This property is a never-ending exploration of the intersection of management, wildness, and beauty. The overarching goal is to provide as much wildlife habitat as possible, the most comfort and beauty for people and do the least amount of harm. . It embodies the principles of Perfect Earth’s initiative, Two Thirds for the Birds: at least two thirds native plants, no pesticides, and no invasives. Other than the vegetable garden, food for us…these plants are part of the food web and willingly provide food for all non-human lives. Nibbled leaves are how we know we are doing a good job.
Two major principles guide the process:
1. Closing the Loop - all biomass stays on the property and becomes food for the soil that produced it. All around Marshouse you will see examples of what can be done with excess biomass. In addition to the expected compost piles and leaf mulch, there are log walls, stick/habitat piles, haystacks, weedstacks, chip walks, a leaning pine, hugels (hills), and even a tree house: each provides a convenient place to allow logs, stumps, meadow cuttings, excavated soil, and whatallelse to perform useful or amusing functions and, in most cases, slowly melt back into the ground in a spot quite close to where they originated. Dead trees are left standing as often as possible to provide nesting cavities and lots of food for insectivores. Dead branches do the same. The pine that fell over, was alive at first, we supported it in hopes it could survive. Not sure what will happen next.
What to do with the sub-soil excavated for a pond? Build a Hugle, of course.
2. Right Plant, Right Place - plants are chosen which evolved for the conditions in which they are planted, thus ensuring resilience. Of course it is fun to experiment. We are exploring assisted migration- plants native to our southern limits to provide resilience and homes for insects as hotter weather challenges heat sensitive plants drives insects north.
In the spring of 2021 we considerably improved our planting options by expanding the area protected with deer fencing. Many new gardens were added that are still being planted and growing in. This, and every garden journey, is ongoing (never ending!) and adaptive as we continue to experiment with plants and planting schemes that provide maximum ecosystem services, and maximum enjoyment with minimum resources. That translates as minimum fuss: no fertilizers, no pesticides, no pruning, no wimping out, and no taking over. The amount of tidiness, ie staking and edging, is owner optional.
In all areas we use “plants as mulch” ie leave little to no room between plants so that weeds are out paced without the use of growth inhibiting (often imported) mulches. We are trying out a wide variety of native ground covers and filler type plants in different soil and sun conditions, with and without deer. As the beds are new and there are spaces left for plants to grow, we filled the with annual seeds. This year we used a mixture of fast germinating, non-natives such as regular (Myosotis) and Chinese (Cynoglossum) Forget Me Not, and Lobelia, but for the coming year we will be trying out various native annuals.
The Fireplace Meadow is intended as a woodland open space, with a larger percentage of grasses, surrounded by native trees.
The Shrubbery mixes flowering and fruiting shrubs with perennials of high pollinator interest.
The Hut Beds are a wild version of classic borders with some grasses but mostly flowers. The eastern Hut Bed was new this year, 2022, so it is not as robust as the western side.
The Pond was built just this June. It has an all clay (no plastic) liner, which is a learning process too. The water is taking a very long time to settle, but it remains totally algae free and is wonderfully reflective. It is surrounded, of course, with moisture loving plants that we would not otherwise be able to grow in our very sandy local soils.
The Long Walk and adjacent areas are the trial areas for assorted species and selections of ferns, Carexes, Tiarellas, Phloxes, and the like.
The Tweens are a hummingbird and bee garden in formation- we have planted in a number of plants we grew from seed. Most are still quite tiny so are marked with bright orange stakes. Soon we will cut the remaining areas very low, cover with cardboard, leaves and compost to smother them, and fill with low-ish growing native grasses in the spring.
The Carolinas and Chip Walk are where we send martyrs to test their appeal to deer. Very few natives make it, so there are mostly non natives. Over time, more and more native grasses will be added to improve the balance.
The Marsh Meadow is totally natural. It is what came in when we simply stopped mowing, about 17 years ago, plus a planting of wild cherry seedlings to replace what would naturally have occurred at that distance and elevation from the marsh. We have maintained it by cutting carefully in late spring and removing the occasional invasives by hand. The deer ate a wonderful original population of butterfly weed, but it is slowly being naturally replaced by a new community of deer resistant wildflowers.
And finally, there is the Salt Marsh, which is a highly sensitive and complex ecosystem. We don't have to do anything there but cut back the occasional phragmites. It is nature at its best and, due to the challenging conditions, has only that one invasive that threatens. The boardwalk leads through both marsh grass and Hummock, a slightly elevated area that supports an entirely different ecosystem. Our efforts on land will help to protect and ensure its resiliency in the face of climate change and sea level rise.