Let it Grow

Awbury Arboretum’s unlikely stewards let nature—and discovery—run wild

Awbury staff from left to right: Denis Lucey, Karen Flick, Heather Zimmerman and Chris van de Velde.Philadelphians are familiar with the sounds of city life: the laughter of kids walking home from school, bus engines and car horns on the busy streets, music flowing from rowhome windows. Amid the bustle in Germantown, a forest is quietly growing. The people entrusted with the 55-acre refuge at Awbury Arboretum believe that it’s a place to escape the hardscape, wonder at nature’s resilience and power, and maybe to fall in love.

Between a trickling creek bed on the grounds of Awbury Arboretum in Northwest Philadelphia and the abrasive honking of East Washington Lane, Denis Lucey is out on one of his many walks.

He stops to point out a mutated form of a snow drop flower and invites me to have a gnaw on a native spice bush. “It’s got an interesting flavor,” he encourages. “If you’ve ever been operated on, the orange dye they spray you with before they put the bandages on is a glue that originally comes from this plant.”

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Awbury Arboretum: A perfect place to sharpen your tree recognition skills

story by Bernard Brown | photos by Jen BrittonFor at least 10 years I’ve been trying to learn more about trees. Back when I lived in Atlanta, I resolved to identify the trees growing in a large wooded park near my home. I bought a Peterson field guide and got to work. I did okay with the big differences between, for example, the oaks and the ashes, the maples and the magnolias, but I had had little patience for the finer points. Was that an iron wood or a hornbeam? If it meant I had to count the scales on their itty-bitty buds, it was too much effort for a reptile and amphibian guy (herper) like me.
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