When we purchased our home in Central Massachusetts, we asked the previous owners to do a clean sweep before the sale. So the day we moved into the house was reasonably pristine. However, they left some things they were confident we’d need. In the basement was the giant bag of some “weed and feed” products.
Looking outside at what passed for the lawn, I realized that for many years the owners had been committed to creating a European-style lawn on the top of a hill that was ninety percent glacial till. As a result, there were barely three-quarters of an inch of soil before you hit gravel and sand. The lawn was a straggling bunch of grasses mixed with invasive weeds. Behind us was a wildlife sanctuary that shaded the rear third of the lot. That back section was choked with invasive vines.
Moving in late fall, just before Halloween, meant I had more immediate issues than dealing with the yard. So we started on wallpaper stripping, painting, and the usual stuff that needed to be done in a new old house.
It was March before I began to tackle the mess outside. I started by removing the weed and feed, removing all the vines, and clearing a sunny garden area. The rear of the lot needed significant work, but we weren’t exactly sure what type. It was so shaded and had been covered by vines for so long that almost nothing grew there. Beyond our property line was a typical New England “Old Field” succession that had filled in an old orchard and pastureland.
I did a lot of sitting on an old stump fretting about the future of this land.
It was a depauperated woodland border. Elsewhere a semi-shaded area like those would be full of a mixture of plants that thrived on the edge of the woods. On hiking trips with the Appalachian Mountain Club, I’d walked through thousands of small glades like that. So I decided to recreate a typical woodland border.
Local nurseries, the local conservation district, and mail-order plant providers have figured large in this effort. It can’t all be done in a year or a decade. Some plants don’t succeed, and others do too well. There is no font of knowledge readily available for data on this process, but if your community has a knowledgeable conservation agent, they might be able to guide you.
Although it’s January as I write this, and an ice storm is on its way, my mind is already turning to how I can repair the damage that last year’s severe drought did. I won’t know until April which plants merely went dormant early and which plants didn’t make it. As I said, there is no textbook available. But I have restored a more regional and natural woodland border where only invasives thrived before.