Bloomfield Wildlife B&B, MA
Featured Site Created By paeonia
Rooted in her agricultural upbringing, paeonia wanted to bring some of the lessons learned on her family’s 87-acre farm into her half-acre southeastern Massachusetts homestead. Paeonia’s gardening approach places great emphasis on natural balances. For instance, she neither tries to eradicate pests, nor lets them overtake her garden. The cottontails that frequent her property tend to sample, rather than devastate. The excess shrubs crowding in from an adjacent utility easement become scaffolds for brush piles, which shelter small animals. These are some of the lessons she hopes to instill in her children as part of her conservation legacy.
One look at paeonia’s yardmap, and you know that she shuns sterility. In fact, she’s nicknamed her site the Bloomfield Wildlife Bed and Breakfast, inviting wildlife in as though they were paying guests. As they take her up on the invitation to rest and forage, these visitors repay their room and board with the poetry of their beauty and behaviors. For paeonia, YardMap has become a wildlife journaling tool, a virtual guest book for the community to read, and a place to peek at what others are doing. She’s still learning about managing her habitat for wildlife (as we all are), but take a look around, and explore her various garden “rooms”.
What work has been done to improve this site for birds and other wildlife? How long did it take?
My greatest curiosity after moving in was that someone could raise a family in a place that was surrounded by ground so hard; so unyielding; so lifeless. The yard was bare except for a circle of sand that seemed to imply the foundation of a pool and the laughter of children on a hot summer day. The oak trees were welcoming and offered a protective shade, but the ground beneath them was barren, as if no one ever allowed the leaves to compost, or scooped a handful of soil searching for the smell of spring. It didn’t make any sense. Nature protects, renews, give birth to life year after year. What happened?
In December of 1998, my children and I moved into our new-to-us home the week between Christmas and New Year’s. My imagination began planning that winter. The existing stars were the foundation of the plan: 7 mature white oaks that protected the house from summer heat, 2 Roses of Sharon resting quietly near the electric easement property line, 1 forsythia whose arching branches created a wildlife haven in the back corner of the yard, 3 native rhododendrons and an azalea that crowded the foundation, and a ‘P.J.M’ variety rhododendron that was lost behind a brick pile.
Spring came! I moved the rhododendrons to the back yard where each could mature without constraints, and mowed the leaves left from the previous fall. The mulched leaves became the humus that began the softening process for the ground between my house and my neighbor’s driveway , called “Frost’s Garden.” This was the beginning of the woodland garden that surrounds our home. The oaks and the fall leaves were my inspiration! The woodsy smell and crunch of the leaves under foot reminded me of the woods on the farm where I grew up. Fast forward to last spring when my son and I removed the deck from behind the house: the final step to the woodland garden. This fall, I will transplant native clover and woodland groundcovers–a pleasant deck replacement for “The Reading Room.”
“The Peony Hedge,” “The Flower Shoppe,” and “Sous Chef” gardens in the “Cottontails’ Field” are three years old and were designed for the perennials that I had brought with us in 1998. It was time! These family treasures needed division and transplanting; the “Cottontails’ Field” was not being used for home-run derbies any longer. Once again, the perennials are at work inviting wildlife to feed and rest in the yard.
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?")
One fall, my children wanted to surprise me! They raked the yard and gardens clean, neatly packing all the leaves and garden debris in bags. I came home that day to find the bags left near the street for the town to pick up. They must have seen the horror on my face as I thanked them for all they did, because they asked, “What’s wrong?”
That afternoon, we talked about “balance” as we emptied the bagged leaves back into the gardens. We talked about strategies we could use to imitate–in a neighborhood like ours–the natural cycles in the woods and fields around the farm. That fall, three young teenagers began to understand that the soft, squishy feel of leaf litter in the woods around the farm could be part of our gardens.
We now have a plethora of birds, butterflies, insects, worms, cottontails, and, every so often, a fox or two visit Bloomfield Wildlife B&B.
Are there any tough decisions that had to be made regarding its management? How were they handled?
Annually, I challenge and am challenged by the poison ivy, round-leaf greenbrier and wild chokecherries that spill out of the electric easement into the “Cottontails’ Field.” [Although beneficial to wildlife, these natives have made themselves at home, claiming more than their fair share of space in this half-acre lot.] However, this year I was determined to manage the area by planting other natives that will meet the challenge of these aggressive vines and shrubs. This “Native Habitat” is the last major step of the plan designed in 1998.
No tough decisions had to be made, just balancing habitats conducive to wildlife and respectfully friendly to neighbors. We have wonderful neighbors who have diverse garden and yard philosophies. The challenge is to design a “neighborhood friendly” yard with creatively landscaped brush piles and mini-wildlife habitats on about a half-acre of land, while managing the nearby poison ivy, greenbrier, and wild chokecherry. It is possible, and it is interesting how all of these different yards blend together!