Discoveries beyond the Garden Fence
The wild-growing area beyond the garden fence was mowed lawn until 2015. That’s when we partnered with
Friends of the Winooski River and US Fish and Wildlife biologists to restore 0.7 acres along the North Branch of the Winooski River with native riparian plants and trees. The area is now evolving back into habitat for wildlife, including monarch butterflies.
As our walk began, we were pleased to make the acquaintance of this Argiope aurantia, or yellow garden spider. You might also have heard of her as the writing spider, here creating the distinctive zigzag web. Later in fall, we’ll see a ping pong ball-like shape hanging there, waiting to hatch her babies.
Here’s a Vermont native: Monarda fistulosa, or wild bergamot. It’s in the mint family.
The yarrow on the left is immortalized in myth. The centaur-physician Chiron taught Achilles that yarrow would stanch bloody wounds. A relative of yarrow is Queen Anne’s lace, shown on the right. It’s also an ancestor of the carrot! I’d heard Queen Anne’s Lace was named for Anne Boleyn, one of the unfortunate wives of King Henry VIII, but a brief search indicates a different English flower probably inspired this flower’s name.
Box elders grow everywhere around here. They’re also called the ashleaf maple.
Bees love Japanese knotweed, a familiar invasive, proliferating along Vermont’s rivers, streams, and roadsides. The early spring shoots have a taste reminiscent of rhubarb and look like asparagus. Speaking of bees, on this walk I learned that honeybees buzz in the key of C! When tomato plants hear a C, they shed their pollen.
Timothy grass is one of the planted grasses typically made into hay for horses, who require a more refined diet.
There’s so much to see along the river. A kingfisher had just flown by. Not surprisingly, kingfishers eat fish. When I guessed that the fish ate bugs, I learned something: There is a legitimate group of insects called bugs, but most insects we see are not bugs! They’re bees, beetles, and flies. Examples of true bugs are milkweed bugs and water striders. There are lots of beavers, too. Ned explained that a beaver colony kicks out the two-year-olds in summer, which turns into a vacation for them, with plentiful food and nice weather. About this time, though, they sense winter coming. The adolescent beavers collect sticks to put underwater and try to find a mate to help them set up shop for the much more challenging times ahead.
Ooh, look! Here’s a pile of chitin from crayfish, most likely dragged up out of the river by otters, who like to swim and eat around here.
Look at this glorious New York ironweed, more than seven feet tall and gloriously fuchsia.
Beautiful Joe-Pye weed, an herbaceous perennial, is a member of the sunflower family.
This is Virginia creeper, or woodbine, a member of the grape family. It climbs trees, vining around trunks and branches, turning bright red to signal passing birds.
These milkweed pods will open in late November or early December. The “milk” is a defense, a gluey toxin that kills insects–but not the monarch butterfly who, along with the milkweed tiger moth, rely on the stuff to survive.
In case you needed to be told, don’t touch this milkweed tussock moth caterpillar. Their spines can irritate our skin.
I was surprised to learn this was lupine, which I didn’t recognize out of its flowering season.
These tiny, beautiful flowers have the most delightful name: butter and eggs.
Beautiful bull thistle, which packs a serious ouch! Apparently, if you peel the spikes off the thistle, the inside tastes like celery.
We ended with a poem* of gratitude at the peppermint patch. Peppermint returns every season. It’s one of the few plants here the voracious deer won’t chew on.
*We heard “Thank You” by Ross Gay from the collection . Here’s Ross Gay with his own work. Black Nature Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry