Landscape bed gardening tends to be mostly mundane work, pulling weeds and grass, trimming over-growth, spreading mulch. One of the rewards of this work is surprise discoveries of interesting things that are easily overlooked by those not getting their hands dirty. Today’s surprise was finding a small snake that seemed ill. Alerting my fellow gardeners, we all watched as the little Red-bellied snake wiggled around weakly, showed us his bright orange belly and then appeared to expire. It was an almost convincing act, but I suspected a trick. Sure enough, after we moved to another area of the CCC Museum garden, the little trickster came back to life, only to repeat the act for us when we came to check on it. This behavior is well described at animaldiversity.org. It’s the kind of thing that keeps us coming back to see what other surprises are out there.
At the CCC Field, those Yucca plants you can see in the background have been blooming and producing seeds for years, though perhaps not all the way back to the CCC days. Consequently, there have been lots of little Yuccas in the landscaped areas here. Until now. We’ve taken most of them out, as in the bed in the foreground. I cut and discarded the spent flowering stems this year, to discourage volunteer seeding, but I could have taken another course. According to Helen Hamilton in Wildflowers and Grasses of Virginia’s Coastal Plain, the immature fruit can be cooked and eaten after the seeds are removed.
With the sidewalk cleaned and this Dogwood bed weeded, we moved to the Pool Gardens to take out the invading Nutsedge, Horse Nettle and Bermuda Grass. That was pretty well in hand (though seemingly never complete) when the arriving pool visitors shattered the quiet of the morning. So we moved up to the CCC Museum where grasses and Dandelion were beginning to return. Here there was also an unrecognized small wildflower that is proving difficult to identify. From there to the Butterfly Garden, finding a few weeds and a few insects of interest, though no butterflies. Eric found a very patient dragonfly, and we think we found a bee-mimic fly.
With the Butterfly Garden well in hand, we traipsed over to the Rain Garden, with a nod to a large Fowler’s Toad in passing. Again there were just a few weeds to be picked out, some Bee Balm to admire and photograph, and that completed our morning’s gardening task. Before leaving the park, I took time to visit a bathhouse in the New Campground where there have been some Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven) trees. The last photograph shows the resprouts from the roots of these trees, which must be pulled or cut several times each summer to keep them from growing back.
Invasive Species Volunteer Squad, or IVSquad, originated back in August, 2013, in discussions with Irene Frentz, the Pocahontas Natural Resources Officer. I had made an offer to help with invasive plant removal, which she accepted. But she then requested that I leverage my effectiveness by engaging other volunteers to help. This was accomplished with the help of the scheduling websites used by Pocahontas VMN and Friends of Pocahontas. We started with an experimental Stiltgrass removal project in August and September. The next target was a large infestation of Oriental Wisteria. The Wisteria project started in November, 2013, and continued into July of this year.
The current phase of Wisteria control is herbicide treatment by a crew of trained applicators. Manual control by IVSquad will resume in spring when the effectiveness of the herbicide treatment can be observed. Meanwhile, we can turn our attention to other invasive plants in the park. There is no shortage of targets: Stiltgrass, Tree-of-heaven, Honeysuckle, Perilla Mint and others. The schedule is now for three hours a week, on Mondays, posted on www.meetup.com/Friends-of-Pocahontas-State-Park. Pocahontas VMN and Friends of Pocahontas volunteers are invited to help move IVSquad into its third year.
Gardening in the Park is not just weeding, trimming and cleaning up. It’s also about enhancing esthetic value, or beautification. So we collectively need to make decisions about arranging plants and garden accessories. For the CCC Field, we felt that the arrangement of benches in a straight line along the walk was uncomfortable and unappealing, so we moved them around to take advantage of comfort, views and shade. While there, we also worked on weeding, mulching and keeping the walks clean.
From there, we answered a call to help restore manageability to the landscape bed in front of the Park Office. There was a good deal of crabgrass and Bermuda grass overrunning the bed, and that was all removed, along with a couple of unwanted Nandina shrubs, which are not native. We’ll continue to keep an eye on this bed, but one of our Master Naturalists has volunteered to maintain it.
Our final stop was the Butterfly Garden, where an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was a tease. The plantings are progressing nicely, with just a few “weed” plants trying to take root. Eric got a nice photo of the garden, which I will use for establishing a plant “collection” at plantsmap.com
The air had a tropical feel this morning, with a temperature in the 80’s even before we got to work on the CCC Field brick walk. Nevertheless, we finished clearing the walk to the fountain as well as most of the mulched beds under the trees. There are still a few weeds to be cleaned up, including in two small mulch beds around large trees and behind the benches. Before quitting for the day we stopped at the Rain Garden and pulled Lady’s Thumb knotweed and trimmed back some of the Bee Balm which has collapsed in the recent rains. Eric and I worked earlier in the week to weed the Native Plant Garden. Next week we’ll need to dive into the Pool Gardens and check the Butterfly Garden, CCC Museum and Anniversary Garden.
Once again Mother Nature tried to help us with our daily ablutions by providing a free shower, but it did little to dampen the enthusiasm of today’s crew. At the CCC Field we worked on general weeding, with emphasis on the brick walks. Abandoning that effort in the shower, leaving more to be done, we moved to the CCC Museum and cleaned out the weeds there. Next stop, the Butterfly Garden, where again it was scattered crabgrass, carpetweed and a few others. Turtle damage was minimal, for a change. No butterflies to been seen today, but the Joe Pye Weed will be blooming soon. Last stop was the Pool gardens. On the left side we finished removing the unwanted grasses, and on both sides we did general weeding. The crew also tackled the grasses around the landscape edging, making a big improvement in the visual aspect. Several of the pool visitors gave us a verbal pat on the back for a job well done. There is still more to be done here also, with a rich crop of nutsedge growing at the back of the right side bed.
In the next session we’ll need to get to the weeds in the Rain and Native Plant gardens. The Native Plant Garden now has 10 new plant signs which connect via smartphone to associated plant web pages. Feedback on their usefulness and functionality is welcome.
Thoughts on the park, its residents and how to preserve its natural beauty.