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!


Our first ever visit here was in 2009, and we heard about it from whispers among fellow botanical enthusiasts relating unbelievable tales of these hillsides covered in Mertensia virginica and vast patches of Trilliums almost two feet tall, and Dicentra covered trailsides. All located in this magical ravine along the Lower Susquehanna River. We found directions online and painstakingly drove there, ending up on a treacherous and very isolated dirt road with a creepy abandoned railroad tunnel we had to drive through and eventually the road ended and there was a meager sign announcing that this was the place. Indeed it was, and we were overwhelmingly enchanted. My pictures from that day are lost forever in the digital black hole, except one or two that have survived. Since the Lancaster Conservancy has become the new caretaker, there has been a whole generation of improvements and popularity. It was nice to see these infrastructural improvements and also signage to remind people to stay on the trails and not trample the flowers. We have been here almost every year since 2009 and have written extensively in past posts about the flowers including some in depth discussion about the Susquehanna Trillium, a unique Trillium erectum v. album, that is particular to this specific localized region. Lastly it must be noted for the record that Shenks Ferry is truly the most iconic of the many beautiful rich ravines of the Lower Susquehanna. A regionally beloved natural preserve such as this can hopefully be an engaging tool towards reinforcing a public awareness of the many threats faced towards sensitive habitats and species diversity.