I had often heard recommendations from fellow photographers and nature enthusiasts that Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve should be on my list of must-visit places. Despite frequent visits to the northern section of New Hope on the border of Lambertville, New Jersey over the past two decades, I never prioritised a visit to the preserve located on the lower end of New Hope, near Washington Crossing. However, in July, during a period of unemployment when free time was abundant, I finally made the trip.
I had studied a map of the preserve, planning to explore its trails in the hope of encountering birds, perhaps even a warbler. Upon arrival, a staff member at the entrance inquired if I was there for the Mornings in the Meadow guided walk. Though I had not initially intended to join, I inquired if it was still possible, and to my delight, it was. But I had to remember to head to the Native Plant Nursery to pay the fee.
Our guide was Rick Anderson. Rick boasts over 13 years of experience as a Preserve naturalist, and for the past five years, he has led guided meadow walks. Furthermore, he contributes as a scout merit badge counsellor for nature, forestry, and environmental science. Rick has volunteered extensively at local schools, passionately educating students on crucial topics such as watersheds, water quality, and ecosystems.
I had brought my XF27mmF2.8 R WR, XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR lenses, but the XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR proved to be the most useful for photographing flowers such as Purple beebalm and Shrubby St. John's Wort, and butterflies such as Cabbage White and Pearl Crescent. I even got lucky with a photograph of an Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly.
Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve's meadow graces the entrance on a gently sloping hillside. Covering approximately four acres, this meadow boasts an impressive diversity of around 105 native grasses, sedge rushes, and wildflower species, meticulously categorised into two distinct habitats.
The lower portion of the meadow retains moisture, nurturing grasses, sedges, rushes, and forbs that thrive in these "wet feet" conditions. In late summer, some plants reach remarkable heights of 6 to 8 feet or more. As I strolled the meadow's trails, I immersed myself near sections of dense growth around me. The upper part of the meadow tends to be drier, hosting plants uniquely adapted to such conditions. The trees within the meadow, including red cedar, black walnut, ash, and sycamore, are all native to Pennsylvania.
Rick shared some of the history of the meadow. For decades, it had been maintained as a meticulously mown lawn. However, in the early spring of 1998, the Preserve decided to cultivate a genuine meadow by reducing mowing to just once a year, discouraging the growth of woody plants. In the eastern United States, they inevitably evolve into forests unless meadows are "maintained" by natural fires or intentional mowing.
In 1999, seedlings of native grasses that form the foundation of the meadow—such as switchgrass, Indian grass, and bluestem—were strategically planted among the non-native turf grasses, along with sedges, rushes, and wildflowers. Over time, these native grasses outcompeted and shaded out the non-native turf grasses, forming dense, choking root mats that stifled other plant life.
In their place, native, clump-forming grasses created ample space for the roots of wildflowers to thrive.
As the sun rose in the sky, I started to get hot and sweaty from walking around. Fortunately, the guided walk was ending. I said thank you to Rick. I exchanged contact information with one of the attendees, a woman who was part of a Facebook group of photographers focusing on the ecosystems near Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve. She encouraged me to submit some of my photographs to the group.
Before I left the preserve, I stopped at the Native Plant Nursery to pay the fee for the guided walk. Over 200 species of premium native plants, including perennial wildflowers, vines, ferns, shrubs, and trees, are sold throughout the growing season. However, only a limited selection of these plants during my visit. The available plants are sourced from local germplasm and cultivated without harsh chemicals. This commitment to eco-friendly practices makes these plants appealing to me. I want to enhance my local environment. By planting these types of plants, I can attract a diverse range of native pollinators and birds while adding natural beauty to my garden.
What's particularly commendable is that the proceeds from plant sales are reinvested into the preservation and propagation program. This cycle of support enables the preserve to sustain its informative and educational initiatives, furthering one of its core missions: enriching the biodiversity of the local ecosystem by introducing more native plants into gardens like mine. I bought a small pot with round-lobed Hepatica1 (Hepatica americana).
Before I left for home, two walkers exited the path near where the potted plants were kept. I asked them if they saw anything interesting on the trail, expecting them to mention some plant or flower. I was surprised when one of them said, a log cabin. I put my plants in the trunk of the Acura and walked down the path to the log cabin.
I snagged a photograph of the log cabin, but desperate to escape the exhausting heat, I went no further on the trail. I later learned that the log cabin, built in 1935 with American chestnut logs, overlooks Pidcock Creek. In January 2021, it was cleaned with plans to restore it for educational use. The Cabin-Classroom Project aims to create an outdoor classroom for education, events, and community gatherings. When the rains stop I think Bhavna would enjoy walking the trails at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve.
- Hepatica americana, commonly called round-lobed hepatica, is a native herbaceous perennial plant. Its distinctive feature is the persistence of its leaves throughout the winter season. This low-growing botanical specimen thrives within woodland environments and graces us with its blossoms during the early days of spring. ↩