ANS Meadow Update

The meadow at the Audubon Naturalist Society’s Woodend Sanctuary in Chevy, Chase, MD, is growing up. When I wrote about it this spring, the meadow land had recently been stripped of its top weedy soil layer and several thousand plants and plugs had been installed. Solar Mowing began tending the designated grassy path through the meadow in late April.

“By far the most successful plant has been Maryland senna,” says Marney Bruce, an ANS member who volunteers on the Meadow Team. This native perennial can grow to six feet and thrives in open sunny areas, such as this meadow that abuts Jones Mill Road.


Grasses and wildflowers that have grown tall this summer will be cut back to about 12 inches in height early next spring.

The pre-existing common milkweed has also been growing strong along with sundrops early in the summer; and partridge pea, mountain mint, black-eyed Susan, blue mist flower, and asters later this summer.

Joe Pye weed and New York ironweed have been munched on by the deer, adds Bruce, who points out that the area inside the deer exclosure has fared better than the larger area beyond the exclosure.

Oh, dear.

“We’ve been spraying the meadow regularly with a natural deer repellent,” says Yoli Del Buono, Jr., leader of the Meadow Team.

Flowering native pasture thistles attract many pollinators.

Flowering native pasture thistles attract many pollinators.

Deer don’t seem to like the pasture thistles that are blooming now, which is great because these native plants are attracting goldfinches, butterflies, and a variety of insects, says Del Buono, Jr.

This fall, the Team is planning a “work day” to control non-native plants, and next spring the meadow itself will be mowed to a 12-inch height. Mowing the grasses and flowers strengthens their roots, and of course, it will be done before nesting season.

To help prevent the spread of invasive weeds, Solar Mowing will continue its job of cleaning the blades, drum, and tire treads of its mower before taking it onto this beautifully maturing natural habitat.

Come, take a look for yourself. The meadow and the entire 40-acre Sanctuary is free and open to the public from dawn to dusk.


Cluck. Cluck. Who’s there?

You want to be a good land steward, so you’ve planted natives that attract pollinators. You’re growing veggies and herbs, organically. You’ve hired Solar Mowing, an emission-free mowing company, to care for your grass. What’s next?

RentACoop owners Diana Samata and Tyler Phillips started renting their coops in 2012.

How about fresh eggs from your own backyard chickens?

Local company RentACoop makes that next step pretty darn easy to take. Owners Tyler Phillips and Diana Samata build and rent chicken coops complete with hens, organic feed, and bedding (pine shavings). Fully vented, easy to clean, and predator proof, the coops fit in the back of most minivans, but the company also delivers.


“One of the sweetest and most docile breeds out there,” says Tyler Phillips of his Golden Comet hens.

And yes, keeping hens (but not roosters) is legal in both Montgomery County, MD, and D.C. Restrictions on where you can place a coop get tossed aside when the chickens are considered pets, and the hybrid Golden Comet used by RentACoop are super family-friendly. And hardy. Golden Comets continue to lay eggs during the freezing temps of winter.

If you decide after four weeks (the average rental time) that you want to buy the coop, hens, etc., part of your rental fee goes toward the purchase price.

This business idea was not a big stretch for Tyler, a native of Potomac, MD. He grew up working on his parents’ traveling petting zoo, so it was only natural. Just like your yard.




If a Milkweed is a Bully, is it still Beneficial?

At first, I thought morning glory (Ipomoea L.) was twisting over and through the swamp rose (Rosa palustris), a Maryland native growing in my rain garden. It had those unmistakable (or in this case, mistakable) heart-shaped leaves, and morning glory has been creeping everywhere since I planted three seeds 18 years ago. In these parts, the annual morning glory is a definite perennial.

Creeping noiselessly over, under, and through a swamp rose is the poorly behaved honey vine and its dangling milky pod.

Creeping over and through a swamp rose is the beneficial bully honeyvine.

But then, I spotted milky pods — and the garden plot thickened. :)

Turns out my swamp rose is in the grip of honeyvine (Cynanchum leave), a member of the milkweed family, that not only attracts bees, birds, and butterflies, including monarchs for which it serves as host to its young, it’s drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. Oh, and people hate it.

Because it’s a bully. I’m convinced that plants are every bit as complicated as people.

An 11"-by-11" painting made with pigments from  Rosa multiflora, Mahonia bealei, Lonicera maackii and weed soot on paper from Morus alba. Acer platanus

An 11″-by-11″ painting made, in part, with multiflora rosa (Rosa multiflora), bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), and white mulberry (Morus alba).

And while we’re on the subject of invasives … we are, aren’t we? … Washington Post illustrator and volunteer land steward, Patterson Clark pulls invasives in mass quantities from public and private lands in Washington, DC. Then he does something remarkable: He processes all that noxious plant material into pigment and paper and makes art.

You can see Clark’s weed work at the Atrium Gallery in McLean, VA, from September 11-October 25.

And so I have to ask: Mr. Clark, do you walk by honeyvine or turn it into art?

The World’s Tallest Grass Grows in My Yard —— Yours, too?

So far, no one’s called me to mow their bamboo, but it could happen. Bamboo, as you may know, is a member of the grass family. A really tall member. And in my backyard (and maybe yours?), some of these tall grasses make their home.

This four-inch tall bamboo shoot needs a swift kick before it hardens and grows tall.

May is Control Bamboo Month as soft shoots, like this one, get the boot.

Bambusa vulgaris, also known as Golden Bamboo, grows along my back fence, forming a wall about 25 feet long and high and four feet deep. The tall stems, or culms, droop in large arcs during rain storms. In heavy snow, the tips of the arching culms get stuck, forming a tunnel that will last until the snow and ice melt. In spring and summer, flocks of birds (starlings and robins mostly) roost in the thick foliage.

All good, except it’s not. Bamboo is extremely invasive. If not for our springtime stomping tradition, the neat green wall would easily overtake our .33 acre.

Hundreds of bamboo shoots spring(!) up each May from a network of underground stems called rhizomes. The shoots are watery and soft and with a slight kick, I can knock them flat. If I don’t catch a shoot in its first few days, however, it hardens and getting rid of it may require a hand saw.

If you think your grass grows fast, consider this: A bamboo shoot can grow more than two inches in a day. Most reach their full height, 15-30 feet, in a single growing season.

Weighed down by snow, bamboo stems, or culms, form a lovely arch.

The evergreen stems, or culms, form a lovely arch after a heavy snow.

Getting rid of bamboo involves lots of digging and even herbicides, so I’ve learned to live with this evergreen wall. I would never advise planting bamboo, but with annual diligence, it can be contained. For more info, including eradication options, check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas.

A Path Runs Through It —— and We Get to Mow It

Meadow. So soothing a word, it should be listed as a synonym for soothing. And while I’ve written in an earlier post that lawns are the meadows in our everyday landscapes, even I know they aren’t real meadows — those self-sustaining habitats jumping with insects, birds, and butterflies, where tall feathery grasses and colorful flowers dance in the wind.

The meadow sits along Jones Bridge Road at Woodend, Audubon Naturalist Society's Woodend Sanctuary. The deer exclosure is on the left.

The meadow, along Jones Bridge Road at Audubon Naturalist Society’s Woodend Sanctuary, was starting to green up when the path was first cut on April 27. Part of the deer exclosure is on the left.

The difference is clear when every ten days or so, we visit a real — albeit baby — meadow at Woodend, the Audubon Naturalist Society’s (ANS) 40-acre Sanctuary in Chevy Chase, MD, to mow the path meandering through it.

“Years ago, before the extreme pressure of deer and invasive plants, our meadows were chock full of a wide variety of plants and the birds, butterflies, and other insects that relied on them for food and shelter,” says Lisa Alexander, ANS’s executive director. “Today, as we work to increase the variety of native plant species in the meadow, we eagerly hope for the return of bird and insect diversity, too.”

When ANS decided to restore this meadow, they sought advice from Larry Weaner, a landscape architect who specializes in native plants, and Dr. Jennifer Murrow, a wildife biologist at the University of Maryland, because meadow-making is more than pulling up some weeds and throwing down some seed.

By our second cut on May 6, the meadow grasses on either side of the path were long and lush.

By our second mowing on May 6, the meadow grasses on either side of the path were long and lush.

“It was decided to use a mini bulldozer to lightly scrape off the top layer of soil and eliminate the dense root mats of invasive plants,” said Alexander. “We’re eager to see if anything sprouts from the seed bank below the layer we scraped off.”

In addition, volunteers, overseen by ANS’s Sanctuary Committee, planted more than 1,600 quart-size pots of grasses and flowers and more than 1,750 plugs (small, young plants). The group also erected a large temporary exclosure in a corner of the meadow, which will show how a meadow grows without deer browsing on it.

“A great deal of effort was devoted to finding plants not only native to our region but also grown from seed collected in our region,” said Marney Bruce, a volunteer on the Sanctuary Committee.

The funds for the project are from an anonymous donor; the soil is in the hands of dozens of (mostly) volunteers.

ANS chose Solar Mowing to mow the path because our machines are lightweight, quiet, and most important, non-polluting, and we are more than willing to help prevent the spread of weeds by wiping down the blade and underside of the mower and picking debris out of the wheel treads before we mow. (That I worked at ANS for eight years as Communications Director also may have had something to do with it. :))

What a treat to have a small part in this wonderful stewardship project. Watch for future posts on ANS’s meadow-making.

Our Yards as Wildlife Oases

You won’t find me arguing for no-mow yards. I was born in the suburbs and learned to crawl, walk, and run on the grassy places around me. I love the openness of cut grass, especially when surrounded by trees, shrubs, and a cozy house. Grass is the meadow in our everyday landscapes. It’s where we set our blankets in summer and make snow angels in winter.

That said, suburban yards have all too often become sterile environments where a few ornamental plants and loads of dreaded invasive plants surround a large monoculture – grass. The result is bland, if not unsightly, and for wildlife, deadly.

bringing-nature-homeBees, butterflies, beetles are all in serious decline — and scientists blame the loss of native vegetation along with toxics (pesticides) in the environment. If insects are in trouble, so are birds, which rely heavily on insects for food and so are people, who depend on insect pollinators for food.

“It is increasingly clear … that much of our wildlife will not be able to survive unless food, shelter, and nest sites can be found in suburban habitats,” writes Dr. Douglas Tallamy in Bringing Nature Home.

Improve your yard, my yard, his yard, her yard. Pretty soon, we’re collectively changing the plant base and nurturing insects and other wildlife, argues Tallamy.

To make our yards wildlife-friendly, we just have to do two things: Avoid pesticides and plant natives.

chesapeakenativesCOVERHow to get started? An appendix in the back of Tallamy’s book lists dozens of native and wildlife-friendly trees shrubs, vines, and ground covers for the Mid-Atlantic. You can also find local options in this U.S. Fish & Wildlife Guide. And bonus! Native plants have developed natural defenses to threats in our area, so unlike many exotics, they don’t need chemicals to keep them free of pests and disease.

“The costs of increasing the percentage and biomass of natives in our suburban landscapes are small, and the benefits are immense,” Tallamy continues. “As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered – and the ecological stakes have never been so high.”

So, keep your grassy area (and let Solar Mowing cut it with emission-free, quiet machines) but frame it in beautiful and beneficial native trees and shrubs.