New blog will seek out city’s green treasures

    The New Year always seems like a fitting time to begin a new project. The calendar acts as a bookend, giving you something to prop ideas up against. For this reason it seems like a good opportunity to introduce myself as a new blogger for NewsWorks.

    It’s very exciting to be a part of such an ambitious project, and I’m looking forward to working within such an interactive format. I’m especially excited to write about the subjects that are dear to my heart and keep me mostly sane; staying connected to the garden and to nature while living in a city.

    In many American cities open space is at a premium and is often surrounded by swanky neighborhoods. But Philly is democratic in its allocation of green space, maybe because there is so much of it. Besides the incredible Fairmount Park system, one of the largest and oldest in the country, Philadelphia has over 400 community gardens, and more starting every year. It’s where the city meets the country, all at ground level. We’re so lucky to live in Philadelphia, still a lush and verdant city more than 300 years after William Penn described his vision of creating a “Greene Countrie Towne,” which would include “Gardens or Orchards or Fields” as part of its fabric.

    I wasn’t born loving this stuff, or maybe I was. I grew up in a very rural part of Illinois and couldn’t wait to get out into the larger world. I love the culture, the food, the diversity of urban life, but the longer my tenure as a Philadelphian, the more I realize that what makes our city so livable for me is the access to the outdoors.

    As a nature-friendly region, Philadelphia is pretty great. Some of the most interesting public gardens anywhere exist nearby, and there is an incredibly rich history of horticulture and natural history here. Did you know that the first botanic garden in the country was started in the 1730s by Germantown polymath Christopher Witt? He helped his young friend John Bartram get started with his own botanic pursuits twenty years later.

    In the 19th century, some of the most famous private gardens in the country were at Lemon Hill and The Woodlands, both in Philadelphia. The venerable Pennsylvania Horticultural Society was established in 1827, and the Academy of Natural Sciences, the oldest in America, was founded in 1812. John James Audubon spent a lot of time here at various points in his ornithological career, and Lorenzo Langstroth invented the modern beehive right on Front St. in 1851.

    This list just scratches the surface. Readers, please chime in with more examples of Philadelphia-incubated moments of significance in the field of natural history, agriculture, and horticulture.

    It’s a little early to know just what shape this column and the accompanying blogs will take. By profession I’m a horticulturist, so I’d love to write about gardening whenever I can. My day job is at Wyck Historic House and Garden, one of the oldest gardens in the country. It’s known for its antique roses, organic vegetable garden, fruit crops, and educational programs.

    But I’ll also write other things, too. I’d love to introduce you to people working on a variety of interesting topics related to horticulture, agriculture, or natural history. I’ll specifically focus on Northwest Philly, but I hope my posts will be of interest to readers throughout the region. And if you have questions, or have information you’d like to share, email me at njuday@whyy.org. I add blog posts multiple times each week, so if you check back regularly you’ll always find new content.

    I look forward to getting to know NewsWorks readers, and I hope you’ll take the time to get in touch about any of your gardening or nature questions as well as your own observations. Don’t be a stranger.

    Check back tomorrow for more tales of nature in Nicole’s next blog post.

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