Monday, October 22, 2018

Restoration of a Beloved Seaside Preserve

By Beth Sullivan

On a recent sparkling, crisp October morning, a group of Avalonia volunteers showed up at Dodge Paddock and Beal preserve for the next steps in an ongoing restoration effort .
Those of you who have been following this project know that Avalonia has been challenged by the changing conditions here for several decades now. Learn more here. We have battled invasive plants and continue to do so. We get bashed by Mother Nature, and also continue to be, but we are trying to work with her to restore certain areas and better prepare for a future that includes rising water, both sea level and ground water. We have banished most of the phragmites, and in their place, have restored native marsh grasses. When storms gave us a dune, we planted plants tolerating the high and dry conditions. When the water flooded in and was blocked up, we created a channel to release the water and encourage tidal flow to nourish the marsh.
Much of this was done with grant funding from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Long Island Sound Futures Fund. We have also had major support from CT DEEP, Mystic Aquarium, and Connecticut Sea Grant. Members of community groups and individuals have stepped up to help us as well. Labors of their love.
Already the area welcomed new wildlife this spring.

The plastic had been down for several months. Photograph by Judy Benson.

The soil was evened out and raked to make it ready for planting. Photograph by Judy Benson.

A continuing project

The project we tackled was the next step in restoration of the former gardens. Mrs. Shirley Beal and her husband had donated the property now known as the Beal Preserve, with the agreement that she could maintain her lovely flower and vegetable gardens on the property as long as she lived. We lost Shirley two years ago in September. Her gardens bore amazing vegetables, and her flowers were not only beautiful but also attracted birds and insects. But without a full time gardener or caretaker, we could not manage to maintain them. The decision was made to restore the area to native grasses and other plants. During last fall and this spring, the North Stonington Garden Club dug a huge number of perennial plants to offer at their famous garden sale. They have been very generous in turning funds back to Avalonia in several grant awards. Volunteers from Coogan Farm Giving Garden came and rescued Asparagus plants. Neighbors and friends were invited to share other flowers, tulip bulbs, raspberry plants and even horseradish roots. When the garden was as empty as possible, we mowed the remainder and covered it with plastic sheeting to cook for the summer, solarizing the soil and killing weeds and their seeds (hopefully).

We had purchased a variety of special seeds, selected to be tolerant of the specific conditions there at the preserve. They have to able to tolerate standing water at times, salt spray and occasional drought. After the seeds were sown, we added some mulch straw and then gave the area a mental wish for good luck.
In another part of the garden, a mound of old compost, we planted roots of Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium), Snake root (Ageratina) , and distributed seeds of a special goldenrod ( Solidago), and butterfly weed (Asclepias). All of these are native, will be attractive to pollinators, and will create a mass of color especially in late summer. Even as we planted, we were visited by several Monarch butterflies and many birds of different species enjoying the flowers and seeds already available from plants on the preserve.
In just a few years, the area has gone from a quite uninviting area of Phragmites and invasive plants, to one that welcomes more native wildlife. Visitors have already noted wonderful new species. The new garden area will also do the same. We are quite sure, however, that Mrs. Beal’s tulips and asparagus will remain for decades to come, as they pop up in the grasses. We will welcome them too.

Everyone had a hand in distributing the seeds. Photograph by Judy Benson.

Mulch straw was added to help protect the seeds. Photograph by Judy Benson.

Where there was once nothing but phragmites, there is now a swath of native beauty.

We know Mrs. Beal's tulips will return for years to come.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

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