Crow’s Nest: Spring gardens at the barn

May 8, 2020

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager.

Even in the rain the gardens at the visitor center barn look great. Although the barn is not open these days you are welcome to take a walk around and enjoy the plants. Most are labeled (and the labels aren’t yet overgrown by plants as they will be later in the season). That’s columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) along the walkway above.

The blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) marks the curve of the path into the barnyard. The low-growing yellow flower in the foreground is Chrysogonum virginianum, a plant called green and gold.  The taller yellow flower planted around the base of the yellowwood tree above and the right side of the walkway below is Packera aurea, golden ragwort or golden groundsel.

While these beds have long been attractive in mid-summer, with their Rudbeckia, Monarda, Eupatorium and Echinacea, Aubrey has made an effort to lengthen their season of interest with more spring-flowering plants.

If we were to take a ride on the way-back machine, this is what the same bed looked like a week later in the season, 14 years ago…

If you look closely at the newer top photo you notice the barn addition poking out to the left, the green barn doors have been replaced due to rot, and even the concrete pathway was replaced when the land was regraded for the addition.

It had long been an ambition of mine to replace the turf grass alongside the path to the barn to make this more of a grand entrance, since although the path loops behind the barn, it is the pedestrian “front” entrance to the visitor center when coming from the parking lot. Aubrey made it happen.

I really like how these gardens merge with the naturally-occurring native plants in the adjacent woods such that it’s difficult to tell where the gardens end and the forest begins. Partly that’s a result of carefully weeding the woods to remove plants like garlic mustard, Japanese honeysuckle, and bittersweet, and partly from choosing garden plants for the former construction site around the visitor center that would naturally be found in the adjacent woods.

In the bed between the path and the ramp is Sedum ternatum, woodland stonecrop. Aubrey chose this because of how low-growing it is so that it wouldn’t fall over into the paths.

Take the time to enjoy the visitor center gardens as you venture out into the other 712 acres of the preserve.