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The Most Beautiful Bathrooms in Pennsylvania
Botanically-inspired toilets, Pittsburgh bees and marbled potatoes
I never thought I’d spend minutes marveling at a bathroom but that happened twice this past week. I was attending the Perennial Plant Association’s National Symposium in Lancaster, PA and throughout the week I was in awe of the speakers, the presentations and the gardens we visited. I’ll have a lot more to share about that in the coming weeks – I’m still processing it all – but I did want to tell you about the two most magnificent, and botanically relevant, bathrooms that I had the pleasure of visiting during the symposium. Also, I’ve got a few other plant-centric odds and ends that I wanted to share.
Bathroom #1: Follow the Green Wall
Longwood Gardens is massive. There are over 1,000 acres of gardens, meadows and woodlands and they don’t cut any corners. Their pollinator-friendly meadow is bigger than any meadow I’ve seen. Walking though their formal fountains feels like a trip to Versailles. So when they decided to make a green wall leading to their restrooms, they went BIG. British landscape architect Kim Wilkie came up with the design to cover 4,000 square feet of wall with a variety of ferns, philodendron, spleenwort and spider plants.
I’ve been seeing more and more green walls these days – especially in new office buildings – but they rarely look as full and healthy as this one. Longwood’s website explains how they keep the wall in such impeccable shape:
A computer program handles the zoned irrigation system, ensuring that the plants are watered in relation to where they are situated on the panels (those closest to the ceiling require more water). In addition, weekly pruning and meticulous fertilization helps keep the plants healthy.
The team at Longwood Gardens also uses tiny beneficial insects such as Aphidius ervi, a speck-sized wasp that lays its eggs inside aphids and parasitizes them. The horticulture team also release a variety of predatory mites that protect the plants from spider mites, whiteflies and thrips.
The bathroom hallway ends with a beautiful stone reflecting pool where you’re invited to ponder the wonders of a living wall or the current state of your bowels.
In case you’re curious what the actual toilet looks like, here’s a photo from inside one of the single restrooms:
If you like reading about botanically-inspired bathrooms then you should probably sign up:
Bathroom #2: A Pee Past a Tree
Like Longwood Gardens, Chanticleer is a former family estate that’s been transformed into a public garden. I was hiking through their Asian Woods, a woodland garden full of plants from East Asia, when I came across a striking structure.
Inspired by a Japanese Teahouse, this building is actually a small restroom tucked into the woods. Members of the Chanticleer team traveled to Japan while they were planning the restroom and they integrated shoji screens, ceramic tiles and bamboo into the building’s construction. It feels perfectly at home in the woodland populated with bamboo groves and hostas and Chinese ginger.
The restroom porch is full of potted plants as well as a planter containing a floating flower display – switched out daily – which is something of a Chanticleer tradition.
Bathrooms are everywhere. Except sometimes when you really need to go to the bathroom and suddenly you can’t find one. But, still, there are many, many bathrooms in the world and most seem to be architectural afterthoughts. So it was inspiring to see two beautifully built bathrooms that thoughtfully integrate themselves into their surrounding green spaces.
And Now, an Exciting Announcement!
I’m teaching my first ever class at Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Garden this October! It’ll be an after-hours tour of the conservatory called Secret History of Plants. I’ll be sharing some wild stories of human/plant interactions from throughout history in an interactive, slightly-theatrical and hopefully-very-fun ninety minute walking presentation. If you’re in Pittsburgh (or can get to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, October 19th), I’d love for you to join! You can click on this sentence to sign up.
BEE-hind the Scenes of the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden
When I’m not thinking about plants and gardens, I make videos for NEXTpittsburgh and we recently filmed a segment at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden. I spent some time exploring their apiary with their resident beekeepers and then walked explored some of their gardens with executive director, Keith Kaiser. The most amazing thing about the Pittsburgh Botanic Gardens is that it was built on a former strip mine. The site’s history has made transforming and planting the space much more difficult. I talked to Keith about some of these challenges, which include figuring out what to do with hundreds of gallons of acidic mine runoff. You can watch my interview and tour right here:
Quick Update From the Garden
I was able to make my first dish of the season made entirely of produce grown in our garden. It was a simple roasted potato dish made with marbled masquerade potatoes, garlic and rosemary. The recipe also called for salt, pepper and olive oil which I, admittedly, had nothing to do with growing.
What have you been eating from your garden? Or have you visited any cool botanical bathrooms yourself? I’d love to hear about both or either of these things.
And one more thing: Is it just me or has everyone been talking about crevice gardens? I just saw this book last month and I then I heard lots of folks talking about crevice gardening at the symposium and just today I saw this article in the NY Times!
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