Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Fruits and Flowers of Our Labors at the Barden

The Botanical ARt GarDEN at Herrontown Woods, nicknamed the Barden, is many things to many people. For kids, it's a place that stirs the imagination and rewards curiosity, with a fairy garden, a small frog pond, and winding pathways to explore. It's also a botanically rich setting where we socialize in the gazebo or explore the plantings that offer an introduction to native plants.

On a recent Friday, invited to a late afternoon repast in the gazebo with friends, I decided to photograph some of the flowers and fruits of our labors. Our volunteer work sessions on Sundays, starting around 10:30 and continuing into the afternoon, are a collaboration with nature that unleashes a wave of abundance, continuing through to fall. As we ate and talked, a monarch butterfly flew circles around us, segueing into fireflies later on. It was a magical evening. What follows are snapshots of what this wave of abundance looks like in mid-July.

It's fun to see a purple coneflower (actual) presenting itself in front of a photo of same, mounted on one of the cages that protects the many species of flowers surrounding the gazebo in the "Veblen Circle."
Later in the evening, as fireflies began to emerge, an evening primrose presented a new array of flowers. These are "volunteer" wildflowers that pop up on their own.
This is the first year that a black cohosh has bloomed in the Barden. Such beautiful spires of white. More will be encountered along the trails of Herrontown Woods, up along the ridge.

Another bloom we're enjoying for the first time--finally strong enough after being planted years prior-- is lizard's tail, a native wildflower that grows along the banks of Carnegie Lake. We've put some in the swale that runs along the edge of the parking lot. It will become more noticeable as it expands.

Volunteer Scott Sillars pushes a wheelbarrow full of weeds towards the edge of the Barden. We're grateful for the volunteers who help keep the Barden's pathways clear, pulling or cutting a wide array of weeds: cinquefoil, Japanese aralia and honeysuckle, various brambles, stiltgrass, and so on. 
One newly identified native plant that's been growing in the Barden from the get go is the common dewberry. It looks like a blackberry, but trails along the ground rather than rising up. 

Its latin name is Rubus flagellaris, and it serves up some white flowers that develop into berries close to the ground. The berries turn black when they're ripe.

A better known bramble is the wineberry, with its purplish stems. It's not native, and many need to be pulled, given its aggressive growth, but there tend to be enough that don't get pulled to serve up a tasty crop this time of year.

We have a mountain mint that was planted, called clustered mountain mint, which is wildly popular with the pollinators, 

and a narrow-leaved mountain mint that showed up on its own. 

Hazelnut is a large native shrub that tends to be a loner in the forest. We've found only three or four solitary shrubs scattered through the preserve. A few offshoots were planted in the Barden several years ago, and it's rewarding to see them starting to bear this year.
A black chokeberry was donated some years back, and is now bearing, benefitted by the open canopy that lets sunlight into the Barden.
A newly discovered tasty treat is the berry of the blackhaw viburnum, the most common native shrub in Herrontown Woods. Haw means berry, and these berries turn black in the fall when ripe.
My parents made delicious elderberry jelly and elderberry pie when I was a kid. These turn purplish black when ripe. Catbirds usually win the race to harvest.

Thus far, the pleasure of this increasingly diverse and edible landscape in the Barden has been mostly in its promise. Ease and habit keep us bringing storebought food for gatherings at the Barden, but it's possible that what's growing all around, the fruits of our labors, may become part of our repasts as well. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Among Trees II a Great Success

There was considerable suspense leading up to this year's Among Trees sequel. When the first date was rained out, actor and organizer Vivia Font had to cast a wider net for fellow actors and musicians who could make the alternate date of June 18. 

The host, Friends of Herrontown Woods, was meanwhile grooming the grounds and trails, and summoning its full array of orphaned chairs to spread across the lawn.

With Covid winding down, would an audience find the time and find its way to the outskirts of Princeton for a presentation of nature poetry and music?

The answer proved to be yes, as 100 people of all ages gathered for the second annual Among Trees. 

Vivia shared the stage with four other actors and five musicians who shared their gifts with a rapt audience.

Many of the poems had been selected from submissions by local writers, with actors, musicians and writers posing for a photo op afterwards. 

Several of these photos were taken by Janie Hermann of the Princeton Public Library, who helped greatly with organizing and promoting the event. Small World Coffee provided beverages for a summer's afternoon. 

Afterwards, as people began to disperse, guitarist Jeff Griesemer jammed with banjo prodigy Nikolai Margulis, and the actors spoke of doing more collaborations. 

Thanks to Vivia and all the actors, musicians, and writers she brought together for a beautiful community event.

A Tale of Three Orchids

One way that we're able to help native plants prosper at Herrontown Woods is by growing some of them in the Botanical Art Garden (Barden for short). There they can get more sun than is available in deep forest, protection from deer, and more attention in general. For instance, springtime is when I start looking for green-fringed orchids popping up. It takes a sharp eye to distinguish them from the abundant grass and plantains. Each year they seem to pop up in a different spot.

They were first found growing near Veblen House, a short walk up the trail from the Barden, but this year, I found only one up there, and promptly surrounded it with a cage to keep the deer from eating it. 

Then, down in the Barden, I happened to look down and saw another, already in bloom. That one too got a cage to protect it not only from deer but also from people straying off the paths.

Another orchid of the same type, found growing in the All Saints preserve that borders Herrontown Woods, was not so lucky. It was growing in a more remote area, and didn't get a cage. I managed to get out that way yesterday and had a look. Sure enough, its flowering stem had been eaten by a deer. Since its leaves were left uneaten, we can hope it will grow back next year. 

This is an ongoing problem in a changing world. How are the less common native species supposed to survive and evolve as a population unless they can flower and bear seed?

Other native plants in Herrontown Woods that are hard pressed to bloom and fruit unless we give them protection and sunlight in the Barden are pinxter azalea, shadbush, and hearts-a-bustin.