Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability at Daylesford Abbey

In response to the Abbey’s mission as a Vatican II community and the call to action from Pope Francis and Laudato Si, Daylesford Abbey seeks to nurture the relationship between people and planet: our Common Home, our Mother Earth.

Daylesford Abbey is located on over 80 acres of Chester Country countryside. Initially used for agricultural purposes and as a gentlemen’s farm, the land has slowly changed over the past 60 years. Some of the agricultural land has become forest, while the Abbey also sold off a portion of the land, which was eventually developed for homes.

Looking to the future, Daylesford Abbey is seeking to consciously steward the land on which we are located, renewing the connection between our community and creation.

Many of our guests enjoy the beautiful grounds on which the Abbey is housed. There are many finely landscaped gardens and property features. Yet the Abbey grounds extend out to include the woodlands, fields, creeks, and a pond.

Near the main entrance, the Stations of the Cross in the Woods takes pilgrims on a journey through a contemplative path through the “entrance” to the largest area of woodland on the property, filled with American Beech, Ash, Oaks, White Pines, Pitch Pines, Shagbark Hickory, Dogwood, Sugar Maples, and Red Maples. The Fox Hollow trail offers a paved path along the front half of the Abbey property and allows for walking the perimeter of this densely wooded area. The Abbey has nearly 55 acres of forest in total.

Crum Creek Watershed

Crum Creek Watershed

A watershed of the Crum Creek runs along the far end of the manicured Abbey grounds, just past the Norbertine Memorial (by the large Abbey bells in front of the church). There are two main creeks running through the property as parts of this watershed. The second creek is found running behind the Chapel of the Baptist and Springhouse Pond. The Chapel, formerly a springhouse for perishable goods, has an active spring running through it. The pond is a home to ducks, geese, frogs, snapping turtles, and box turtles. A blue heron is often spotted making visits. The heron can also be seen staking out the fish in the small water feature in the Heil Garden or along the creek.

Serpentine Bedrock

Near the southern end of the property (most prominently to the right and to the left of the Hill of the Cross), there is evidence of a Serpentine Community. Serpentine Bedrock has a greenish glow and underlies most of the Daylesford Abbey woodland. These rocks are unusually high in metals and limit the ability for plants to grow. Historically, areas over serpentine supported grasslands which host a suite of plants and animals communities found nowhere else on Earth. Fire suppression has allowed trees to grow in areas they were excluded from, and the sun-dependent grasslands have dramatically declined over the last 100 years.

There is work to be done on the grounds though, as there are both invasive and non-native plants which need to be removed and/or moved. These invasive plants threaten the delicate balance of the ecosystems centering around the serpentine communities. This is the next level of stewardship that we hope to work towards.

Around the edges of the Abbey’s landscaping are abundant thickets of Japanese Wineberry canes. Similar to raspberries, wineberries (also known as dewberries) are a bit smaller. They are sweet with a bit of tartness. They are ideal to pick when they have ripened to a dark red (like wine), yet the trick is getting to them in this state before birds, deer, or other wildlife have found them.

In the Guardian Angel Garden, there are two large fig trees. One is a traditional Italian Fig, turning dark purple when ripe, while the other is a Yellow Fig variety which stays green, even when ripe. They have been producing abundantly the past few years. On the north end of the property, along the Fox Hollow Trail, we planted a small orchard in 2022 with different varieties of apples, pears, peaches, and elderberries. In the fall of 2023, Fr. Carl began planting saplings on the property. 

   

Within the Abbey, we are also striving for sustainability. Conference rooms, used by programs and retreats, are all equipped with sinks with water filters to encourage our guests to refill their drinking containers as opposed to using plastic bottles. The guest floors of the retreat center have motion-activated hallway lighting to limit unnecessary use of electricity. We recently built a three-bin composting system by repurposing wood pallets in preparation for our kitchen staff to begin composting of food scraps.

 

Our prayer is that we will continue to grow in ways that can help us to connect with and heal with our planet.

Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability at Daylesford Abbey

Fox Hollow Trail Boardwalk (south end)

Fox Hollow Trail (north end)

“The Tree of Life”

Footbridge to the Hill of the Cross

The Hill of the Cross

Pitch Pine: a hallmark of the serpentine grasslands in SE PA and another species that evidences the former presence of serpentine grassland habitat on site. Pitch Pine is unique in its adaptation to fire, having serotinous cones that only release seeds after exposed to heat from fire, and epicormic branches that sprout from the trunk – unlike any other pine in PA. Detail of the unique epicormic branches that distinguish Pitch Pine – a tree associated with serpentine grassland habitats in SE PA.

Post Oak: A very uncommon tree in Pennsylvania where it is at the northern edge of its range and on the PA Natural Heritage Program’s Watch List. Its presence on site is likely associated with the serpentine bedrock that underlies the property and evidences a history of fire on the site. This species is predicted to have moderate climate resiliency and more could be planted on site. This and the Pitch Pine we saw are the two ‘Serpentine Trees’ found on site.

Shagbark Hickory: Not only is this species a great native hardwood that’s well adapted for the site, and predicted to do well under climate change predictions, but it’s nuts provide high-quality forage for wildlife AND it’s unique, shagging bark (especially on older specimens) provides great roosting habitat for several bat species (which are indicators of habitat quality and keep insect populations in check).

Chapel of St. John the Baptist (Springhouse)

Springhouse Pond

Fr. Carl’s Tree Planting Project