If you have a patch of beautiful native plants that now, at season’s end, look like you planted a bunch of weeds, and you’ve been feeling guilty about getting around to the fall clean-up—don’t feel guilty. Feel enlightened!
Here’s what our garden guru Devin Floyd had to say about the messy areas at the Quarry Gardens:
“As for the dead standing stalks, seed heads, and wilting overwinter foliage, they do far more than feed winter birds. While that is fun and easy to observe, and quite important, there are hidden and critical processes taking place, and most of them are important for the fledgling birds of next spring (and other middle-food-chain predators like frogs, snakes, salamanders, lizards, toads).
“The larvae and eggs of beetles, wasps, bees, moths, butterflies, stick bugs, mantids, leafhoppers, grasshoppers, assassin bugs, and many other arthropoda overwinter on, and inside of, all parts of the plant. In fact, many colorful insects, like the brush-footed group of butterflies, overwinter as adults, in diapause, and dangle with wings closed to mimic leaves from the stems of these plants (they are nearly impossible to see). In other words, when the flora isn’t providing food, it is providing shelter.
“In winter, the dead stalks and all their parts are the genetic life-bridge between autumn and spring, for the whole bottom of the food chain and, eventually, the upper reaches of it. What’s more is that the very health and capacity of the soil relies upon the in situ wilt and decomposition of the flora that grows upon it.
“This perspective frames our approach to fall ‘cleanup,’ and it can serve as a focal point for visitors/users that are new to the subject. If the contents are a bit wild, architecture is important. We create balance and clarity by maintaining edges and defined spaces that are clean, cut, straight, sweeping and tidy. This duo, wild+tidy, communicates that we are experimenting with native plant communities and biodiversity conservation within the context of true landscaping and gardening. For the benefit of education and conservation, we are proudly wearing a new Piedmont native aesthetic on our sleeves.”
Six students from Tandem Friends School’s 8th and 10th grades came to The Quarry Gardens one brilliant October day, and removed an invasive grass they piled into a mountain taller than the tallest of them. The occasion was an all-school community service day when Friends’ students lend time, skills, and muscle to worthy tasks throughout the Charlottesville area.
Here, they took out two large patches of Japanese stilt grass, Microstegium vimineum, where it was running from roadside into woods—it will grow in sun or shade—and threatening native species in an area that had been undisturbed for decades. As a foreign invader, stilt grass gives nothing to local ecosystems. Because insects or animals here are not adapted to use it, its sole function is to smother the native species that other native species depend on.
Kudos and thanks to the students—Sammy Buckley, Meridith Frazee, Elliot Rossman, Joey Spaeder, Josh Warren, and Adam Zhang—and to Christine Hirsh-Putnam, who drove the van and worked along with them. At the end, we celebrated with cookies, as among them were Quarry Gardens’ 1,000th visitor of the year!
Stilt grass may be found in scattered patches throughout the QGs’ 40 acres; its seeds are viable for 3-5 years. We’re using various strategies: hand-pulling around the quarries where desirable plants may be present; grass-specific herbicide or propane-fired torch in other areas.
Some other invaders we’re battling now:
Chinese lespedeza, Lespedeza cuneata—pulling it works if the ground is moist enough to release this perennial’s roots; otherwise, cutting at ground level and immediately dabbing the cut stem with herbicide is (tedious but) effective.
Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica—offers the advantage of having red stems that are visible through the winter, so it can be pulled whenever the ground is not frozen.
Maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis (a large grass cultivated on roadsides and gardens that has escaped into woodlands)—the 8-foot-tall ones with massive roots have been all but destroyed; now we’re mostly digging and pulling smaller ones.
Autumn olive, Elaeangnus umbellata—many fewer than two years ago, but cutting and dabbing continues—to good effect.
Among other invasive we took on earlier in the year (to varying effect) were garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), carpet grass (Arthraxon hispidus), Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonica), and the native invasive greenbrier, or catbrier, (Smilax rotundiflolia or possibly Smilax bona-nox), climbing vines with nasty thorns that can reach the top of 40-ft trees. Fortunately, we have little poison ivy and no kudzu or wavy leaf grass (knock wood).
If you enjoy such work, or are willing to do it in exchange for becoming a Friend of the Quarry Gardens, please let us know via the Contact button on the website: quarrygardensatschuyler.org. We’ll tell you when we schedule volunteer workdays.