Temple Ambler ignites visions of Hopewell Furnace at Philadelphia Flower Show

Working in the Ambler Campus Greenhouse to prepare plants for the 2016 Philadelphia Flower Show

A 19th century rural iron plantation where the furnace fires once burned hot enough to melt iron might not readily evoke images of flowering blooms and massive forests.

The students and faculty in Temple University Ambler’s Department of Landscape Architecture would beg to differ. Their 2016 Flower Show exhibit — “After the Blast: Recollecting Roots and Resources at Hopewell Furnace” — includes more than 1,500 plants from 100 species representing a rich tapestry of old growth and remnant forests, a green roof bursting with vegetables and herbs and even the fiery furnace itself.

“We visited the site and researched what types of plants and trees would have been growing in that area of Pennsylvania at the time that Hopewell Furnace was in operation. One of our colleagues in the department even found a comprehensive inventory of the plants at the site for us to use. It’s a very diverse plant palette and we are able to represent many of them in the various ecosystems contained in the exhibit,” said Temple University Ambler Horticulturist Kathryn Reber, who is overseeing the preparation of the plants, which began with discussions about the exhibit in August with fellow coordinators Rob Kuper, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture; Adjunct Assistant Professor Michael LoFurno; and Horticulture Supervisor Anne Brennan. “We worked very hard to ensure that the vast majority of the plants were accurate to the site and the time period — they are primarily native plants. We researched what types of herbs and vegetables were being grown and used at the time, which will be displayed on our green roof.” 

Presented by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Flower Show will run from Saturday, March 5 through Sunday, March 13 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th and Arch streets. The 2016 show theme is “Explore America — 100 Year of the National Park Service.”

A walk through Temple University’s 2016 exhibit is a walk through the industrial history of the nation. After the Blast, takes its inspiration from the 848-acre Hopewell Furnace National Historical Site, which today includes 14 restored structures, 52 features on the “List of Classified Structures,” and is encircled by the 73,000-acre Hopewell Big Woods in Elverson, Pennsylvania. During the height of its operation in the 19th century, the site included a blast furnace, ironmaster’s house, blacksmith shop, company store and several homes for the workers.

According to Reber the exhibit makes use of several new species while also making use of some returning favorites in new ways.

“We have several really nice specimens of broad leafed Rhododendron. Our white oaks are doing particularly nicely, the Virginia creeper is doing very well and the Rhus glabra ‘Laciniata’ is doing better than any Rhus we’ve ever grown before,” she said. “We also have Wisteria that we used in last year’s exhibit — Star Power — that is making a return in After the Blast. One has really thrived; it’s 10 to 12 feet tall.”

Hopewell Furnace, located just 50 miles from Philadelphia “might not be a location that many people in the area are aware of or think to visit,” said Michael LoFurno.

“We want to bring attention to and educate people about Hopewell Furnace and this period in the region’s history. At this site, they dug holes in the earth for the iron ore; they cut down trees to make charcoal to fuel the furnace; they diverted waterways to power the waterwheel,” he said. “There was a lot of manipulation of the landscape in the 1800’s. There is a lot we can learn about the use of this site and lot to reflect on when thinking about how precious our resources are.”

The key features of the exhibit include a root cellar and vegetable green roof; a remnant forest; a rainwater race, which collects and moves water; and a representation of the furnace walls, which will depict the interior of the furnace chimney with foliage. Visitors will begin through the cellar, walk through the remnant forest and then enter the furnace area.

“In the stumpery, we’re using a lot of ferns. This is an area that would have been recently cut so we focused on the types of plants that would have been the first to grow after such a disturbance,” said Reber. “We’re also using plants that would need a little more water, which would be more available without the trees — it would have been a much wetter site than it had been before.”

The green roof, Reber said, will include vegetables and herbs such as lettuce, parsley, thyme, peas, beets, asparagus and borage, a herb commonly cultivated for culinary and medicinal uses.

“For the furnace we focused on finding plants that would represent the flames and the molten ore — reds, oranges, yellows and dark purples,” she said. “That includes a lot of Heucheras including varieties ‘Blackout’ and ‘Fire Chief,’ several different cultivars of Heucherella and Ipomea batatas ‘Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Purple.’” 

Temple University Ambler remains one of only a handful of exhibitors that forces its own plants for their exhibits. Much of the plant material will return to campus after the Flower Show to find a home in the Ambler Arboretum, Reber said.

“Each year we work to hone our forcing techniques. We have two growing areas — our greenhouse and hoop house — which requires us to get creative with finding or making additional temperature zones and using every resource available to us to keep our crops on schedule,” she said. “Many plants require a chilling period in order to bloom or leaf out. This year, the warm weather in fall and early winter created some challenges in that some of our plants did not receive those required cooling hours and are acting more unpredictably than usual. In any case, we work with each species and even plant individually; adjusting schedules as we see fit to provide them with the right combination of heat, light and cool that will bring them into leaf or bloom just in time for the show.”

Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture senior Dhan Parker said the opportunity to work hands-on with the plants is a tremendous asset for horticulture majors.

“This is the third Flower Show that I’ve worked on. Each year provides us the opportunity to expand our knowledge base as we work with new plants or implement new techniques,” he said. “The practical knowledge that we get combined with what we’re doing in our classes, I think, gives us a particular edge when we graduate. To see all of this come together — the plants and the construction — is amazing year. I always look forward to seeing how the design incorporates the plants and trees that we’ve cared for to help tell the exhibit’s story.”

For more information about “After the Blast: Recollecting Roots and Resources at Hopewell Furnace,” contact 267-468-8108 or duffyj@temple.edu.

For more information on the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture programs at Temple University Ambler, visit tyler.temple.edu/programs/landscape-architecture-horticulture. For more information about the 2016 Philadelphia Flower Show, visit theflowershow.com.