What’s New at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

American sycamore, Platinus occidentalis (all photos courtesy of our wonderful tenant Cynthia)

You may have noticed that Carolyn’s Shade Gardens, the blog and the plant nursery, has been unusually quiet lately.  That’s because we have been in shock.  In August, a freak storm snapped the top off of our gigantic, over 100-year-old American sycamore and sent it crashing down on our historic carriage house.  Those of you who have been here know that the carriage house is my place of business.  There is also an apartment upstairs, and my garage, where the cashier’s table normally sits at open houses, is attached to the side.

The sycamore on top of the carriage house

Four branches the size of normal trees came crashing through the roof into the two bedrooms, a storage area, and the garage while the trunk fell on the roof itself.  Thankfully no one was hurt,  and our tenant wasn’t home.


The tree cut up and removed from the roof.

We are also very thankful to Chris Lepping of Lepping Landscape & Tree Service in Collegeville, PA.  The tree fell on Sunday evening at 6 pm, and on Monday morning at 8:00 am Chris was in our driveway with a bucket truck to assess the situation. He and his crew were able to remove the tree with no further damage.  Chris said it was the most dangerous tree removal he has done in over 20 years of business.

The part of the tree that was left standing towered over the carriage house.

We are also very happy that we opted for a relatively expensive Chubb Insurance “masterpiece” homeowners policy.  A Chubb remediation team was there on Sunday night at 11:30 pm  to keep the torrential rains from flooding the building.  Chubb has worked closely with us to expedite repairs and has not questioned the expenses being incurred to fix the extensive damage.


Sadly, the tree had to come down.  It was my favorite tree on the whole property, which has some pretty amazing trees, and the only American sycamore.  All the other “sycamores” are London planetrees.


Finally, we are very thankful that my brother, Nick Walker, is a contractor with the capability to fix all the damage to our historic carriage house.  His business, Cottage Industries in Wayne, PA, specializes in renovating old homes like ours and has won the Historic Preservation Award from the Radnor (PA) Historical Society.  Nick and his crew are working hard to get Carolyn’s Shade Gardens back in business.

The trunk diameter was almost five feet.  We grow them big in the mid-Atlantic!


So what does all this mean to Carolyn’s Shade Gardens?  We are slightly behind in starting our fall season but still have a full month of events planned.  The first fall open house is this Saturday, September 22, from 10 am to 3 pm.  We intend to do a shrub offer in late September or early October.  As we have in the previous two years, we will also be offering for preorder gorgeous Winter Jewels double hellebores (for photos click here) potted earlier this summer and waiting to find a home in your garden.  To receive details of all these events you must be on my customer email list  (see below).  Now if I can just get the dumpsters out of my sales area!!!!

I hope to see you this fall,


Nursery Happenings:  The first fall open house is this Saturday, September 22, from 10 am to 3 pm.  Customers on my customer email list should have received plant lists and photos already.

If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net.  Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

Facebook:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens has a Facebook page where I post single photos, garden tips, and other information that doesn’t fit into a blog post.  You can look at my Facebook page here or click the Like button on my right sidebar here.

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.


86 Responses to “What’s New at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens”

  1. wow how devastating….I too lost a 75 year old oak… more sun iguess…but it is sad to lose a dear friend….

  2. Oh my goodness Carolyn. I am so sorry to read all this. (I had wondered why you were quiet). What a relief to you that so many competent people sprang into action to help you. I cannot imagine how upset you must be. Am thinking of you and holding thumbs all goes well with the renovations.

  3. Sorry for your loss Carolyn. I removed a 36″ silver maple this summer near my house so it wouldn’t fall on my house. But I do miss the shade it provided.

  4. Oh Carolyn! We’re surrounded by some similarly large trees here, and I always live in fear that this could happen. I am so relieved that no one was hurt. Structure can be rebuilt, but lives can’t, and how lucky you are that your brother can help you rebuild. I’m so sorry though. I now how disruptive this must be. Can any of the lumber be put to good use?

  5. This is a sad sight. The damage was bad all around with a tree of that size and age. You are quite lucky that you had the expertise of contractors and insurance agents to deal with this, plus a pretty understanding tenant.

  6. So sorry to hear of this trouble. I almost said, So sorry to hear of your loss, as I love American sycamores. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that big, though! How fortunate that you seem to have all your bases covered with contractors and insurance agents.

    • Kathy, So nice to hear from you. American sycamores are much more beautiful than London planetrees because they have very straight massive trunks with noticeably whiter bark. However, they routinely lose all their leaves to anthracnose and then have to leaf out again. I am sure that yearly effort weakened this tree although the heartwood looks healthy. Carolyn

  7. ter.hey@comcast.net Says:

    Oh Carolyn, what a disaster. I always admired that tree on your property. I am sorry to hear it is gone. Now you get to plan more gardens!!

    Terri Higgins

  8. This is so sad… I’m very sorry to hear of your loss… Larry

  9. paulinemulligan Says:

    So sad when a huge tree comes down, we have lost 2 huge Horse Chestnuts since moving here, but now the other trees in the woodland have grown and the gaps in the canopy filled in. So glad to hear that no one was hurt and that everything was taken care of so quickly.

  10. Hello Carolyn,
    So sorry to read this post, but so relieved that no one was hurt and that you had such an efficient response from the various folk involved. And in grest blogging fashion, that you recorded and were able to share it with your worldwide audience once the dust had setlled…But losing such an impressive tree would always be a huge blow. And what history and changes it would have witnessed over its lifetime. Best wishes for your new season, and choosing the planting replacements… Julian

    • Julian, You are so right—I wish I could view what that tree had witnessed over its long life span. I am always amazed at the ease with which people take down huge healthy trees that are way older then they are. To me they are, in some ways, a superior life form that should be respected unless a hazard is involved. Yes, a freak storm can snap them off, but we have lived here 30 years with dozens of huge trees surrounding us and that has never happened before. Carolyn

  11. Wow! how lucky no-one was hurt but so sad you have lost your favourite tree. My very best wishes that the repairs are completed soon so that you can continue with your life and business. Christina

  12. Jason Walker Says:

    Carolyn’s Sun Gardens ??

  13. Oh Carolyn I am saddened that your beautiful tree is gone…I had a similar storm back in 1998 and lost a prized tree that did damage but thankfully fell away from our house. It opened up a whole new garden. I am glad though that you were able to remediate all the issues with such skilled folks to help. You know I still plan a visit but it looks like it will have to wait until I retire as work is not going to slow down until I do. We have had a few freak storms this summer, but the bad storms went around us so we were lucky. I will be blogging about my trees in the near future as we are slated to lose almost all of them.

  14. How sad to see such a beauty come crashing down! We were up the Blue Mountains (Australia) last week visiting a friend when strong winds brought a huge gum tree down across the power lines and blocking the only access road in. Nature can be such a powerful thing!
    I can well imagine your sadness at losing such an old tree – a true senior citizen and to think I got upset when my 2 yr old Persian Silk Tree had to be removed during the week due to invasive roots. Seeing your disaster puts it all into perspective!
    Good Luck with getting everything back to normal!

  15. That is one giant tree! I’m so glad no one was injured. I can only imagine how emotional this is for you, though. I think most people (gardeners in particular, of course) have an emotional tie to their trees, and this one was a true beauty. I am glad to hear your insurance is working well with you. I hope you soon have your carriage house back to its original state. I had wondered where you were.

  16. Ben Hayward Says:


    What a sad and scary occurance. We are surrounded by huge Tulip Poplars — probably 40 — on 1.5 acres. We lost one 125-foot monster a few years ago. Damaged other trees and shrubs, but not our house. The positive is we have a new opened-up garden, but the negative is we are spooked every time we get one of these no-longer-so-“freaky” storms. Last Sept when the hurricane blew through, we actually checked in to a hotel for 36 hours to avoid the possibility of one coming down on our heads — which thankfully none did.

    Good luck on your rebuild.

    Ben Hayward

  17. I was so sorry to hear about the loss of your sycamore tree and the damage to your carriage house. Thank goodness no one was hurt and you have such great support to see you through this! See you soon.

  18. Glad no one was hurt when the tree fell. Had no idea of the difference between American sycamore and London planetree. For the past month we’ve been monitoring a sycamore on our neighbor’s side of our fence as it becomes increasingly brown (dying or perhaps a fungus, doesn’t really seem like fall color changes). It’s not massive at all compared to yours but would do damage if it fell. Now I’ll have to figure out which kind it is. Best of luck getting back to normal.

  19. That was an impressive tree, and given its size, it looks like things could have been worse. I am really glad all is well, or at least getting better.

  20. Carolyn, my heart goes out to you! I am so glad no one was injured! Having lived through a tornado that caused extensive damage to our home and property, I can appreciate the trauma and loss you have endured. You will miss that old stately Sycamore, but I bet you will take the opportunity to make things even better.

  21. So sorry to hear about the loss of the Sycamore, and the damage to the carriage house. That would be shocking and devastating! I’m glad you and your tenant weren’t injured, though. Take care!

    • PP, Luckily I was in Maine at the time so it wasn’t as traumatic as it was for my poor husband because I couldn’t see it. He called me right after it happened almost speechless. Of course, not seeing it, I was saying where’s Cynthia (our tenant, not home), is the building leaking in the downpour (yes), did you call the insurance company, get Chris Lepping immediately, etc. He was still staring in horror. Carolyn

  22. Pauline Quinlan Says:

    Carolyn, seeing the pictures of your home shows just how extensive the damge has been, wow! I’ve looked at all the inspiring pictures on your blog, your home and gardens are beautiful. I’m so sorry you have to deal with losing your tree, and now the rebuilding. At least no one was injured. Whatever you decide to do in the space left behind, it will be beautiful. I’m glad to hear you have the right people getting you back into operating condition. Thinking of you. Pauline Quinlan

    • Pauline, I am honored that you actually set aside time to read my blog. As of a few days ago there is a very substantial stone wall in place to hold the soil on the hillside. A planting behind it will be very pretty. So fun to spend time with you and Alan. Carolyn

      • Pauline Quinlan Says:

        It’s been fun and inspiring looking at your gardens! I’m going to give it a go and see if I can grow something pretty. It was wonderful to see you and Mike.

  23. Carolyn, and here am I arranging to have a Sycamore in our small woodland area removed as its causing too much shade. So sorry to hear of your major incident yet relieved no one was injured. Just as well you are made of strong stuff.

    • Alistair, Not to get into details, but something terrible/unimaginable happened recently to some very good friends of ours and it really put things into perspective for us. This is just a major inconvenience which will be gotten through step by step. But it is a gardening misadventure and the photos are pretty dramatic. Carolyn

  24. Carolyn, what a tragedy. I know the pictures couldn’t possibly do the tree or the damage justice, but they are amazing nonetheless. How wonderful that no one was injured and you were able to organize repairs immediately. I know it would be decades for a new tree to achieve maturity, but do you have any plans to replace this, since it was the only one this species that you have?

    • Cathy, I wouldn’t replace this tree with another American sycamore since they are so prone to anthracnose. I will have to give the replacement a lot of thought. Carolyn

      • cathywieder Says:

        Carolyn, If you don’t have one already (and you may well have several!), you might want to think about a tuliptree.

        We have had three sprout on our property (long story for an upcoming blog post!). We sought guidance from the Eastern Native Tree Society and the two largest trees will be moved from the perennial beds where they sprouted to more suitable locations on our property this November.

        Attributes that might make it very attractive include fast growth (4-6 feet per year), very hard wood and perfectly straight trunks, interesting, unusual foliage, and large yellow tulip-like blooms (beginning at age 10) in the spring.


      • Cathy, I have two very large tulip poplars on my property—as big as the sycamore that came down but less branches. I think they are a great tree. They are in the magnolia family and have lovely orange and green flowers. Probably the prettiest magnolia flower but too high up to see. Carolyn

  25. I hope everything gets back to normal soon, shame about the tree it looks like it was pretty big.

  26. Oh, how sad! We lost a large white oak in our yard a couple years ago which we fought so hard to save, but it might have been dwarfed next to that giant sycamore. That is one of the most impressive trunks I’ve ever seen. I’m so sorry for your loss! I’m glad no one was hurt!

  27. Oh NO!!! How terrible. Glad no one was hurt, but what a sad thing to happen. Sending love on angel wings.

  28. Carolyn: I am so sorry for the loss of such an amazing tree. I am also so grateful that no one was hurt. Not surprising that you rallied so quickly!!! Anything I can do, let me know.

  29. I am so sorry, Carolyn. We’ve lost trees here, but not one so important. Just glad no one was hurt. Duane and I send our best wishes. P x

  30. That is one huge tree and it is terrible it fell-even worse it fell on your carriage house! Sounds like everything is going well so that is the shining star in the whole situation. Kudos to all involved in safely removing and mitigating the damage.

  31. I wish you the best. You seem to be handling this set back very well. It is necessary to have strong support and it sounds like you have the very best help available. I’m so happy you can repair your lovely carriage house and property. – http://mary-goingnative.blogspot.com/

  32. Hi Carolyn, So glad everyone was safe!

  33. Carolyn, it is a blessing that no one in your family was hurt, but it is wrenching to lose such a beautiful, historical tree. I hope your carriage house, business schedule, and peace of mind are restored soon.

    • DJ, Peace of mind is slightly disturbed. We had another severe storm here two days ago, and I did not face it with my usual equanimity. Once something like this happens, it becomes more of a possibility for the future, and we are surrounded by giant trees. Carolyn

  34. I hate it when that happens, so sad, and you will miss it for a long time. I still feel grief for an ancient oak we lost a while back–it seems like I can see its missing silhouette in the sky. Your tree was kind to not hurt anyone, and I’m pleased your resources are coming together to make everything right again very soon!

    • Linnie, It is so weird that you should mention that because I too see silhouettes or maybe holes in the sky where large old trees have been removed. There was a giant sugar maple down the street that I always admired every fall that was removed about fifteen years ago, but I still “see” its space and think about it. Carolyn

  35. What a complete and utter tragedy to behold. I can’t imagine how hard this is to process especially having to continually see the damage as the removal was taking place. But i definitely see you are keeping things in perspective and I’m sure the community of bloggers will help you as the next year unfurls

  36. Hi Carolyn – I haven’t been blogging for a while and just read this sad news. At least you seem to be counting your blessings and seeing the positive side, I’m sure you’ll be up and running in no time.

  37. What a horrible loss but I’m glad no one was hurt! So thankful you’ve found the people you need to help you with the repairs.

    I have a hosta question – I’ve posted about a very tiny hosta given to me by a friend. It has a big white/purple flower that is larger than the leaves. Could you pop over to my blog to see if you know the name of it? The post is called Everything That’s Right. It came from Andre Viette’s nursery in VA.

  38. oh my goodness, so sorry to hear this news, that must have been incredibly traumatic. So glad everyone is okay. When I lived on the west coast with all those huge fir trees it was always a fear of mine in a storm that one would come down on the house. Your tree was massive! I didn’t really realize until I saw the photo of the man standing next to the stump just how big it was.

  39. I just read this post and was a little in shock too as your story unfolded, not what I expected to read at all of course. Sorry to hear about this but happy nobody was hurt. I have a huge pine tree in the neighbor’s yard that I worry about at times…ugh. I see you have a lot of love in bloggersphere.


  40. What a silver lining for you, pshew! But it is really sad even though the pictures here to see such a magnificent tree have to go! How huge!

  41. Carolyn, I am SO sorry to hear about the storm and your carriage house. So glad no one was hurt–but how terrible to lose such a magnificent tree. I’m highly sentimental about trees, and yours looked like a beauty. Thank goodness for great insurance and an excellent contractor in the family! Wishing you peace and an excellent fall season.

  42. Lucky escape by all accounts and I’m very happy that the damage was only structural and not bodily. Good thing you’re insured and you have good people there to help you. I’m sure you won’t let it be too much of a setback.

    Before your setback, I enjoyed your feature on colour annuals for shade. You made some great selections and just go to show that you don’t need to have a bright sunny spot to make a beautiful garden and home.

    Looking at your home from the pictures, I’m very envious of the beautiful location you find yourself in there. Surrounded by all those trees, I think it’s wonderful, and I’m jealous enough for you simply having no neighbours. As I’m writing this, I have to listen to the most frightful nasty pop I’ve ever heard at full volume; can I come and live there, please?

    Yes, people like me like to torture ourselves looking at others idyllic lives and the beauty they surround themselves with, and furthermore enhance it with your own ideas and creativity. I only hope one day I find myself in a beautiful home surrounded by trees and in a shady spot too. Love your posts and despite my jealousy, I enjoy it very much.

    Glad none of you had come to any harm, and I’m sure you will go forward.

  43. Carolyn, I am so sorry to hear what happened, I am so behind in reading blogs that I did not know about the tree fallen on your property. From the photos it had to be really scary and is luck nobody was hurt, but it is a pity to lose a 100 years old tree and have damage in you carriage house. I hope that by now everything is already repaired and you are back to normal, it is great to have professionals to rely on when situations like this happens.

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