New interpretive signs along Trail

Bridge sign

You may have noticed a number of newly installed, permanent signs along the Trail. These are the work of many people and many months in the planning and development funded under a Preserve America grant. The signs summarize interesting historical developments on the rail right-of-way that, in its current incarnation, has become our beloved Trail.

Barmouth sign

The interpretive signs feature historical information about all the major landmarks along the Trail, like the two train stations (Cynwyd and Barmouth), the Cemeteries (West Laurel Hill and Westminster), and the Manayunk Bridge as well as structures no longer in existence such as Clegg’s Cotton Mill.

The photographs, supplied from the archives of the Lower Merion Historical Society, provide fascinating historical views of this now placid and bucolic right-of-way through the center of Bala Cynwyd.

In addition to the interpretive signs, there are now striking triangular kiosks at the two Trailheads (Cynwyd Station and Rock Hill Road) that introduce the geography of the Trail to users.

Plants of the Basin at Bala Cynwyd Park

The Friends met with PHS to discuss the Plant Palette.  The following plants will be used:

Oakleaf Hydrangea
Red Twig Dogwood
Lowbush Blueberry
Dwarf Frothergilla
Goats Beard
Monarda Didyma
Rubeckia Maxima
Joe Pye Weed
Echinacea Pururea
Solidago Rugosa
Aster Novi-Belgii
Asclepias Tuberosa
Purple Muhly Grass

Design Plan of the Basin

Planting is a lot like creating a piece of art. You need to take into consideration colors,  textures, and shapes. With help and guidance from PHS, the Friends will attempt to paint the landscape of the basin. We are developing palettes of native plants, tailored for the trail based on the following guidelines.

Size & Shape – The ultimate size and shape of the plant should be suitable for the size and shape of the landscape area. For
Hardiness– Plants that require excessive maintenance or pruning to achieve their form should be avoided.
Suitability–Plants should be selected that are suitable to the climate.
Look – Plants should have an attractive form, color, or feature.

PHS has put together a presentation of the Cynwyd Plant Palette. This is a detail plan of all the suggested plants and flowers we will be added to the basin. Our next step in regards to the basin will be to take an inventory of the plants we want to keep in relation to the design, and then we can begin with the process of tagging the plants we want to keep or move to other gardens.

What is Sheet Mulching?

Sheet mulching is a very effective technique for keeping weeds down throughout the season by using natural processes. This technique is also very effective for maintaining soil fertility and cultivation. The technique is done in three steps:

1. Designate the garden bed and reestablish the border. This can be done by using a spade shovel to dig around the perimeter of the bed. Then, remove all large weeds more than six inches high or cover the entire ground with a layer of leaf compost and mix into the soil. If you don’t have access to compost, you should break up the soil with a cultivator or hoe to create a layer of aerated, healthy soil that will increase airflow and promote bugs and microbes to become active. After many seasons of laying down thick layers of wood chips to fight the weeds, many gardeners run into the problem of compacted soil. By putting compost down as the first layer, a healthy level of organic matter keeps the soil healthy and loose.

2. Lay down thick layers of cardboard or newspaper on top of the compost. Cardboard works much better for open areas of garden beds, and newspaper works well around existing clusters of plants. Make sure the cardboard or newspaper is moist with water after it is laid down to help it stay in place. The idea here is to smoother all of the weeds below by cutting off the supply to sunlight and nutrients. The cardboard and newspaper is also permeable so it lets water through to plants above the soil line and it will decompose in the soil.

3. Lay down a thick layer of wood chip mulch over the cardboard or newspaper. The idea is that, just like the carbon based layer of paper, the woodchips will not allow any weed seeds to take root and start to germinate. Due to the decomposition of the cardboard, this technique must be done every year. However, it will be effective throughout the season.

What Kind of Mulch is on the Trail?

On 4/20, the Friends decided to purchase 20 yards of  triple shredded hardwood bark mulch for the perennials at Barmouth Trailhead. This is aged, ground “bark” from hardwood trees (primarily oak). The small particle size speeds up detieration which allows quicker nutrient release into the soil.  It is screened for consistency and color usually lasts about 4-8 months.

This type of mulch retains the most moisture and is ideal for erosion control.

Plants of the Trail. Pictures Needed!

As you hike the trail, you will often see many varieties of wild flowers, plants and tree. Here are some of the native plants the Friends helped plant. We would love your help. Send pictures of these flowers to and we will post your pics on our website.

Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ (Anise hyssop) – Selected for its profusion of long lasting, deep violet blue flower spikes, that appear from July to September and fragrant foliage. Prefers average to dry locations, and is a butterfly magnet.  Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ is long flowering, heat and drought tolerant, as well as insect and disease resistant. Blue Fortune is a hybrid of species native to the US and Korea. Growing and Maintenance Tips-Full sun in average to dry soil with good drainage. Very easy to grow and drought tolerant once established. Very tolerant of most soil types, only heavy clay causes winter problems. Will tolerate light shade, but can get lanky without enough sun.

Agastache ‘Tutti Frutti’ (Hyssop) –‘Tutti Frutti’ has bright lavender pink flowers all summer. A vigorous and trouble-free grower, it is an excellent choice for the middle or back of the border. If it gets consistent moisture, it may reach 5 feet. A favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds. In containers it benefits from one or two early cut backs. A strong bloomer, it will quickly recover from a trim.  Growing and Maintenance Tips –Full sun in any soil with good drainage. Very tolerant of moisture in average garden soil. Very easy to grow and drought tolerant once established. Excellent drainage is a must for winter survival!

Amsonia hubrichtii (Threadleaf bluestar) – A graceful and long lived native plant with very fine foliage, clusters of steel blue flowers in May and June on an upright, bushy plant. Excellent golden fall color. Thrives in full sun or part shade. No insect or pest problems with these babies.Growing and Maintenance Tips – Full sun in moist, average or dry soil. Slow to grow at first, but takes off in the second year. Fall color is brightest in full sun. Use in borders, rock gardens, native gardens, cottage gardens or open woodland area. Best when massed.

Aster novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’ (New England aster) – A naturally compact form with deep purple flowers in August and September.  Eye-popping with Solidago ‘Golden Fleece’.  One of the most garden-worthy native selections out there.  ‘Purple Dome’ is a compact heavy blooming variety which displays excellent resistance to mildew. Used as a mixed border plant, and cut flowers have exceptionally long vase life. Grow in any well-drained soil. Mulch to keep shallow roots cool in summer. For a compact display of flowers, pinch back in early summer. Keep on the dry side in fall and winter. Plants need to be divided every few years, preferably in the spring, in order to keep the plant vigorous. Growing and Maintenance Tips – Grow in full sun in average to moist soil. Cut back after flowering to prevent 
the spread of variable seedlings.

Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’ (Whorled tickseed) – Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ is a dependable bloomer and all round plant. The flowers of threadleaf coreopsis are a glowing, lemon-yellow color and sit on top of tall, erect, lacey, somewhat mound forming, delicate (thread leaf) looking green foliage that has an airy appearance. The flowers are plentiful and bloom continuously throughout the entire summer. If the dead blossoms are removed, flowers will be more abundant and healthy. Truly a bright sight. Great in rock gardens and gardens with poor soil. Makes a nice cut flower. Growing and Maintenance Tips- Full sun to part shade in average to dry soils that are well drained. An extremely tolerant plant. Does well in poor rocky soils. Tolerant of humidity, heat, and dry conditions. Spreads by both rhizomes and seeds but is not obnoxiously invasive.

Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ (Purple coneflower) – The perennial Plant Association plant of the year for 1998. A tall, coarse plant with large, dark green leaves and a large, 3-4″ flower with broad hot pink to purple petals that surround a brown/bronze cone. Plants are tough and heat and drought tolerant once established. Their roots have famous medicinal qualities, they make great, long lasting, cut flowers and attract numerous butterflies and small birds. Growing and Maintenance Tips- Full sun in well drained soils. Prefers moist soils, but once established will tolerate dry soils. Does not benefit from additional fertility.

Solidago shortii ‘Solar Cascade’ (Goldenrod) – Delightful, golden-yellow flowers are borne in axillary clusters along reflexing stems from late summer into fall. Reliable, deep green, glossy foliage remains clean throughout the growing seasons. Not an aggressive runner, ‘Solar Cascade’ is a clump forming perennial reaching knee height, maxing out somewhere between the taller ‘Fireworks’ and more compact ‘Golden Fleece’. Performs best in moist to average garden soil under full sun or partial shade; extremely drought tolerant once established.  Plant en masse for a dramatic effect or incorporate into seasonal arrangements. Growing and Maintenance Tip – Flowers in axillary clusters. Not an aggressive runner. Extremely drought tolerant.