INTRODUCTION TO HEART OF UWCHLAN PROJECT

by Toni Gorkin (download pdf here)

The Heart of Uwchlan project comprises three gardens in Baird Park, the campus location of the Uwchlan Township offices. The campus is a historic farm site with ponds and a park. The gardens include a Milkweed garden designated as a “Save the Monarchs” Monarch Habitat garden along the meeting room wall; a riparian Streamside Garden on the stream below the lower pond; and a Wetland Garden at the end of the parking lot. The gardens are enrolled on Douglas Tallamy’s Homegrown National Park. In addition, a Nature Learning Trail was marked out through the park with education stations using the flora and fauna. A Handbook is available.

The Uwchlan Township campus Baird Park is located at 715 N Ship Road in Exton. It is just off the interstion of Ship Road with Route 100 in Exton. Coming north on Route 100 from West Chester, turn right at Swedesford Road. Take right into the Uwchlan Township campus.

The Milkweed Garden and Streamside Garden are in their third year of growth. This is the second summer for the Wetland Garden. The Heart of Uwchlan Project arose out of Toni Gorkin’s Pennsylvania Master Naturalist education; it was approved by the Uwchlan Township Environmental Advisory Council and has the support of the Uwchlan Township Board of Supervisors. The Heart of Uwchlan team has been small, about six volunteers, due to COVID, but its members include two Master Watershed Stewards and now another PA Master Naturalist. Hours are logged to the PA Master Naturalist and Master Watershed databases. The sites of the gardens were chosen in consultation with the leadership of the Township’s parks and grounds maintenance and the Township Manager.

The goals of the Heart of Uwchlan Project are to:
• Introduce native plants and enhance the biodiversity of Baird Park
• Support SustainableUwchlan goals and EAC initiatives
• Provide education for the public of sustainable gardening practices through examples

The Uwchlan EAC has conducted education, including webinars, events such as “Monsters, Masks and Milkweeds,” and demonstrations of winter seed sowing in plastic jugs. There are plant list handouts available also on the Uwchlan Township website, with special pages for Heart of Uwchlan. (See below.)

The practices employed in developing the gardens include “lasagna gardening” (applying cardboard, leaves and mulch through winter) to prepare weed-free sites, live-staking with suitable cuttings at the Streamside and Wetland Gardens, and winter seed sowing. Last winter over 60 plastic jugs of native plant seeds were sown to undergo winter stratification. Hundreds of plants were used to fill out the gardens and made available to the public. The Heart of Uwchlan team has harvested seeds from the garden and made them available to interested gardeners.

Milkweed Garden

The Milkweed Garden has thrived and hosted monarch caterpillars as well as many pollinators. Its location along the side of the meeting room has made it a successful point of interest for the public attending meetings and using the park. Initially it was just milkweeds, but other native perennials have been added to support adult butterflies and pollinators with nectar and to enhance the color of the site. Swamp milkweed, common milkweed, and butterfly weed have done very well there.

Streamside Garden

Educational signage highlights the Streamside Garden. It is in its third summer. It survived Hurricane Ida well, including some of its live-staked elderberry plants. Plants include swamp milkweed, blue vervain, red and black chokeberry, alder, boneset, asters, cupflower, and other perennials. Plans are to expand it somewhat, especially with live-staking, and continue to explore options for it. It is hard to allow the banks of the stream to just grow, as that conflicts somewhat with the clean, park-like environment, but we are doing education to help enhance the bank’s natural growth to support the macroinvertebrates in the stream.

Another challenge is keeping algae at bay which washes down from the pond above the stream. Like many ponds and streams in our area, these are man-made. Nevertheless, the garden provides an example to citizens who may have a stream in their property to try something that “looks a little messy” compared to what they may be accustomed to, for the health of the stream and prevention of erosion.

The Wetland Garden

The Wetland Garden has demonstrated very well “right plant in the right place” in an area that was too wet to be mowed. It not only reduced the lawn area, it allowed some native plants (ironweed, sedges) to regenerate naturally in addition to the ones planted. The plants selected were specifically adapted to wet areas, such as swamp milkweed, swamp goldenrod and phlox, obedience plant, native iris, river oats, boneset and blue vervain. The plantings have dried up the garden somewhat, demonstrating to our citizens how they might manage the wet areas they are experiencing more with recent wet years and large storms.

A grove of trees was planted to develop into an understory, including redbuds, river birches, a swamp oak, and buttonbush. At the center of the garden is a sweet bay magnolia to provide an accent point. Plans are to continue to incorporate the garden into and enhance the surrounding area. A new educational sign was erected at the Wetland Garden to recognize support of grants from the Gorkin family and the Harriet Jarosh Environmental Education Fund. The garden is typically abuzz with pollinators, even into the fall.

Further plans

In addition to its own gardens, Heart of Uwchlan began collaborating with Rhondda community volunteers in 2021. The Rhondda HOA / community is just across Ship Road from the Uwchlan Township park and consists of over 600 homes. A new Rhondda Pollinator Garden was planted this summer. The garden is at risk due to plans to hydro-rake a pond that is a stormwater basin to remove excess sediment. The hope is that the debris can form the basis of a meadow. Rhondda volunteers are also supporting Heart of Uwchlan. The hope is to extend a green corridor in the region.

Our Heart of Uwchlan team has met recently to look at the future, having met the goals of establishing the three gardens. In addition to maintaining the gardens, we plan to continue education and outreach to the public and to support SustainableUwchlan initiatives. We hope to support other parks and areas in Uwchlan Township, for example, refurbished stormwater basins, with native plants. We also hope to expand consciousness of the value of trees and look at opportunities for tree planting to restore the many trees being lost to disease in our area.

We also plan to enjoy increasing collaboration with other EACs and other Pollinator Garden projects in the County through groups like the Northern Chester County EACs and other organizations like the Green Team. And to grow the membership of public and personal gardens in the Homegrown National Park.

Native Planting Resources from Uwchlan web site