It’s a beautiful late April day in the year 1880, and celebrated horticulturist Thomas Meehan is wandering through the Wissahickon near Valley Green Inn, enjoying the natural setting, but also looking for new plants.
Meehan is one of the most famous plantsmen in America; the founder and editor of the two most popular gardening magazines in the country. His nursery on Chew Avenue in Germantown supplies plants to important gardens all over America and Europe. One of his specialties is native plants, and of these a number are rare specimens he has found near the banks of the Wissahickon Creek, which has recovered much of its natural splendor after having been used for industrial purposes, particularly leather tanning, in the 18th century.
As he walks along Forbidden Drive, a flash of color catches Meehan’s eye. One branch of a white flowering dogwood is blooming pink. The pink dogwood has been seen before, but it is thought to be extinct, and the only dogwoods available in nature or commerce are white. Meehan’s pace quickens as he thinks about the possibilities. If he is able to propagate it, maybe someday this tree could be cultivated on a large scale, and could be planted in gardens everywhere.
Okay, now it’s 2011. Luckily for us, Thomas Meehan was successful in his attempts to propagate the pink flowering branch of the Wissahickon dogwood. Its descendants grow all over Philadelphia, as far north as Massachusetts, and well into the south. It, along with the white version, is blooming everywhere right now, but if you are observant you will notice that the dogwoods growing in the wild, like this one, are always white.