Part 3 in a series about landscaping on a farm pond in central Massachusetts
When we bought this small horse farm almost 10 years ago, it came with a little gem of a farm pond, complete with resident fish, frogs and a number of birds that dropped in regularly to visit and feed from this aquatic habitat.
Part of the banks had been damaged by hoof traffic, and a good part of the shoreline on one side was covered with the non-native invasive Multiflora rose, Japanese barberry and ditch lily, but otherwise we could see the potential of the pond as a central feature of our habitat landscaping.
This is what the pond looked like when we moved here in early 2004:
I wrote about our trials and tribulations along the way in a series of articles at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens, but at the 10 year mark, I feel confident that we are just about managing the pond well for all its uses and functions. A wetland area such as this can harbor an enormous amount of biodiversity, and plant/weed competition is fierce. A little careful intervention here and there helps nature keep the area in balance — if we did not manage it, our pond would almost certainly become overrun with unwanted foreign invaders, and eventually revert to swampland.
The pond’s shoreline is roughly broken down into 4 quite different zones:
- Barn buffer zone
- Vegetable beds
- Managed moist meadow
- Wild/unmanaged “back 40″
This strip of extremely nitrogen-rich soil separates the pond from the barnyard where 2 horses live. The plants in this area act as a filter, soaking up nitrogen from horse urine before it leaches into the pond.
In the early years, I had many plans for this highly visible garden area, but many plants have failed (ninebark, summersweet, native lilies, to name a few). Now, my approach has evolved into a “see what nature does” attitude with this challenging area.
A small pathway provides access to the buffer, but I do let the wild violets fill in along the fence to contribute to the vegetative buffer:
Wild blue phlox, Virginia bluebells, violets, foamflower and golden star bloom in early May:
Summer brings the blue flag iris which loves its spot on the water line:
Above right: For many years, I eagerly looked forward to blooms from the native turk’s cap lilies I planted in the buffer, but every year, they formed buds that always aborted before flowering…just too much nitrogen, I suppose. Finally I got smart and dug the bulbs up and moved them elsewhere on the pond where I hope they will now bloom….
A beautiful Joe-Pye weed seeded itself in along with its white-flowering cousin boneset, and they mingle well with the rose mallow and New York ironweed I planted:
The very last Monarch butterfly I ever saw on our property was in August, 2012, and it spent most of its time nectaring at the ironweed flowers (below left):
The sunniest side of the pond shore contains a number of raised beds, some permanent and some constructed each year from bales of hay or straw. We are able to grow a surprisingly large amount of food in these raised beds filled with our farm compost, using pond water for irrigation.
Our food gardens are started very early in spring. This past year, early crops were seeded when there was still snow on the ground in late March:
We make sure that the vegetable beds are surrounded by plenty of flowering plants (mostly native) that attract pollinators and beneficial insects. These perennials put down deep roots along the steep bank to shore it up, and the predatory insects that are attracted to the flowers ensure that we have very few pest problems on our crops.
Managed Moist Meadow:
This area fences our horse pasture from the pond shoreline — we installed a watering trough instead of letting the horses drink from the pond. Over the years, I’ve planted a few native shrubs/small trees such as buttonbush, leatherleaf, blueberry and serviceberry, all of which are thriving, but in between them I have watched other native perennials come and go — common milkweed, goldenrod, daisy fleabane, ironweed, swamp sunflower — they all compete with each other for the moisture and sunshine, with none monopolizing the area completely:
Unmanaged “Back 40″
The southern edge of the pond is bordered by a grove of evergreen hemlock trees, which shade the water through the year — the water in that side of the pond is many degrees colder than the sunny, unshaded part of the pond. It’s a deliciously cool place to paddle a kayak during the hot, humid days of August.
We’ve never touched that side of the pond, since the full shade is a challenge, and the inaccessibility of that area (to dogs, horses, people) means that it makes safe habitat for turtles and other shy wildlife who travel between wetlands and upland woods. Several families of mallard ducks have nested in those woods above the pond and took their first swim here, before Mama whisked her ducklings away from the dangers of 2 resident dogs.
Four seasons of habitat…
Instead of doing the conventional fall garden cleanup, we leave the season’s spent perennials along the pond banks to supply birds with forage all winter long. As I write this in mid-November, mixed flocks of juncos, chickadees, song sparrows and other small songbirds are working the abundance of seed stems, building up strength for the cold months ahead.
Planting with caution …
When I wrote my last article in this series, I had decided I wasn’t going to add any new plants along the shoreline but was going to let nature do any additional planting from thereon. Well, this year, with some trepidation, I did add Lizard’s Tail (Saururus cernuus) to the shoreline of the moist meadow. Trepidation, because this is a quickly spreading plant that can form large colonies. Like the native water lily, I am keeping a close eye on it and will ruthlessly thin colony edges as necessary. Each summer during the hottest days of the year, I stay cool by weeding the pond barefoot in a kayak…
Lizard’s Tail is a very rare plant in New England – it is endangered in Connecticut and has not been seen growing in MA in many years. The shorelines, pond banks and open swamps where it once grew along the eastern seaboard were long ago drained, developed and industrialized. In pre-colonial settlement, however, lizard’s tail was a well-known plant and valued for its many medicinal qualities — so when I saw it available for sale by Tripple Brook Nursery in Southampton, MA, I decided to try growing it to help restore its populations and add habitat value to our wildlife pond.
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