Welcome new preserve, Stoneleigh!
By Daniel Barringer, Crow’s Nest Preserve Manager.
Today was the grand opening of our newest preserve, Stoneleigh: a natural garden. This preserve stretches Natural Lands into new territory: a public garden that is also a nature preserve. I had the privilege of staffing a small portion of the garden event today. With four hours in one spot I took many more careful photos than I might have if I had been just passing through, and I enjoyed chatting with the people who were taking pleasure in their garden visit.
When I uploaded the photos to the computer this evening I compared them to photos I took on my first visit to Stoneleigh in June, 2015. Though the property is still as beautiful as it was then, the amount of work that has gone into the transition to public garden—the infrastructure of paths, lighting, and visitor amenities—as well as new, native plantings, is breathtaking.
John and Chara Haas and their five children have done something amazing by sharing their property with the public. As the monument above says, “…when you depart, may a bit of the peacefulness and beauty, which is so much a part of Stoneleigh, be with you.”
The rain during today’s opening did little to deter visitors. It also added to the beauty of the views.
As a new sister preserve, we are excited by what Stoneleigh offers visitors. It is the most accessible of Natural Lands’ preserves: it has paved paths and is our only preserve accessible by public transportation. It offers a fresh opportunity to educate and inspire homeowners about the value of growing native plants for their wildlife value. Stoneleigh is open to the public, free of charge, from Tuesday to Sunday each week between 10 am and 5 pm.
Stoneleigh offers the opportunity to showcase native plants found on our more wild and remote preserves. Staff and volunteers are already planning to propagate native plants from our 43 other preserves to showcase in the Stoneleigh gardens.
Stoneleigh is full of intimate garden spaces as well as sweeping vistas of landscapes in the English park landscape style, consistent with the Olmstead Brothers’ design here. But now the components of the landscape are increasingly native plants that support the full range of pollinators and insect herbivores that support the natural web of life.
This garden is young in its time as a public garden (a day old, as I write this). It will evolve gradually and holds great promise. It builds upon the beautiful garden spaces stewarded by the Haas family.
I would be remiss in writing this blog entry without noting that all of this landscape, all of this legacy, all of this work, is threatened by a stated intent by Lower Merion School District to take some or all of this property by eminent domain to build a baseball field, a soccer field, parking lots, and possibly a whole middle school campus. While technically legal under Pennsylvania law, this would be a tragedy for Stoneleigh and the future generations of the public who will visit. The public would be expelled from the garden in favor of only local students, parents, and administrators attending the school or sports events here. The garden itself might cease to exist.
You can find more information about the effort to save the Stoneleigh public garden at SaveStoneleigh.org.