Saturday, July 21, 2018

Princeton Takes Ownership of Herrontown Woods

It's been a good week for Herrontown Woods. Princeton council voted on Monday, July 16, to approve acquisition of the 140 acre preserve from Mercer County, a nice article about our work appeared in the Town Topics, and early on the morning of Friday, July 13, a monarch butterfly was seen visiting the new native garden next to the parking lot. It was the first witnessed there, sipping nectar from a purple coneflower just planted this spring.

Mercer County has owned the preserve since the original gift of 82 acres by the Veblens in 1957. That unprecedented gift may well have prompted the county to form its parks commission, which at first used Herrontown Woods for educational programming, but has since focused its resources elsewhere in the county. The transfer to Princeton brings Herrontown Woods home to local ownership, where it is much more likely to be given the attention it deserves.

That first documented visit by a monarch fits well with the native garden's concept, which has evolved over the past year. Planted this spring, more than 80 native species now call the garden home, gathering solar energy that will then travel up the foodchain to insects and birds.

As if he had read the minutes from our board meetings in which we discussed how to get kids to use their cellphones to learn about nature, this boy led his mother from the parking lot to a flower graced by a butterfly, and showed her a photo he had taken of it.

The butterfly was an eastern tiger swallowtail, which lingered on this bottlebrush buckeye for more than an hour. Another premise of the garden is that pollinators like this butterfly are not currently well served by Princeton open space. Thick woods, though it serves some species well, provides few flowers in the summer, and this garden can be home to the many summer-blooming native flowers that thrive in sunny places.

Another appealing visitor was a clear-winged moth that hovers expertly like a miniature hummingbird.

That day we also witnessed a fledgling robin making perhaps its first, shaky flight, from one tree to another.

The garden, growing amidst the ruins of a white pine grove felled by storms in recent years, would not have been possible without a lot of removal of invasive brush over the winter, clearing the way for planting. It can be said that the acquisition of Herrontown Woods by the town also clears the way, for more good things to happen at Herrontown Woods.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Veblen's First Annual Birthday Picnic at Veblen House

Nothing like throwing a party to stimulate some sprucing up. In preparation, the Veblen House got some fresh paint, a couple new raingardens, some restorative excavation, judicious mowing, new trails and, at the last minute, keeping with our guiding philosophy of re-use, some balloons left over from the Princeton High School graduation.

Volleyball, played on the mowed footprint of a former barn, was a big hit.

Croquet, not so much, though in mowing the field we discovered and protected two green-fringed orchids. Not every lawn sprouts native orchids.

Friends supplied lots of food, and grilled hotdogs scented the air. Thanks to all who came out to celebrate Oswald Veblen's 138th birthday. Along with our core supporters, we met new neighbors and distinguished guests from the Institute for Advanced Study.

To complement the gathering of people, there was a gathering of plants in the newly planted raingardens. Perry Jones and his fiance Alison thoughtfully brought plant labels to help the different species get to know each other.

After all was said and done, cooked and eaten,  the plant labels stayed on, with some QR codes to give post-picnic visitors access to information on our websites and

For the newly planted Rose Mallow Hibiscus, protected from the deer by fencing, every day is a picnic at Veblen House.