The Cynwyd Heritage Trail is a two mile multi-use recreational trail in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, that runs from Cynwyd Station to the Manayunk Viaduct and on to Belmont Avenue along a now unused portion of Septa’s R-6 tracks.
The trail is one of the best places in Lower Merion to take a run, walk, bike or just have fun. And now it’s part of a new sustainable garden initiative.
For the past month, Landscape Designer Orsolya Lazar has been hard at work transforming the plantings in trailhead's flower beds from conventional to sustainable landscaping. Lazar, a sustainable gardener with expertise in native plants (who runs the Responsible Gardening Facebook Group) was hired by the Friends of the Cynwyd Trail to create and implement a more sustainable design.
Lazar, with the help of volunteers, is now implementing that design. “Working with what was already growing here," she told me, "I had to consider both the changes we needed to implement and what we wanted to prevent.”
One thing that needs to be prevented? The spread of invasive plants. They can be troublesome for many reasons. One practical problem?
“The flower bed was overrun with native grass that had grown over the handrails on the ramp leading down to the trail.” Lazar told me, “This made using them difficult for people in wheelchairs and others who need handrail support.”
The garden redesign, by cutting back on that native grass, should take care of that.
Lazar is enthusiastic about this project. “I look upon this garden as a gateway to the rest of the trail,” she told me. The goal? "Flower beds that are more orderly, prettier and more sustainable. When we’re done, it will still be a beautiful garden, but one that makes better use of native plants.”
The benefit of using plants native to this part of Pennsylvania? “They’ve evolved here and have adapted to local conditions,” Lazar explained.” If we choose the proper plants — ones that that match the site conditions — they will be happier and healthier.” And they’ll require less watering and won’t require sprays to thrive.
And area bees, butterflies and other insects rely on these particular plants, which means that planting them here will support local pollinators, that, in turn, support other local wildlife.
Helping natural processes along rather than imposing an artificial design on the site will result in a garden that is hardier and easier to maintain.
As Lazar put it, “I like to work with nature, not against it. By working with nature we can achieve a thriving landscape that is truly low maintenance, saves money, protects the environment and provides habitat for wildlife.”
Why impose a design at all? Why not just let everything grow naturally? “We have too many invasive plants,” Lazar explained. “They’d end up taking over everything.”
The trick is to find the right balance.
After everything is planted, Lazar will develop a management plan, then visit the site from time to time to trouble shoot.
Eventually the plantings that enhance the gateway to the Cynwyd Heritage Trail will be both easier take care of and more environmentally friendly. And the folks who use this popular Main Line recreational area will enjoy a flower bed that is both pleasing to the eye and of benefit to local pollinators and wildlife.