Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What's the point? Providing a rich place for my kids to explore, learn and appreciate the land.

My kids enjoying an evening paddle
When I was awarded the Slow the Flow grant I was asked 'what was the biggest reason for doing the project?' Besides the obvious reasons of improving river water quality and providing native habitat for wildlife the real answer is simple: I'm doing it for my children.

This week is national Take a Child Outside week. Luckily our family doesn't think about taking our kids outside. We just do it. A lot. Our two-year-old and four-year-old girls are outside at least two hours a day if not four or five. It saddens me when I meet kids who've never seen a snake, toad or butterfly in the wild or have never planted a seed or dug up a worm.

Adding over sixty varieties of native plants and shrubs, a vegetable garden and a fairy garden only enriches the time my little girls spend outside. They will grow up seeing beautiful butterflies visit their flowers, learning the species of birds that visit their yard and exploring the river that flows past their little sliver of the world. 
My older child already has a sense of stewardship over our property and gardens. She took this photo (left) of the signs that greet visitors along our front walk proclaiming that we're certified with the National Wildlife Federation as well as with Monarch Watch.  Clearly she's proud of what she's helped me plant all summer. Come and visit and she'll happily show off her fairy garden.

Lizzie releasing one of her raised monarchs

Over in our organic veggie garden my kids have eaten their way through an entire tower of green beans and a bed of carrots.  Barely one bean or carrot has made it into the house, most have been outdoor snacks. They're so used to eating in the garden that in the winter it's hard to get them to eat store-bought veggies.

From the Monarch Waystation we've raised eight caterpillars from eggs all the way to butterflies and let them go.  Now we're having fun sending the milkweed fluff off in the wind laden with swamp milkweed seeds. If there's a profusion of swamp milkweed in the neighborhood everyone will know why. And that would be great. More monarchs!

Our pictorial yard list
Unfortunately, since we've only been here a year, I can't compare our yard birds before and after the relandscaping. But we've seen over sixty species so far including hummingbirds that have been chasing goldfinches off the cardinal flower right in front of my kitchen window. The kids keep a pictorial yard list (left) and we just started one for butterflies so I can learn them too.

Our family is only passing through our one third of an acre along the Ipswich River. In a thousand years I doubt any evidence of us will be left. Yet I'll know that at least while we lived here we did our best to let nature live side by side with us, with only our observations (and occasional toad catching) getting in its way. And I guess, after all that work, that's the point.

Friday, September 7, 2012

I'm done! "Nothing to native paradise" accomplished!

Giant swallowtail butterfly feeding on our torch sunflowers
Yesterday afternoon Nancy Pau, the brain-child of the Slow the Flow Grant program from the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, came by my garden to check it out and call it done! And what did I do afterwards? I picked up eight 75% off wild geraniums at Home Depot which I will plant tomorrow.

So now that I am mostly done I thought I would share the best before and after photos of the project. The way the house is now (below) is definitely less "neat and tidy" than it was before but it provides habitat for so many more birds and insects than it did one year ago when nothing would have been flowering in late summer.
"After", September 2012

"Before", Summer 2011 (


Side of the house "after", September 2012
side of the house "before", October 2011

The woodland island garden and border above has six species of ferns in it along with culver's root, solomon's seal, Canadian ginger, jack-in-the-pulpit, goats beard, foam flower, bugbane and other native shade plants. One year ago this was bare mulch over plastic sheeting with one giant yew shrub (right).
Last fall our backyard was also mostly mulch over sheets of plastic (left). Over the course of the spring and summer I removed all the plastic, my husband built a fence to keep the kids out of the river, the bare area by our neighbor's wood pile has been landscaped with mostly ferns and I let my kids plant their fairy garden. I also incorporated a rain garden in the lower corner of the fenced area (below) to catch all run off from the roof and side yard.

Backyard "after", September 2012

black-eyed susans, blanket flowers and cardinal flowers
I think the most important part of this landscaping project for the little ecosystem that is our 0.3 acres is the removal of nearly 4,000 square feet of plastic. For me, adding hundreds of native plants to that newly permeable soil just completed the property's transformation from a typical suburban landscape to a native paradise. I am glad to be (mostly) done so I can sit on my garden bench and enjoy it before the winter sets in (oh, and finish painting the house too!) And I am so much looking forward to that first fiddlehead emerging next spring. 

A big thank you to the team at the Parker River Wildlife Refuge for awarding me this grant. Without it I would not have accomplished so much this year and there would most likely be large areas of plastic still on our property. I haven't tackled the other half of the backyard, but that's a project for next summer.

 For an overview of the other PIEs Slow the Flow Grant Program awardees please watch this short video: