Gardening wild

Seeing native plants in the wild and learning a more ecological way of gardening

Meadow Garden at LongwoodOctober sees me in the Natural Lands department at Longwood. This department cares for the peripheral and surrounding ‘non-gardened’ areas which includes ponds and woodlands and boasts a glorious 86-acre Meadow Garden as their centrepiece. An entire road was moved to complete a great big patchwork of uninterrupted different habitats, which are important to many native flora and fauna here, as well as being aesthetically breathtaking. This may seem extravagant but makes a lot of sense ecologically.

Going native

praying mantisI was very excited to be here despite the threat of ticks and poison ivy, which I was fortunate to remain unscathed by. It is one of the best times of year to experience the meadow and working in this area really touched upon interests close to my heart - seeing native plants in the wild and a more ecological way of gardening. My first day on Natural Lands was spent trying to listen out for the low chirping of Gray Tree Frogs, and tune my ears more intently to the natural soundscape, whilst planting out plugs of Aster divericatus and transplanting seedlings of Joe Pye Weed - Eupatorium fistulosum to bulk out existing clumps. By the end of the day I had seen three different types of Praying Mantis - the big oriental one, the medium European one (both of these green) and the smaller North Carolinian one which is brown. It was so refreshing to look at gardening from this angle - to consider the wildlife and the relationship of plants with everything else instead of honing in on just one element. There has also been much thoughts and debate about native and invasive plant species.

Managing the meadow

Euonymus alatusMaintaining this enhanced meadow takes a lot of work, here in Pennsylvania because of the rainfall, the inclination of the landscape is to revert to forests. So to keep it this way they have a management programme of burning and mowing a third of the meadow every year. During my time here I helped with the restorative planting of different perennial plant species in the meadow, chasing deer out of the property, planting trees in the woodland edge areas for the benefits of wildlife and fighting back invasive plants like Pyrus callyrana, Elaeagnus umbellata (Autumn olive) and Euonymus alatus - many of which we appreciate as ornamental plants back in the UK and do not pose as a problem for us.

On with the show

Rindai display techniqueI was involved with Rindai - a method of tying chrysanthemum flowers in place using small rings around a giant metal dome structure. The Chrysanthemum festival has now begun and is about to reach flowering peak. The star of the show - the Thousand Bloom Mum which actually has 1523 blooms grafted onto one plant, was safely transported after completion to the Grand Conservatory. I also took part in helping to plant 115,000 bulbs of tulips, hyacinths and fritillarias outdoors on the Flower Garden Walk for their spring display next year.

On the road for halloween

Vermont lake view

Other highlights this month included my first long drive on a different side of the road for a trip up to Vermont to see the spectacular ‘fall’ colour, Bunker Farm, small designed gardens and Cady Fall’s Nursery of unusual and garden worthy herbaceous and woody plants. October is also Halloween time which is a big thing here - this entailed a timely themed trip to the historic Woodlands Cemetery Garden in Philadelphia - a English based garden, with some beautiful specimen trees and planted gravestones, and of course all things pumpkin, including a pumpkin carving contest at Longwood.

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