Drawing influence from ancient practices of tending the landscape, we teach students about relationships with plants. Historically, Penobscot of this area did not cultivate crops in a way that disturbed the soil, instead they work within the landscape, like forest gardening….suppressing plants that are not as useful and encouraging those that served a purpose.
We have the intention of maintaining an open woodland around the outdoor classroom at Pierce’s Pond fish ladder. There are a lot of Gray Poplar that wants to fill the area with thickets. While Gray Poplar is a native pioneer species that holds wildlife value, it does serve the intentions expressed for maintaining open woodland, so we work to suppress it, while letting the beech and oak trees grow.
When the fish ladder was constructed, a deep rubber liner was sunk into the ground to cut off seepage and direct water through the ladder. This changed the moisture content in the soil, and we are curiously following the transformation from wet to dry forest. Three years after the first wave of hugelCULTURE, Gray Poplar is showing itself again. We will be coppicing the young sprouts again and using the leaves to help oust the invasive Bishop’s weed that is taking over the meadow…making use of material found on site
In order to direct the outflow from Pierce’s Pond, a dam was constructed with a deep rubber lining going down the middle to prevent underground seepage and keep a robust flow through the fish ladder. The ground was super-compacted, making the growth rate extra slow to establish plants there. Sedges that exploded in the hard scrabble of the ladder are present, just miniature…as are many of the varieties sown from seed.
The final shots are views of the dam as it slowly fills in after 3 years of sowing seed and adding plugs.
An afternoon at the Tapley Farm in Brooksville explores how mowing practices can support wildlife in Maine’s meadows.
The Tapley family was influential on Maine’s early maritime industry. Their deep water wharf overlooks Castine, maintaining ties to the sea, and the land continues to be tended by the descendants of these early settlers. Currently maintained by the Gregor family, the site is used for creative engagements facilitated by the Tent Project, and serves as grounds for community engagement through cultivating food that is given away to the local community via the Magic Food Bus. A large part of their intention with tending the meadow landscape is to support local wildlife. The Open Air Arts Initiative hosted this event to explore ways we may challenge disruptive and misunderstood mowing practices to educate on how to maintain meadows to support wildlife.
The Nursery Garden: Increasing plant diversity
We began the afternoon gathered in Carol Gregor’s garden. Keeping gardens near to our own habitations encourages us to consider ‘home’ as spaces that include outdoor spaces as we provide nourishment and shelter for pollinators. In consideration of the history of the site, we spoke of plants that arrived by sea in the early colonial medicine chests and how some of these plants have become a naturalized part of our landscape. After acknowledging this land as summer grounds traditionally used by the Penobscot, we spoke of connecting with our own heritage to develop a regard for the relationship to plants considered sacred by our ancestors. We invited participants to observe both native and naturalized plants without judgement, in order to recognize relationships within the landscape, both native populations and those who have arrived ‘from away’. One difference in our contemporary relationship with these 2 groupings of plants is that we may feel free to harvest the naturalized plants without worrying about disturbing the rhythm of the local landscape. As conservationists look more to indigenous populations for guidance, it is important to recognize that while we may learn from their approaches of tending this landscape, it is not really our place to mis-aproppriate their cultures. Instead, we are advised to rediscover our own sacred ancestral relationships with the land and the ecologic communities that inhabit it. We all contain these histories but some of us are more severed from our past than others. Learning about the uses of plants brought here from Europe by early settlers opens pathways of connections to our ancestral relationships with plants considered important enough to be included in their medicine chests and larders.
Having said that, we also recognize that native plants have co-evolved with insect, bird and mammal populations so that local wildlife is in sync with the rhythms expressed by plants that were here before the arrival of Europeans. When we think about increasing the diversity of meadows we tend, we focus on cultivating native plants to augment plant diversity found in larger meadow spaces. Because of the density of plants found in Maine, it is nearly impossible for seeds to take hold if simply scattered into a mature field. Native plants need open ground to become established and often take two to three years to fully mature. Some need extra tending so they may flourish. By adding small patches of native plants to the gardens we tend close to home, we can keep an eye on them and allow them the space to thrive. Direct sowing avoids the use of plastic pots associated with nurseries and allows the plants to adjust the soil into which they will be placed from the getgo. As they establish themselves and start to outgrow the small spaces of a cottage garden, then it is time to transplant the larger plants to the field, where they may take hold with mature root systems and start populating meadows with a more diverse range of flora. In Carol’s garden, we see native roses, milkweeds and New England asters growing alongside oregano, lavender and cosmos, all of them happily feeding the scourge of buzzing pollinators.
Meadow Walk Observation & Relationships
On the walk through the meadow to the site of Carol’s labyrinth, we take a slow approach to observe what is already growing in the meadow. We talk about plant communities and paying attention to what grows well together. Scale is an important consideration as we think about how to cultivate a community of native plants within our own tended spaces. Roses grow well with blueberries, and are layered in with mosses and rushes. flowers, berries, and bunching stems providing nourishment for pollinators, birds and shelter for both. It is vital to let all of these plants grow to maturity through the extended season to promote habitat for local wildlife. If we sever the landscape in the middle of summer, we take away the flowers feeding the pollinators, which in turn takes away food for insect loving birds. It severs the capacity for wildflowers to mature into seeds, taking food away from migratory birds and forage for winter resident bird and mammal populations. Meadow nesting birds are increasingly some of the most endangered species in the area because their homes are destroyed and they cannot reproduce.
Why do people mow mid summer? Because it is easier for the mowing COMPANY to get through the field. Waiting until November or April increases the risk of the soil being too sodden, or the grasses laying down like a mat. However, to maintain open space we only have to mow every two to three years. So if a season presents too difficult a task to mow, it’s fine to wait another 6 months to a year or more to mow the area. Often meadow stewards will alternate mowed areas so that the plants have a couple of years to mature, regenerate and the next generation grow out before being cut.
Observation allows for consideration on how to shape layers into the perimeters of the meadow. If we do NOT mow, the meadow will return to forest. In thinking of transitions into the surrounding forests, we may encourage a diverse range of woody plants like native viburnums and dogwoods to fill in along the sides to soften edges of meadows. These berry producing plants provide essential food for migrating birds and act as windbreaks and pollen sources for early season insect forage. These bushes will spread easily into a meadow, so it is important to maintain consistent mowing along the perimeter of the woody shrub layer to prevent this from happening and to maintain open space.
Maine’s forests were severed in the first wave of colonialism as European settlers reaped the rich resources of this land. Felled trees were first used to build ships, then were carried off to construct plantations through the Caribbean, laying in place colonial structures of systematized racism that persist today. Indigenous practices in both geographies are helping to heal the land, recognizing that non-human species are essential members of our communities.
Haitian-centered organizations effectively support re-wilding & Eco-cultural restoration:
Northeastern native flowers loved by hummingbirds include bee balm, blue lobelia, butterfly weed, cardinal flower, columbine, foxgloves, jewelweed, New Jersey tea, shadbush, Soloman’s seal and virgin’s bower. They have a tubular shape and generally grow upright. Plant these as large clumps and as a succession of blooms to welcome hummingbirds to your garden through the season.
Creating vertical structure in a garden will produce an inviting habitat. Shrubs, small trees and canopy trees planted together with flower gardens and a water source will provide for their needs.
Avoid Pesticides and keep cats away!
MOWING for Wildlife
Mowing in summer is severely disruptive
MOW in NOVEMBER or APRIL
Pollinators need flowers!! Mowing in summer causes pollen and nectar to disappear – reducing the number of insects. The easiest way to install a Pollinator Pathway is to STOP mowing from May through October! Farmers who harvest hay may consider leaving strips to grow out along field edges, or around the periphery of their farms.
Birds need insects & SEEDS! Some birds eat insects…if flowers are cut & insect populations decline, birds loose this food source.
Grassland nesting birds are some of the most endangered. Mowing their nesting grounds before their young fledge drains the population.
Many birds eat seedheads. When flowers are cut mid summer, they do not have time to seed out to feed migrating birds as they return south. It takes away an important winter food source for resident birds.
SEEDS regenerate!! Allowing seedheads to fully ripen regenerates the population of flowering plants that feed wildlife.
TIPS for maintaining an open meadows
Alternate Areas While it is important to mow to maintain open meadows, we only need to mow every other year. Leaving un-mown areas over the winter increases habitat for mammals and birds who overwinter here.
SPOT mowing targets aggressive foreign grasses to suppress them and revive flora populations.
Human pathways may be mown through the meadows to increase ease of access for walking and observing the life that will burst forth when open meadow ecology is restored.
Mown path borders along bushes will keep them at bay.
The arrival of spring is very quiet in Maine. It took me a couple of years to recognize and appreciate the swelling of catkins, the blossoming of fuzzy pussy willows and the blushing reds worn by deciduous forests as the red maple flowers start to bloom. The scent of the sea awakens the senses as the water warms and the rockweed is revived after a long winter freeze. Native flowers start to emerge, but we have to look very closely at the tiny leaves which emerge donned in purples and reds, camouflaged against the soil. This is the fourth year we have started growing our native plants from seed, and the first wave of plants are now established, sending out new tendrils of growth underground to fill in available space. Finally the plants are able to establish ground and deter weeds on their own! Last fall, new seeds were sown in the gaps created by a final weeding of the flower beds. As the first seeds start to germinate, we are mindful to keeping these areas of slow growing seedlings well weeded until they too gain a foothold. Spring snow will still occasionally blanket the earth, and the added moisture encourages these natives to burst forth in May despite the cold in April.
Katelyn Alexis + Getho Jean Baptiste + Wesner Bazile + Rossi Jacques Casimir + Noel Edgard aka Papouche + Lee Lee + Mimi Sheller + moira williams
We are exploring historic connections between Maine and Haiti with a series of workshops and performances; looking at the entangled mobilities between plant-human and non-human relationships held sacred by indigenous communities. We will consider the role plants played through the Haitian revolution and how plant-based practices in both geographies may inform each other as we navigate our way through food sovereignty, sacred/medicinal relationships and rewilding efforts. We are interested in counterpractices that push against industrial agriculture and hybrid seeds.
I :: White Pines from Dawnland The tall, straight trunks of Maine’s white pine trees were marked and severed from the landscape by French settlers to build ships that carried lumber to Haiti. Hawthorn trees were equally struck from the land, stripped of their thorns then used as nails in the same ships to Haiti (Hawthorne is resistant to rot unlike pine). Both Pine and Hawthorne trees carry sacred/medicinal relationships with indigenous people. Additionally, both trees were used to construct plantations that in turn, served as frameworks against which the Haitian revolution took place. Our project begins with tracing the ghosts of White Pine and Hawthorn trees. We will travel rural areas to find their traces, look at the functional differences between in-tact plantation grounds versus fragmented land passed down equally through generations of families after the revolution. We will connect these ghosts to the sacred/medicinal microgardens found in the pots and doorways of Port-Au-Prince through recorded conversations, knowledge sharing and movement.
II :: Mountains beyond Mountains The indigenous Arawak people met the first free Africans in Ayiti (Haiti), during the 1800’s. Ayiti means ‘mountains beyond mountains’ an expression from and of the land. Both cultures recognized one another’s interconnected, sacred relationships with the land. As a result, the Arawak shared their knowledge of the land and the medicinal qualities found in Haiti’s endemic plants with the Africans. Plant, food and soil knowledge continues to be cultivated, interwoven with multiple cultural nuances, as interventions of restoration and liberation throughout the tightest corners of urban Port-Au-Prince. These same plants are grown in microgardens around the Grand Rue.
III :: Control Moringa trees provided Haitians
essential nutrients during the petrol revolts this year. Moringas were
brought to Haiti from Africa as seeds and thrive in areas where little
else can grow. We will plant more Moringa trees, save their seeds to
establish a nutrient dense Grand Rue – if you control food, you control
Confronting the failures of our work in the previous biennales, we
will install a functioning SEED library at SAKALA. They have the
capacity for preservation and are interested in seed saving due to food
security threats from hybridization. Informed by the progress of SEED
work in Maine with the Halcyon Grange and Blue Hill Heritage Trust, we
will call on Haitian organizations to maintain a preservation ring.
Potential SEED library branches AJDHVD network of school gardens,
Minister of the Environment, Botanic Gardens, SOIL & Lambi Fund farmer networks.
IV :: Restoration In response to concerns that urban youth are being severed from the land, traditional plant, soil, health and cultural knowledge, we will weave aspects of re-wilding into our SEED work to promote a whole-body ecologic revolution. We will do this with seed saving workshops and a combined art, citizen science, movement workshops in the Grand Rue and SAKALA (SAKALA has a “wild” field). We will provide a school bus and invite the Grand Rue TiMoun to participate.
Because of the revolts over the course of 2019, we decided to elongate this effort by drawing out programming to support workshops on a month to month basis. We started with open source images of Ruby-throated hummingbirds & cedar waxwings printed for the installation for the 2019 Biennial. Both birds are considered ‘accidental migrants’ from the northeast. The woodworking community that makes up Lakou Basile are carving representations of these photographs on a workshop platform with neighborhood youth to learn relationships of flowers with pollinating hummingbirds & fruit dispersal through birds. The woodblocks will be sent to the SEED Barn and used to demonstrate printing techniques of Ukiyo-e style of woodblock printing during the 2020 season. In hopes this exchange ignites consideration of the ecologic and historic geographic relationships we maintain with lands which host migratory wildlife enjoyed throughout the Maritime region during the summer.
Celebrating the new gardens designed and built by Lee Lee at the Pendleton House, they set the stage for a display of Haitian artworks and maritime paintings during first Blue Hill Maritime Heritage Festival. In consideration of the historic use of the building to house sailors who needed temporary housing between seafaring journeys, garden plants were chosen because they were considered important enough for early settlers to bring with them across the sea. The plant collection will comprise a collection of tea and medicinal plants tended in these early colonial ‘medicine chests’.
In tandem with exploring what plants arrived here, we are considering the severance of the landscape for the raw materials that became the foundations for colonialism. What systems were set in place that still exist today? What are the long term social impacts experienced by indigenous populations in the Penobscot region as well as the Caribbean and African regions? How is indigenous practice informing the healing of these lands?
Featuring custom painted Maritime Chests and Historical Signs by Robert Jarvis Leonard III, the garden installation included crafts from Indian Island by Penobscot linguist Carol Dana and a selection of Haitian sculptures that offer a poignant reflection of the backwaters of (im)mobilities. An interactive component will invite visitors to share stories of their own relationship with plants and migrations.
Through the festival, songs of the sea will be sung both in the gardens and along the sea across the street at Emerson park. Bring an instrument and join in this Cèilidh style gathering.
Shinrin Yoku, or ‘forest bathing’ is a Japanese practice of maintaining well being by seeking peaceful restoration in the forest. To help gain a sense of the ecologies in our new home in Downeast Maine, we joined Tara Hollander from the Maine chapter of the Sierra Club on a series of hikes to simply absorb the Maritime forests in Acadia National Park with all of our senses. Grandpa wrote a series of haiku inspired by the walks.
When we purchased the 1835 house and barn built by John Cheever, the barn was sagging and at risk of needing to be torn down. The previous owners had poured a new foundation for the main house, but the barn was in sad shape. A big reason for buying this home was the barn space, so we felt it was worth saving. The lofty space is relatively cozy for a barn with a dramatic stone fireplace that had been added later. The way the wood was put together evidenced mastery of material expressed by the shipbuilder who constructed it. We also felt the space would be improved by playing more to the surrounding water, so we took measures to bring the outdoors in through large openings cut into the walls as set of three tall windows facing Conary Cove and four sets of French doors. The double glass doors open to the patio, a new front porch built as a formal entry, and the typical raised bed greenhouse designed by Peter Leonard (grandpa). Through her career of owning a boutique Denver Real Estate firm, Sonja Leonard Leonard (grandma) took on multiple renovations of old houses. She developed a refined sense of preserving the historic characteristics of a house, while updating the style of living to fit today’s taste and standards. As with other properties in Denver and Taos, we collaborated as a family to determine the interior architectural design as well as the finishes to make the cohesive space.
The wooden interior of the barn is rich with history, as if the antique planks of wood held the stories of generations of families who shared the space. We wanted to preserve the ancient wood, but we also wanted to extend the season in which we could comfortably use the space, so we framed the outside of the barn to add insulation. This allowed us to mount a set of solar panels on the south side, above the greenhouse. The greenhouse offers passive solar heat gain which warms the space through the colder seasons. While it’s not enough to dwell comfortably without extra heat from the renai, it certainly takes the edge off while leaving it cold enough to preserve the seeds we are working with as part of the SEED barn. We then shocked the community by choosing a soft, sea green color for the exterior. The response from our neighbors being, “We don’t paint barns green here.” Typically people don’t cut giant holes in their barn either, so we dismissed it as simply being from ‘away’.
We had a LOT of dirt from excavating around the perimeter of the barn. In order to provide a bit of protection from road noise, we stretched out the pile along the front of the house as the foundation of the garden intended to be a living seed library for native plants that would be used in restoration work around the peninsula. using the excavator to place the large stones that came out from under the original floor, a layer of ‘good’ dirt was delivered and spread over the fill to provide a nourishing hold for the new plants. The high clay content of soil from this land provide moisture even through dry seasons, so it is a nice balance to establish a new garden.