Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Fruits and Flowers of Our Labors at the Barden

The Botanical ARt GarDEN at Herrontown Woods, nicknamed the Barden, is many things to many people. For kids, it's a place that stirs the imagination and rewards curiosity, with a fairy garden, a small frog pond, and winding pathways to explore. It's also a botanically rich setting where we socialize in the gazebo or explore the plantings that offer an introduction to native plants.

On a recent Friday, invited to a late afternoon repast in the gazebo with friends, I decided to photograph some of the flowers and fruits of our labors. Our volunteer work sessions on Sundays, starting around 10:30 and continuing into the afternoon, are a collaboration with nature that unleashes a wave of abundance, continuing through to fall. As we ate and talked, a monarch butterfly flew circles around us, segueing into fireflies later on. It was a magical evening. What follows are snapshots of what this wave of abundance looks like in mid-July.

It's fun to see a purple coneflower (actual) presenting itself in front of a photo of same, mounted on one of the cages that protects the many species of flowers surrounding the gazebo in the "Veblen Circle."
Later in the evening, as fireflies began to emerge, an evening primrose presented a new array of flowers. These are "volunteer" wildflowers that pop up on their own.
This is the first year that a black cohosh has bloomed in the Barden. Such beautiful spires of white. More will be encountered along the trails of Herrontown Woods, up along the ridge.

Another bloom we're enjoying for the first time--finally strong enough after being planted years prior-- is lizard's tail, a native wildflower that grows along the banks of Carnegie Lake. We've put some in the swale that runs along the edge of the parking lot. It will become more noticeable as it expands.

Volunteer Scott Sillars pushes a wheelbarrow full of weeds towards the edge of the Barden. We're grateful for the volunteers who help keep the Barden's pathways clear, pulling or cutting a wide array of weeds: cinquefoil, Japanese aralia and honeysuckle, various brambles, stiltgrass, and so on. 
One newly identified native plant that's been growing in the Barden from the get go is the common dewberry. It looks like a blackberry, but trails along the ground rather than rising up. 

Its latin name is Rubus flagellaris, and it serves up some white flowers that develop into berries close to the ground. The berries turn black when they're ripe.

A better known bramble is the wineberry, with its purplish stems. It's not native, and many need to be pulled, given its aggressive growth, but there tend to be enough that don't get pulled to serve up a tasty crop this time of year.

We have a mountain mint that was planted, called clustered mountain mint, which is wildly popular with the pollinators, 

and a narrow-leaved mountain mint that showed up on its own. 

Hazelnut is a large native shrub that tends to be a loner in the forest. We've found only three or four solitary shrubs scattered through the preserve. A few offshoots were planted in the Barden several years ago, and it's rewarding to see them starting to bear this year.
A black chokeberry was donated some years back, and is now bearing, benefitted by the open canopy that lets sunlight into the Barden.
A newly discovered tasty treat is the berry of the blackhaw viburnum, the most common native shrub in Herrontown Woods. Haw means berry, and these berries turn black in the fall when ripe.
My parents made delicious elderberry jelly and elderberry pie when I was a kid. These turn purplish black when ripe. Catbirds usually win the race to harvest.

Thus far, the pleasure of this increasingly diverse and edible landscape in the Barden has been mostly in its promise. Ease and habit keep us bringing storebought food for gatherings at the Barden, but it's possible that what's growing all around, the fruits of our labors, may become part of our repasts as well. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Among Trees II a Great Success

There was considerable suspense leading up to this year's Among Trees sequel. When the first date was rained out, actor and organizer Vivia Font had to cast a wider net for fellow actors and musicians who could make the alternate date of June 18. 

The host, Friends of Herrontown Woods, was meanwhile grooming the grounds and trails, and summoning its full array of orphaned chairs to spread across the lawn.

With Covid winding down, would an audience find the time and find its way to the outskirts of Princeton for a presentation of nature poetry and music?

The answer proved to be yes, as 100 people of all ages gathered for the second annual Among Trees. 

Vivia shared the stage with four other actors and five musicians who shared their gifts with a rapt audience.

Many of the poems had been selected from submissions by local writers, with actors, musicians and writers posing for a photo op afterwards. 

Several of these photos were taken by Janie Hermann of the Princeton Public Library, who helped greatly with organizing and promoting the event. Small World Coffee provided beverages for a summer's afternoon. 

Afterwards, as people began to disperse, guitarist Jeff Griesemer jammed with banjo prodigy Nikolai Margulis, and the actors spoke of doing more collaborations. 

Thanks to Vivia and all the actors, musicians, and writers she brought together for a beautiful community event.

A Tale of Three Orchids

One way that we're able to help native plants prosper at Herrontown Woods is by growing some of them in the Botanical Art Garden (Barden for short). There they can get more sun than is available in deep forest, protection from deer, and more attention in general. For instance, springtime is when I start looking for green-fringed orchids popping up. It takes a sharp eye to distinguish them from the abundant grass and plantains. Each year they seem to pop up in a different spot.

They were first found growing near Veblen House, a short walk up the trail from the Barden, but this year, I found only one up there, and promptly surrounded it with a cage to keep the deer from eating it. 

Then, down in the Barden, I happened to look down and saw another, already in bloom. That one too got a cage to protect it not only from deer but also from people straying off the paths.

Another orchid of the same type, found growing in the All Saints preserve that borders Herrontown Woods, was not so lucky. It was growing in a more remote area, and didn't get a cage. I managed to get out that way yesterday and had a look. Sure enough, its flowering stem had been eaten by a deer. Since its leaves were left uneaten, we can hope it will grow back next year. 

This is an ongoing problem in a changing world. How are the less common native species supposed to survive and evolve as a population unless they can flower and bear seed?

Other native plants in Herrontown Woods that are hard pressed to bloom and fruit unless we give them protection and sunlight in the Barden are pinxter azalea, shadbush, and hearts-a-bustin. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Among Trees Rescheduled for Saturday, June 18, 4pm

Among Trees, rained out this past weekend, has been rescheduled for this Saturday, June 18, at 4pm. This is a free event--a celebration of nature in songs, scenes, poetry and more--outdoors next to Veblen House in Herrontown Woods. Some of the readings, by professional actors, will be of new nature writings gathered from the Princeton community. The Princeton Public Library is co-hosting the event.

Parking at 452 Herrontown Road. Or park at the main parking lot at 600 Snowden Lane, across from the entrance to Smoyer Park, and walk up the orange trail to Veblen House.

Donations go to support the work of the Friends of Herrontown Woods. 

More information and a map at

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Event: "Among Trees" Postponed Due to Rain

The return of Among Trees to the Veblen House grounds has been postponed, due to thunderstorms in the forecast.

Last year's Among Trees brought together on stage for the first time professional actors Vivia Font, Ben Steinfeld, and Kathryn Powell Roman, who have since formed the Princeton Actors Collective. 

Among Trees intersperses readings of nature poetry with music by area musicians, in the shade of the Veblen House grounds. 

Rescheduling is in the works. The postponement underscores the need for a sheltered indoor/outdoor space as a fallback for events such as this.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Recent Sightings at the Barden

One thing people love about the Barden is that there's always something new. In that respect, it is a dynamic landscape like a beach, or a river. Here are a few recent sightings. 

Thanks to Montgomery resident Laura Heil, the Barden now has a Free Little Library, tucked behind the kiosk next to the parking lot. The Princeton Public Library will be providing books. 

The gazebo at the Barden is one of several structures at Herrontown Woods saved from demolition. It was moved from 145 Ewing Street, where for decades it had been part of a lovely backyard garden. We also salvaged a rose bush from that garden, and this year, reunited with the gazebo, it is blooming. 

The Veblen Circle of native wildflowers is beginning a season of blooms with beardtongue, in the plantain family. The Barden is a great place to learn your plants, with many labeled.

One thing we're trying to get organized about is selling native plants. The many native plants we have in the Barden produce many seeds, many of which sprout wherever they fall, often in pathways and other places where we can't let them grow. Many of these we are digging up and potting up. One of these days, one of us will make a sign with a QR code so that people can pay online for any plants they wish to buy. 

Felix showed off some minnows he'd found in the stream that cascades down from the ridge, not far from the Barden. They soon found their way back to water. He's also found crayfish in the streams near the parking lot.

Many young visitors to the Barden have enjoyed taking a ride on Champion, the great rocking horse that we found on the curb on Aiken Avenue a couple years back. Champion was defintely not ready for the landfill. Recently, though, Champion had a bit of a fall and needed to go to the vet, who performed a complicated spring reattachment procedure. 

All went well, and Champion has returned, to rock the place once more.

The Barden is a botanical garden after all, and spring is a wonderful time to get acquainted with all the grass-like plants that aren't grasses. Here's blue-eyed grass, also called Sisyrhinchium, which if you look closely you'll see it has flat leaves and is actually related to iris. Providing a subtle background is pathrush, which looks like grass but is a rush, most commonly found growing in pathways, where it apparently likes getting stepped on.
Another grass-like plant is the sedge. Sedges have edges, meaning they have triangular stems. There many kinds of sedges, each kind with a differently shaped seedhead. This one's called morning star sedge--a fitting name. 
Softrush keeps its dark green leaves through the winter, then grows a whole new batch in the spring. The seeds perch on the stems like earrings.
New growth on a witch hazel had an unexpected color this year.
Little did we know that Herrontown Woods was listed as one of the Best Hikes for Children in New Jersey, in 2005. The book's description motivated a family to come from Long Beach Island to visit us with their three adorable little kids. What they particularly appreciated was how close everything was to the parking lot--the Barden, the vernal pool with tadpoles in it, and the stream just a little bit down the trail. 

The Barden is a place not only to see new things, but also to make new friends.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

A Reading of Roxaboxen -- Saturday, June 4

At 10am on Saturday, June 4 at Herrontown Woods, a Princeton Public Library Youth Services librarian will read the timeless picture book "Roxaboxen" by Alice McLerran.

The reading of the story, about kids who build their own village out of rocks and boxes out in the Arizona countryside, will be followed by an hour of free play in the Botanical Art Garden (Barden), next to the preserve's main parking lot off Snowden Lane.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

1st Annual Earthday Celebration a Great Success

Graced by a beautiful day, the first annual Earthday celebration at Herrontown Woods was a delight beyond all expectations. Hundreds of people found their way to the preserve to learn and explore at an event we called "Becoming a Steward of Your Local Environment -- An Introduction." As described in a Town Topics article, the event was given first momentum by board member Inge Regan, and greatly helped by collaboration with staff at the Princeton Public Library.

With tables at Veblen House and at the Barden, and seven nature walks, it was the first event hosted by the Friends of Herrontown Woods that made full use of the preserve's many destinations. It also took the full participation of the board to coordinate an event with so many moving parts. 

This elaborate display, put together by Philip and Joanna Poniz, introduced visitors to mushroom identification and lore. Princeton Public Library staff had a table on pollinators, to go with an exhibit they are hosting at the library. Other tables provided a chance to learn about invasive species, recycling, herbs and vinegars, and nature mandalas. 

Nicole Bergman and her helpers hosted May's Cafes at both the Barden and the Veblen House. Something of a historic first for any organization: there were t-shirts available to buy. And Mathilde Burlion taught visitors about native plants, and sold some recently dug from the Barden.

Meanwhile, down at the main parking lot, Princeton University architect Forrest Meggers was giving people's bicycles a spring tuneup. 
He, Georgette, and their four daughters seldom use a car, preferring to bike around town, towing their dog in a toddler trailer. 

The seven nature walks were led by Fairfax Hutter, geology professor emeritus Lincoln Hollister, Tim Brown, and FOHW president Steve Hiltner. 
Plants like this sensitive fern were just opening up their leaves.
The evergreen Christmas fern was showing two generations of leaves. The darker leaves from last year lay flat on the ground, while fresh new leaves rise from the center.

At the Barden, ostrich ferns were unveiling their fronds in a beautiful fashion.
The event wound down around 3pm. The next day, painted earths still hung from a tupelo tree in the Barden. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

New Website for Friends of Herrontown Woods

In addition to this blog, the Friends of Herrontown Woods now has an honest-to-goodness website at The new website is the go-to for the latest information on our organization and upcoming events. Many of the blog posts I have here can also be found on the new site. Thanks goes to Pilar Castro-Klitz and her team at More Canvas Consulting for building the new website.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Spring Flowers at Herrontown Woods

Herrontown Woods is starting to shake off winter and generate some color.  

Redbuds young and old are blooming next to Veblen House, and there's one at the Barden. It's a native, though all of these were either planted or proliferated from trees planted previously.
Dotting the woodland understory are crabapple trees. There is such a thing as a native crabapple tree, but I don't know if those at Herrontown Woods are among them.

Daffodils have been in their splendor near Veblen House and Cottage. They could have been planted by Elizabeth Veblen herself, or by one of the garden clubs that worked hard to renovate the gardens after she died in 1974. The daffodils follow early sweeps of snowdrops and scilla. 

Less dramatic yellow is the native yellow violet blooming near the Veblen barn, the small red structure near the cottage. 

Among other flowers to look for at Herrontown Woods this time of year are trout lilies, spring beauties, wood anemones and rue anemones.