The Woodland Restoration Project
Fresh Pond Reservation
The Woodland Restoration Project, affectionately called "The Corner" by its caretakers, has now completed its 6th growing season. Only about 5000 square feet in area, The Corner is densely vegetated with locally native woodland trees, shrubs, and perennials that were either growing there naturally; or were planted. It is surrounded by a low fence; and has a circular mulch path so that visitors can explore without stepping on the wildflowers. It also has a bench that invites people to sit, relax, and enjoy the greenery. In 2013 we plan to add small wooden labels to help those who are interested in plant identification.
Events in The Corner this year included the destruction by Hurricane Sandy of a large sugar maple that snapped about 20 feet above the ground and landed in the middle of the area. The broken tree was quickly removed by arborists, and we were relieved to find only a small amount of damage to the other plants. Now the main challenge in The Corner for the volunteers is to control some of our more "enthusiastic" plants that would happily take over. These include purple-flowering raspberry, Canada anemone, sallow sedge, and several goldenrods and asters. Some of these plants can be moved to the Lusitania Woods, described below, and others will need to be thinned out.
Lusitania Woodland Habitat Restoration Project
The members of Friends of Fresh Pond Reservation who created the Woodland Restoration Project (the Corner) have taken on a new challenge: replanting a nearby 3/4 acre of degraded woods. This new area is called the Lusitania Woodland Habitat Restoration Project and, like The Corner, is being planted with locally native species.
The WHRP did not start out as a planting project, but rather as an effort by two of our project members, Betsy Meyer and Suzanna Black, to remove common and glossy buckthorn from the land adjacent to The Corner. They reasoned that reducing the number of berry-producing buckthorns nearby would reduce the number of seedlings sprouting in The Corner. The satisfaction of using weed wrenches to easily uproot these invasive trees was enough that they kept at the job, and by the fall of 2011 they had cleared much of the strip of land between The Corner and the service road adjacent to Lusitania Meadow. During the summer we added two more members to our team of volunteers, Pamela Hart and Susan Coolidge; Deb Albenberg from the Water Department also joined us on many mornings.
As in the early stages of our work in The Corner, we felt that the now-bare soil was in need of vegetation. In January 2012 we spoke with Watershed Manager Chip Norton about the possibility of planting trees, shrubs, and perennials in the area. The goal we proposed was to create a healthy native woodland ecosystem that could sustain a variety of wildlife ranging from insects to birds and small mammals. We did not foresee this area as a place for people or dogs to use, but rather as a safe haven for the Reservation's full-time inhabitants. It would be as "natural" as we could make it, with locally native plants appropriate for that setting, fallen logs and branches lying where they fell, and no paths or other human-made structures. Our role would be to continue adding native plant species as space permitted, to remove invasive weeds, to monitor the plants for insect and weather damage, and to irrigate as needed. We also proposed using Friends group money to purchase the plants and materials, thereby creating a model for volunteers elsewhere who might wish to restore woodland habitats on a limited budget.
Chip liked our idea, but then remembered that the area is designated a wetland, and would require permission from the Cambridge Conservation Commission before we could plant there. At that point we had already ordered about 160 bare-root trees and shrubs that were scheduled to arrive in May and would need to be planted immediately. Chip helped us resolve our dilemma by ordering nursery stands, potting soil and watering equipment so that we could set up a temporary nursery next to the Water Department. We contacted New England Wild Flower Society's horticulturalist Kristin DeSouza with a request for used flowerpots. She very generously responded by giving us hundreds of ½ and ¼ gallon pots and trays. Our bare-root plants arrived as scheduled, and on May 4 Betsy, Suzanna, and I had a marathon planting session that ended only when we had all 160 plants safely potted and on the stands.
We spent the summer waiting for permission to plant, but the time was not wasted. We continued removing massive numbers of invasive weeds from the project area, and began learning how to propagate plants from cuttings and seeds. We asked Ted Elliman at New England Wild Flower Society to advise us about appropriate native plants for that setting, and we investigated where we could buy them. We planted seeds that we had purchased or collected, began taking cuttings for rooting, and decided which plants from the Corner we could divide or move. Betsy watered the plants in the nursery several times a week throughout the dry season. She also came to the rescue of the trees when the nursery stands collapsed under the weight of our very large pots She repotted some and set the stands back up in a lower configuration.
On September 10th we were given permission by the Conservation Commission to begin planting. We were then in the midst of pulling out more buckthorns, mulberries and box elders, and using them to create a brush barrier along the Perimeter Road in order to discourage people and dogs from entering the area. We had additional help with the buckthorn from volunteers at two "weekend weedouts" and from several of the regular Water Department weeding sessions. Reservation Supervisor Vince Falcione offered to have his arborists remove the larger non-native trees when they came to do other work on the Reservation. We decided it was preferable to hold off on planting until the larger trees were gone, since they would have a major impact on the growth of our new trees. The arborists arrived at the end of September, and in two daylong sessions, cut down numerous unwanted woody plants. We asked them to leave many of the larger trunks lying on the ground; and to chip the smaller logs and branches, which they blew back onto the ground for us to use as mulch.
Vince ordered a pallet of bags of humus, and a bucket of mycorrhizal fungi packets for us to mix with the soil as we were planting. We began that task in October; and maintained a busy schedule until cold weather arrived in December. A few days after our first planting session we discovered that something - probably a rabbit - had nipped the tops off of some of our small trees, and damaged the bark on others. When even more damage occurred a few days later, we realized we had a serious problem. We purchased rolls of 2-foot wide chick-wire, which we made into cylindrical cages that we placed and anchored around the trees. Some plants that initially were untouched were later damaged, so we have finally resorted to making cages for everything we have planted. We believe that as the trees mature, their bark will become thick enough that they will be impervious to the hungry mammals. Ironically, rabbits are among the animals for which we are working to restore this habitat. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that they prefer to eat the native species, which are the plants they lived on in the past, rather than the non-natives that have been taking over.
The Water Department made and put up for us a large sign with photos and information about the project. They also put up a temporary fence after we realized that our brush fence had limited powers to keep out wandering dogs.
When spring arrives we will decide how many of the damaged plants we need to replace. We will also begin planting shrubs and perennials that we have rooted or started from seeds. These plants are currently sitting on my patio in Cambridge, covered with a chick wire cage to keep out whatever gnawing critters may be lurking in my neighborhood.
This is a very-long-range project that will not see maturity for many years. In this urban setting, it will probably never be self-sustaining, given the constant influx of exotic (non-native) plants and insect pests.
Elizabeth Wylde, for the Woodland Stewards
Stewards: Suzanna Black, Susan Coolidge Pamela Hart, Betsy Meyer, Elizabeth Wylde
Thanks to Chip Norton and Vince Falcione, who made these projects possible, and to Deb Albenberg for support and hands-on participation.