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by Monica Brandies


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There Once Was A School for Lady Gardeners and Farmers

Now the Administration Building, this held all our classrooms.

School gardens are wonderful things. The spring before I graduated from high school, I was surprised to discover something even better for me, the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women in Ambler, PA, just north of Philadelphia. It offered two year courses in horticulture, landscape design, and agriculture. The campus was like Paradise, the students and teachers were friendly. I went and stayed until graduation two weeks before our wedding.

Recently my husband and I went back for my 50th class reunion.

Two months before we graduated, we were floored to learn that our beloved school was merging with Temple University. We were pleased that we would get degrees that said Temple on them instead of diplomas from an obscure institution. But we were appalled that Temple would do away with the agriculture, sell our herd of registered Jersey milk cows and all the other animals, and allow men to enroll for the very NEXT term.

Since then the campus has expanded to serve 3500 students a year instead of our 40 some.1600 students have graduated with associate and bachelor degrees in horticulture, landscape design and regional planning. Other students have studied for 21 other degree programs.

It was 25 years before I ever went back. Then as now I am happy to say Temple preserved and somewhat expanded our gardens. The campus is now an official arboretum. Some of the trees we studied or planted are still there and much larger. Our main building, a stone covered dormitory. with porches off the parlor wing at one end and the dining room at the other, burned down in 1966, fortunately during a student break. We were devastated when we heard.

We knew they would tear down the big red barn that had been there since before the Revolution. But on the same stone foundation that was the first floor, they built a gym that looks like an old red barn and the silo is as we remembered. The dairy barn is still there, used for storage now.

The building in which the school first started in 1910 remains, now the Administration Building. There we had most of our classes except for the ones conducted in the greenhouse, the gardens, or the barns. Originally the women lived on the top floor and studied on the main floor.

The formal gardens are essentially unchanged after all these years.

The formal gardens, where we each had a section to tend and that we walked between after we came across the terrace and down the steps by the rock wall for graduation are still there, still always breathtaking. Some small trees have been removed, others added. Perhaps none of the perennial plants are the same, but I'd bet there are some that are. The amazing thing to me now is that the plan was never altered, the flowers never allowed to spread into the grass in all these years.

There are new greenhouses now. Ours fell down since our last reunion. But plans are to save our old potting shed by the barn along the path we walked every morning to class.

We all had "duty" as well as classes, the hort and scape majors in the greenhouse and the flower arranging room, the ags in the barns. Since they fed silage, those ags smelled pretty ripe at breakfast time and we made them all sit together and keep their barn clothes in a special closet. But they have done us proud.

Every time we have a reunion, Mary Anne Fry has us all to dinner at her home in Ambler. She got further degrees from Temple and taught Vo Ag for 28 years. She recently was given a prestigious reward from Temple for her contributions. One classmate couldn't come because she is busy breeding horses in Kentucky. Several had flower shops. Our classmate from Haiti has run a restaurant and now has a hotel in the mountains there, all surrounded by gardens. One did the flower arrangements for the public buildings at Williamsburg.

Over the years, besides raising our nine children and growing much of our food, I have worked as a garden consultant, as the owner of a greenhouse and flower shop, and mostly as a garden writer, photographer, and speaker. Horticulture offers many opportunities. It is a good life. We are always surrounded by beauty and always notice and appreciate it.

We had a great start and a great reunion.

Temple built this gym that looks like a barn where there was a barn in our day that had been there since the Revolution.

The woodland garden is always peaceful, natural, and lovely. Here rhododendrons are blooming. In early spring the ground is a carpet of daffodils.

Now's the time to pass on some good ideas I learned on my trip...

  • One classmate mows a large area on a riding mower. She duck taped a plastic 2 liter pop bottle with the top removed to her mower and keeps one of those folding pick-up and reaching tools at hand to pick up any stones, turtles, or other encumberments she comes across.
  • To remove poison ivy or any plant or vine that could give you a rash, wear plastic bags as arm-covering gloves and turn them inside out to hold what you pull out for the trash. Some people are sensitive to plants that never bother the rest of us and plants are more likely to cause a rash when they and we are wet and hot.