Saturday, April 28, 2018

Planting a Dream at Herrontown Woods

There's organic gardening, and then there are gardens that evolve organically. Folks have been wondering what's going on next to the parking lot of Herrontown Woods. A clearing has been created, first by storms in recent years that blew down most of the pine trees planted long ago. Then two years ago a crew hired by Princeton to knock out early infestations of invasive species came through to treat the thorn-cloaked Japanese aralias that were thriving in the absence of the pines.

Volunteers with the Friends of Herrontown Woods have since followed up by removing the thickets of honeysuckle vines, privet, and other nonnative invasives that were filling the void. After some general cleanup, what remains is the most unlikely of opportunities in Princeton's densely forested nature preserves: a clearing where the many native grasses and summer-blooming wildflowers can thrive.

Our dream for this clearing has evolved into a botanical garden where people can get acquainted with the native plants of Princeton. When I moved from Michigan down to Durham, NC back in the 90's, I learned the southern flora by visiting the NC Botanical Gardens and the Blomquist Garden at Duke, where the many native species were labeled. Ours is envisioned as a low-budget version for Princeton.

Seeking to stay ahead of the default weedy species poised to claim this clearing, we undertook on Earthday this past Sunday to pull out the ubiquitous Japanese honeysuckle. When dealing with an acre of land--about the size of a football field--it helped to notice that the trunks of fallen trees, left in place to tell the story of storm damage, have divided up the land into informal compartments that can be weeded and planted one at a time. That's Perry, participating in our divide and conquer strategy.

Some other weeds being pulled out before they can go to seed are hairy bittercress, garlic mustard, and dandelions. A little work now will make maintenance much easier later on.

Kurt does much of the restoration of trails and habitat at Herrontown Woods, and here is planting a hazelnut.

One of the compartments features native grasses and sedges, like fringed sedge and bottlebrush grass. They look bedraggled in their early spring mix of new and old growth, but once established, these will grow into a graceful mound with interestingly shaped seedheads at the top. It would be nice to have a pretty flower to show right now, but so much of gardening involves looking beyond what is to what will be.

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