Fordhook’s New Trees

Recently I bought a small collection of large trees and shrubs from a group of local nurserymen and conifer enthusiasts.

Over twelve years ago, after purchasing Fordhook Farm, the core of the old historic Burpee estate, from the family, I brought in a series of garden designers and landscape architects—some local, some distant, some famous, some obscure. They were all fascinating. Each walked the entire 60 acre estate with me, pored over old maps, plans and drawings and we spent hours talking.

At the end of the day—or evening in a few cases, I would tell the professional landscape designers, architects, et al, “Thank you!” One week followed another and the phone began ringing. “No” was all I said, to paraphrase The Band. I had nothing to say. The place was perfect.

The original farm that became Fordhook Farm was shaped out of the wilderness in the 1750s. The headquarters and homes for the workers—and presumably, but not necessarily the owner or proprietor—were grouped in and around the present buildings and gardens.

“Why improve on this?”, I thought to myself. I have added several dozen small trees to the top meadow and a dozen or so more in both the Great Lawn and new deep shade garden that slope down from the verandah to the ravine. Also, I planted several large specimens to accentuate empty spaces, as well as a small oak grove to remind me of my childhood in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

Come visit—by appointment only until our Fordhook Harvest Festival August 19th & 20th. Until the festival, just call 215-345-1766 and schedule a visit with Linda Cassidy. (No need for advance notice to attend the festival.) We resume “appointment only” visits until the late fall. But it is a working farm. Visits require scheduling. Thank you.

A rare variant of Fagus fastigiata, the upright-branching form of the European Beech. It has just been planted, hence the guy wires. At first, its shape is somewhat reminiscent of the French poplars that symbolize hands cupped and raised up in prayer (you see them all over Southern Europe, but a brief moment later it announces itself as a uniquely different tree. Poignant yet dynamic, this tree is powerful—indescribably full of life. I see it several times a day and enjoy it especially in the middle of the day.

These is a new pair of “Weed” groups by Steve Tobin. Steve is an old friend. I talked with him about this project before he started it, so we feel connected over them.

Being an enthusiastic gardener, Steve asked me about weeds one day. I told him that, first, weeds had to be alien to the domesticated space (not wanted or “appropriate” as well as truly “alien”). Second, they had to be invasive, which piqued his curiosity. I went on about rampant growth and aggression that appears in all species—survival-of-the-fittest style. Steve thought this was particularly interesting.

Last, weeds have to be undesirable in an aesthetic way. I believe this. Why would I not enjoy them? Aliens are commonly accepted and even beloved; aggression and invasiveness equals vigor if its excesses are controlled by active gardening, and so weeds must somehow not “please the property owner”. We argued a bit over this, and I conceded that this third definition is subjective, but always required. Or, as I say, why not love them? This aesthetic definition of weeds thoroughly intrigued him.

Steve called me one day to tell me he’d completed a series of “Weeds”. I was astounded. It was love at first sight. Placement of them became a matter of movement, form, context and—most important—space. I lost a magnificent old pine (that sung beautifully in the wind) to a violent late winter storm. I used to gaze at it from my study and listen to Mahler. That great a tree. Now it is replaced by these “Weeds”, and I could not be happier.

Here they are with the Carriage House in the background. The pair are like pillars that frame the path between the top and bottom of the entire property, along with a pair of pines that actually function as such, on each side of the farm road about twenty feet away from these new sculptures.

Here they are, one behind the other, with the front group showing off a “mutation”. Again, I introduced Steve to some ideas and books. He responded amazingly by incorporating a symbol of a mutant form of a weed. It is a “flower” on the end of one stem—the only part in the total group of over twenty “Weeds” that displays a stainless steel plate. No doubt for a stainless steel bee!

The previous generation of weeds in the meadow behind the Happiness Garden, with a few of the new trees. This is one of the more amusing groups. Some have likened them to Calypso dancers.

Dynamite view of them by the excellent photographer Mary Kliwinski, who shoots all of our art and specimen trees.

Weeds with black steel root in background.

Weeds from behind with Happiness Garden in back.

Black steel root with new trees.

More new trees with main house, angle to the southeast. Nice.

My “Last Year at Marienbad” tree collection that is in the once empty meadow. (Plus the black root.) Others have called it a “chessboard”. I’m having fun.

Steel root with “Sprouts” and the first root Steve ever made. It is bronze and predates the enormous Trinity Church sculpture by ten years or so.

Another angle.

Huge weeds near the recently installed parking lot. The taller one reaches 25 feet high.

Another angle

“Oz”, I call my giant weeds.

Another angle

Shorter of the two tall ones—very aggressive these weeds—with the forest line.

Here is our ancient Field Oak with the steel root. In the old days the workers rested beneath it and drank barley tea that they had brewed at home the evening before, let cool overnight, brought to work in thick ceramic jugs in the morning, and kept cool in the tree’s shade. A breakroom/lunchroom, 19th century style.

Three nice views of new trees.

Sprouts and root. The sprouts are fashioned from remnant iron and steel beams that Steve acquired from the closing of the steel mill in Bethlehem. (Read “Crisis In Bethlehem” for a stunning account of this industrial and social tragedy.)

My favorite shot of the “Sprouts”. The hawks absolutely love this sculpture. I think it both hides them while they hunt with their eyes, as well as provides them greater closeness and surprise.

A detail of the bronze root in a well composed shot by Mary Kliwinski with new trees mid-ground and the steel root in the background.


Later blogs from the late spring will include some “overhead” shots, the Seed House and more rare conifers. Please stay tuned.

This entry was posted on Friday, June 10th, 2011 at 5:36 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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14 Responses to “Fordhook’s New Trees”

  1. just came in from a long day of landscaping for a favorite client, began to read and stood to attention………i grew up in glen ellyn, il. and that is where i was overseeing an install today……small world


    • George said:

      Hi Debra. Thanks for posting. Glen Ellynites are a rare breed. I think we reflect the utterly unique landscape of the town. Not a single suburb of Chicago possesses its quaint hills, ridges, the lake and many huge oak trees. Whether residents moved there or were born there, they enjoy and benefit from its remarkable beauty. I was deeply influenced by my childhood there. Thanks again.

  2. Marguerite McGrath said:

    I love your playground! I can’t wait to see the new stuff in August.

    • George said:

      Thank you very much for the compliment. I enjoy your blog responses! I look forward to meeting you in August. Be well.

  3. Jan Badinski said:

    I’m interested in the European Beech. Where we live, any trees planted are best planted in the fall instead of early spring. This is because they need time to grow some roots before the summer heat. If I order this tree, will it be sent in the fall?

    • George said:

      Thank you, Jan. I would have to know roughly where in the US you live. Then I shall post the right advice. As for us, early spring is fine for almost all trees.

  4. stephen gale said:

    would like more detail, info, pictures of the trees you acquired; and why ? what makes them so desireable ? what are their unique characteristics ? do they need special siting ? or micro climates ? etc……….sbgale

    • George said:

      Thanks, Stephen. A new blog is going up this week detailing the trees and providing close-up photographs. All the data and advice we have to help you will be there. Thanks again.

  5. Paul Dennis said:

    Wonderful photographs. Is she on you staff or a freelance photographer. If she is a freelancer please email me her contact information…

    • George said:

      Thanks for posting. Mary Kliwinski is a freelance photographer. I shall email her contact information to you. Hope you can come to the August 19th & 20th open days event.

  6. christine rumph said:

    I love the story, the trees, the luxurious, open spaces. Just find that the sculptures are a tedious, pretentious distraction and an irritatingly dissonant note that is truly disturbing. I don’t like or trust “art” that demands so much attention in such a noisy, bratty way as these obnoxious constructions of junk metal do in most if not all of the landscapes in which they commonly appear. The shapes, textures and personalities of, say, the gorgeously sensual willow art created by artists including Tom Hare of Stoke Golding, UK, whose work intrigues, mystifies, delights and inspires…all things that a visit to a well-loved and much-appreciated garden should do, would be so stunningly irresistible here, that I imagine people would be strongly drawn to their pleasing organic shapes as they wandered through the open spaces. This garden, unfortunately, repels me and is not one I would enjoy visiting because instead of offering an invitation to engage and envelope the visitor in the pure magic and miracle of the natural world that we are getting further away from, it ambushes the senses with rude, even cruel visual interruptions by clunking hulks stalking the grounds and lurking about, whining for attention the way that junk art littering these landscapes always seems to do. After seeing so much of it, it appears this landscape has been dressed in the usual, standardized uniform worn by all the “best” gardens of all the best people with no personal style or personality at all. I get it. Again. So boring. It’s the standardization of “taste” and I am thoroughly sick of it and regard it as indicative of pretension that has moved outdoors. This landscape is more an outdoor sculpture gallery with a selection of plantings that appear to be embarrassed and even insulted by their “art” neighbors and their proprietors both, than a landscape or a garden. Very disappointingly conventional. A real missed opportunity, given the resources, to develop a garden that doesn’t look so desperately, boringly “designed” to death as this one does. Again.

    • George said:

      Thank you for posting your interesting criticism. I do not know the art of Tom Hare, so I shall check it out. However, I think a direct or “live” experience of monumental sculpture—which much of Tobin’s is here at Fordhook—is essential. Even the best photos do not replace the brain, much less the body.

      Also, this is not “junk art”. I believe that term refers to old bottles on stems of bushes, hubcaps made into a beaver, etc. Steve Tobin is a highly sophisticated artist working in several media, including music.

      Naturally I disagree with your conclusion about the styles of sculpture used in the various parts of the landscape. I appreciate your feedback nevertheless. Please come to the Fordhook Harvest Festival (August 19th and 20th) and see the many other trees and gardens. Thank you again.

  7. Marguerite McGrath said:

    As an artist and a gardener, I know the truth of the old saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” If you have not been to Fordhook Farm, you have unfairly criticized the art and the garden. The gardens are expansive and the sculpture is placed in ways that take nothing away from the beauty of the grounds. You may not like the art any better in person, but you would surely appreciate the well kept and picturesque buildings and the beautiful gardens, from the plants tucked in intimate corners, to the shady woodland with ponds, and even the neat rows of the test plots.

    I’m not a great fan of most modern art, but I still find some of it amusing, intriguing or compelling. Give the gardens a chance before you condemn them so thoroughly.

    • George said:

      Thank you for the lovely compliments. Please feel free to post again. And, by all means, come to the farm anytime—please call ahead for an appointment. Our harvest festival in Doylestown is August 19 and 20—we closed the Sunday, August 21st date due to the many “no-shows” on past Sundays. Thanks again.

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