Fortunately, I’ve been quite busy this year with my garden design business, working on projects both large and not-so-large. I thought I’d show you a video I created with photos of a front foundation makeover project in New Canaan, CT. I’d … Continue reading
It was a snowy day here in Stamford, CT so most people stayed inside and took it easy. But the bird feeder was like Grand Central Station all day long.
By the way, this is the view of my wildlife-friendly garden from my office window…it’s a wonder I get any work done at all.
Don’t you love the way the birds are ‘stacked’ in the branches of the Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ’Contorta’) just waiting their turns to get something to eat?
Sorry for the poor quality of the photo, I took it through the window.
I recently attended a lecture on sustainable landscape design hosted by Soundwaters, an environmental educational organization in Stamford, CT. The lecture, given by landscape architect Brad Spaulding, was part of a ‘Business & the Environment’ lecture series to raise awareness of sustainability issues among residents and the local business community. The lectures are free and open to the public, all you need to do is pre-register.
In addition to showing photos of some of his beautiful design projects, Mr. Spaulding outlined his essential elements of sustainable landscape design. They include:
◊ Plant for diversity and resilience.
◊ Use native plants whenever appropriate. This is especially important to encourage insect populations.
◊ Start with small-sized plants and be patient while they grow in.
◊ Use only local materials. Just like the food we eat, hardscape materials should be as unrefined as possible.
◊ Minimize any disturbance to the soil and leaving one or more areas totally undisturbed. This creates a wildlife habitat area and allows the native seed bank to restore itself.
◊ Do not compact the soil or add any chemicals to it.
◊ Perform your maintenance on nature’s schedule and do as little as possible.
◊ Reduce lawn and driveway areas to a size that is for functional use only.
◊ Do not direct water into pipes (this includes gutters). Allow water to disperse and slow down naturally.
Some of Mr. Spaulding principles of sustainable design were new to me, especially the one about not directing rainfall into gutters. He showed slides of homes right here in Connecticut that were designed without gutters. As he said, the majority of the time a homeowner has a water issue, especially with water in the basement, it can be traced back to faulty gutters.
If you’re like me and trying to make your garden more sustainable, what principles are you following?
Back in October, I wrote about Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary, a unique meadow habitat in Stamford that is part of the Great American Flyway, known routes traveled by migratory birds. CIWS also has the distinction of being the first Important Bird Area in Connecticut, a designation bestowed by the National Audubon Society.
Well, it seems CIWS has lived up to its reputation as being a stop-over location for migrating birds. In mid-November, a rare Fork-Tailed Flycatcher from South America was spotted in the wildlife sanctuary. The sighting created quite a commotion among local, and not-so-local, birding enthusiasts.
When I initially heard about the sighting, my reaction was ‘that’s nice’. But then I started looking for more information and photos of this bird that was causing such a stir, and I felt like I’d stumbled into a strange but complementary universe – the world of avid birders. They’re as passionate about birds as we garden bloggers are about plants. That’s not too surprising, I guess.
Birders were coming from all over the country to photograph the little lost fork-tailed flycatcher. 10,000 Birds, a blog by Corey Finger, is typical of the birding blogs I found that enthusiastically chronicled photographing the flycatcher. It has some great photos of the bird and also has a short back story on his trip to Stamford to capture the images. It’s definitely worth checking out.
If You Plant It, They Will Come
One of the things that’s so exciting about the sighting of the Fork-Tailed Flycatcher is that it offers proof the coastal grassland meadow garden in Stamford is actually doing was it was designed to do. It’s not only providing food and shelter for both local and typical migrating birds, but it’s also a safe haven for birds like the Fork-Tailed Flycatcher, who seemingly got blown of course during migration. Who knows what would have happened to the little guy if CIWS wasn’t there.
It’s encouraging to know that our gardens can function in much the same way. When planted for biodiversity, as well as beauty, they can also become an important respite in a storm for a wealth of wildlife. Once you begin to view your garden as part of the rich tapestry that makes up the larger ecosystem that we all depend on, you’ll want to make sure it’s ready for unexpected visitors, maybe even a rare South American Fork-Tailed Flycatcher.
Resources for Habitat Gardening
There are some simple steps any gardener can take to make your garden more diverse and welcoming to wildlife in general. No matter what your starting point, there are easy but effective things you can do today to have an impact tomorrow.
Here are a few websites to get you started on your journey:
♦ Bringing Nature Home, the website that supports Douglas Tallamy’s important book with the same title on the subject of biodiversity.
♦ Wildlife Garden: Redefining Beautiful is a group blog dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of habitat gardening and helping us all redefine the beauty we see in our gardens.
♦ Your local Cooperative Extension office is a great place to find information specific to your local climate and growing conditions. And the experts there are happy to help answer any questions you might have about what’s best for your garden.
What’s your favorite tried & true source for information on making your garden more diverse, wildlife-friendly and sustainable?
Regular readers of my blog may be surprised to see I’m writing about yet ANOTHER meadow garden in Stamford. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary (CIWS), a coastal grassland meadow located on 11 acres of waterfront property in Stamford. Fortunately for local residents, Stamford is home to another managed wildlife habitat. But this is a meadow with a different look, a different goal and a different method of maintenance than the CIWS meadow.
The wildflower meadow at the Bartlett Arboretum, located only about 10 miles from the meadow at CIWS, is situated on a 3-acre strip on a busy street in the heart of the northern part of Stamford – a more rural and wooded section of the city. While the meadow at CIWS seemed like a hidden oasis, a well-kept secret shared by a few, this meadow is always front and center. The wildlfower meadow is part of the larger 90+ acre Bartlett Arboretum.
When Francis Bartlett bought the original 30 acres of land back in 1913 to use as his home, research lab and training facility, this 3-acre parcel of land was actually devoted to a meadow. Annual maintenance consisted of a once-a-year mowing. But over time, the mowing stopped. And the meadow slowly reverted back to woodland. Woody plants, many of them invasive, took over the meadow. It was beginning to look like a New England forest.
Reclaiming the Meadow
In 2000, the Bartlett Arboretum decided to reclaim the meadow. The woody plants and invasive species were pulled out and an organic weed killer, a mix of vinegar and lemon juice, was used to kill the remaining vegetation. A cover crop of oats was planted and eventually a mix of native seeds was hand sown.
Here’s a quick slide show of how the meadow at the Bartlett Arboretum looks today (actually these photos were taken in late September/early October):
The Goals for the Meadow
The purpose of this wildflower meadow at the Bartlett is a bit different from the purpose of the one at CIWS. The meadow at the Bartlett Arboretum was established is to show homeowners a sustainable alternative to lawns (did you notice the houses right across the street from the meadow), to establish a refuge for endangered natural plants (side oats gamma, for instance) and to create a habitat for local wildlife.
According to Eric Morgan, curator of Botany at the Bartlett Arboretum, the meadow is currently mowed once a year in late winter, and that’s it for maintenance. The Bartlett’s meadow is an example of the kind of managed meadow you would expect to find in New England. It’s called an ‘old farm community’ – the temporary habitat found between a cultivated field and a forest. If this type of meadow is not maintained it will revert to forest in a few decades, just like it did years ago.
More About the Wildflower Meadow
Some of the perennials grown in the meadow include:
Here are some other noteworthy facts about this meadow:
♦ The Bartlett wildflower meadow is home to a wide array of local wildlife, including the Connecticut state insect, the Praying Mantis (who knew??), butterflies, bees and birds.
♦ The selection of plants in the meadow allows butterflies to complete their entire life-cycle right there in the meadow.
♦ The plants are also a food source for local and migratory birds, including Bobolinks, Upland Skippers and bluebirds.
♦ Because the meadow is adjacent to a forest, it is an important habitat for forest-nesting/meadow-foraging birds, like bluebirds. It’s an interesting contrast to the location of the CIWS meadow – adjacent to the Long Island Sound.
Do you have a meadow in your garden or in your home town? What kind of wildlife is it supporting?
I was recently introduced to a coastal grassland meadow hiding right under my nose in my own hometown of Stamford, CT. On an 11-acre piece of land, a former tidal estuary once used by the city as a dumping site for all of its brush, is a 4-year old wildlife sanctuary which is home to countless numbers of native wildlife. The site used to be known by local residents as the ‘Stump Dump’ but now is simply called the Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary.
Along with several friends (and fellow members of APLD CT), I was fortunate to get a guided tour of CIWS from Dave Winston, a local horticulturist, master gardener, landscape designer and head steward of CIWS. Dave is an expert on native plants and a wealth of information about the meadow and its impact on local wildlife.
The Great American Flyway
The meadow’s unique location, adjacent to the Long Island Sound, is a primary reason it was designated one of Connecticut’s first IBAs (Important Bird Areas). CIWS is a much needed respite for hundreds of birds as they migrate back and forth during the year. Dave affectionately referred to the area as a ‘truck stop on the migratory highway’.
- Over 300 species of migrating birds have been documented at the Sanctuary
- Almost 100 different species of butterflies have been seen at CIWS, including Cobweb skipper, Indian skipper and Leonard’s Skipper to name a few.
- 24 species of dragonflies have been identified at CIWS by local nature enthusiasts
Before I tell you more about the meadow, here’s a slideslow of some of the pictures I took on my visit…
A Mix of Meadow Plants
It look over one month to haul away the debris at the ‘Stump Dump’ and then all new soil was brought in. Since the meadow has no native soil, and therefore no native seed bank, all the meadow plants were started from seed. The original mix included some of the following native perennials:
- Asters: calico, heath and New England
- Little Bluestem and Big Bluestem
- Purpletop grass (Tridens flavus cupreus)
Managing the Meadow
I had no idea how strategic the managing of a meadow can be. I assumed all meadows were simply mowed once a year and that was it. But according to Dave, the growth, and therefore maintenance, of a meadow can be viewed along a continuum. You need to decide what the goal of your meadow is and then maintain towards optimizing the goal. Want more colorful perennials? Perhaps more native grasses? Maybe some trees? How tall should those trees be? Trying to attract specific butterflies? Or maybe education is your primary goal. Who knew there were so many factors to take into account – certainly not me.
- When CIWS was younger, it was a more colorful spot. There was more rudbeckia, penstemmon and verbena. Now those flowers are mainly seen on the edges of the path where the meadow is routinely trimmed so the path can be easily walked.
- The meadow is currently not mowed. A minimal amount of maintenance is done to try and control invasives like wormwood, bittersweet and porcelain berry
- Soon, the meadow will be divided into 5 different areas and one area will be mowed each year.
- This will mean minimal habitat disruption but will allow the invasive plants to be managed on a larger scale.
- CIWS stewards will be able to compare the meadow’s different areas, and growth stages, along the continuum. Eventually CIWS will have an area that is 9 years old to compare to others that are much younger.
- ‘Tough love’ is the name of the game at CIWS – no supplemental amendments or fertilizers are used.
I hope, like me, you’ve learned something new about meadows from your visit to Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary. Do you have a local meadow that you enjoy and that is offering critical natural habitat to local wildlife?
For garden bloggers around the world, yesterday was Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, the day we celebrate the flowers blooming in our gardens. So that means today is Foliage Follow-Up, a day to celebrate the unsung heroes in many gardens – the foliage, berries and bark. Of course, right now in southwestern Connecticut, the foliage is shining brighter than many of the flowers.
After enjoying a look at the foliage here in Stamford, CT, head over to Pam Penick’s blog Digging. Pam started Foliage Follow-up and always has the most amazing photos of her garden in Austin, TX.
It’s time to celebrate what’s blooming in our gardens again. Here’s a peek into my southwestern Connecticut garden (zone 6). A special thank you to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting gardens bloggers from around the world on the 15th of each month – Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.