Vacations and gardens

In the Garden
Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University Master Gardener

     Last week, I took a trip to northeastern Pennsylvania to the Pocono Mountains.  It was just a vacation with a great nephew and two great nieces, and we really had no firm plans other than to get away for a while.  Of course, I always love to check out the gardening scene wherever I go and the children know they have to visit gardens and nature sites to pay for my taking them to the pools and play areas.
     Our trip included short forays into New Jersey and New York.  In New Jersey, we spent some time in a park along the shore of the Delaware River.  In general, the Poconos area is not very different from the hills of Southern Indiana.  Yes, the mountains are higher, but are not nearly as large as the Rockies.  They have apparently embraced the trend to allow nature to re-claim lawn areas.  Our resort had few lawn areas but wildflowers were plentiful, especially black-eyed Susans.  The state flower of Pennsylvania is the mountain laurel and they were growing everywhere.  There were a few blooms hanging on from the peak bloom time in early July.  I could only imagine how beautiful the bloom time would be.  A laurel relative, wild rhododendron, also is commonplace.  Again, we were too late to see the blooms, but the evergreen leaves formed a backdrop for the wildflowers that were blooming.
     My love of trains took us to the town of Jim Thorpe, where an excursion train took us on a ride through the mountains.  We saw a lot more mountain laurels and rhododendrons along the tracks and enjoyed the beauty of the area, including a small waterfall.  The train is also a good way to see black bears and other wildlife of the Poconos. The people of the town take their horticulture seriously.  Jim Thorpe is essentially a tourist town, filled with Victorian houses and old churches.  Most of the old homes in the historic section now house businesses, including numerous gift shops and coffee houses.  However, in many cases, the shops occupy only the bottom couple of floors, with apartments on the upper floors.  In a style that reminded me of my time in Paris, there were flower-filled window boxes at every window, both on the living quarters and the store areas.  Unlike Paris, where the boxes are usually filled with red geraniums, the window boxes of Jim Thorpe were lush and varied.  Some were filled with succulents, while others sported blooming annuals and foliage plants.  In addition to the window boxes, there were many pots filled with flowers, small shrubs and even a few fruits and vegetables.  In many cases, pots or groups of pots were used to form barriers to keep shoppers from using the old fire escapes or to block access to non-public areas.  I was impressed that all of them were free of weeds and the plants were in good shape.  Sure, they could have just used signs to direct people away from the sites, but the flowers were a nice touch and much more pleasant.
     Our final gardening-related outing was a trip to the Graver Arboretum near Bath, Pennsylvania.  The 63-acre site was the life work of Dr. Lee and Virginia Graver, who spent 40 years clearing underbrush and invasive species from the property to create a habitat for rare and native trees, mountain laurels and rhododendrons, ferns and wildflowers.  The site was donated to Muhlenburg College in 1994, and is maintained by the students of that school.  Walking trails are mapped out through the arboretum.  While not totally accessible, most of the trails are easy to walk and most would accommodate a wheelchair.  There is a small lake we saw an assortment of wildlife on our hike.  Not every tree has a marker, but the rare specimens are marked.  There are more than 150 species of conifers and a lot of hardwood trees.  Like other areas, it would have been more spectacular when the laurels and rhododendrons were in bloom, but it is a nice place to visit at almost any time.  There is no charge to enter the arboretum.
     While our trip to the Poconos was not timed will for the area’s natural beauty, it was a good vacation and I would recommend visiting the mountains and enjoying the beauty.



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