Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Mending a Landscape
It is really spring. It has been raining for days. The soil is drenched. The heavy coat of leaves on the gardens is already disappearing, munched away by worms, centipedes, beetles. Some of the early grasses are already flowering.
The perennials we have in our gardens here are, at most, in their third spring. And things are bigger and stronger than they were last year and the year before. It is astounding really. Not too long ago this was a pesticide-drenched 'landscape'...
The lesson so far this year is how the native perennials are creating the landscape in ways that are beyond my control. Not that they are 'out of control', but that they have habits and capacities that let them thrive here. They establish themselves slowly, and they dig in deep. Above is the new edge of what is becoming a stand of Common Milkweed (Asclecpias syriaca). The new edge is what used to be part of the lawn, about four feet from where I planted the seedlings three years ago. They are flourishing in a way that proves the land here is getting better.
Below is the new woodland bed beneath the Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). We planted three Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) and a handful of Wild Ginger roots (Asarum canadense) two years ago; the Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum pubescens) to the right made its own way here from somewhere else. Harebells (I still haven't identified them) appeared in this bed last year, out of nowhere.
I know it looks like a picture of a pile of sticks- well, it is- but the stick pile is part of the bed. It is a pile of sticks covered by a pile of leaves and then covered with more sticks. The pile is summer snake habitat, but it also cools and protects the sandy soil beneath. I planted vines this year that I hope will grow up over the pile.
Out of the shade of the Hackberry is the native grass meadow. Formerly the raised vegetable bed, I replanted it in the summer of 2009 with Ontario prairie grasses. I used a small number of meadow flowers as well, hoping they will use up the nutrients in the soil quickly, which in turn will encourage the grasses.
The astounding thing about the meadow is how few (non-native and invasive) weeds there are. I have taken fewer than ten dandelions out of here this year. I think this is because of the dense root structure the meadow is rapidly developing. When I dug down to get at a Comfrey root last week, I found the top two inches of soil full of roots. (That's the Boy Cat With a Lady's Name who hangs around in the meadow all the time.)
The little Frosted Hawthorn (Crataegus pruinosa) below had two berries and maybe ten flowers last year. This year, there will be plenty more... All of our shrubs are for the pollinators and the birds- they have flowers and fruit.
This year I've also decided to replace my struggling Moosamina (Viburnum trilobum). It has been nearly killed by the imported Viburnum Leaf Beetle. The beetle hitched a ride on viburnums imported from Europe for landscaping in the mid-20th century- think 'snow ball bush'. Since then it has spread north to southern Ontario, and now it has spread to native viburnum species.
Farther north in the Boreal forest, native viburnums are an important food for migratory birds and moose (hence the name 'Moosamina'). But they are also treasured food for people. The thought that these bugs could make it into those landscapes terrifies me. I have spent many late summers picking berries with friends and colleagues along the Albany river, visiting the same shrubs year after year. I have seen how prized these berries are. I have seen how prized these practices are. Beyond measure.
And so instead of supporting the life cycle of the Viburnum Leaf Beetle any longer, I have replaced these shrubs with another treasure, an American Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana).
This little Sorbus has no pests that I could find out about, and non-native Mountain Ash thrives around here, so I have high hopes. I think it does too- it is a sapling, a tiny little sapling, and it is already willing to flower. I hope it produces hundreds of saplings in its lifetime.