Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A Botanical Garden for Princeton

One volunter project that has taken a leap forward during the pandemic is the Botanical Garden next to the parking lot for Herrontown Woods. Families seeking safe diversions and learning opportunities are discovering the garden and the deep woods beyond, which together serve as an introduction to Princeton's flora.

Now in its third year, the garden's collection of more than 100 native species continues to gain in signage and diversity. 


Whimsical, rock-lined trails and craftings of wood delight the kids while the parents check out what's in bloom. 

Visitors can work at the names--"Joe Pye Weed", "Ironweed", "mountain mint"--or just check out the colors and the many pollinators that the wildflowers now sustain.

The botanical garden is in turn sustained by volunteers who come Sundays 10-12, and Wednesdays as well from 4-6. Social distancing is maintained, while families can work closely together. All victories in gardening are provisional, but we're having surprising success weeding out the invasive plants that would have surely taken over if not for human intervention. Though many people equate nature with trees, this storm-damaged clearing allows sunlight to reach the ground, where the many native flowers, grasses, and shrubs that need direct sunlight now have a place to thrive.

The garden site's history is also an important part of its habitat. Snags and fallen trees provide habitat for insects and birds. Small tree trunks provide the makings of a tripod that holds a mobile made of the craggy roots exposed when a tree falls.




Next to one of the snags, a Princeton University professor recently mounted a sensor designed to measure rain and sense whether plants around it are healthy.  The sensor is part of a class experiment, producing data that will automatically be posted online. 

Several families of volunteers collaborated to make a little frog pond. They dug and dug until a small plastic tub would fit in the ground, then lined the area with flat stones and moss, adding a small solar powered fountain that spurts water when the sun reaches the panel. Local frogs have given the pondlet their seal of approval,


as did some kids who were passing by.

Even the root balls of fallen trees, jutting up from the ground, have become backdrops--one for a lovely meditation garden, and this one--a mother/daughter project displaying native plants and bones found in the woods. 


A contribution of local stones, some Christmas ferns, and moss gathered from a roof gave it a more formal look.


Projects like this help shift the balance at the site from aggressive plants, like Japanese stiltgrass and native blackberry, to plants that "play well with others" even though they can be considered wild. 


Over time we hope to give visitors an experience of the abundance and variety nature is capable of when given the chance.