Orchard Road, Middlesex, MA
Featured Site Created By llsrvd
Have you ever looked out your window and thought, that pool is barely used and wasting a lot of valuable space? If so, let this homeowner be an example of the potential provided by removing a large, underutilized yard feature, and replacing it with habitat that attracts, feeds, and shelters, native flora and fauna. This homeowner’s seemingly laissez faire approach to gardening has resulted in a dynamic successional meadow teeming with life. Remove an unused pool, focus on encouraging native species, and watch the wildlife flock to your property.
What work has been done to improve this site for birds and other wildlife? How long did it take?
After we bought the house almost 11 years ago we removed an in-ground pool and its concrete decking in the back yard. Over the years, we have watched the succession from several species of clover, mugwort, St. John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum), and evening primrose, to asters and goldenrod to blackberry brambles. Many of these came from seeds in the fill used after the pool was removed. I’m guessing the blackberries were brought in by birds. We have removed the more invasive non-natives as they popped up including Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), Crown Vetch (Coranilla varia) and Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).
The next spring, we removed an eight-foot hedge of non-native honeysuckle that ran along one side of our lot. I also removed Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), Glossy Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula ), forsythia, and Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) in this area. Asters, grape, black raspberry, milkweed, goldenrod, and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) volunteered. I have planted Grey Birch (Betula populifolia), bayberry, Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), summersweet, Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata), Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) and Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa) in this same strip.
We took advantage of a neighbor’s oak tree which provides shade for part of our yard to put in a small woodland garden with a Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia), ginger (Asarum canadense), False Solomon Seal (Maianthemum racemosum), Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) and some ferns.
I have removed a bit of front lawn each year, expanding the islands around each of the honey locusts. I have put in columbines, geraniums, Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus), sweetfern, Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia), bearberry, spiderwort, and Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa).
We don’t use pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. We compost home vegetable waste and debris from our yard which I use to side dress some of our plants. I also leave most of the Fall leaves where they fall, after learning that various insects overwinter in them.
What are some successes that you've seen since the improvements were made? (alternatively, "What are you most proud of, or excited to share about this site?")
I think removing the pool has made a huge difference. This and the concrete decking around it covered about half the backyard, by removing it we have added that additional area for wildlife. The evening primrose that volunteered itself early in this spot proved very popular with goldfinches for seeds. They provide tall sturdy stalks, that several birds can use at once. We have many species of dragonflies and damselflies in this area. There is a small stream not far from our house where they likely reproduce. Perhaps they use our native yard as a hunting territory.
We have lots of insect activity when plants are in bloom. Insects interest me, so I am trying to learn more about our yard visitors.
What is your favorite wildlife sighting?
My first exciting spotting was a flock of Cedar Waxwings stopping to eat the ripe elderberries off our bush. Single sightings have included a Common Yellow-throat Warbler, Magnolia and Yellow Warbler, and a Hermit Thrush. I have also occasionally seen Baltimore Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. We also enjoy Ruby-throated Hummingbirds every year who come for the Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) in our yard. My closest encounters were a wren landing on my hat, perhaps to pull at a loose thread for nest material, a baby groundhog munching vegetation next to my foot and a dragonfly capturing a mosquito on my knee. We have had possum and a skunk visitors. American toads, wood frogs, shrews, meadow voles, mice, chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits all have been known to visit or reside on our property. I was lucky enough to witness the amazing (and long!) process of a cicada molting a few years ago, spectacular.
Are there any tough decisions that had to be made regarding its management? How were they handled?
My ongoing issue with our yard is that it is a little wild and probably doesn’t set an appealing example of how to landscape for wildlife. The front yard looks great in mid May when everything is blooming, and I have received some compliments. But June and July are not very attractive. August and September are a little better because the goldenrod in the big front island starts blooming. My challenge here is that the honey locusts cast quite a bit of shade and maybe because of their thirsty root system, the area is quite dry. It is somewhat difficult to find plants that bloom in June and July that like dry shade. The backyard is mostly wild.
The area where the pool was, which we now call “the meadow”, has been an unintentional study of the succession of plants in a disturbed area. I am always reluctant to remove plants that are doing well, so the backyard has taken on a life of its own. Perhaps not pleasing to humans, but hopefully the birds and other wildlife are enjoying it. I do minimal management in the backyard, removing the occasional invasive and sometimes goldenrod if it is advancing on other things I have planted. The tension for me is wanting it to look neat but not wanting to remove plants, and the latter usually wins out.