Curious how some projects seem so simple, and then turn out to have all kinds of inherent difficulties. The practical difficulties are nothing compared to the philosophical ones, although in the case of the project I want to talk about, the practical ones are also daunting.
The William Cody Memorial Fern Trail at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden is a case in point. Several months ago Sandy Garland (chair of the Fletcher committee) asked me if I'd be interested in working on such a thing. I don't really know anything about Mr. W. Cody, except that he worked for Agriculture Canada, wrote a booklet on local Ottawa Valley ferns, and is now deceased. Since the little book is an absolute classic, a 'must-have' for local fern-ers, I loved the idea of a memorial garden. Sandy said she had a spot in mind, and, later, took me down to see it.
Right away I could see a practical problem that will loom large in this project's history. Dog-strangling Vine, or Pale Swallow Wort, Vincetoxicum nigrum; syn. Cynanchum louiseae, is rampant in the area she showed me. It is also a very dry spot, with a number of fine large Maples, a few conifers such as White Pine, and, a little further back from the trail, a large stand of mature Eastern Red Ash. Now the Ash is under threat from the Emerald Ash Borer, so any plans for the Trail should take into account that conditions may change dramatically in a few years. But for now, the Maples and Ashes give good high dappled shade. The area is a bit of a hill-top, so well-drained, but dry. This year in particular it is dry.
Sometime in June, I think it was, Sandy lucked into a couple of volunteers who wanted to work for a day or two, and she put them on to clearing the fern area of DSV. They did a great job, but when I went there a few weeks later to do some work, I saw that instead of clearing a square bounded by the two intersecting trails, they had cleared a rectangle along one of the trails. OK, but it threw my sketched plan out of the water. As well, someone had planted a bunch of Whorled Aster, Oclemena acuminata, right where I had mentally placed ferns.... so, right, Plan B coming right up.
I started by doing a bit of exploring. I found a patch behind the trail with some Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis. The plants were stunted, but alive. Not really a damp spot, but a somewhat damp-er spot. Possibly an area could be made there, suitable for ferns that need more moisture. Another person, Dan, had expressed interest in moving some of his ferns to the Trail, and he had mentioned moisture-lovers like Interrupted Fern, Osmunda claytoniana, and Marsh Fern, Thelypteris palustris. Neither of these would do well in a bone-dry situation under Maples. But perhaps (you see my Dutch problem-solving mind working here), perhaps, one could dig out a depression, line it with old pond liner with a few holes poked, fill it with good humus-y soil, and have a place for ferns that need more moisture to thrive. Further exploring took me back to the existing path which crossed the path the Trail is on. Clearly, a new path, curving around and enclosing the fern area, and joining the two intersecting existing paths, would be the way to go. (pun not intended!)
Then it could be called the Wm. Cody Memorial Fern Glade, no longer being a Trail. I had trouble with the concept of a 'trail' anyway, particularly with the difficulty of maintaining an area which would have no border..... I mean, how would I ever keep the DSV out if there was nothing to stop it from spreading into the fern area? Apparently lawn edging is not allowed, I guess because it isn't exactly natural, but somehow the Vine's stolons have to be stopped. Otherwise it would be a never-ending job to dig it out of the ferns' domain. It's seeds will be bad enough, but at least small seedlings are easily yanked.
Anyway, I then settled down and weeded the area the volunteers had cleared, digging out some more DSV that had come up again, removing a quantity of what I call burr-bush because I don't know its name, but I know it is a pesky weed, trimming the shrubs of overhanging branches and dead wood, and digging spots for the ferns I had brought. The volunteers had planted Clinton's Fern, Dryopteris Clintoniana, in front of Crested Fern, D. cristata, which put the taller one in front of the shorter one, but I figure in a few years we can move the Cresteds. The Whorled Wood Asters got in the way, but I put the Northern Lady Ferns, Athyrium angustum, behind them. It didn't look too bad, although of course all the plants are still very small. There were also a few Blue-bead Lily, Clintonia borealis, a small clump of Bunchberry, Cornus canadensis, and a sad-looking straggle of Foamflower, Tiarella cordifolia. The dry summer hasn't helped them, but at least they were still alive.
I went home feeling encouraged and vowing to be back the next weekend.