Green Thumbs: Meet The Hill’s Landscaping Committee

Neal Pratt grew up on a 500-acre farm near Media, spending much of his free time taking care of the animals and the land. As an adult, Pratt served as a medical school professor, a role that moved him and his family around the country throughout his career. Regardless of his location, there was one thing that Pratt remained passionate about: gardening.

Ann Kent raised her kids in Summit, New Jersey, and always wanted to have a garden but didn’t know where to start. She decided to join a local Black Thumb Garden Club where members enjoyed monthly lectures from members of the Summit Garden Club in order to improve their own skills. As a result, Kent became a skilled amateur gardener.

Patty Conn started gardening as soon as her kids left for college, joining the Hardy Plant Society to improve her skills. Conn became a member of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), attending many different lectures and reading books to help her learn more about various plants and gardening. When she retired from teaching, she used the opportunity to become a Master Gardener, which is an accredited national program that focuses on the science and art of gardening.

Friends of the Landscaping Committee planting bulbs on the property. From the right: Minturn Wright, Cantor Eagleson, Patty Conn, Tina Krause, Tom Schoonmaker, and Cimmie Williams. (Photo by Ann Kent)

When all three eventually moved to The Hill, it was a no-brainer that they would serve on the Landscaping Committee. In fact, Conn was one of the original members of the committee, having been one of the first residents to move to The Hill after its grand opening in 2007, and became the Chair of the committee soon after.

“The first garden was near the cafe and around the corner, near the main building,” Conn recalls. “We had received a plan from a consultant and another resident and I planted all the flowers. It was a very hands-on operation back then!”

“The committee actually has a very big job,” says Pratt. “We’re responsible for setting rules and regulations for the private gardens for residents, as well as tending to and planning the public space across the entire property.”

“We’re very protective of views and sightlines for residents,” explains Kent. “If any plans for private gardens get turned down it’s usually because of sightline issues.”

Conn hops in to add that the committee is incredibly thoughtful about every plant and flower on the property. And for good reason; The Hill is surrounded by 96 acres of farmland, and sits adjacent to the 14-acre Dixon Meadow Preserve. The spectacular view and natural surroundings are a big draw for many residents, and the Landscaping Committee takes their commitment to maintaining and enhancing the aesthetics of The Hill seriously.

Although the Landscaping Committee at The Hill at Whitemarsh has been operational for nearly 13 years, they decided to draft a new mission statement for 2020 because the new year brought new development at The Hill. The new Hawk Ridge neighborhood broke ground in 2019 and trees were removed from the property as a result.

“The Shade Tree Commission of Whitemarsh Township requires that the total caliper (diameter) inches of the healthy trees removed during construction must be replaced; for example, one ten-inch tree could be replaced by ten one-inch trees or five two-inch trees,” Kent says. “As a result, 82 trees are being planted on the berm, and we’ll be installing a walking path that runs through it. We will also place benches around there so that people can sit in the shade of the new trees and enjoy the view.”

Because of the sheer scope of this new undertaking, The Hill has hired an experienced horticulturalist to execute on these new plans.

“He’s wonderful and not afraid to get his hands dirty,” says Pratt. “He understands plant disease and sees things that we haven’t been able to see.”

“The spotted lanternfly is still expected to be a problem this year,” adds Conn. “And having professional help this year should be a real boon to our trees.”

In addition to bringing on a professional horticulturist, the Landscaping Committee has also connected with Paul Meyer, who served as the Executive Director of Morris Arboretum for over 40 years. Meyer retired from his position at the Arboretum a little over a year ago but is lending his expertise to The Hill by heading up a subcommittee that will review the master plan for the completed property.

Patty Conn gets her hands dirty planting flowers. (Photo by Ann Kent)

“He’s giving us strategic advice about how to achieve the committee’s goals, helping us think about the practicality of all of our ideas, and working with us to figure out how to implement the parts of the plan we want to move forward with,” says Conn.

There are many big ideas that the committee would like to see come to fruition, including a community vegetable garden.

“The environment is very important to all of us here at The Hill,” says Pratt. “And our committee is dedicated to protecting it and maintaining it, whatever it takes.”