Cloudaccess - Joomla! as a service

Nature (click on link to see pictures)

When Beauty IS a Beast

E-mail Print PDF

     Dealing with invasive species is such a difficult thing.  We know Lesser celandinethat exotic invasive species are incredibly detrimental to the ecosystems around us, smothering, cross pollinating, and out competing native species with great fervor.   The treatment, however, can be physically demanding and psychologically taxing.  It takes a strong individual to willingly snuff them out of the backyard landscape.

     It would be one thing if all invasives were useless, ugly plants, but they are not.  Often the offending alien species is quite beautiful.  (Take purple loosestrife for example, or Chinese privet, porcelain berry, burning bush, myrtle, or black locust.)  Sometimes the species has beneficial qualities that offer a tantalizing appeal.  (Kudzu vine, for example, is an excellent controller of erosion, but don’t DARE use it!)  That’s why they are here in the first place.  Someone, somewhere saw the beauty or utility in the plant and brought it to the United States as an intentional specimen.  I dare say, the home gardener does the same thing all of the time in a smaller scale.

     Removing invasives is often a large undertaking.  The nature of the beast is that the plant spreads quickly, easily, and often by multiple means.  In some properties, there are more invasive species than not and their complete removal would require an intensive/expensive replanting undertaking beyond the ability of the landowner.  Other times it exotic, invasive species removal is difficult for psychological reasons.

     Simply put, we get attached to our plants.  When a plant that has been a long-time garden feature suddenly earns the title of “invasive,” it can be hard to accept.  While removing the plant might mean a major change to the garden’s look and feel, and replacing the specimen requires time and/or money, this is only the tip of the iceberg.  There is a headier element that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.  In order to remove a plant, the gardener first has to let go of the plant emotionally.  That is not always as easy as it sounds.  It takes a certain hardened tenacity to kill a loved plant for the good of all plant-kind.  I know.  I struggle with my own plant demons all of the time. 

Take a look at the Celandines…

     In one garden I visited over the weekend, Lesser-Blooming Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) had covered the gardens, lawns, and was tumbling precariously down the slope into the woods.  A rugged invasive from Europe and Africa, its leaves formed an almost impenetrable carpet of luscious spring green with tiny dapples of sunny yellow flowers.  It was beautiful beyond words.  I felt almost guilty for thinking so.  The Lesser-Blooming Celandine contrasted beautifully with the aggressive native blues of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) and the also invasive Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea).  It worked harmoniously against the taller, native Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) which is not to be confused with the plant known as “Celandine” (Chelidonium majus).  It circled patches of spring Anemones (Anemone Canadensis) and fought tooth and nail against the native Violets (Viola) for any patch of bare ground. 

It is better to "never have loved at all..." 

    The Lesser Blooming Celandine might never be eradicated from this site.  I am sure with an aggressive attempt involving herbicide application and continued bulbule removal, they could get it under control, but I know the garden owners never will.  The Lesser-Blooming Celandine will most likely follow the property’s stream downwards, populating new riparian lands with each passing year.  Other plants will succumb to its persistence.  In the race for survival, it looks like the Lesser Blooming Celandine will win.

     In the case of the Lesser-Blooming Celandine, the garden’s owner had introduced it to her house.  Seeing it in beautiful masses along the side of a stream, she dug a little up and brought it home.  The rest is history.   What that gardener can now tell you is that the first step in the battle against aggressive, especially exotic invasives is to educate yourself on the noxious weeds in your area, and then avoid their introduction.  Do your best to avoid temptation and when dealing with invasive species. It is easier on the budget, back, and mind.      

 

Last Updated on Monday, 25 April 2011 17:05

Creating BEAUTIFUL Backyard Habitats in New England

E-mail Print PDF

Bluebells in backyard habitat by Liz Bowman In these times of increased development, roadways, and the infrastructure of human civilization, natural habitats are on the decline and as a result, wildlife has suffered. The National Wildlife Federation asserts that loss of habitat is the single greatest threat to wildlife in the United States today. Luckily, all is not lost. Individual landowners can help by making their own backyards more ecologically friendly. That is not to say that everyone should revert his or her property into unkempt wilderness. Quite the contrary, a backyard habitat can be an intentional, controlled environment that possesses the qualities integral to the support of native wildlife. More than that, a backyard habitat can be adventurous, stylistic, and gardenesque. A backyard habitat can be a beautiful thing.


“Backyard Habitat” is a phrase used by organizations such as the National Wildlife Federation, Audobon Society, or Nature Conservancy. While many programs offer a certification for landowners, this is not necessary. The components of a successful backyard habitat include: food, water, cover, nursery (a place for wildlife to raise their young), and the establishment of ongoing ecologically sound landscape practice. An additional element that should be considered is the idea of habitat connectivity. That is, the integration of one backyard habitat into the larger ecology with emphasis on contiguous corridors for successful migration of species. In other words, an entire tract of contiguous backyard habitats is better than one.

 

When speaking of food for wildlife, one must consider the vast variety of species who will come to the backyard feast. A good variety of berries, nuts, seeds, forbs, twigs, grasses, sap, nectar, and pollen will cover a lot of bases. Supplemental feeders for birds, squirrels, and even butterflies will help to fill in the gaps. In terms of taking the gardenistic approach to animal feeding, covering the pollen and nectar department can be quite a colorful display. There are plenty of blooming perennials to choose from, and the blooming trees and shrubs will round out the display. Butterflies like brightly colored flowers (especially umbel-types) placed in the sun. (Check this link for more on butterflies.) In terms of berries, consider some of these beauties: Amelanchier canandensis, Aronia melanocarpa, Aralia racemosa, Cornus alternifolia, Juniperus virginiana, or Celastrus scandens (not to be confused with the invasive Oriental Bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus.) Beech trees, Fagus grandifolia, produce nuts that are a very important wildlife food. Squirrels, raccoons, bears, rodents, and game birds all enjoy its nut. Some other native nut-bearing trees include species of Quercus (oaks), Juglans(walnuts), Carya (hickories), Aesculus (buckeyeyes), and Castanea (chestnuts), to name a few. The choices are many, and the selection process is important. Make sure you do a thorough site analysis to determine the culture of your site, in order to make the best selection of plant.

 

Water is as necessary as food, and comes in many forms, from birdbaths to oceans. While most Vermonters won’t see much in the way of an oceanic backyard like our neighbors to the east, it is indeed a watery region. Whether or not ponds, streams, springs, wetlands, rivers, or lakes occur naturally on a property, water will surely fall from the sky at one point or another. Dealing with surface water run-off is a universal “problem” that can be turned into an attractive design feature and in the very least, a backyard habitat opportunity. Consider collecting water that sheds from impervious surfaces (roofs, walkways, paved roads) and directing them through a vegetated swale, or to a retention pond or rain garden. Not only will it be an attractive design move that can speak to the vernacular of the larger ecosystem, but it will be better for the cleanliness of the water and offer access to wildlife. Spring thaws can cause waterlogged lawns, but can also provide opportunity to create much need vernal pools. Wetlands are cherished, golden filters of the worlds’ water and homes to hosts of living species. Those who already have a wetland on their property should do their best to preserve it in its natural state. For those who already have quickly percolating soil and no standing water of which to speak, a birdbath or butterfly wading pool can be a nice ornament for you and a needed thirst quencher for many others.

 

Wildlife needs cover in the form of meadows, mature trees, brush, stone piles, thickets, caves, burrows, dead trees, evergreen trees, and in the very least bird or bat houses. Consider incorporating these ideas into the garden landscape. A dry-laid stone wall, for example, offers plenty of caverns and caves for rodents, insects, and small mammals to use. A wildflower meadow is a perfect place for small mammals, ground-nesting birds, insects, and the like to live. Large trees, evergreen or deciduous can be chosen for their aesthetic AND wildlife harboring qualities. Even thickets can be attractive and/or useful. Consider using the strikingly branched Cornus sericea, red-twigged dogwood, as a thicket. A large collection of Rubus occidentalis, black raspberry, will offer up a stunning scene in winter with its opalescent blue stems. It will provide berries for you and everyone else in summer. Have an existing snag in the backyard? Make it a wild garden feature. Plant it with native Clematis virginiana, Virgin’s bower. Don’t, however, bring in dead or dying trees from elsewhere. They can harbor dangerous insects or diseases that can spread to the outlying forests. If you need to put in something artificial, consider bird houses or bat boxes.

Everyone needs a place to raise his or her young, especially the wildlife. Conditions include: meadows, mature trees, wetlands, caves, host plants for caterpillars, snags, thickets, ponds, wetlands, and burrows. Caterpillars in particular need very specific conditions in which to thrive. The zebra swallowtail larvae, for example, prefers Asimina triloba or Paw Paw, a zone five fruit bearing tree native to North America. The Red and White Admirals like to eat black birches, black oaks, and wild cherries. The Acmon Blue eats milk vetch, lupines, and buckwheat. Click here for a link to a complete list of “Common Butterflies and the Plants their Caterpillars Eat.”

How one proceeds to care for his or her landscape is as important as its initial composition of course. Ecologically sustainable practice is integral to the health of the backyard habitat and the ecosystem as a whole. It can include composting, abstaining from pesticides, the removal of invasive species, the use of native species, dealing with rainwater, reusing water, reducing lawn areas and mowing, proper fertilizer use, controlling erosion, protecting waterways and wetlands, using drip irrigation, and practicing Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Planting a butterfly garden is no good, for example, if you then douse the plants with insecticide. Living with wildlife in your garden requires an adjustment to one’s understanding of “perfection.” As Joni Mitchell once sang, “Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees.” Please.

 

For help with planning your backyard habitat, you might consider hiring a professional to walk you through the process of developing a Master Plan, conservation plan, exotic species removal plan, or even a native planting list. Many features of your particular site will impact the design, from soil type and quality to topography, geographic region, and neighboring land uses. No matter what you do, make sure to do a proper site evaluation before beginning the process of design.

Here are a few helpful links to get you started.  Please feel free to comment, ask questions, and sign for the RSS feed (above left) or go to the Andromeda Facebook page and "like" us if you are interested in reading similar articles about gardening, homesteading, nature, and plants.  Good luck with your own backyard habitat.

 

The photo, by the way, is of my own mother's backyard habitat.  She, too is a garden designer named Liz Bowman (The Compleat Gardener) out of Lambertville, New Jersey.  The link to the Goat Patrol, is listed below.  It is owned and operated by my sister, Alix Bowman out of Durham, North Carolina.

 

Nature Conservancy of Vermont native plant list

National Wildlife Federation Backyard Habitat Certification program

Vermont rain garden manual

What butterflies eat

Exotic and invasive species list

Landowner's Guide to Invasive Terrestial Plant Management

Invasive Plant slide show

Voluntary Code of Conduct

Native plant species list

Native ground covers

Vermont nurseries that sell native plants

Native trees and shrubs that provide habitat for birds

Wetland plant lists and nursery

Windham County Conservation and Basin 11 Watershed

Vermont Fish and Wildlife invasive species list

Invasive Plant Atlas of New England

Last Updated on Friday, 26 April 2013 11:39

I am Lichen, Hear Me Roar

E-mail Print PDF

     Whoever said that March comes in like a lion, might have beenLichen and birdhouse thinking of lichens.  They certainly seem to be the kings of the New England forests, at that time of year.  Glowing with a vibrancy of wakefulness, these creatures come to life when most of the wilderness is still hibernating and the garden perennials still lay snoring beneath their blanket of snow.

     BUT… the trees and perennials shouldn’t feel envy for the lichens, for the lichens aren’t even plants, nor, as my elementary teacher erroneously told me, are they animals.  Hailing from the Proctotista Kingdom, these hoary beasts are not even fungi, but a complicated symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a photosynthetic partner like algae or a cyanobacteria (bacteria that produces food through photosynthesis).  More simply, the fungus provides the thallus (the body, or vegetative tissue of the organism) and the photobiont produces the food through photosynthesis.  Of course, to my teacher’s defense, the creatures’ mutualistic relationship seems to still be somewhat of a mystery that only becomes partially revealed with each passing year.

     One thing that is known; lichens are extreme.  First to populate on barren landscapes and able to survive in some of the harshest conditions on earth, their hardiness is an asset.  They can survive droughts and then absorb water to 35 times their weight.  With long life spans, people can sometimes determine the age of a stone upon which the lichen sits, by dating the lichen (lichenometry).  They do have an Achille’s heal though.  Lacking a root system, they accumulate nutrients from the air. Air pollution can be detrimental as lichens are natural bioaccumulators of airborne elements.   Scientists can actually examine a lichen part to determine the quality of the surrounding atmosphere.  Perhaps the cleanliness of the air in New England is what leads to such abundance of lichens.  Perhaps it is the newness of that spring mountain air that wakes them from their winter slumber.

     The lichens actually HAVE been around all winter, but it’s in early spring when they really begin to catch my eye.  Perhaps they seem so exuberant and mighty because of the chiaroscuristic contrast with the drab surrounding landscape of brown and white.  When all of the world seems to be starving for a morsel of color, the lichens provide a minty-green freshness to the bark of a tree, a warm, rusty-orange to the stone in a wall, or a mustardy-yellow to the empty swaying birdhouse.  By late spring, their tones seem more muted, and they are able to fade into the background, subtle and soft like a lamb.

     It is hard to compete with the brilliance of daffodils, tulips, budding leaves, and fresh green grass.  Lichens, like lions, are sophisticated and complex, but not gaudy.  They know how to wait their turn and steal the show.  From that distant but important place in the background tapestry of the garden, they will lie in waiting on the curved edge of a bird bath, or the aged crack of a stone. Then, when it is once again early March they will rise to nature’s throne.  Then, once again, we will see them roar.

If you liked this article and would like to read more, please "like" us on Facebook

I found the following articles on lichens and liked them.  Please take a look.

http://new.bangordailynews.com/2011/02/18/lifestyle/a-look-at-lichens-in-the-winter-garden/

http://www.primaryresearch.org/stonewalls/nylund/index.php

Last Updated on Friday, 25 March 2011 19:32