First year of the Native Plant Garden (2010):
The Farmscape Ecology Program moved into the Creekhouse in the summer of 2010. During that first season, we documented the status quo of the overgrown garden.
With the help of landscaper Ruth Dufault (Bittersweet Gardens), we delineated preliminary management units
and then conducted a plant inventory in each of the units to serve as a baseline.
Later in the season, Ruth Dufault offered a series of workshops at the Creekhouse to demonstrate the first steps in designing the native plant garden. We shared the baseline plant species inventory with the participants and discussed, which plants were chosen to be removed and which ones we were hoping to encourage to stay, and why. We also discussed the different management zones and the site factors which determine tentative plans for their design.
Judy Sullivan, who, at that time, worked in the native plant nursery of Project Native, brought a selection of potted native plants to introduce to the workshop participants.
We decided to begin the actual garden work in the "Roadside Garden", which was then a very overgrown former perennial bed.
At that time, most of its vegetation was composed of non-native ornamentals (e.g., peonies and daffodils) and roadside weeds (including a variety of European pasture grasses, clovers, Chickory, Wild Carrot). Interspersed were some native plants we deemed worth saving, including some patches of Common Milkweed and a lot of dispersed plants of White Beardtongue and Brown-eyed Susan. We transplanted the peonies and daffodils into other gardens, weeded out the coarse material we did not want to keep, and then Ruth and her crew shaped the bed, creating different microhabitats. Some pockets of deep topsoil were created to support a patch of moisture-loving plants, other areas were left in compacted clay to favour dry-tolerant plants. Once the rough shaping of the bed had been completed, the remaining non-native vegetation was smothered with a thick layer of moistened newspapers which were covered and weighed down by a generous application of bark mulch. We tried to save the milkweed patches by weeding around their base and then applying the newspaper to avoid regrowth. We tried to do the same with the White Beardtongue, but that approach proved way too laborious, and we decided to transplant the beardtongue plants, which they tolerated very well.
Later in the season, more plants were added and the bed sculpted with rocks.
The last session of the workshop that year included an excursion to a nearby wet meadow to collect seeds from wild natives for propagation in our nursery.
The seeds were planted in little pots to be left outside and go through the winter months exposed to the natural weather conditions.
That same fall, the area of the future rain garden was excavated with the help of a tractor.
Second year of the Native Plant Garden (2011):
Early in the second year, the excavated area for the Rain Garden was filled with topsoil, shaped and planted with some purchased plants.
A few weeks later, in late June, the plants had begun to grow and fill in.
By September, the first flowers appeared in the Raingarden on plants that had been planted four month earlier. Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) had the largest amount of blossoms during that first season.
By October, wild-growing Asters (mostly Symphyotrichum lateriflorum and S. lanceolata) added their floral display.
The Roadside Garden got a headstart in 2011, because of the many plants that had already been put in during the preceeding year. In 2011, we kept adding plants, mostly small ones that had grown from last year's seeds in our nursery.
By mid-summer, Wild Bergamot or Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) put on a show of lavender and was eagerly visited by many nectar-eating insects.
In late summer, the color palette in the Roadside Garden shifted to mostly yellow (Goldenrods, Solidago spp., and Brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba), mixed with pink (Joe-Pye-Weed, Eutrochium fistulosum, and Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata) and blue (Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica).
And the long-flowering Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), which had begun flowering in June, continued to add its white flowers to the mix.
Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) and wild-growing Asters (mostly Symphyotrichum lateriflorum and S. lanceolatum) provided color deep into October.
By December 2011, most of the plants in the Roadside Garden had gone to sleep, but their dried stalks and seedheads provided visual interest, structure and, we hope, food for wildlife during the winter months.
By mid summer 2011, we were ready to tackle another management unit, the future Shade Garden. Located under a Honeylocust tree, we had discovered an area that seemed to have served in the past as a sandbox and later as a perennial bed. By the time we moved into the Creekhouse, it had just become part of the meadow extending down the hill into the orchard.
In August 2011, we dug up the future Shadegarden bed, removed the grass sod as much as possible and covered the entire area with soaked newsprint, which was weighted down with bark mulch. This was our way to discourage the regrowth of grasses from root fragments. By October, it was ready to be planted with native woodland species (mostly sedges and ferns, but also Spikenard, Aralia racemosa, and Early Meadow-rue, Thalictrum dioicum) purchased in pots from Project Native. A few weeks later, we added Blue Woodaster (Symphyotricum cordifolium), Wild Ginger (Asarum canadensis), and Striped Cream Violet (Viola striata), which were donated by Ruth Dufault and transplanted from her garden.
In fall of 2011, we also discovered a set of beautiful rocks that had been hidden in the orchard meadow. They were freed of vegetation and small perennial beds were dug around them to become the future home of rock-loving plants, such as Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and Carolina Pink (Silene carolinensis).
Finally, during the summer of 2011, we also prepared two deep beds in front of the house (basically dug into the parking lot) and in the fall, planted three Shadbush (Amelanchier laevis and A. canadensis).
During 2011, we allowed the orchard meadow to grow without mowing it, to see which native plants might show up spontaneously. Some old-field Goldenrods (Solidago canadensis and S. rugosa) showed up, but most flowering plants in the meadow were the non-native Chickory (Cichorium intybus), Queen-Ann's-Lace (Daucus carota), and Brown Knapweed (Centaurea jacea). The decision was made that in the coming year, we would attempt some enrichment planting into the established meadow.
Third year of the Native Plant Garden (2012):
In the third spring, the Roadside Garden greeted us with yellow blossoms of Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea), red-and-yellow Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), pink Wild Pink (Silene carolinense), and greyish Pussy-toes (Antennaria neglecta).
After a spring weeding, we pretty much left the Roadside Garden to develop on its own, not adding any more plants and just seeing how the established plants would get along. They did so splendidly and by early summer, the pink flower heads of Joe-Pye-Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum) were towering over the yellow flowers of Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba), the orange flowers of Turk's Cap Lily (Lilium superbum) and various other perennials who yet needed to come into bloom. The ground cover of Wild Strawberry (Fragraria virginica) was by now well established and helped keeping non-native weeds at bay.
The summer of 2012 was the year to begin enrichment planting in our future Wildflower Meadow. We transplanted Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Beebalm (Penstemon digitalis), and Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) from the Roadside Garden.
We also planted seedlings of New England Aster (Symphyotrichum noveboracensis) and Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) which had been raised from seeds in our little native plant nursery right here at the Creekhouse. We removed the sod from an approx. two feet diameter area, replaced it with topsoil, planted the transplants or seedlings, covered the surrounding area with moistened newsprint, and covered it all up with bark mulch. This gave the new plants "breeding" space and avoided them being smothered by the surrounding meadow vegetation.
By fall that year, the Wildflower Meadow had taken on its future character, not as a perennial bed but a meadow matrix (composed still largely of European grasses, clovers and other plants typical of our hayfield and pastures) enriched with patches of native wildflowers, both planted and spared during occasional bouts of weeding aimed at the invasive Brown Knapweed, as well as the fast-growing Common Bedstraw, which quickly tried to fill whatever gaps in the sod we created during planting.
In 2012, the Rain Garden was pretty much left to develop as it saw fit, after a spring weeding to reduce the number of Dandelions, Plantain, Dock, and non-native grasses who tried to get a foothold between the native plants. In June, the white flowers of Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) and Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) dominated this garden area.
A month later, white lingers in the flowers of Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum), but is joined by the red of Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and the pinks of Showy Tick-Trefoil (Desmodium canadense) and Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incana).
The West Hill is slowly, slowly being cleared of invasive shrubs. We started cutting back Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) the year before, but only now are getting serious about digging up the roots of Multiflora Rose, Morrow's Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii), and Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica).
Fourth year of the Native Plant Garden (2013):
That spring we were treated to the gorgeous blue flowers of Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica) under an apple tree in our Wildflower Meadow.
The Shadbushes (the one pictured is Amelanchier laevis) also enjoyed us with a lush display of early spring flowers.
The Shade Garden got weeded in spring and then again some time in mid summer, to remove non-native plants. No new plants were planted, but we tolerated the spreading Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), Striped Cream Violets (Viola striata), Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadense) and Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) to cover more and more ground. Our goal is to eventually get away from the need for mulch, but to have a dense ground cover of native plants, instead.
Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadense) has established itself beautifully in various spots in the garden and around the house. We are continuously surprised how lush it is growing compared to its wild-growing siblings in the woods. Could it be that we transplanted a slightly modified variety into our garden or are they just displaying a symptom which our native plant gardener friend Judy Sullivan describes as "natives on steroids"? It is a well-known fact that many native plants grow much lusher in the deep and fertile garden soils than in their wild habitats.
By mid summer 2013, we finally had made enough headway on the invasives in the West Hill area to begin transplanting natives from other parts of the garden and seedlings from our nursery. We employed pretty much the same technique we were using the year before to get the Wildflower Meadow started.
The Rain Garden was pretty much in a condition which we liked, so after a spring weeding to remove non-natives, we again let it just grow the way it wanted. By mid summer, we had a colorful display of Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba), Cardinalflower (Lobelia cardinalis), Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), Rough-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago patula), and Turtlehead (Chelone glabra), plus many more species not discernible in this picture.
Similarly, we left the Roadside Garden to "flourish" pretty much on its own, after a throrough spring weeding had removed most non-natives. In late summer, it was dominated by hues of yellow from the Goldenrods (Solidago canadensis and S. speciosa; the latter not pictured), Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba), and Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa; not pictured).
By fall, the long-blooming Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba), was joined by the blue flowers of New England Aster and Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum novaeangliae and S. cordifolium; the latter not pictured), the white flowers of Calico and Panicled Asters (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum and S. lanceolatum), the pink inflorescenses of Joe-Pye-Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum), and the red fall foilage of Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus virginicus).
On the West Hill, the removal of invasives over the last few years, combined with some enrichment planting throughout the summer of 2013, resulted in a spectacular fall array of native asters.
As every fall since 2010, a group of students from the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School spent their Michaelmas Workday in the Native Plant Garden, collecting seeds and planting them in our little native plant nursery. This ensured a new generation of native plant seedlings to further enrich the Native Plant Garden, making it ever more alive and colorful, a source of joy for people, and a home for insects, birds, and many other creatures.
We would like to thank the following groups and individuals for hands-on help since 2010 in the Native Plant Garden: Ruth Dufault and her crew from Bittersweet Gardens; the participants in the 2010 "Gardening with Native Plants" workshop; the FEP summer interns Amanda Beloit, Lauren McDonald, Kyle Bradford, Anna Fialkof, Kate Foley, and Ben Derr; the students from Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School who have helped every year during work days and practica; the grounds crew at Hawthorne Valley, especially Gary Ocean and Nate Loomis, who have provided topsoil, bark mulch, tractor help, and mowing services over the years; as well as Georg Freese, Ken Kilb, Sebastian Knab, Sheila Rorke, and Otter Vispo, who have volunteered many hours.
We are also very grateful to Wendy Carroll, Ruth Dufault, Linda Horn, David Lewis, John Piwowarski, Cindy Puccio, Judy Sullivan, and the Nature Institute for donations of plants and/or seeds from their gardens and to Project Native for the discount granted on our purchases in their native plant nursery.
Our apologies for any inadvertent omissions... Please do remind us of anybody else who has contributed and we'll happily include their names.