Thanks for joining me!
Bayberry was the first native shrub I identified on my own property. It was in the middle of a class I was taking on Native Shrubs at the New England Wild Flower Society. The instructor very much believed you can really only identify plants after you have seen them growing, preferably in the wild. So we had done several field trips to uncultivated areas around Boston, and learned all sorts of ways to identify shrubs, such as leaf size and shape, branch configuration, habitat conditions. And we had homework, to go to uncultivated areas in our neighborhoods to try to identify shrubs on our own.
I had the perfect place – our own backyard on Cape Cod. We had an ordinary half-acre lot on a side street, which is where I had done both ornamental and vegetable gardening. Then a few years ago we took advantage of the opportunity to buy an empty 1.5-acre lot directly behind us.
The land had mostly been used as farmland, but had lain unused for at least 40 years, with some effort to keep it cleared with periodic mowing. There were some great trees – red cedar, oaks, wild cherries, Norway spruce. And several shrubs I didn’t know. And an ocean of invasive vines – we had the trifecta of bittersweet, porcelain berry, and Japanese honeysuckle. It was intimidating.
Right around the time I was taking the Shrubs class, I had a landscaper come in with heavy equipment and begin to clear out the worst sections of invasive vines, and the trees and shrubs they had killed. It was amazing how open the land was, with groupings of trees, the shrubs I still didn’t know, and a lot of rough grass connecting everything as ground cover.
To complete my homework assignment, I took my field book and ventured into the back property. Everything that was lower than a tree was fair game. And I was thrilled to find the bayberry, growing in clumps all up and down the property. It clearly loved that sandy, acidic soil, and the direct sunlight it was getting.
But that wasn’t all. I found arrowwood viburnum, and high-bush blueberry, and winged sumac. And 5 of the 12 species of goldenrod that are native to Cape Cod. It was very, very cool to realize that good, valuable plants grow wild like that. My yard was trying to be an integral part of the native ecology, and all I had to do was let it. Right then, I set a goal of helping that back 1.5-acre lot to do what it wants to do naturally – revert back to a coastal woodland.
But I wanted to do it both artistically, with deliberate design intent to make it pleasant for people, as well as ecologically, with the right plants for birds, insects, and wildlife. And to do all of that, I needed to know a whole lot more than I did. I needed as much knowledge as a landscape designer but focused specifically on Cape Cod coastal woodlands.
And so the journey begins.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton