by Mary Frase and Elaine Mills
Our class project as members of the 2012 class involved rejuvenating two beds in the Sunny Demonstration Garden. The project turned out to be considerably more complex than we initially anticipated and is still ongoing. The two beds were narrow ones outside the fence and adjacent to the parking lot, which we affectionately referred to as “Hell Strips” because of the unfriendly conditions in that location. The first challenge was to determine what was already there, as the beds were bare in January when we started our project. It took us several months to identify the content of the beds as plants gradually emerged over the spring and early summer. There were no labels for many plants and there were no plants corresponding to some of the labels that were present.
After considerable research, we developed a preliminary plan for the two strips with a particular emphasis on using plants that were adaptable to the harsh conditions (dry and subject to spray/debris from the parking lot) in the Hell Strips. In replacing plants or filling in the gaps, we wanted to highlight native plants, of which there had been very few in these beds. We did considerable research in choosing native plants suited to the conditions in these beds. We relied heavily on the very useful U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publication, Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed. We particularly looked for plants for which the habitats listed included “roadsides” and that would provide color and interest throughout the growing season. Some of the plants added were little Bluestem grass, butterfly weed, dwarf (or gray) goldenrod, golden aster, purple coneflower, and hyssop-leaved Eupatorium.
The first phase of implementing our plans took place in the early spring. After preparing the beds by doing soil tests, weeding, and adding leaf mulch, we removed some existing plants, transplanted others and added new plants. As the season progressed, we modified the plans somewhat as new plants emerged that we had not known about and some plants were removed/thinned once they finished blooming.
Now we have seen how the old and new plants work together, we plan to make some further changes to enhance the attractiveness of the beds and reduce the amount of crowding. (A number of the existing plants that we kept turned out to take up more room than we anticipated.) We found the project very rewarding (even though it took FAR more than 10 hours) and we continue to monitor/tend the two beds and plan further tweaking of our plan. In light of the initial challenge of identifying what was in the beds, we are committed to fully documenting the final results of our work.