Our West Philadelphia rowhouse backyard in the Spring

Our tiny West Philadelphia rowhouse backyard garden is about 13 feet wide and 6 feet deep. The other areas of our backyard are concrete drainage areas, steps, and concrete walkways. Much of the concrete infrastructure is to protect the foundation from water infiltration and flooding and subsequent structural damage, very common in poorly maintained urban rowhouses.
We wanted our tiny backyard plot to be a miniature West Fairmount Park foremost and also a miniature version of a Southeastern Pennsylvania woodland. We consulted the book The Vascular Flora of Pennsylvania: Annotated Checklist and Atlas by Rhodes and Klein, to guide us through our plant decisions.

Because of the height of the house and the surrounding buildings, and the small size of the garden plot, we chose Cornus florida, the understory tree Dogwood, also because of the morning sunshine and afternoon shade, which this species prefers. The very well protected garden with masonry walls all around mimic the Lower Susquehanna ravines we love to visit, and even some well protected Schuylkill River Ravines, featuring Trilliums, which thrive in these deep ravines with steep slopes. Our Trillium Grandiflorum and Trillium erectum are thriving in our back yard!

In keeping with creating a miniature West Fairmount Park Spring Woodland, we have Mayapples, Podophyllum peltatum, Christmas Fern, and Solomons Seal.

Another plant that loves very protected environments with some degree of alkaline soils is Maidenhair Fern, which also thrives in our yard! My theory is that all of the brickwork around our yard has contributed to the soil alkalinity, being that the mortar used in making brick walls is composed of the alkaline lime. Check out the pictures below and see all of the plants growing in our yard that we are discussing. I took all of these pictures in the past week! Look forward to our Summer and Fall Philadelphia rowhouse backyard series!


Bull Run Regional Park, Manassas, Virginia April 3, 2023

When we arrived at Bull Run Regional park in the early afternoon of April 3rd, 2023, we were so ecstatic to see the seemingly endless Bluebells covering the vast floodplain. I wanted to capture the astounding visual beauty on camera for all to see and feel. I was able to do live reporting on site, posting photos on the Sanguine Root right from the spot, as we were viewing the spectacle. It was so exciting to see the freshly blooming Mertensia virginica, in such a magnificent display, the species had arrived into the above ground world from dormancy and created this impressive atmosphere of spring, color and rejuvenation. The excitement of this worldly display, having us both ensconced in this novel botanical marvel of spring, quickly evolved into an interesting meditation about the ephemeral, the eternal and oblivion. The next picture describes the mood of the scene: the fresh astounding beauty of the newly emerged Bluebells against the backdrop of a long dead tree. Within weeks of this photo, the Bluebell pictured below will be a withered yellow form of itself, following the path of its tree neighbor.

The images and the landscape before our eyes became so iridescent and its sublime beauty bubbled up starkly! Those gorgeous and fresh Bluebells, so magnificent and startlingly beautiful this afternoon, both contrast and compliment the dead trees in their midst! We know so well, both having lived ourselves over half a century, that those Bluebells will be gone as quickly as they emerged.

In a way, we are staring into space. Each flower is a galaxy. We are observing eternity in full color, in full bloom and it is completely ephemeral.


The Lower Susquehanna River is graced with magnificent bluffs, reminiscent to me of the majestic bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River in Illinois and Iowa. I draw the comparison between the two, not as a contrast, but as an epiphany highlighting the nature and geology of North America’s grand rivers. The Susquehanna and the Mississippi share this grandeur on different geologic terrain, rivers that have never or will ever meet, yet share so many of the great river qualities.

Ferncliff Wildflower Preserve, sadly, never reaches the shores of the Susquehanna, which defines the creation story of the land the preserve is on. However, when we reach the top of the recently designated white blazed trail, the whole picture falls into place, and it all makes sense. The view is magnificent and it tells the story of millions of years of development of the Susquehanna River and its bluffs.

The Bluebells, Paw Paw trees, Trilliums and the many other species continue the narrative of the biological evolution.

Ferncliff Wildflower Preserve is very remote and has limited parking (first come first serve) with a very narrow trail leading up to the top of the bluff. Along the top there are rocks to sit on. This place has a contemplative quality about it.

Active railroad tracks along the river

White bluebells! Interestingly alongside a red Trillium erectum, which in this general area are mostly white and even named Susquehanna Trillium because of their regional difference.

The only specimen of red Trillium erectum we saw in the whole preserve!

The white Mertensia, another genetic anomaly found here!