When I was an undergrad student at Millersville University one of my majors was Environmental Geography. A prerequisite to graduation was completing a cooperative internship with a recognized company; the University's way of giving back to the community while providing students with hands on experience. My close friend and personal hero, Ashley, works for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). I took advantage of this connection and spent the summer of 2010 by her side. We planted trees along stream banks, removed invasive species, performed stream water samples and I experienced TONS. My biggest takeaway was learning to see the beauty in wild plantings. I had always planted in rows and loved having everything in its place; neat, orderly and completely weed free.
Ashley shifted my perspective; I no longer saw chaos when things were "scattered", just nature as she intended it to be. I came to understand the benefits of keeping "weeds" and started to enjoy the wild side of planting, priceless! At that time we had just bought our house and I felt inspired to work on our property, so I promptly ordered and planted 650 native medicinal plants and created our front hillside that summer. This would become one of the many rewilding projects we would do over the next decade.
If you read my blog last month, you learned all about how I am a perpetual student; ready, willing and eager to learn and grow. When Homefields Care Farm, an amazing CSA dedicated to providing work for adults with disabilities, offered a class on planting a native edible hedgerow I signed up right from the newsletter. The class was taught by Elyse Jurgen from Waxwing Ecoworks; talk about another amazing woman with a wealth of knowledge! During this class Elyse taught us about the Miyawaki style of planting. This method, created by Akira Miyawaki, creates miniforests in a matter of years rather than decades. It integrates native main tree species, sub-species, shrubs and ground-covering herbs densely planted in an area. You generally have to weed, water and monitor the growth for the first three years and then the area should fill in and be relatively hands off, hell yeah! I left the class feeling completely inspired and armed with two native cranberry viburnum. When I returned home, Ben planted our new trees by the stream while I wandered the property; envisioning the next step in our rewilding process. I reached out to Elyse and within three weeks I hired her to come by for a consultation. She walked the property with me and helped decide what would be the most effective and efficient way to move forward with more native plantings. She gave me a ton of helpful advice:
Make a list of all that I wanted to accomplish, creating little mini projects for each area of our property.
Order the list, the first project should be closest to the area where we hang out the most.
Complete one whole project before moving on to the next one, this can provide a sense of accomplishment to fuel you through the next project.
Elyse gave me a list of suggested native trees, shrubs and plants to use to create a few different Miyawaki mini forests on our property, woo hoo!!
As soon as Elyse left, I typed seven pages of notes from the inspiring ideas she provided. The next step was to reach out to Ashley, remember my hero from the CBF? I gave Ashley the list from Elyse and she let me know what she had access to. The CBF has partnered with a program called Keystone 10million Trees with a mission to plant 10 million trees in Pennsylvania by 2025. We are trying to do our part in helping with this mission; last year we received and planted15 witch hazel shrubs, and this year we reached out to get 85 additional natives.
Working with Elyse's suggestions and the FREE trees available through the program, we are going to create a Miyawaki planting and eliminate the grass in a large section of our yard. In between the previous planted witch hazels, we are going to position three eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) every 50', then scatter the planting with buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and arrow wood (Virburnum dentatum). In between the trees and shrubs we are going to transplant some of our joe pye (Eutrochium purpureum) in groups of 5; this native medicinal gets to be about 5' tall. Then we will disperse golden ragwort (Packera aurea) as our herbaceous ground cover. Once we get all of these species in the ground, we will sheet mulch around them to suppress grass growth and inhibit weeds from sprouting. We have been saving all of our Amazon boxes and have been collecting what chips and beer boxes I can from the bar every night. This will provide FREE cardboard to cover the ground with. Once we lay the cardboard all around our new plantings, we will cover everything with 2" of mulch. This method of sheet mulching will eventually breakdown and naturally biodegrade over the course of a year or two. By then our trees and shrubs should be well established and ready to outcompete anything that wants to invade our little miniforest.
I was getting pretty excited about this project and even more thrilled that it was looking like we were going to accomplish it with little to no money. While looking around on the web, I discovered a program called ChipDrop. This FREE program connects arborists with people looking to get chipped trees. You fill out the form and wait for an arborist to be in your area with a load they need to drop. The arborist pays $20 to gain access to your address, but you can opt to pay the fee for them and this supposedly increases the likelihood that you will receive a drop faster. The "downside" to this program is that you may receive more than just wood chips, there may be pine needles and trash mixed in. This does not bother me as the pine needles will be great mulch for our cranberry and blueberry bushes. We are still waiting for our chip drop; two weeks at the time of this writing. We just continue to collect cardboard, eagerly awaiting our truckload so we can get to work completing these plantings.
There are so many benefits to these rewilding projects. We are removing grass; eliminating the need to mow and weed whack in all of these areas, establishing trees along our stream bank to filter pollutants out before they reach the water and most importantly we are providing wildlife and pollinators food and habitat. I encourage you all to explore native plantings for your yard. Even a small spot will provide benefit; not just to the environment, but it will spark your spirit to see rewilded beauty in your nook of the world. If you live in Lancaster County, I have linked some amazing resources that are available for you to use. Anyone that lives outside of the county, I encourage you to scour the web. I bet there are programs in your area willing to help you reclaim your space for nature for little to no money. Happy Rewilding!