This program is the second of two site visits to the private landscapes of a veteran RIWPS’ member. These events are open to members only, as a special thanks for their support and in many cases, countless volunteer hours. This South Kingstown visit takes you to the landscape of Susan Marcus, known at RIWPS for her leadership on the Walks and Workshop Committee.
Once farmland, Susan’s old field, about an acre of open shrub and grasslands, is bounded on three sides by an 200-acre woodland. Today, the field is a happy jumble of native and naturalized plants growing according to a rulebook dictated by predominantly sunny exposures, highly acidic soil with a subset of localized conditions. Skunk cabbage, Joe Pye-weed, different goldenrods, asters, blueberries and summersweet flourish in the boggy lower portion of the field.
Uphill, a dry, nutrient-deprived swath of soil supports little bluestem, bedstraws, prairie roses, dewberry and thyme. A small grove of bayberry thrives at the open intersection of two paths. Atop the nutrient-rich septic field, switch grass dominates. Around the bee yard and in the afternoon shade of an evergreen hedgerow, the best loam in the field is fertile enough to allow flowering natives and naturalized species, notably goldenrod, milkweed, tansy, deer tongue, brome, and pearly everlasting.
Twenty-five years ago, the field was overrun with bittersweet, autumn olive, Japanese honeysuckle, barberry, multiflora roses and Japanese knotweed. Susan’s first management plan was to mow and dig invasives. One of the first results of digging was that a new invasive, black swallowwort, took up residence. The ongoing mowing prevented the establishment of habitats desirable for insects, birds and mammals other than the whitetail deer. This management plan never tipped the balance of plants to desired species. The situation seemed hopeless.
Then in 2009, when Susan began living on this remnant of a farm full time, she decided to be both more aggressive and more targeted with her removal tactics. She learned how to apply a translocation herbicide, Triclopyr, on the invasive species. Bittersweet responded to the periodic spraying, timed to minimize damage to nectar-sipping bees and butterflies, but the black swallowwort and Japanese knotweed needed digging and pulling respectively. Over two growing seasons, a native meadow began to emerge. Grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, dragon and damselflies, bees, wasps, flies, turtles, rabbits, sparrows, swallows, hawks and some years, red fox now nest, burrow, pupate, hunt, fight, play, make noise and feed in the field.
As you wander the meadow paths, you’ll be able to find bittersweet and black swallowwort and natives that have to be culled, like choke cherry and even sumac, to prevent the field from returning to woods. You’ll see many species that have naturalized in New England, including tansy, Queen Anne’s lace and bedstraws. But you’ll also find a textbook’s worth of goldenrods and grasses. A platform in the meadow does double duty by providing shade and producing solar electricity.
Imperfectly following a percept learned from growing up in landscapes designed by Beatrix Farrand in Princeton and Washington DC – namely that as plantings move away from dwellings, they become ever more loosely planned, Susan is now working on enhancing the gardens around her properties’ buildings. For the years when she was not a Rhode Island resident, these gardens had to be self-sufficient; they tended to be predominantly populated with daylilies and hostas – deer food. Slowly these garden beds are becoming a catalog of Susan’s favorite plants, some native and some not. Even in their evolving state, they offer a contrast with the “wild” meadow.
There is a limit of 12 persons for this program. We recommend you register early. Fee: $10.00
Note: A few days before the site visit registrants will be sent an e mail with the directions for this landscape walk in South Kingstown.
Advance registration required.