Dear me. First lightning bugs of the season out in the last few days and I haven’t even reported on this spring’s new incarnation of the Timberneck Biodiversity Restoration Project (translation for uninitiated: yardwork. Only more fun.). Well, it hasn’t been for lack of interest. Since I am off tomorrow for a overnight trip with the boy’s class, a brief tour of the highlights will have to suffice for the time being. More to come soon, well, eventually anyway. There’s a lot happening out there.
The alert reader will recall that I made a resolution of sorts a year or three ago, inspired in part by Doug Tallamy’s wonderful book, to get serious about re-engineering the yard toward a landscape more in harmony with the evolutionary history of the local area, more hospitable to desirable wildlife of all sizes, less thirsty for imported water and industrial fertilizer, more pleasing to the eye and spirit, less work (?), etc. This has involved both a surprisingly satisfying campaign of piched battle against various aggressive and invasive alien plants, as well as a systematic plan to plant a wide range of native shrubs and perennials over the course of the next few years. Oh, and a vegetable garden too. A major re-imagining of the property.
After starting tentatively last spring with a little butterfly patch and a few pots scavenged from a native plant sale, we decided to launch into this righteously and contacted our local native plant nurserywoman and guru, Denise Green, who produced a coherent plan to convert a large swath of monotonous green “grass” (mostly alien weeds, albeit many with little flowers that are charming in their way) into a structurally diverse sward of native flowers, grasses, and shrubs favored by butterflies and birds. The idea was to have this native landscape meld into an edible landscape that included an existing pecan tree at one end, and our little vegetable plot on the other. The plan is shown below.
So, long story short, I started with the area between the house and the shed, along the sinuous brick path. First the destruction: I cut down a gnarly old black cherry that was hugging the shed and constantly dropping dry sticks around, as well as a “grandmother tree” (Chinaberry) that had been split and broken up and resprouted many times and was basically an eyesore. Then covered the intervening grass area with old newspapers and pizza boxes and then heaped mulch over that. Into this I planted the shrubs — four highbush blueberry plants (of two varieties to ensure vigorous cross-fertilization), a small fig sapling (the only non-native), and an oak-leaf Hydrangea. Put them in in March and they are doing great! Lots of big fat blueberries on the bushes (now covered with bird netting), the fig leafed out and growing well, the Hydrangea with two nice flower clusters.
Around the same time I installed a second rain barrel along the front of the house so we now have a capacity of 100 gallons (I hope to add a third eventually on the other side but that will require installing a gutter too, which is a bit more advanced than I want to tackle at this point). I haven’t tapped into the well yet this year.
Now the vegetable patch, at the other end of the edible crescent. Last year was my first hack at this and the results were what one would expect. I planted tomatoes, basil, rosemary, lettuce and probably something else I don’t remember. Basil is pretty tough to kill and it did accordingly well — we had homemade pesto many times during the summer, always a hit. I got a few tomatoes but most fell victim to a fiendishly clever animal, which I have deduced must have been a raccoon because the villain actually pried apart the wire fence stapled to the timbers surrounding the plot (and, to add insult to injury, mostly took one or two bites out of each, then dumped it on the ground). The lettuce was an abject failure, started too late for one thing.
Anyway, I learned my lesson. Installed a heavier-duty fence with lots of staples and no door (I just hop over the short fence) — so far so good. Worked the whole winter’s accumulation of compost into the vegetable patch. Planted three varieties of tomatoes, giving them a bit more space than last year’s jungle, a bunch of sweet basil, two summer squash plants, two rows of green bean seeds, some spinach from seed, and a single pepper plant. Mulched them after they got established. And have watered them regularly with my collected rain. It helps that this has been a great spring for long soaking, gentle rains. Bottom line: all the vegetables are going crazy. Fingers crossed. Meanwhile, the stunted pecan tree is coming into its own now that it has been released from the shadow of the old black cherry. In a few years, we should have good crops of pecans, figs, blueberries, and vegetables too. Oh, and I am also weeding away and nurturing some volunteer blackberry brambles that came up in the general chaos of the yard edge.
Right. About the natives. Along the wasteland between the driveway and the vegetable patch, I have been waging war against the impenetrable privet thickets for a few years now. The stuff is almost gone. And, to my delight, it is being replaced, right out of the woodwork, by a volunteer stand of Aralia spinosa, the “devil’s walking stick” — so named for its long naked single trunk covered with frightful thorns. The spray of flowers turning to berries expected late in summer is supposed to be a favorite of birds. In the same area, vacated by the chopped down chinaberry, two native spicebush are taking off. And, also to my delight, the little patch of sensitive ferns I put in last March has come back and is spreading vigorously. As is the Joe-Pye weed planted in the butterfly patch, which is frighteningly buff — looks like it’s been watered with pharmaceutical effluent from a Major League Baseball clubhouse. The bleeding hearts also returned (see photo at top).
Stand by for photos of the insects attracted to this wonderland as it starts to bloom. Don’t look now but I’m thinking about a chicken coop next year . . .