween costume ideas to a first monarch butterfly sighting.  Most of all, I’ve learned how much fun it can be to work with other volunteers and the staff at Tyler Arboretum.  I’m looking forward to volunteering again (the current volunteer opportunities are always listed online, and I’ll definitely be helping with Pumpkin Days in October – both during the event and by baking a food item for their bake sale! (see page 14 of Tyler Topics newsletter for Autumn 2013).

2013 Butterfly Festival

Inside the Butterfly House

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Looking for a place to sit down at Tyler?

A nice spotWe have been extremely lucky that the weather in August has been below 90 degrees the entire month  – maybe not much cooler than 90 degrees, but enough to get us outside and checking out all that Tyler has to offer before the summer winds down.  I know I will be spending this upcoming Saturday volunteering at Tyler Arboretum’s Butterfly Festival, but for those that have been spending much time out and about across the grounds of Tyler, be sure not to overextend yourself and grab a seat.

Yes, this post is a friendly reminder that as you trek through the Arboretum, you can always take a break and sit down and soak in the views across the Arboretum.  I have seen benches in various locations during my travels in Tyler, so I asked Director of Horticulture Mike Karkowski how many benches are at the Arboretum.  I was pleasantly surprised when he replied that, “Tyler currently has locations on forty benches inside the fence and four outside the fence, varying in style.”  He said there are also a few additional benches inside the fence from last year, such as this festive Lorax bench, located not far from the Giant Sequoia.

The Lorax bench

You can’t miss this bench, complete with a Truffula Tree!

Of course, if you are looking for a seat besides a bench, maybe one of these chairs belonging to The Three Bears is more your style!

The Three Bears

The Three Bears will let you grab a seat on your way to the Scenic Loop!


What an internship is like at Tyler Arboretum

I learned last month that Tyler’s Director of Horticulture Mike Karkowski had four undergraduate students join his crew as summer interns.  Some students from Penn State Brandywine have served as interns or completed independent study projects at Tyler – Abbey Dufoe was a Communications Intern and completed a Google Earth project on the Tree Houses, Victoria Bolden was a Horticulture intern, Lauren Orner and Zanya Stephenson did a GPS/Google Earth project on the Green Trail, Aimee Ralph completed a project that integrated QR codes with the 2012 Tyler Plant Sale (see the video at the end of this post) – and these are my campus students from just the past two years!  But I wanted to meet with a student interning this summer and hear more about what a typical student works on and learns during his/her time with Tyler.

Meet Emily Pennock, Summer 2013 Horticulture Intern at Tyler Arboretum.

Meet Emily Pennock, Summer 2013 Horticulture Intern at Tyler Arboretum.

It turns out that two of the summer interns are students at Penn State University (what a coincidence!), and Emily Pennock was kind enough to take the time to meet with me and share details of her summer experience.  Emily is starting her sophomore year at the Penn State – University Park campus this fall, majoring in Plant Sciences with the Horticulture option.  She is from Bryn Mawr and has known about Tyler Arboretum all of her life.  Emily started her summer with many ideas and places where she wanted spend her time.  She soon found out that with only one year of college under her belt, many places were not willing to give her a position with next-to-no experience.  She knew that an unpaid internship would give her the experience that she needed to move forward in her discipline.  When she saw on the Tyler website the posting of available internship positions, she applied and interviewed with Mike Karkowski.  Immediately, she felt Mike was very welcoming and she knew she made the right decision of where to spend her summer!

Emily shared with me that although the interns are brought into one department, all of the interns learn about everything at the Arboretum.  Even though Emily thought she would be getting an introduction just to plants and the Horticulture Department, she received a full introduction to public gardens, Tyler’s Education Department, and even had lunch with the other interns and Tyler’s Executive Director Rick Colbert.  She said she was able to get her hands and feet into everything, and her range of experiences included learning how to use the Arboretum’s machinery and how take apart and clean a chainsaw.

I asked Emily what was one of the best parts of her internship.  Without hesitation, she said, “working with the people at Tyler.”  Emily said she felt accepted immediately by everyone and never felt that she was treated any differently being a student and an intern.  She said her conversations with the Tyler staff while weeding and trimming made mundane and repetitive tasks educational and fun.  Emily also appreciated being able to work with other volunteers that joined the Horticulture Department on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

I had to put on my “faculty member hat” and ask her what she felt would me most valuable to her studies back at Penn State.  She said after spending so much time gardening and weeding with the Horticulture crew and volunteers, she has learned so many plant names and is much more familiar and confident with the identification characteristics of plants.  Of course, getting a full internship experience beyond just plant identification is something she feels very fortunate to have received this summer.  She definitely recommends that all students look at the internship possibilities at Tyler, during the summer and academic year (and I agree!).

In wrapping up our conversation, Emily said she really feels that Tyler “is a place for everybody,” that the gardens and trails and history and tree houses all provide something for everyone to enjoy.  Emily also greatly appreciates how Tyler is very focused on interacting with its visitors.  She said she is definitely coming back with her family, and I hope to see her again, too (maybe on the trails, one of Tyler’s places she personally enjoyed).  Or, maybe I’ll have to look for her at her favorite spot at the Arboretum she found while weeding near the lilacs – a tree with a low, long branch that provides plenty of shade and a great spot to read a good book.

Below: Video of the QR Code project carried out by undergraduate researcher Aimee Ralph at the 2012 Tyler Arboretum Plant Sale.


Touring the historic buildings

At the officesToday, I continued my Natural Studies at Tyler Arboretum by attending a free Historic Building Tour, starting at Lachford Hall (that’s me in front of Lachford Hall, to the left).  I have walked by these buildings many times on my way to the trails and the pond, but it was the description in my summer issue of Tyler Topics piqued my interest:

Tyler’s historic Lachford Hall and Painter Library are open to the public for tours. Learn about the daily lives of the eight generations of the Quaker family who owned what is now Tyler Arboretum. Begun in 1738, Lachford represents over two centuries of residence by the Minshall-Painter-Tyler family. See the fascinating collection of 19th century scientific equipment and books assembled by the Painter brothers, and tour the beautiful library they built in 1863.

Tyler Arboretum - Summer 2013The tour lasted a little over a half hour, but it was saturated with information and fascinating sites I had never seen at Tyler before.  Fortunately, Tyler’s website has a nice, detailed history of Tyler Arboretum, going back to 1681 when English Quaker Thomas Minshall purchased the property from William Penn (and not to jump too far ahead in the story, but a chair that Thomas Minshall brought over from England is on display in Lachford Hall! (pictured to the right)).  I was impressed with the furniture from the Minshall/Painter family that was housed in Lachford and on display, items ranging from a locked spice cabinet to a school chest, to children’s shoes to a rolling pin!  I can’t post all of the photos I took inside, but you can see some of these items at my flickr page and by visiting Lachford yourself.

Tyler Arboretum - Summer 2013But the tour did not end there!  One building I had never stepped foot in prior to today is the Library.  Walking in to that building was like taking a walk back in time.  As a geologist, I was fascinated to see that science was a hobby for brothers Minshall Painter and Jacob Painter.  I was able to see some of their collections that included minerals, bird specimens, a camera, printing press, and lots and lots of books!  It brought a smile to my face to see that Painters valued their book collection so much that they built a book vault on each floor, with double metal doors, to fireproof their collection (I had an even bigger smile on my face to see that their book collection included books on geology!).  I left the Library and ended the tour with a sense of wonder – what else is hiding in these closets and rooms of Tyler’s historic structures?

Ron was the tour guide for myself and another Tyler visitor, Pepper.  Pepper is also a Tyler member and told me she tries to visit Tyler once a month and see something different each time she visits.  It was so much fun to meet Pepper and share with her the excitement of learning about Tyler’s history and seeing the fascinating collection of historic artifacts.  We joked that we may meet again investigating Roundtop Farm in Ridley Creek State Park, which we learned was the original Minshall family farmstead (until I make it there, I’ll have to enjoy exploring the images in flickr)!  I also found a 1993 Masters Thesis from the University of Pennsylvania titled “Preservation in Ridley Creek State Park : documentation of the historic farmsteads.”  The thesis is available online as a free download and has more information on the Roundtop Farm home of the Minshalls, especially the case study section that starts on page 89 of the thesis (p. 193 of the PDF file).

So much history – so much more to learn!