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Old 04-02-2009, 02:13 PM   #1
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Leaf Circle My re-wilding project in the Niagara Frontier

Introduction

This thread is intended to become a recounting of my adventures in a native garden and its environs in Buffalo, N.Y. I welcome comments and questions of all shapes and sizes along the way. I must warn everyone that I am not an excellent photographer by any measure, but my wife is. I am sure she will take some beautiful macro shots of interesting plants and wildlife along the way, but when it comes to telling, through word and image, the story of how the garden comes to be, I'm afraid I'm on my own.

The Niagara Frontier

I live in the botanical-geological region known as the Niagara Frontier of New York. Strictly speaking, the Niagara Frontier is the eastern shore of the Niagara River from Lake Ontario in the North to Lake Erie in the South. Map:

http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jsorens/nfmap.png
The blue marker on the map indicates the site of my garden.The red marker indicates the site of the forest relict mentioned below.

The Niagara Frontier has a number of distinctive features. It is quite flat, apart from the steep descent of the Niagara Escarpment and the gorge through which the Niagara River cuts, north of the Falls. The region experiences less snow than the country to the south of Buffalo and to the east of Rochester, but the lake effect is unpredictable, as we discovered in October 2006. The temperatures are remarkably mild due to lake influence, and I live in zone 6a with a last frost date generally in late April in recent years. The soil is generally fertile; my back yard is moist to wet, black clay-loam. Outside the city most rural areas are still given to farming rather than forest.

This means that relatively pristine natural areas are difficult to come by in this region. The state parks, state forests, and other public conservation areas are thoroughly infested with alien invasives such as garlic mustard, multiflora rose, Norway maple, periwinkle, European common reed, purple-loosestrife, various honeysuckles and privets, common buckthorn, and so on. To find forests with a mostly native forb layer, one must generally leave the Niagara Frontier region and go to the hills in the Southern Tier.

There is one exception. There is a forest that is essentially quasi-private property but is open to the public. I'm going to refrain from naming it, mostly because I've never seen anyone else there, and who knows who might be Googling? In the interior of the forest, I have identified no invasives. Instead, there are white and red trilliums, Canada mayflowers, false Solomon's seals, Jacks, mayapples, jewelweed, and some truly impressive cinnamon ferns. Off the top of my head, I've also identified spicebush, hawthorn (I can't narrow down this taxonomic black hole yet!), Allegheny blackberry, and two species of dogwoods. The canopy is largely sugar maple, American beech, and tulip tree.

In determining what I want to grow then, this site has been inspiration #1. In addition, I have decided to try growing some of the rarer species that are apparently found in the region, but which I have never yet seen in the wild. The e-book MADCapHorse: A Revised Checklist of the Vascular Plants of the Niagara Frontier Region has been invaluable in this respect.

Apparently, the Niagara Frontier represents a unique convergence of Midwest and Northeast, and the relatively moderate climate also supports some relatively southerly species. It is the easternmost location of species such as prairie blazing star and the northernmost habitat for species such as cucumber magnolia, while it also has some species more characteristic of New England such as eastern teaberry and bunchberry.


Progress and Limitations

Over the winter of 2007-8, I decided to kill my back lawn and turn the entire yard into a garden of species native to the Niagara Frontier. Last summer, I laid down newspaper and several cubic yards of leaf compost over most of the yard. Under the silver maple's drip line I largely relied on Round-Up instead, so as not to suffocate its roots. (Knowing what I know today, I might make a different choice - but I might not. There are trade-offs.)

I also planted some species that I could obtain easily & cheaply, or that would take a long time to grow from seed, such as spring ephemerals. The yard was divided into woodland (summer shade), woodland edge (part shade), and meadow (sunny) sections and species allotted accordingly. Here are two pictures of the garden that I snapped today, just to give an overall view:

Here are some of the problems I'm having to deal with:

1. The neighbors' privet hedge in the back. I don't like it, but I don't see what I can do about it right now. Once my garden starts to look decent, I can talk to them about killing the privets and putting in something native, but for now I don't have proof of concept. There's also invasive honeysuckle in there. Yay!

2. **** periwinkle and European lilies-of-the-valley! I particularly abhor the former. I spent many hours painstakingly pulling it out from my yard, but it's in both of the neighbors' yards as well, so that will be a sempiternal battle.

3. **** rabbits! The Eastern cottontail rats have apparently eaten two very fine hepatica specimens, which as of yesterday are no longer where they were when I last saw them in the fall, and viciously girdled two white oak seedlings. Take a look at what they did to some crabapple root sprouts:
4. *sigh* Earthworms. Don't know how they got here, but they're here. Contrary to popular understanding, earthworms are not native to this part of the country, which was glaciated at the last Ice Age. They eat lots of the leaf duff that woodland wildflowers need to survive. So I get leaves from the neighbors and dump them in the woodland area. Between the worms and the rabbits, I doubt I'll be able to raise trilliums, so I'm not even trying.

5. Un-maintained public utility land next door. It was overrun with gigantic, 15-foot Rosa multiflora and two young but fast-growing Norway maples. Was. Here's a picture of that area after I got done with it (note girdling on maples, the trees in the foreground are green ash, apparently self-sowed):
http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jsorens/multiflora-toast.jpg
Where are you now, multiflora? What's that? I can't hear you... Oh yes, because you're dead!

The neighbors were very appreciative of my campaign of invasive-murder, but I recently made the mistake of informing the utility company that I was removing the invasives and planting natives - and would they like to send someone to see what I was doing? They thanked me but asked me not to do anything further, for liability reasons, instead to contact their contractor. I might do that.

Some more random shots I took today:
http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jsorens/bitty-cornus.jpg
Itty-bitty dogwood must be protected by chicken wire from nasssty rabbitses. Oh, how we hates them!

http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jsorens/dirt-pile.jpg
I call this one, "Dirt Pile."

http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jsorens/elm-trumps-spruce.jpg
An American elm puts an American-style beating on a Norway spruce on the utility property. Go elm go!

http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jsorens/compost.jpg
My composter is an old garbage can with holes drilled into the bottom. I put some soil into it to get the good microbes. We'll see if it works. I've never been a stellar composter.

http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jsorens/ninebark-before.jpg
In this shot you see a ninebark and two American hollies. American hollies actually don't grow wild this far north, but they antedate our arrival, so I won't kill them. Those arborvitae (native here, but not in this cultivar form) also antedate our arrival. The ninebark got a hard prune after this picture was taken.
Attached Thumbnails
My re-wilding project in the Niagara Frontier-nfmap.jpg   My re-wilding project in the Niagara Frontier-duewest-april2.jpg   My re-wilding project in the Niagara Frontier-duesouth-apr2.jpg   My re-wilding project in the Niagara Frontier-rabbits-love-crabapple.jpg   My re-wilding project in the Niagara Frontier-multiflora-toast.jpg  

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Old 04-02-2009, 06:59 PM   #2
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The last five images from the previous post couldn't be included due to forum limits, so I have added them as thumbnails to this message. Let me know if you have any problems viewing these pics!

Edit: Hmm, looks as if some of these images have been auto-resized, including the map on the first post. If you want to get the full-size images, do please click through to my website.
Attached Thumbnails
My re-wilding project in the Niagara Frontier-bitty-cornus.jpg   My re-wilding project in the Niagara Frontier-dirt-pile.jpg   My re-wilding project in the Niagara Frontier-elm-trumps-spruce.jpg   My re-wilding project in the Niagara Frontier-compost.jpg   My re-wilding project in the Niagara Frontier-ninebark-before.jpg  

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Old 04-02-2009, 07:11 PM   #3
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You are really on a roll. This is going to be fantastic. Not too many people take on a project this size at a new home and even fewer take the time to research what they are planting. You deserve a bunch of big pats on the back.
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American hollies actually don't grow wild this far north, but they antedate our arrival, so I won't kill them. Those arborvitae (native here, but not in this cultivar form) also antedate our arrival.
This is not a bad thing. They may not be a straight species or native to your area but they aren't invasive. I would leave them be as you have chosen to do. You have enough work cut out for yourself.
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Old 04-02-2009, 08:06 PM   #4
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You are really on a roll. This is going to be fantastic. Not too many people take on a project this size at a new home and even fewer take the time to research what they are planting. You deserve a bunch of big pats on the back.
Thanks! I'm having fun with it, and that's really the point for me. It may not look fantastic this year or next, or even if/when we move, but I'm certainly learning a great deal about plants, soil, and wildlife, and enjoying the fresh air and exercise. By buying mostly seeds rather than plants, I'm not spending an inordinate amount of money, maybe $500 all told for all equipment, plants, seeds, and compost. Field botany has also given me a new appreciation of nature when I'm hiking. Now, I can even collect a few seeds while I'm out there & feel as if I'm doing something productive.

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This is not a bad thing. They may not be a straight species or native to your area but they aren't invasive. I would leave them be as you have chosen to do. You have enough work cut out for yourself.
Indeed... Had one of those learning experiences with these hollies. Before I'd done much research on the "Natural Environment," lo these past three years, I was disturbed to see that many of the holly leaves were turning yellow or brown after our first winter in the house. We took the leaves to a local nursery, and they told us that the hollies were suffering from a fungal infection and sold us some fungicide. We sprayed and sprayed and sprayed, and it didn't do a d--d thing. Turns out - American hollies sometimes lose many of their leaves in spring, especially at & beyond the northern limit of their natural range. No fungus.

Needless to say, I've learned quickly to go to knowledgeable native plant gardeners with these questions rather than trust the mass-market nurseries.
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Old 04-02-2009, 08:17 PM   #5
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These types of plantings take a few years to establish and several more years to begin looking like a monet painting.

(sigh) Dieback and leaf drop happen frequently with holllies and rhodos for a multitude of reasons. Sorry they sold you fungicides.

How did you set your stepping stones?
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Old 04-02-2009, 08:24 PM   #6
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Impressive undertaking.
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Old 04-02-2009, 08:30 PM   #7
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How did you set your stepping stones?
It's been a pretty labor-intensive process. I got fieldstone for the path rather than the usual flagstone because I wanted a more natural look, but that means many more stones to lay. The outline of the path was created with extension cords and a manual edger.

What I've been doing is laying each stone where I want it, then cutting an outline around it with the edger, digging up the dirt & sod within the outline to the appropriate depth, then setting in the stone and scooping loose dirt around it. That process has led to the growth of a fairly good-sized Dirt Pile. So this year I plan to do the rest of the path a little differently, gradually increasing the grade until I'm actually laying the stones directly on the ground and filling in the gaps with the dirt from the Pile.

The only worry I have about that strategy is erosion, given that the path will be slightly higher than the surrounding ground. I'll probably sow a fast-growing native grass like Hystrix patula or Bromus ciliatus in the cracks to hold the soil in place. That means giving up the dream of moss everywhere, though.
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Old 04-02-2009, 08:39 PM   #8
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The fieldstone looks good. When your plants start establishing you will have a footpath through the areas to watch what is going on. You are going to have oodles of activity once this takes off.

I wouldn't worry about erosion. Native plants have deep roots. The footpath you designed isn't expansive. It's perfectly to scale for your yard. Not too wide and not too narrow. The roots of your native plantings will take care of any erosion concerns you may have.

What about that woodland area for mosses? You should still be able to have your moss and eat it too
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Old 04-03-2009, 08:10 AM   #9
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Impressive!
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Old 04-03-2009, 02:41 PM   #10
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Impressive!
Thanks!

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The fieldstone looks good. When your plants start establishing you will have a footpath through the areas to watch what is going on. You are going to have oodles of activity once this takes off.
There are some large areas that will be a few feet off the path, so I'm considering what to do about that - maybe just scattering a few small stones here and there for gingerly stepping through when I need to.

Quote:
What about that woodland area for mosses? You should still be able to have your moss and eat it too
Heh, heh... Well, actually, there's a fair bit of moss under the privets now that I've removed the periwinkle, and it seems to be expanding. Looks great when the light hits it just right.
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anemone canadensis, aralia nudicaulis, arisaema triphyllum, asclepias incarnata, asclepias tuberosa, eupatorium purpureum, fieldstone, gaultheria procumbens, geranium maculatum, native flowers, native garden, native north american flowers, native plant, native plants, natural environment, niagara frontier, north american flowers, north american native plants, re-wilding project, restoration, rewilding project, sorghastrum nutans, spiraea alba latifolia, symphoricarpos albus, woodland

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