Removing non-native and invasive shrubs and replacing with a variety of natives, increasing the number of native plant species in this area from 2 to 15. Photos: K. Beattie (before) and K. Omand (after).

Last November I reported on the beginning stages of a big “Landscaping Makeover” at the NCF office at 118 Cliff Road. This long-awaited renovation allowed us to incorporate areas with more formal plantings hosting a variety of native shrubs and grasses around the entrance to our office, designed by NCF board member, Dave Champoux. Nursery stock was purchased from Surfing Hydrangea and installed last October to ensure that the plantings would have time during the cool wet autumn to grow strong roots. Temporary deer fencing was put in place to protect the shrubs from winter deer browsing — though we selected deer resistant species, the deer will always sample new plantings and hit landscaping hard in the winter!   

Entrance Area Showcased Species:

1. Bayberry (Morella caroliniana), 2. Beach plum (Prunus maritima),3. Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina), 4. Inkberry (Ilex glabra), 5. Low bush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), 6. High bush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), 7. Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), 8. Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), 9. Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), 10. Eastern Shadbush or Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis).

Invasive species manual removal and backfilling with sand and a thin layer of compost in 2019 set the stage for seed sowing and planting in 2020 and 2021. Photos: K. Omand.

The vital step of clearing a large area of tangled invasive shrubs and vines along the driveway occurred during the off season in 2019. Our Properties Maintenance crew worked with heavy equipment to uproot and remove invasive shrubs and vines and then added sand to backfill. This allowed us to transform the area into a large wildflower meadow, drawing on a combination of locally collected native wildflower and grass seed, and seedlings grown out in our greenhouse. Initially we sowed seed in the spring of 2020 following site preparation, and then the area was mown for weed management repeatedly last summer, giving slower growing native seedlings a chance to establish but reducing weed competition. Last September and October we planted many native wildflower and grass seedlings within the meadow to give them a head start and add variety. The properties maintenance crew placed deer fencing around the wildflower meadow area for the winter to prevent deer from uprooting the newly planted seedlings.

Wildflower Meadow Showcased Species:

1. Common milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa),2. Rough-stemmed goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), 3. Big bluestem grass (Andropogon gerardii), 4. Woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus), 5. Orange milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), 6. Bluets (Houstonia caerulea), 7. Heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides), 8.Pasture thistle white form (Cirsium pumilum), 9. Downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula), 10. Arrowleaf violet (Viola sagittata), 11. Goat’s rue (Tephrosia virginiana), 12. Hyssop leaved boneset (Eupatorium hyssopifolium), 13. Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), 14. Blunt-leaved mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), 15. Little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium), 16. Pasture thistle purple form (Cirsium pumilum), 17. Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), 18. Yellow wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), 19. Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), 20. Stiff aster (Ionactis linariifolius), 21. Wavy hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa).

Native Plant gardening information, sign sponsored by a Nantucket Garden Club grant. Photo: K. Omand.

This spring, we waited with anticipation as the 2020 plantings began to shine. In spite of a very dry summer for Nantucket, requiring weekly watering, we observed the wildflower meadow plantings maturing and flowering in sequence. Educational signs for each of the shrub and grass species and their ecological connections popped up around the landscaped entrance, sponsored by a generous Nantucket Garden Club grant. A mown path encourages a wander through the wildflower meadow area, formerly a tangle of bittersweet, honeysuckle, and other invasives. In September, we installed a larger informational sign, also sponsored by the Garden Club, to explain the importance of using native plants in landscaping and how this trend can benefit Nantucket as a whole.

Woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) in the wildflower meadow in August 2021. This is a perennial species of sunflower that grows in sun or part shade. Photo: K. Omand

Through the 2021 season, we’ve watched the colors and textures of the meadow shift from spring into summer and now into fall: at first pops of color with arrowleaf violet and bluets, then heavy on the yarrow (Achillea millefolium), transitioning into rolling fields of maple-and-curry scented rabbit tobacco (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) and finally into the autumn fireworks of goldenrods and asters.

Late season downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula) and rough stemmed goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) begin to flower as rabbit tobacco and yarrow fade out of bloom. Photo: K. Omand.

The transition of meadow and shrub areas attracted many species of insects from native bees and honeybees to monarch butterflies and sphinx moths, followed by hunting dragonflies and spiders and a variety of birds. With the fencing removed during the growing season, we were able to assess deer impacts on the different shrub species and were pleasantly surprised by the low level of browsing on the wildflower meadow area. In fact, the deer and rabbits seemed to show a preference for eating the weedy native annual, horseweed (Erigeron canadensis) which helped to keep this species from dominating. The focus of deer on certain species of shrubs in the entrance plantings will help us learn more about deer resistance levels for native plants on Nantucket, and we hope to fill in some of these areas with a variety of wildflowers and more deer deterrent native shrub species in the future. Fragrant species such as rabbit tobacco, sweetfern, bayberry, and mountain mint have been among the least attractive to deer so far, along with switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and little bluestem.

A bumblebee feeding on yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in midsummer. Photo: K. Omand.

Stay tuned for next season when we plan to offer targeted walks and other educational activities focused on these new plantings as they continue to develop. If you’re interested in more information on the process of native landscaping transitions and our future plans, email me at Meanwhile, feel free to drop by to view the landscaping changes so far—the office at 118 Cliff Road remains closed to the public due to Covid precautions, but visitors are welcome to stop in to check out the educational signage and gardens for a self-guided tour. Coming soon will be a new kiosk with information about NCF’s conservation efforts and our properties.