By the calendar it's not yet late winter, but the weather is pure spring. Today we evicted the weeds from the Heritage Center beds and cut back the remainder of last year's perennial stems. The columbines are emerging In the Rain Garden some of the invading grasses and winter weeds are pushing up through the leaf mulch, so those were also evicted. The bee balm is showing signs of life. At the Native Plant Garden, we began cutting back the broomsedge and again evicted the invading winter weeds. Our one elderberry shrub is beginning to leaf out.
I forgot to get a photo of our progress in the gardens, but I will share one of a woodland scene from a few days ago. This moss-covered boulder speaks of many seasons of undisturbed tranquility off the beaten path, pleasant to contemplate after several hours of garden chores.
The weather has been on the warm side lately, with a record high of 74 yesterday. The winter weeds are responding to the stronger sun and warmth: dandelions, common chickweed and hairy bittercress are blooming. At the District Office, I spent about an hour micro-weeding, mostly small vetches. The ground is moist but not soggy, and most perennials are still dormant, so it's a good time to transplant. I brought a clump of Blue Wild Indigo from home and spent another hour adding it to the Heritage Center garden. It probably won't grow enough this year, but by next year my hope is that it will provide some shade for the Wild Ginger on either side of it, which is in a too-sunny location at the east end of the building.
Weed control: dig out? spray? smother? Sometimes smothering with mulch makes the most sense. Some of the winter weeds in the Park Office landscaping can't be dug out without damaging the perennial crowns Here again, as in the Rain Garden, shredded leaf mulch seems to be the best choice. It settles down densely enough on top of dormant perennial forbs (wildflowers) to smother the weeds, but doesn't lift and fly away when the wind blows. Here at the Park Office, it may even be feasible to use shredded leaf mulch all year instead of the more expensive shredded wood mulch. The shredded leaf mulch is free while it lasts, so I'll be spreading more of it here in the near future.
I dug out a few weeds and did general tidying up at the Native Plant Garden this week, and for a change there's nothing more to be done there for the time being. Likewise at the CCC Museum. On the other hand, the CCC Field and Aquatic Center beds need attention in the form of weeding and/or mulching. A life coach, on hearing that my only hobby was gardening, advised me to find an additional interest because gardening was a seasonal activity. Not!
The photograph below of a site in the park shows how nature uses mulch to manage "weeds" in a forest after abandonment of a large man-made pit.
We started clearing the district office landscape beds in April. I think we got the new plants in and the mulch spread by the end of June. Since then I have been periodically weeding out the liriope which was missed. Today I found more liriope, but also now we are in the fall seed-sprouting season. The seeds of a weedy vetch, along with other seeds, are still in the soil from previous summers and they have sprouted copiously. I expect these to be a problem for several years, as they are still showing up in other beds that we have had under control for at least a couple of years. It took about two hours of hoeing, raking and mulching to clean the beds once more.
The baldcypress in front of the building is changing to an attractive mottled green-and-gold.
A little of this and a little of that, today in the gardens. We spent a few minutes at the CCC Field, weeding and spreading some buckets of mulch. I particularly wanted to mark a grape-fern which I found under the mountain laurels. Grape-fern is a small fern-like plant that is common in these woods, but I suspect it is rarely noticed from the walking trails.
To help visitors identify more of the plants in the gardens, in place of the black-and-silver plant tags, I have obtained "garden tags", the same tags but with the garden name and a QR code link to the garden on Plants Map. A visitor with a smartphone (some 60% of us now have them) can pull up the garden and peruse the labelled images of the plants in the garden. We installed the garden tags at the CCC Museum, the Heritage Center and the Native Plant Garden.
After taking out a few clumps of broomsedge, we left the Native Plant Garden and visited the Bright Hope Butterfly Garden. This garden is the project of a member of Pocahontas Chapter, Virginia Master Naturalists, and is not part of our maintenance routine. Our purpose there was primarily to receive from the Friends of Pocahontas firewood crew some bucked log sections to be used for casual seating around the garden.
The final stop for today was at the Powhatan Dining Hall Garden. There we cut back the spent flower stems, pulled up the few weeds and pruned the elderberries. The only plant still flowering is a tall, showy aster which we have yet to identify. To close out the morning's work, we took a short walk into the woods to inspect a small vernal salamander pool. It had filled with water in the recent heavy rains, but was once again dry. On the walk we came across a cluster of Black Trumpet mushrooms (photo below).
In the spring of this year the director of DCR's Stewardship Virginia program held a nature camp for youth. In preparation for the camp, she planted a variety of wildflowers in the area above this garden where the grass is normally mowed. One of our tasks for today was to transplant all those "outliers" closer to the garden proper so that mowing could be resumed next year. Thanks to the recent soaking rains, the ground was just right for digging and planting.
With that done, we checked on the CCC Museum Garden and found it to be in good shape, so we moved on to clean out the weeds in the Heritage Center Garden and the Native Plant Garden. The most abundant grass in the Native Plant Garden is Broomsedge. It functions there primarily as a free substitute for wood mulch, which must be purchased every year. Depending on your point of view, it can be either attractive or unkempt, but it does help to soak up the rain and to retain moisture during dry spells. The downside is that Broomsedge self-sows freely, so we have to keep weeding it out to keep it from completely overrunning the bed.
I started the weekly landscaping maintenance at the District Office, where there were just a few weeds in the mulch, and a few Liriope were once again appearing. Dispatching those, I trimmed the now leafless Swamp Milkweed stems and seed-heavy Cardinal-flower; no point in having to weed out a thousand Cardinal-flower seedlings next year.
Next stop was the CCC Field where Bert and Eric met me. The landscaped area there was dotted with a variety of mushrooms, including beautiful specimens of Purple-spored Puffballs. Several late-flowering wildflowers were blooming; an aster, a goldenrod, the narrow-leaf sunflower, a black-eyed Susan, and the Small White Morning Glory shown here. We did a little weeding, particularly taking out a small plant called Mulberryweed, which is an exotic escape from nurseries. I found in one of the mulched beds an emerging grape-fern, which is a deep woods native plant, and I flagged it so we wouldn't pull it out by mistake.
After spending half an hour on some weeds at the Aquatic Center, Eric and I took a walk up the Forest Exploration Trail. Not far from the footbridge there were scattered patches of Perilla Mint along the trail. Perilla Mint is another invasive weed which degrades the park's ecosystem. Unlike stiltgrass, which is so ubiquitous now that control is virtually impossible, Perilla Mint is not yet common in the park, so we still have the opportunity to contain it. It took the two of us about two hours to pull up all the Perilla Mint along that section of the trail.
A couple of days ago I pulled up three fading Alternate-leaved Seedbox plants that had shown up in my vegetable garden. They had been allowed to grow there because they weren't interfering with any of my mostly unsuccessful garden vegetables and I'm a wildflower lover. I was debating where to compost them when it occurred to me that they might very well work at the Aquatic Center, where I'm always trying to come up with suitable new plants to put in. The Seedbox outside my garden fencing was closely trimmed all summer by my deer visitors, but nevertheless it persisted, so why not give them a try at the Aquatic Center? I cut the stems back to about an inch above the crowns, planted the roots (by now a bit dry), and scattered the seed-bearing tops on top of them. They are in the right-hand bed in the rear section away from the driveway.
In addition to the Seedbox, I transplanted from my vegetable garden an attractive fall grass rosette, not yet identified, and another Common Rush accompanied by another rosette of that same grass. These will help a bit to fill the excessive bare space in these gardens.
Last year at some point we installed a recycled-brick edging around the landscape bed at the CCC Museum. Its primary purpose is to define what is “bed” and what is “lawn”, enabling us to better manage the weeds in the bed. Encouraged by how well that has turned out, I felt that the same technique could be used around the uphill side of the Rain Garden (the downhill side is already defined by the water control berm). Today we installed this edging, shown below, using bricks reclaimed from brickwork of outdated and demolished park structures.
Our only other garden maintenance of note today was to move a fence-wire tree protector from the CCC Field where it was no longer needed, to the Native Plant Garden where the deer have been eating the new shoots off of an elderberry bush. After completing these two tasks, Eric and I rewarded ourselves with a hike around Beaver Lake to inspect vernal pools and take photographs. The Parasol Mushroom was an irresistible photo opportunity.
The front of the CCC Field was a busy place this morning, with high school runners finishing up their morning workouts. If they had needed water, they could have used the drinking fountain; it’s working again, thanks to Park Manager Josh. We finally finished lining the brick walk with a strip of mulch. With that and a little weeding, we can safely say that it is truly ready for the public to enjoy. To top it off, the sunflowers in the planting box have attracted several dazzling butterflies.
Our second and most important task this morning was to perform end-of-summer cleaning in the Rain Garden. To assure proper rain garden functioning, spent vegetation needs to be removed. Over time, if plant debris is allowed to build up in the garden, it will lose its capacity to hold and infiltrate run-off. In our case, most of the spent vegetation was bee balm, and that was removed down to the soil level. In addition, the decline of summer growth was revealing weeds that needed to be removed. The bee balm and the weeds are all good candidates for composting.
Next on the agenda was a check of the CCC Museum and the Butterfly Garden, both of which presently require little maintenance. Eric wants to follow up on getting rid of the bugs on the Butterflyweed. Finally, Eric and I cruised over to the Powhatan Activity Center to water and weed the new plantings there. We found the new transplants holding up well, and the so-recently subdued weeds beginning to return.
Our next trick will be to locate the important “see me” plants in the Native Plant Garden, and remove the plants that are distractions. We will have lots of grasses and sedges to chip out of that rock-hard clay soil. A rain dance would be appropriate now.
(Photo of Bee Balm at the Rain Garden)
Thoughts on the park, its residents and how to preserve its natural beauty.