Another very productive morning at the Bagaduce Library: fourteen volunteers, including three Master Gardeners, made great progress along the southern edges of the front and back parking areas. New piles of brush await chipping.
This work may seem somewhat removed from creating a garden at the site, but it is a vital part of NGBH’s plan for the entire landscape. Trees (individuals, large and small, and clusters) are emerging as focal points, emphasized now that they have been freed from damaged, crowded neighbors. We are discovering the groundcovers and shrub layers necessary to create natural tiers beneath the tree canopy. The cut brush will give us wood chips needed to start compost suitable for many of the plants we’ve chosen for the property.
What a perfect time to get this work done — before too many trees have leafed out, and before the blackflies are voracious. The morning was fairly cool, a little overcast; not too many birds were in attendance, but there was a lot of activity as well as a quartet of canines on the crew. A hairy woodpecker drilled on the northeast edge of the property. We have carefully left some standing dead trees, deciduous and coniferous, to provide nest cavities and valuable avian perches. As familiarity with the property grows, we can perhaps identify some of the snags and living trees the woodpeckers favor for drumming. The tattoos heard are often acoustical communications, accompanied by other vocalizations from our four year-round woodpecker species, as well as migrants.
Cathy and Denis Blodgett laid out a twenty-foot grid at the front of the site, and pulled soil cores to analyze the depth of gravel and fill, and search for indications of the underlying soil profile. The cores revealed a history of man-made disturbances, five to nine inches of “drainage” (due to added driveway material), compaction, and not much organic matter. This is a challenging area to be remediated with soil-building, successional vegetation including Comptonia peregrina, sweetfern. A tough, nitrogen-fixing (leguminous) shrub with fern-like leaflets, Comptonia produces abundant leaf litter, which decomposes quickly. The shrub is a pantry for insects and birds. (The nineteenth-century entomologist/naturalist Titian Ramsay Peale painted Comptonia with different species of tiger moth (Spilosoma spp.) caterpillars and cocoons; a beautiful facsimile of his manuscript was published last year by the Museum of Natural History.)
Two volunteers working on the back parking lot edge took some time to revive a couple of thickets of Spiraea alba (meadowsweet). These shrubs had been half-buried during construction, and had re-sprouted vertically along nearly prostrate stems. By pruning to the plant’s base and thinning at least a third of the tangle, the meadowsweet will rebound vigorously. White meadowsweet is a member of the rose family; its woodiest branches decline at the end of flowering and seed-production. The shrub is very adaptable to different soils and hydrologies, and provides shelter and food for a large number of vertebrates and invertebrates, in all of its parts — canes, roots, branches, flowers, seeds.
A Northern redback salamander (Plethodon cinereus) was discovered within the creases of an abandoned plastic tarp. It was quickly relocated to a moist spot deeper in the woods. Promoting groundcovers to maintain soil moisture, and protecting downed tree trunks from disturbance, will help any of the property’s amphibians. Redbacks are our most abundant vertebrate animals whose biomass in the forest is twice that of birds in peak breeding numbers. These salamanders are entirely terrestrial: they lay their eggs in the crevices and crannies of downed logs, preferring decaying conifers. They depend upon a moist, healthy forest floor with plenty of cover and rich leaf litter.
At the next work session, Friday June 3rd, we will be tackling the swale between the performance building and the new library-building foundation, preparing the way for planting groundcovers, ferns and shrubs.