Contributed by Nancy Stedman

Acer saccharum (sugar maple)

“Trees are not so different from us humans,” says Jason Lubar, Associate Director of Urban Forestry at the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. Like people, they prefer to congregate in communities, can spread news quickly (via biochemical processes) and often give each other a helping hand (by, say, sharing nutrients with an ailing neighbor). There’s a growing conviction among some scientists that trees are “sentient beings,” in the words of Lubar’s colleague Robert Wells, Associate Director of Arboriculture Outreach at the Arboretum. “Trees,” he explains, “are aware of temperature changes, and changes in water and soil. In some ways, they can see and smell.” This nuanced view has recently gained currency among the public through a wildly popular book called The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. Written by a German forest manager with an academic bent, this surprise international bestseller details how trees navigate the world without being able to move.

"Anything that leads to feelings of kinship or connection helps people appreciate trees more"

"Anything that leads to feelings of kinship or connection helps people appreciate trees more", Lubar says. And that makes the jobs of Lubar and Wells much simpler. “At the Arboretum, we try to educate people about the value of trees,” says Lubar. The two certified arborists, who are part of Morris Arboretum’s Urban Forestry Consultants team, can easily rattle off numerous practical benefits. Trees, in addition to providing beauty to the landscape, moderate air temperatures, sequester carbon, reduce storm water run-off, lower air pollution and support wildlife. There are financial considerations, too. Planting trees in your yard enhances property values—the accepted figure is a jump of about 10%. Also, simply being in the presence of trees can boost your well-being by lowering stress hormone levels and boosting your immune system, according to recent research. “Trees provide benefits well beyond their costs, so it behooves us to have more of them,” Lubar says.

Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip poplar)

Trees are especially important for the health of American cities. Although Philadelphia is one of the greener urban spots in the U.S., Lubar and Wells believe that its tree canopy should double, from 20% to 40%. Incidentally, the tree types you’re most likely to spot in Philadelphia are black cherry, ash, and the invasive ailanthus, a.k.a. tree of heaven; together, they make up a quarter of the tree population. Not surprisingly, the most tree-deficient parts of the city are the most built-up: Center City, South Philly and North Philly. “Most trees here are in parks,” Lubar notes. “They should be better distributed—more should be planted on streets, private land and school yards.”

Simply being in the presence of trees can boost your well-being by lowering stress hormone levels

Ecology-wise, what are the best trees to plant? “Large-maturing, deciduous trees, mostly native,” answers Lubar, who points to white oaks, tulip poplars, sugar maples, and hickories (if you can stand the falling nuts). “The benefits from large trees are huge!” Wells adds. He cites one project the Arboretum was involved with. “In 2009, we consulted for landscape architects who were working on Shoemaker Green, which is outside the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field.  There was a grade change, and we helped protect six mature London plane trees, with an average diameter of 24 inches. We ran some calculations on these six trees, and learned that they provide the same environmental benefits of 1,300 two and a half inch-caliper trees.” Yes, that number is 1,300.

While large trees are the most beneficial, homeowners tend to gravitate toward small ornamentals such as dogwoods and redbuds. “They’re nice, they’re easy to see, and they don’t block vistas,” Lubar says. “It’s a challenge to get people to plant large trees.” The native vs. non-native issue is another area in which ecological and aesthetic goals can be at odds. “There’s no question natives are better in terms of supporting native wildlife such as birds and bees,” says Wells. But non-natives can really expand your plant choices, if, for instance, you want an evergreen screen in your yard.  “As long as non-natives aren’t invasive and they perform their landscape function, that’s okay. But try to make native trees a larger part of your garden,” Lubar suggests.

Remember that when you plant a tree, you’re entering into a long-term relationship. Make sure this is a creature you can live with—and maybe even become simpatico with.

Freelance writer Nancy Stedman is a Philadelphia Tree Tender.


Morris Arboretum Urban Forestry Consultants recently answered a request from the Prodigy Learning Center in Philadelphia to speak to 60 Pre-K students about trees.  The children had just completed a unit on trees and had learned about different trees, food that grows on trees and animals that live in trees. 

Bob Wells and Trish Kemper talked with them about the parts of a tree and showed them a slice from a tree trunk.  They explained how the tree rings represent the age of the tree.  Bob and Trish then helped the children form the parts of the tree ring. Some students were the inner circle, representing the xylem tissue saying “WOOOSH-WOOSH” for the water that flows through the xylem.  The next ring of students were the cambium tissue and they said “CAM-BI-UM! CAM-BI-UM!”  The following ring of children were the phloem tissue which conducts nutrients (food) through the tree and they said “YUM! YUM!”  The last ring of students represented the bark of the tree and they of course barked!

 As a thank you for visiting, the students sang “The Green Grass Grows All Around”.  A great time was had by all!


Contributed by Maria Cannon

Bees, unfortunately, are disappearing at a rapid rate. Those of us who are already gardeners are doing our part in helping to solve the problem by growing bee-friendly plants. The Honey Bee Conservancy offers some tips for those who are not aware of what makes a garden attractive to pollinators like bees. Bee-friendly gardening is a year-round task, and with fall approaching, it’s important to prepare.

Why Bees are So Important

The Natural Resources Defense Council offers some statistics and facts that show just how important human-bee relations are. Bees’ primary benefit to humans is through the pollination of crops that result in nutrient-rich foods. Bees extract nectar from plants, and as they go from plant to plant, they leave pollen that allows the plant to bloom and, in many cases, yield crops.

But, as global research documents, the bees are not alright. They are disappearing and dying at an alarming rate, so catering to bees is more pressing than ever before. This includes attracting them to your garden year-round, so knowing how to prepare a garden for fall without losing its bee residents is key.

Winterizing Your Garden

HGTV offers some tips for winter green-thumbs. They recommend weeding and laying down mulch, as well as tying plants to support sticks with natural fibers. This will help discourage wilting as the weather intensifies. They also recommend adding extra compost and peat moss, as plants can use as many nutrients as possible when the weather turns.

Helping the Bees Make it Through the Season

The primary way that gardeners can ensure bees make it through the winter season is by planting species of vegetation that will bloom during these cool months. British Columbia Farms and Food lists several species of flowers that will attract bees through the winter. They include rosemary, primrose, heather, calendula, crocus, and others.

This guide is helpful, but every region is a bit different. Talk to local nurseries and gardening experts to find which species are most likely to thrive in your particular region, and get to planting before fall arrives. According to, "The right plants will please you, flourish in your climate, attract local insects and wildlife, and won’t take too much time to maintain."


Bees and gardening are like peanut butter and jelly. Bees extract food from plants, and in the process of doing so, they spread flowers’ seeds and help to ensure that plants make it to bloom. Planting species that cater to bees is a win-win, the perfect combination of beauty and practicality. It’s in gardeners’ self-interest to keep bees around throughout the changing seasons. With bees dying and disappearing, they are doing the bees a great service by planting plants that attract and feed them even through the cooler months.


Listen in to this interview with Louise Clarke, our Bloomfield Farm Horticulturist, on Roots and Shoots of Radio Perth.

Louise was asked to share her perspective as a horticulturist with Sabrina and Hilary of Roots and Shoots on Radio Perth in Australia.

Some of the topics discussed are the valuation of trees in America versus Australia and their importance in the urban landscape, purpose-built green roofs, and the similarities and differences between very unique flora of Western Australia and the Mid-Atlantic region of America.

Louise Clarke, Bloomfield Farm horticulturist and member of GWA: the Association of Garden Communicators, is spending 15 days in Perth, Western Australia. Andrea Whitely, another GWA member and Perth Area garden consultant, is hosting her visit. Together they have been visiting Botanic gardens, public and private gardens, and Andrea’s private garden clients. Louise has been interviewed by Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) on ‘Roots and Shoots’ and will be addressing the Western Australian chapter of HMA, the Horticultural Media Association on October 24th.