The Woodland Habitat Restoration Project
Fresh Pond Reservation
The delayed arrival of winter in New England this year allowed the volunteer stewards who work in the Woodland Habitat Restoration Project (the "Habitat") to continue planting and weeding until the end of December. Thus ended our second full year of managing this approximately half-acre strip of land that borders the Perimeter Road just to the east of Lusitania Meadow. We look back on an astonishingly successful growing season.
Our outdoor work started in early March, when we ventured forth in the cold to inspect the chick-wire cages that we erected in 2013 to protect the young plants from being consumed by hungry rabbits. Most of the cages were quite effective except along the front fence where the snow had been piled so deeply that the rabbits were able to reach over the tops. Within the Habitat, the few shrubs that had not been caged were severely browsed. In addition, we observed serious damage to the bark of all of the shrubs outside the fence. We had mistakenly assumed that the close proximity of people and dogs along the road would keep the rabbits at bay. Most of the plants survived despite their injuries and produced new growth from the roots.
We began our regular Tuesday work sessions on April 1, setting up new cages, repairing the fence where it drooped, pruning damaged shrubs, digging weeds, and choosing locations for about 100 new woody plants that the Cambridge Water Department (CWD) ordered for the project. The order included 25 highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) that we planted in memory of our friend and supporter, the late Chip Norton, Cambridge Watershed Manager, who died on January 13, 2014. When all of the plants were placed and caged, we resumed the endless job of weeding.
A natural woodland includes a canopy of large tree species; an intermediate layer of understory trees, shrubs, and vines; and an understory layer of perennial wildflowers, ferns, grasses, and other grass-like plants. By early summer this year we had planted an adequate number of trees and shrubs and were ready to add plants to the understory. In preparation for this, during the fall of 2013 I planted small flats with seeds of about 20 native perennial wildflowers and grasses. The flats overwintered on my backyard patio and the seeds sprouted in early spring. I transplanted approximately 6 of each species into flower pots, where they continued to grow until about mid-June, when we began planting them in the Habitat. We hope that these new perennials will provide diversity and animal habitat, in addition to gradually reducing the number of weedy perennials that dominate the area. The weeds include natives such as yellow and white avens (Geum aleppicum and G. canadense) and enchanter's nightshade (Circaea lutetiana), all of which produce numerous seeds that stick to our clothing; also clearweed (Pilea pumila) and spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), that grow by the thousands. By July, these and a variety of non-native weeds formed impenetrable thickets that were several feet tall. We used a battery-operated weed-whacker to cut back some of this vegetation so that we could move around and monitor our caged plants. Rabbits do not eat any of these weedy plants: hence they flourish.
We continued planting and weeding until autumn. During this period, many more plants were donated: from our own gardens, by the CWD, and by friends. Our total plant additions for the year numbered more than 330. We also divided and transplanted a number of perennials from the adjacent Woodland Restoration Project (the "Corner") and scattered wildflower seeds that we collected from the Reservation.
After oak leaves began to fall, we started collecting them from around the neighborhood and spreading them as winter mulch to provide insulation for the roots of the young plants. We also requested and were given several truckloads of leaves that had been scooped up from paths around the Reservation. We used some of these leaves for a weed-suppression experiment: after laying down a layer of newspapers about 8 pages thick, we piled the leaves on top. If next year these areas have fewer weeds, we will poke holes in the paper and plant our perennials there.
Gardeners use a rhyme, "sleep, creep, leap" to describe the three year adjustment period for a transplanted shrub or tree: Many of our woody plants, at the end of this year, appear ready to leap, and we are optimistic that in 2015 we will see considerable growth, and the emergence of a recognizable woodland.
of the Woodland Habitat Restoration Project:
Thanks to Vince Falcione, Jean Rogers, Brian Mulrenan, and the guys from Schumacher Landscaping who helped us this year in numerous ways.