Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

A Successional Forest of Growth

A woman and dog amongst a grove of white pines in a successional forest.

Hello fellow readers, We visited Blue Mountain Lake, part of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, to enjoy an early spring day. It’s sad to see the deterioration and the closing of sections under the guise of a lack of funding to maintain it. On the side gated off, we came upon baby White Pines exploding in the forest, along with young Hemlock trees warming my heart. I believe the park recovered from the inundation of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid with the help of biological controls, a predatory beetle released to feed on the woolly adelgid.

A golden retriever walking on a trail with fallen leaves Lodestar Park, Successional Forest

Lodestar Park Successional Forest

Successional Forest – A Natural Process of Recovery 

The grove of young trees reminds me of a Successional Forest I explored a few years ago after volunteering for a Comfort Zone Camp holiday event, a bereavement camp for kids and young adults. I stopped at Lodestar Park in Fredon, NJ, and saw a sign explaining what a Successional Forest is. In a nutshell, it’s a natural process of the recovery of land impacted by a fire, logging, or farming. The ground returns to an ecologically balanced state through a succession of stages over time, given no other manufactured or natural setbacks.

The forest at Lodestar Park has various hardwood trees, including red cedar, black birch, and black cherry. They populated the beginning of the woods, indicating the area was a farm field not long ago. The trees are known as “pioneer” or “opportunistic” species, often fast-growing, and the first to populate the vacant area until they shade the under-story, not allowing their saplings to survive. Then, shade-tolerant species become introduced. Deeper in the forest, there are older trees – many more black birches and other “characteristics of a mature Appalachian forest,” a sign explains, such as red oak, sugar maple, and hickory.

As we approached the ravine of the Paulinskill River, a healthy stand of Canadian hemlocks welcomed us that thrive in shallow soil near water. They reminded me of the domino of fallen hemlocks that toppled in March Nor’easter in our woods a few years back. One was two-hundred years old, which started the chain reaction. Heartbreaking, though I understand the cycle of life and trust Mother Nature knows what she is doing.

A Tree of Hope and New Beginnings 
a young evergreen tree, a hemlock, amongst a forest floor of fall leaves.

A Baby Hemlock representing Hope at Lodestar Park

As we turned to head back to the open field, I noticed a baby hemlock, as cute as can be, among a carpet of fallen leaves. The young hemlock looked like a Christmas tree of hope and new beginnings in the dormant and brown woodland scene. Just like the kids of Comfort Zone Camp (CZC) whose spirits shifted as they shared and learned they are not alone, beginning their journey of healing and growing.

After the families left, the volunteers gathered, and the CZC facilitator asked for a pulse check. We went around the room, and each gave one word about how we felt after the day. Words like Grateful, Inspired, Loved, Connected, and Thankful were shared. Then one volunteer candidly added -Tired. True, it was a packed day of activities. But more, a day of sharing heartfelt emotions, which can be exhausting yet freeing at the same time.

The Game of Life – helping to Grow our Youth 
A table with a Game 0f Life poster listing human services agencies.

The Game of Life Event – Sussex County Technical School, Lafayette, NJ.

Speaking of Comfort Zone Camp, I helped staff their table at a Game of Life event held at the Sussex County Technical School, Lafayette, NJ. A dear client, Suzanne Sarner, is the Director of the School-based Youth Services Program (or Student Center for short). “We offer all kinds of free supportive services so students can be successful in life,” Suzanne said.

Two middle aged woman standing behind a desk with a Mental Health Associates Banner.

Mental Health Association supports families and friends of individuals with mental illness and offers early intervention support services in Northern NJ. (Annette Hoffman & Carrie Parmelee)

They began the Game of Life 15 years ago to help our youth learn about available community resources. Agencies from all over the county were there. Students are given scenarios of challenges that can happen in life. Then visit the exhibitors to learn about the services that they offer. Services include physical and mental health, domestic violence, substance abuse, housing support services, and grief and loss.

I shared the theme of this week’s story with Suzanne adding their work is much like it, encouraging successful human growth. It’s such a wonderful thing. Because every person they touch grows into the next generation.

As we celebrate Easter and Passover, remember that the most remarkable gift is being present in the season’s significance; being Grateful, Inspired, Thankful, Connected, and Sharing Love.

Garden Dilemmas? and your favorite Podcast App.

 There’s more to the story in the Garden Dilemmas Podcast:

A selfie of a white dog with black markings named Jolee and a woman, Mary Stone, wearing a beige cap that says, Plant Lady. Related Stories you’ll enjoy: 

Flora and Reflections from Blue Mountain Lake

Sharing Comfort & Perennials

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary
  1. April Fisher Reply

    Dear Mary,
    I thoroughly enjoy reading your inspirational gardening messages each week. This week in particular was especially a sweet reminder of the gifts of hope and love that this holiday season brings. We as gardeners certainly embody those gifts as we ready ourselves for another growing season. Thank you as always for your nurturing support as well as your gardening expertise! Happy Spring!

    • Mary Stone Reply

      Thank you April, for your kind words and for reading my column each week. It means so much. Happy Spring! Mary

Leave a Reply


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.