Road Trip: A Return to Lehigh County

During my most recent visit to the Lehigh Valley, I was reminded just how splendid this little corner of the world is. The fact that you can drive around on random back roads and find gorgeous buildings like this is one of the reasons I love this area so much:

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This stone mill is located in Lower Macungie Township and is situated directly on the Little Lehigh Creek, which would have been a prime location when it was still in use. Some records refer to it as the Neumeyer grist mill, most likely for the builder, Conrad Nuemeyer. Other references call it Laudenslager’s Mill. It was built in 1831 and operated as a flour mill. I didn’t know any of this until after I got home and Googled the name of the road where it’s located and “stone mill.” It’s amazing what you can learn with a little curiosity, isn’t it?

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I happened to be driving by the mill as the sun was going down, and a soft, golden light streamed through the trees, casting a warm glow on the building. It was the perfect light for snapping a few pictures on my phone. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the farmhouse that also shares the property.

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At Kalmbach Memorial Park, also in Macungie, I spotted one of the two Singmaster barns in the area. This one was built sometime around 1850. The current iteration has a bright white exterior with deep green doors and trim, as well as two distinct hex signs above the second floor windows.

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The property was originally the John Singmaster farm, later purchased by Fred Kalmbach, Sr., who loved the land’s natural beauty. The barn and house are surrounded by woods, fields, gardens, and a small stream. Kalmbach was adamant about the land being used as a public park after his passing, a place for the community to gather and appreciate nature. According to the park’s website, the property hosts lots of educational and recreational programs for adults and children.

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I couldn’t help but notice how quiet and peaceful the park is. My car was the only one in the lot, so I think I had the place to myself. I took my time strolling through the gardens, down to the water, and into the woods and through the fields. I appreciated how the signs throughout the park reminded visitors that it’s a place intended for quiet reflection.

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Not much farther afield is Kospia Farms. I noticed this garden center the first time I visited, and I would have stopped if it hadn’t been pouring rain. I made a point to go back this time and wandered through the greenhouses and retail shops. The colorful sign below caught my eye—I especially love the arrow pointing towards the dog! Much to my dismay, I only spotted the dog as I was driving away. He looked like a friendly pup eager to greet his visitors!

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Get a load of these succulent planters! This might have been my favorite section of the nursery. The variety of plants and containers creates a whimsical, perfectly-imperfect look, and the longer you look at the display, the more details reveal themselves.

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Who knew cinder blocks could look so magical? I don’t know if this arrangement happened by design or as a matter of convenience, but I love the combination of the lush plants with what’s basically an unremarkable construction material. It works especially well as part of the larger display grouped with the tree stump, the Jonathan Adler-esque planter, and other containers. I’m also in love with all the prickly pear cacti!

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Later in the weekend, I went to the farmers market in downtown Emmaus followed by a trip to Funk Brewing. I passed this brick house while walking through a back alley to get to Funk. You never know what you’re going to find when you take the road less traveled, right?!

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Funk Brewing was a great spot to hang out. I went with my husband and dad, and we sampled every beer on tap AND had some of the most delicious poutine from a food tent pop-up that set up shop for the afternoon. I didn’t take pictures of the food, which is a shame, but also maybe a blessing in disguise because looking at pictures of it would make me want to eat fries smothered with cheese and gravy nonstop!

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I not-so-secretly want one of those Lehigh Valley Brewers Guild signs.

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My trip to Lehigh County was for a family visit, so all of my exploring happened by chance. It just so happens that there’s a lot to do here, and you’re never far from pretty scenery.

Create an Urban Garden in the Suburbs

I've always had a soft spot for urban gardens. I tend to think of them as secret gardens, small oases carved out of tight quarters, nestled behind iron gates or wooden fences, hidden mostly out of view of the casual passerby. One of the best parts of walking around Beacon Hill or the South End is catching glimpses of these secluded outdoor spaces that have been transformed into verdant hideaways. The same can be said of Charleston or New Orleans—those cities know how to make small green spaces feel like they're worlds away from a bustling city.

Image is my own

Image is my own

Image is my own

Image is my own

Aside from actually being in a city, urban gardens are defined by their size (usually small, or at least not sprawling), their privacy (typically enclosed by tall plants, hedges, walls, or fences), their abundant plantings (multiple containers or a mix of in-ground plantings and containers), and their focal point (or two). The concept is easy enough to recreate in a suburban setting, and it's an easy way to make a big impact on your yard's appearance with minimal upkeep. Rather than keeping up with lots of plants spread throughout the entire yard, you can concentrate your watering and pruning efforts on one dedicated area.

No matter how big your yard, you probably have a patio, deck, or grassy area where you spend time outside lounging, eating, or entertaining. This is the area to focus on if the thought of doing a full-scale, whole-yard garden installation seems overwhelming. And if you do decide to tackle the whole yard at once, the elements of the urban garden can actually be applied on a bigger scale. Here are some ideas to get started planning your small, pseudo-urban space:

Designate seating zones. Identify places for seating, whether it's lounge furniture, a dining set, or a hammock. If you have room for multiple types of seating, leave a comfortable amount of breathing room between them. Benches can be placed along the outer edges of the area, creating extra seating that won't take up a lot of room in the middle of the space. Keep it neat. If one seating zone is all you have room for, don't try to cram everything together. Overcrowding the space will make it feel cluttered instead of cozy.

Build a buffer. The idea is to create a privacy screen to make your space feel more intimate. The level of privacy you want will depend on how exposed the space is to the rest of your yard and neighbors. If you have two exterior walls that meet in a corner, your home's architecture can lend a hand in creating a natural buffer. If your space is wide open, a pergola overhead or a series of trellises will enclose the space (and offer shade). Fences and hedges are good options if you want a low wall that doesn't necessarily offer complete privacy but sets the space apart from the rest of the yard.

Cluster containers and plant border gardens. It might seem redundant to add more greenery to an area surrounded by grass or shrubs, but potting plants or adding a row of flowers along the edge of a deck or patio adds layers of color and texture, which makes the space appear leafy and lush. Treat potted plants and flowers as accent pieces, and tuck them in corners or along the borders of your space. Fruit trees and tomato plants can make great privacy screens because they grow taller than most flowers and herbs.  

Figure out a focal point. Depending on the amount of space you have to work with, this could be anything from a fire pit to a small fountain or a bird bath or bird feeder. You could also position your furniture to take advantage of a nice view.

Don't forget to decorate. Stone statues, sundials, decorative bird houses, and wind chimes are fun finishing touches that your guests can discover as they look around your space. For a soft glow in the evening, hang string lights. Large lanterns that can be set up with battery-operated candles are a slightly easier, mess-free (and fire-free) option and still provide accent lighting after the sun goes down. 

The key to successfully recreating an urban garden in your suburban space is choosing a small area of your yard to focus on and maximizing its seating potential and privacy while filling in the nooks and niches with lighting and decor. Use flowering plants in one or two hues to create a cohesive, calming atmosphere, or plant multicolored flowers to cultivate a lively, eclectic vibe. Start small to avoid overfilling the space (and overcommitting to lots of plant maintenance). It's easy to change things up from year to year with potted plants and decorative accents, so don't be afraid to try out new flower varieties and swap decor items until you find the right mix.

Think of your small suburban urban garden as an extension of your house and treat it like you would any other room—have it reflect your style, and always make it inviting.