Hello fellow readers, Over the almost eleven years of our column chats, I’ve often accessed the wisdom of Dennis Briede from Blairstown, NJ, who I refer to as my birder buddy, although he’s knowledgeable (I’d say expert, but he never boasts) on plants and wildlife and serves as the Stewardship Manager for the Land Conservancy in New Jersey. I ran into him while on a road walk with Jolee, and of course, we talked about nature and our gardens leading to the antics of his meadow wildlife you’ll enjoy.
Mother Nature manages populations.
“Not many plants have berries this winter, so we haven’t seen as many birds,” Dennis said. And acorns and shagbark hickory nuts were scarce this year for our furry critters. It’s a fascinating cycle; of how Mother Nature controls populations by managing the food supply.
I enjoyed visiting his meadow in all its glory late last summer, which puzzled me, given our dry summer. Dennis explained that May through June had plentiful rain setting the stage for the flowers and fruits to come. And his is a well-established wet meadow, as evidenced by the native cedar trees and red Maples that populate the field.
While some shallow-rooted plants showed signs of struggle after an evening, the morning dew helped plants rebound, Dennis said. Plus, native plants can handle the ups and downs of weather better than most non-native plants. However, he plants non-native species, too, if they are non-invasive and great for pollinators, such as Caryopteris, also known as Bluebeard Shrub. It’s in its glory in late summer, with bees bumbling around the iridescent violet-blue spikey blooms.
Meadows wish to be Forests.
One of the pearls of wisdom is that all meadows in this area wish to become forests. And so, one of the management challenges is to keep trees from rooting. I hadn’t considered fields want to be forests if we didn’t intervene–which brings a question of how much we should interfere with nature, not at all, or a little bit. I vote for a little bit as long as we are kind to nature. After all, we live here too.
Dennis has volunteer red maples that sprout plentifully, which he removes to keep his meadow a meadow. However, he allows native shrubs such as Northern Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) to remain here and there. Known as the “forsythia of the wilds” per Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center In Austin, Texas, with its yellow flowers in early spring. You can make tea from the fragrant twigs and leaves.
Wondrous antics of meadow wildlife
Dennis shared a funny story about saving a nest of bluebirds from a black rat snake ready to feast. He saw him climbing the bird box post, and he snagged him and tossed him in the meadow.
Days later, while in his house, something told him to turn around, and staring at him from his second-story deck was the black rat snake, angry perhaps that he snatched him before he got to his prey. He knew it was him because of the white scar on his neck.
One year a hummingbird hovered by a spot where one of the feeders is always posted, but it was not yet there. So quickly, Dennis went to set one up for the little fellow. As he walked out on the deck, the hummingbird perched itself on the feeder before he hung it. “They often hang on my pocket or belt loop.”
Dennis said they depart on Sept 23rd as if they know when to go. Folks don’t realize that hummingbirds’ primary food is insects such as mosquitoes, gnats, flies, and spiders. The sugar water we provide helps fatten them up for their long voyage.
No yard is too small to help nurture nature.
Sadly there’s been a notable decline in butterflies in recent years due to the use of pesticides (my conclusion) and habitat reduction, Dennis added.
During our hour-long visit, I saw five or six monarchs flitting about along with several other favorable pollinators leading to a discussion about moths – one of my recent fascinations. “Embrace moths — they are butterflies that like to party at night,” Randi Eckel of Toadshade Wildflower Farm said at a talk she gave at a Plant Symposium I attended.
Dennis told the story of a naturalist who came there to do a moth count using a heavy-duty light (a 1,000-watt light, I think he said) and a big white sheet and found 223 species of months.
While my birder buddy’s meadow is large and magnificent, Dennis exemplifies that we can all help preserve and nurture our environment. No yard is too small. Even garden pots can serve a purpose in supporting wildlife, helping nature, and our garden of life. Garden Dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com and your favorite Podcast App.
There’s more to the story in the Garden Dilemmas Podcast – Celebrating 100 Episodes!
Dennis has a quote he adds to the end of his emails by Edward Abbey “The earth, like the sun, like the air, belongs to everyone -and to no one.”
That certainly resonates, which brings to mind another I adore by the Persian poet Hafiz.
“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.”
Links to related stories you’ll enjoy:
Beyond Nutty Mast Year – how Mother Nature manages wildlife populations.
Moths are Beautiful Too, and crucial pollinators!