Simmer, Simmer

I stood on my soapbox a few weeks ago for the post on old-growth lilacs; I’ve climbed onto the parapet for this one, because it is an example of savage carelessness and I feel the need to be standing taller as I shout. There’s a beautiful site in Scarborough, Maine, that I’ve spent the last ten years tending, an 8-acre gem with a southwest view across a wet meadow.  The owner and I have made ever-so-subtle changes, some to return the property to its original ethos after many fairly bad landscape decisions by the previous owner, and some to open parts of the meadow for quiet exploration

Careful, delicate changes with a post-ownership view, a commitment to pass the property along in better shape than we found it.  Imagine my horror when I saw that the town, in an effort to repair a small dam at the pond along the parcel’s edge, had stripped and ripped and trampled huge swaths of vegetation.  They loaded the banks either side of the dam with tons on the stone pictured below, and what looks like another ton of stone dust which tends, when wet, to act like concrete.

They did this because they considered that portion of the property to be worthless.  It’s not designed, it’s not built, it’s not landscaped; but for the quiet little trail threading the house to the water’s edge, it’s untouched. Hence its beauty; a mere ten minutes from downtown Portland, but worlds away.  It’s not untouched anymore.  There’s this…
and this…
and this…

And more, but you get the idea.  So how do we get past the simmer stage?  We stew, by beginning to repair the damage.  Although parts of the site will recover on their own over the course of the year, the areas pictured clearly need a boost.  Since not all of the original material would be available from a nursery, it’s a matter of finding perennials that are native to the area, found on other parts of the site, or have qualities which appear to blend with existing materials.  In this case, the plants and shrubs also need to be fond of, or at least tolerant of, the water that comprises the ‘wet’ part of  ‘wet meadow’.  For this property, it means the following plants, and the replacement of the top course of stone with a mix that will blend into the setting, not scare the fish or glow in the dark.

shrubs:  northern bayberry, american elder, black chokeberry, common witchhazel

perennials:  joe-pye weed, brown knapweed, spikenard

seed:  switchgrass, queen anne’s lace, brown knapweed, blue vervain, culvers root, rudbeckia submentosa

Unfortunately, some of the seed can’t be sown until Fall because it needs over-wintering in order to sprout, so restoration will take both time and patience.  About three years of both, as a matter of fact, so we’re hunkered down for the long haul.  I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

The other site that’s causing a slow boil isn’t a case of savage carelessness, it’s one of careless savagery.  Before their new neighbors built a house on the property adjacent to the one that now needs redesign, my client’s rear yard was backed by a gorgeous grove of old-growth pine.  In a move that is becoming all too common, the neighbors didn’t just clear a bit of space for a lawn, they clear-cut the property edge to edge.  Here’s the result, white vinyl fence and all:

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:  if you want to live in a sunny, open space, don’t build a house in the woods!  This denuding has done more than strip both view and privacy for my homeowners, it has altered the environment for the plants and shrubs on our side of the fence, which are now dangerously exposed.

It will require both stewardship and geomancy to make the redesign of this property successful, but I’ve already purchased the first of what I imagine will be many new trees:  five Pagoda dogwoods.  This is a native understory tree that is also underused, although I’m not sure why. With lateral branching — great for filling visual gaps — and fabulous Fall color, it’s a natural for this site.  It also sets berries, which provide a great food source for the birds, so it’s a two-for-one shot.

No matter what I plant, though, I’ll never be able to recreate the environment as it was, as it should have remained.  I look over that fence to see plastic toys galore, and am reminded of my childhood explorations of my little woods.  My chief concern is the restoration of this property, of course, but I can’t help feeling just a bit sorry for those kids, and for all the wondrous explorations they will miss.

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