In spring 2007 Elizabeth Wylde and I were taking a walk around Fresh Pond and I pointed out a clump of white trillium growing amid thick shrubbery near the bike path as it passes along the Concord Rotary. The area was becoming overgrown with invasive species and I opined that the Cambridge Water Department should let someone adopt the area and take proper care of it. To make a long story short, I volunteered to adopt it; the Water Department said all right, and Elizabeth couldn't resist being part of what has become a project to develop a woodland wildflower garden using plants, shrubs, and trees native to Middlesex County.
The first part of the project involved getting rid of invasive weeds. They were mostly garlic mustard and mugwort and there were lots of both. Without them, the ground looked quite bare. Claude Benoit of the New England Wildflower Society gave us sage advice about what might do well there and we started acquiring plants. Some came from the yard of Elizabeth's neighbor; some from her friend Betty Wright; Don Lubin, a fern expert, took us to a place in Newton which was to be developed and from which we could transplant anything which might settle in happily. Vince Falcione of the Water Department brought some inkberries that needed a new home and an American chestnut which had been donated to the Water Department. Bob Gamlin from New Hampshire donated wildflowers from his garden. I brought in some plants from Groton. The Water Department generously alloted us some funds for the purchase of perennials and shrubs from the New England Wild Flower Society. It was a start but things still looked bare. And now that the garlic mustard and mugwort were gone, native invasives - jewelweed, enchanters nightshade, and avens - sprang to life. We struggled to remove them but left a few avens because, although they were invasive, at least they were native and they covered some of the bareness. We had made a circular path using logs from tree cutting for borders, and set out some logs for seats. The ground between still looked as if it was missing something. I brought in bags of oak leaves and spread them around thinking of keeping the plants protected during the winter.
Spring 2009 arrived and we were excited to see what would appear after the snow melted. Almost everything had survived, which delighted us, but the leaves had almost completely disappeared, blown away in winter storms, probably. A non-survivor was the crab apple tree which succumbed in a storm and which we missed because of the shade it provided. We were, however, getting a clearer idea of the lay of the land and how we should be placing things, and were delighted that the Water Department could allot us more funds for wildflower purchases. Of course to make room for the wildflowers, we had to remove the deep-rooted avens and other native invasives that had responded again energetically to the lack of competition from garlic mustard and mugwort. The new plants settled in well accompanied by more transplants from Groton. The Water Department made a lovely bench to replace our not very comfortable log seats and watered plants during summer dry periods. In the fall we collected seeds of native asters and goldenrod and scattered those around hoping that they would out-compete the invasives next year. And I brought in many bags of oak leaves to spread around. At the end of the gardening year, the garden was beginning to look like what we wanted it to be: a woodland garden.
People who love gardening always think of next year, and Elizabeth and Vince and I are doing so. We're thinking of trees to replace the crabapple, trees to replace the ash trees which aren't well, more ferns, more early spring flowers, more blueberries which have been especially beautiful in the fall; there are many possibilities. But this undertaking has been an enormous pleasure and we are deeply grateful for and appreciative of the support that the Cambridge Water Department has given us in this project.