Aronimink’s little garden makes big impact

Despite its small size, a Pennsylvania club’s tennis center garden packs a punch with pollinators — and members.


Garden at Aronimik Golf Club's Tennis Center
Players at Aronimink Golf Club's Tennis Center are greeted by a colorful view of the pollinator garden along the walkway that leads to the courts.Photos courtesy of Julie Morse

Julie Morse has one morsel of advice for anyone thinking about committing to the installation of a new pollinator garden on their property.

“I think I’d just say, ‘Think about planting on a small scale and working your way up,’” says Morse, garden manager at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa. “Everybody knows what they’re capable of from an operations standpoint, so start small. Even small areas can have a big impact.”

Case in point: the garden area near the Aronimink GC’s tennis center. It’s roughly 1,000 square feet, but its reach is much larger.

“It’s an area we’ve been enhancing over the years,” she says. “It’s a good example for other golf courses and tennis centers for what you can do to incorporate more sustainable landscaping that’s beneficial for wildlife. It’s a small area, but the members really enjoy it. They ask a lot of questions about it.”

Those questions come fast and furious when Aronimink stages its summer kids camp. A Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary since 2015, Aronimink GC uses the tennis center garden as a learning lab during camps, which typically attract 30 to 40 elementary school-aged youngsters. 

“We do allow some milkweed to grow in that area,” Morse says. “Of course, that’s the primary source of food for monarch butterflies. We have kids looking for eggs and caterpillars under the leaves. Hopefully we’ll have a monarch fly overhead that we can point out. We do a whole presentation down there, where we talk about the lifecycle of the monarch, why they need habitat.”

Garden at Aronimik Golf Club's Tennis Center
A closer look at Aronimink's pollinator garden, which draws bees and monarch butterflies to native perennials and grasses.

It’s not merely a monarch playground. Bees and bumblebees and other pollinators also abound, drawn by what are primarily native perennials and grasses. Among Aronimink’s most successful species: Agastache “Blue Fortune,” Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed), Eutrochium “Baby Joe,” Nepeta “Walker’s Low,” Pycnanthemum muticum, Rudbeckia laciniata and Solidago “Fireworks.”

“It’s a good idea to experiment with different plants,” says Morse, who works at Aronimink with superintendent John Gosselin, a 37-year GCSAA member. “There are so many resources for finding the best native plants for your conditions, whether that’s consulting with local nurseries that grow native plants or doing your research online. The information is plentiful. But my main message is, start small so it’s not too overwhelming. The information is out there. Nowadays, there are even organizations that have volunteers who come out and plant for you. That’s the case in a nearby town, where there’s a ‘green team’ that provides plants free of charge and will even do the planting for organizations. The only commitment is that they have to water and weed.”

Speaking of which, Morse selects plants to be low-maintenance and plants them accordingly. The tennis center garden is not a resource hog. Morse has a staff of two gardeners who help with the upkeep, and she says Gosselin can lend a few extra hands when needed.

“But, basically, the upkeep is a little bit of mulching in the spring,” she says. “We also cut back the perennials as late as possible. A lot of that winter debris serves as shelter for insects. It’s actually very manageable overall. With a lot of plants being native, they’re very drought-tolerant. It’s rare we have to go down there with a hose. Actually, we’ve never had to do that. If anything, if we plant something this time of year, it takes a few cans of water each week. Other than that, it takes care of itself.

“The other thing is, because we plant in massing, we plant things pretty close together. That way, when things do fill out, it does create a little more of a preventative approach to weed control. I’ll probably go in maybe a couple of times, two to three times a summer, just to hand-pull a few weeds here and there.”

Though the tennis center garden area is one of the smallest Morse oversees, she’s especially fond of it.

“It’s one of my favorite garden areas at Aronimink,” she says, “especially the first part of the day. The lighting is so beautiful. It’s an area I like to showcase when I do garden tours with the members. Some of them don’t even know it’s there. It’s over at the tennis center. If you’re not a tennis member, you might not even know it exists.”

Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s senior managing editor.