Mick Dawdy's Forest Edge Meadow

June 5, 1998

Today I decided to keep this notebook about the natural area that I am creating in my back yard. I have had this plan in mind since I first moved into this house 6 years ago; now I have finally started it.

 

 

What I Want to Achieve

I want a quiet peaceful place to sit, to relax, to read, to write. I want to create a forest edge meadow environment, containing plants, trees, and shrubs that will attract wildlife and that are indigenous to this area. A picnic table with comfy chair on the patio under the wisteria is a good spot for this. A park bench near the back is an alternate spot, and also a good spot from which to observe, especially during the spring migration.

I want to do a minimum of maintenance. I understand that especially during the first few years I will have to vigilantly identify and remove Manitoba and Norway maple seedlings, and other unwanted species. I will also have to mow it down once or twice each year to control weeds and woody species such as trees and unwanted shrubs.

My Home

I live in the Old South section of London, Ontario, Canada. My property is narrow, 31 feet, but quite long: about 175 feet from the back of the house to the back property line. The back yard is bisected by a full width wisteria which overhangs a pressure treated wood framework eight feet each way, front and back. This was constructed and planted by a former home owner about 14 years ago. If you are a wisteria lover then you must see this in bloom for 2 weeks or so during the month of May; please phone or e-mail me in early May.

 

The back section of the property behind the wisteria is about 100 feet deep; this is where I am building my forest edge meadow. The east side is a rough hedgerow which has contained some Norway Maple, Manitoba Maple, Walnut, Elm, rose bushes gone wild, and various other of what I term weed species. The west side is a pressure treated wood fence. The south [back] end is an old creek bed which has been allowed to grow wild, containing some very tall trees, mostly weed species as in the hedgerow. This is what I refer to as my "forest edge".

 

What I Have Done So Far

The first year that I was in the house I had two beautiful, gnarled old apple trees removed. I would have preferred to keep them, but the apples they dropped on the neighbor's property, and on my own, were a big problem.

 

Last year I had a tractor in to create a slope for good drainage. Previously, the high point was part way back in the back half, and the ground was so low in the near half that it would flood from the east neighbor’s downspout. I moved the high point dirt to the low spots - mainly along the West side of the back half, and brought in 24 yards of topsoil - much of which was used to fill the near half. Then this spring I spent a day with a shovel and wheelbarrow fine tuning the level to avoid flooding in some low spots. During this process I was careful not to create a situation where my water runoff would go to the east or west neighbor's property.

 

Earlier this year I built an 8-foot by 9-foot paving stone patio under the wisteria, and a smaller patio near the back on the East side. I built a picnic table for the main patio, and a park bench for the other. This provides two peaceful places from which to sit quietly and observe. Also, I created a convenient spot for my garden shed.

 

On June 1 of this year I met here with Richard Crossman of Parterre Landscape Design Associates here in London. Richard is a former associate of David Thomson, formerly of the Trees for London committee of the McIlwraith Field Naturalists. Richard and I had a two to three hour discussion during which we discussed my objectives. From Richard I am expecting to get a drawing that shows what trees, bushes, flowers, etc I should plant, and where they should go, possibly including a small pond. Briefly, I want species native to this area that will attract birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Other considerations include the height of growth of various parts, and respect for my neighbors. I expect to receive the plan from Richard in mid July, and to then implement it as an on-going project over the next few years.

On Richard's advice I removed the Norway and Manitoba maples, and the Walnut and Elm trees from the hedgerow along the east side.

 

Richard recommended that I speak with Ken Parker of Sweet Grass Gardens at Six Nations of the Grand River, east of Brantford. Ken specializes in the restoration of indigenous North American species. From Ken I am obtaining 1.5 pounds of custom, native prairie seed mixture for dry-mesic clay soil. This mixture will contain 12 native wildflower and 4 native grass species in a ratio of 20% wildflowers to 80% grasses. The cost is $190.00 per pound.

Ken suggested that I proceed as follows:

1.    Spray Roundup over the entire area, and wait for everything to die off

2.    Roto-till the whole area

3.    Plant a cover crop to hold the land until late fall; this crop must not be allowed to re-seed itself, and will be left in place as a mulch

4.    In November, sow the seed mixture mixed with moistened sawdust; this is to increase the bulk for easier distribution [1.5 pounds is a relatively small quantity to spread over 3000 square feet], and to help hold the seed in place on the ground

The meadow should then grow up in the spring, according to its natural cycle.

In addition to Sweetgrass Gardens, Richard also recommended Garden of Eden Tree Farm, off highway 3 between Aylmer and Tillsonburg as a source of Carolinian and other native species. I will visit there sometime after I receive his plan.

June 7, 1998

Today I took two photos, one looking south and the other from the back looking north. These show the area basically untouched this year, covered in weeds. You can see the wisteria, the location of the park bench and picnic table, the prepared spot for the garden shed, the hedgerow on the east, and the pressure treated fence on the west. You can also see clearly the drainage pattern, designed to ensure that water does not run off from my property to the east or west neighbors. Rather, it should run off to the old creek bed to the south.

 

At the very back I keep a stick pile in the east corner and a compost area in the west corner. The stick pile is mainly droppings from the huge cottonwood poplars in the near part of the back yard. The compost area is bordered with railway ties; the canoe belongs to a friend. Later he gifted the canoe to myself, and then I to a friend in need].

 

Today also, I sprayed Roundup over the entire area.

What a day! A one-hour job that took 5 hours. I needed a hose-end sprayer so at about 9:00 AM I went to Home Depot to get one. After I got home with it I discovered that it would not work with the concentrated Roundup solution. So back to Home Depot to exchange it for another brand. After I got home with it I discovered that my two hoses together were not long enough. So back to Home Depot to get another. After I got home I discovered that I did not have enough Roundup. So back to Home Depot to get some more. OK! So 1:00 PM and finally it is done!

June 17, 1998

The roundup has done it's work. All the weeds have turned brown except for some of the Goutweed along the east side which I will spray again.

 

A couple of days ago I e-mailed a note to consider for publication in The Cardinal, the newsletter of the McIlwraith Field Naturalists Of London. Hopefully it will appear in the August issue. I sent copies to Richard and to Ken.

I have a big roto-tiller rented from Kensal Rental for tomorrow - delivery at 10:30 AM.

I have pretty well finished removing the various weed trees from the east hedgerow.

June 18, 1998

So, I roto-tilled the whole thing today; 3 times; and raked it; and collected many items of ancient artifacts; and calluses.

 

June 24, 1998

I went to the Co-Op at Ilderton, and to Denfield, looking for a cover crop. After some discussion I settled on oats. It is important that whatever I plant not re-seed itself, and it is preferable that it not grow too high. Oats need cool weather to become well established, so it should not now become well established; and it is unlikely to mature to the stage where it will re-seed itself as it is such a late-season planting. If it appears that it will re-seed then I can simply mow it down. In any case, it will make a good mulch for my seed mixture.

A few days ago I read in the newspaper about a new bylaw the city has enacted concerning natural areas such as the one I am creating. I phoned city hall and eventually spoke to a person who would e-mail the information to me. So now I have received by e-mail a copy of the London city brochure regarding natural areas, and a copy of the relevant bylaw, and of the recent amendment.

June 25, 1998

I will be putting in a winding wood-chip path. I measured for it; it will be the equivalent of about 45 yards long, 1 yard wide, and 1/10th of a yard deep. This calculates to 4.5 cubic yards; so I will order in 5 cubic yards.

I bought the oat seed at the Ilderton Co-Op. It comes in 50Kg bags at $15.00 each; they had a part bag of 30 Kg which I purchased for $9.00. This is much more seed than what I need for 3000 square feet. He calculated that I really needed only about one pound.

 

There are some small green plants growing up so I sprayed them with Roundup. I'll now wait a day or two to sow my tame oats.

June 26, 1998

I phoned my friend Jeff Heddon about wood chips today. Jeff works for a landscape company, Tender Lawn Care Ltd. He will call back and we will check it out.

I planted the oat seeds this evening; I used my broadcast spreader to do the whole 30 Kg, and then spent a couple hours raking it in. There are still lots on the surface, but hopefully enough is worked into the soil. I set up some hoses and two sprinklers.

 

June 27, 1998

… did some more raking to level the ground in spots; and watered again.

June 28, 1998

… a little more raking; and a thorough watering

June 29, 1998

As I have been roto-tilling and raking I have uncovered a large number of pieces of broken glass, rusty metal, slag, cement pieces, ceramic, plastic, etc. There are two complete glass bottles, which I have kept. The rest has filled about 10 grocery bags and gone out to the garbage. This stuff seems to grow whenever I water!

 

June 30, 1998

The oats are up this morning! … small green blades about 1/2 inch

 

July 2, 1998

Looks like about 2 inches of growth; watered it for about 45 minutes from 5:45 PM to 7:15 PM while it is mainly in shade from the tall trees to the west

July 7, 1998

My oat-field is growing up quite nicely now.

I went to Baseline Nursery on Jeff's advice, and ordered the 5 cubic yards of wood-chips. They had two types, one was hardwood while the other though prettier, would mulch in too quickly. So I ordered the hardwood chips.

July 13, 1998

The wood chips arrived today. It took about three hours to wheelbarrow them out to the back yard and build my wood-chip path. I am very pleased with the way it looks.

 

August 11, 1998

I returned today from a 3-week sailing holiday in the Mediterranian, along the Costa del Sol of Spain between Gibralter and Malaga. It is always an exciting experience to return home after having been away for a while and to discover the changes that have occurred. The oats have really grown, two feet tall! It is interesting to note how in some parts they have not grown nearly so well. Where there is solid clay they are just 6 inches to about a foot tall. This is perhaps an indication of how my meadow will thrive in these areas.

 

Now I am concerned about the possibility of the oats seeding themselves and coming up in the spring, and how much of a problem this might be. I have received conflicting advice so far, from "The frost will kill all the seeds and they won't come up in the spring.", through "A few will come up, but do not worry about it.", to "You should go out there with a pair of scissors and cut off all of the tops".

August 13, 1998

I met with Richard Crossman this morning; now I have the landscape plan in hand. My first plantings will be the major trees: a Shingle Oak, a Red Oak, and a Redbud. These are best if spring-dug so it may be 1999 before they are in place.

Some books that Richard recommends:

August 16, 1998

Today I received a gift, half a dozen species that were dug up from a site that is apparently about to be bulldozed. I should have carefully noted their names but I did not so identification will have to wait. There are two species of goldenrod, something with pretty purple flowers, and one other quite tall specimen.

 

August 19, 1998

I picked up my seed today from Ken Parker at Sweetgrass Gardens. There are 3 bags. It comes from

Prairie Moon Nursery
Route 3 Box 163
Winona, MN
USA 55987
(507) 452-1362

There is a larger brown bag labeled "Grass and Forb Seed Mix 6033", and two white envelopes labeled "Small Forb Seed and/or Sedges", and "Legume Seed Mix". The legume seed mix envelope is also labeled to contain "Rhizobium Inoculant".

I will be mixing all of these together with a quantity of moist sawdust as a filler, and then sowing it by hand in late October [after a frost, when no more warm weather is expected].

August 28, 1998

Bought a copy of The Ontario Naturalized Garden today. Lorraine Johnson has a newer book out now:

Grow Wild! Native Plant Gardening in Canada and Northeastern United States
ISBN 0-679-30919-5

I bought the older one because it is specific to Ontario. The newer one has information on other parts of the continent, which does not interest me.

August 31, 1998

Today I visited Garden of Eden Tree Farm, 519 866 5269. It is at the end of Somers Road just off County Road 44 [which runs east off highway 3], 6 miles west of Tillsonburg and 7 miles east of Aylmer. It is owned by the Van Den Nest family: Pat and Julie, Josh & Cory. This is a very cool place with many native and Carolinian species. I purchased a Red Oak, a Redbud, and a Pagoda Dogwood to be delivered and planted at the end of September.

September 2, 1998

The oats have all changed to a very pretty golden color now.

September 5, 1998

Today I sinned. I have been spending a couple of hours each day for the past week or so weeding the meadow. There are many, many, many small weeds throughout. Well, today I gave up and used Roundup on them.

September 12, 1998

I spent a couple hours a day, for 3 days during the past week, with scissors in hand cutting the tops off of the whole three thousand square feet of oats, and dumping them into the compost pile at the back and mixing in some dirt.

 

What happened here is like this: I had all the information I needed to know that I should have mowed them down before they had seed heads; I should have done this well before going off on my 3-week sailing trip to the Med. But I did not. What went on here is a kind of subtle, subconscious thing about these oats being my children, and my wishing to take good care of them, not destroy them. They were very pretty, and they created a very peaceful place. [Perhaps real children are not always like this.] So while my folly resulted in my having to do some very hard work for a few days, I do not regret it.

September 23, 1998

I have wanted to support Garden of Eden more, and perhaps save myself the cost of another delivery and planting. They do not have the Shingle Oak called for in my landscape plan, so I phoned Richard recently to discuss this. He gave me some ideas for species that could replace the Shingle Oak in the plan. Today I phoned Garden of Eden and arranged for delivery of a Pin Oak to replace the Shingle Oak. The delivery will be in mid-October rather than the end of September as previously arranged.

October 19, 1998

Today Pat from Garden of Eden delivered and we planted 1 Pin Oak, 1 Red Bud, 1 Pagoda Dogwood, and 1 Tulip Tree. I had dug the holes during the past week yielding 4 wheelbarrow loads of solid clay chunks, each about 6 inches across.

 

November 20, 1998

I sowed the wild meadow seed today. I had obtained a wheelbarrow load of sawdust compliments of Beaver Lumber on Dundas Street East. Last night I moistened the sawdust; this morning I mixed the seed with the sawdust, spread it by hand, and raked it in.

November 21, 1998

First snow of the season this morning. Beautiful! My meadow is wearing a gentle white blanket. Later in the winter it looks more like this.

 

Early Spring, 1999

The first of my wild grasses appeared as a clump down by the tulip tree.

April 11, 1999

Today I planted the 6 trees donated by Alexander Keewatin Dewdney from his tree project. I received 3 hop trees which I planted along the west border, 1 spice bush which I planted just north of the park bench, and 1 each of rough-leaved dogwood and redbud which I planted near the existing pagoda dogwood and redbud respectively.

 

Today’s weather? It was actually hailing while I was planting these things!

Today and yesterday were the main pickup days for Kee’s trees. I had volunteered to help dig’n’bag so I arrived yesterday just before the 12:30 PM beginning. Yesterday was sunny and warm; today was rainy and cold. It was a very fun exciting time; I hope to do it again next year.

May 21, 1999

I have been with Bob Hayward at Port Stanley waiting for the Whimbrels to migrate through. We were talking, as usual, about everything. You know how it is waiting for migratories! Anyway, in the course of the conversation he mentioned Don Fick, a retired teacher who grows native chestnut trees from seed [nut!] and distributes them free. So I phoned Don to find out more. He promised me 4 saplings.

June 1, 1999

It has been about a year now since I started this notebook. The meadow is actually looking pretty good now.

Today I began the process of pulling out Norway maple seedlings - hundreds of them. Typically, I would crouch down and pull up about a dozen without moving to the next spot. I completed the west side, and then mowed it down with the lawn mower set at its highest setting. This is to control weed growth, and will have to be done about once a month this year, and once only next year.

June 2, 1999

I pulled the Norway seedlings from most of the east side and mowed it. I left a patch about 15’ x 12’ untouched so that I can show it to the McIlwraith trip this Wednesday.

June 4, 1999

I went to Garden of Eden tree farm to pick up the replacements for the tulip and red bud trees that did not survive. They gave me also a wild flowering raspberry for the trouble. These are now planted.

June 16, 1999

I purchased 2 high bush cranberry and 1 sweet grass from Sweet Grass Gardens. I planted the cranberry at the front entrance to the meadow and the sweet grass in the middle; the sweet grass is planted in a burried 5 gallon bucket to keep it from spreading. The cranberry have a beautiful fall color and keep their berries all winter for the birds.

June 17, 1999

I purchased 6 witch hazel bushes from Garden of Eden Tree Farm, and planted them 3 at each of the back corners.

Mid-June, 1999

Some animal, a rabbit perhaps, ate the spice bush. Darn! All that is left is a twig. Well, I'll continue to care for it; maybe it will come back.

There are now 2 sprouts coming up at the base of the original tulip tree, and the stump of the original red bud has sprouted tiny branches. So now I will have extra of these.

I came home one day to find the 4 chestnut tree saplings on my front porch. Very, very pretty treelets! So now these too are planted.

I have too many trees! I think a 3000 square foot area is too small for 1 pin oak, 2 tulip trees, and 4 chestnut trees. This was going to be a meadow; now it looks like it will someday be a forest. I'll see how the stuff comes along in the next year or so; perhaps I will transplant some.

July 1, 1999

There appear to be many, many weeds in my meadow. I have been pulling out by hand the crab grass and some weeds that grow flat or vine-like on the ground, and there is always another Norway maple to pull. Hopefully, taller weeds will be taken care of by the mowing, and that the wild grasses will eventually win the battle out there. I have been mowing about every 2 weeks to keep it all to a height of 4 inches, this being the recommended weed control regimen.

August 10, 1999

I went to Sweetgrass Gardens today to talk with Ken Parker about my meadow, and to perhaps bring back some plantings. I brought back 15 plants, some that will bloom in each of Spring, Summer and Fall:

August 19, 1999

I have my first rabbit droppings today. I first saw the bunny a couple of weeks ago in the neighbors yard, and I have suspected him as being the culprit that ate my Spice Bush back in June.

Spring Y2K

As is recommended, I mowed the whole thing in mid april with the mower set to its lowest height. In future years I will do the mowing in the very late fall to avoid the very wet early spring conditions. [It is clay out there!].

This year from the Dewdney's Carolinian project I received a Button bush, and about 9 dogwoods: some Gray and some Red Osier. I have planted these along the east and west sides, along with the Hop trees and other dogwoods, to be part of the shrub border called for by my landscape plan.

…at least a few hours each week removing weeds.

Summer, Y2K

I have obtained a copy of Ontario Weeds from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Information on this and their other publications is available at http://www.gov.on.ca/OMAFRA.

The worst weed out here is the Heal-all. This weed is a perennial, reproducing by seed. The seeds may have been in my soil already, but I suspect they have blown in on the wind from the neighborhood. I removed about 10 wheelbarrow loads last year and at least that same quantity this year. It is all buried in the compost pile now.

What I did last year is: I dug a hole about 8' by 4', by 1 foot deep. I watered the hole, then added a layer of weeds, then watered, then a layer of good old south clay and some top soil, then watered. Then I repeated these layers until the weeds were all buried. The result was 3 to 4 feet deep. Later in the year I worked the pile with a pitchfork. When I examined the result this year it appeared to be a pile of reasonably good soil. So I repeated the procedure with this years weeds. I am guessing that the mixture of weeds, clay, soil, water and air really cooks down there.

So this is the first year for the grown up meadow. Verily, it is a place of beauty!

On June 17 my meadow was one of several sites on the 7th annual Old South Garden Tour sponsored by The Landon Library. A field trip with the McIlwraith Field Naturalists is scheduled for a Wednesday evening in the early fall.

I cut and mowed two extra pathways, one through each of the wide parts. This makes it an ideal place for some of the neighborhood kids to play tag or hide-and-seek or whatever they make-believe. This is the best part of this project: some day they may return with their own kids, watch them play here, and remember their own magical time in the meadow.

Spring, 2001

From the Dewdney's Forest City Tree Project I received a Redbud, 4 Alternative Leaf Dogwood and 7 Serviceberry. What a haul! I had expected just 1 of each but there were leftovers. Good for me and my meadow.

Then from the London Waldorf School Native Plant Sale held at Landon Branch Library I picked up 2 Sand Cherry, 2 Fragrant Sumac, 2 Winterberry Holly, 4 Saskatoon Berry, 2 Downey Yellow Violet, 2 Wild Columbine, and 2 Golden Ragwort. Five years from now it should be pretty good out there.

I have been using Roundup on the Heal-all, so I hope to have considerably less of that problem this year.

Two more good references: Planting the Seed from Tallgrass Ontario http://www.tallgrassontario.org, and Native Plant Resource Guide from Society for Ecological Restoration - Ontario Chapter http://www.serontario.org.

I took 2 pictures on April 23, 2001. These show early spring where growth has just begun. I am looking forward to a 6 foot high meadow in summer.

Friday May 4, 2001.

Last week from:

Acorus Restoration

www.ecologyart.com

info@ecologyart.com

I purchased for the pond:

1 White water lily

1 Yellow water lily

1 Pickrelweed

1 Arrowhead

1 Softstem Bulrush

Paul and Darleen delivered these to me at the market downtown this morning, and I installed them right away.

I have continued to use Round-up on the Heal-all, the Dandelion, and the Broad-leaved plantain once or twice per week. Hopefully these will not be the huge problem they have been the past two years, when I took out at least 10 wheelbarrow loads [mostly Heal-all] each year.

Typically, the lawn grasses and clovers are easily identified in the early spring as they are green throughout the winter. My intention for next year is to use Round-up on these in the very early spring, before the native grasses and plants begin to grow green.