Listening for Nature: A Landscape Observation
Long Islandís North Shore
By Barbara Roux

For years the flora and fauna within our area has shown changes. Change is a part of life and death. These changes can be observed from a distance and up close. Habitat niches have been altered by contractors, invasive plants, weather, animals and disease. In some areas unnatural landscape features have been created on new home plots where older and smaller houses were taken down and new larger ones built. New houses appear to be far more the focus of these projects than the landscape elements of these properties. Native and mature landscape flora is in some cases cleared away for new plants and lawns instead of integrated into the new planting design. Young trees planted that create enclosures for a house, pool, and other structures donít seem to connect natural aspects of the property to these structures. These live enclosures are often formed of small evergreens of equal height native to colder climates meant to reach 80 feet or more. When planted in rows 10 feet on center or closer, little space is allowed for them to grow to maturity. These evergreens often have no natural configuration or understory plantings. They seem to stand as soldiers. And their color never changes with the seasons to provide interest. The growing use of hard surface driveways, turnarounds and courtyards on private homes is also less integrating than the use of light gravel. Gravel provides drainage mitigation, is cooler and a natural material that allows tree roots to breath under it. Natural rhythm and variety in plantings is still evident in our coves, sanctuaries, vacant lots and many treed private residences that are a hallmark of our area. This hallmark is a positive aspect both for aesthetic reasons of texture, form, color and fragrance but also valuable as habitat ecosystems and niches for our native plants and animals and helpful to our air quality and erosion control. They are a source of wonder and education into our natural history and the ecology of our coastal, meadow and forest environment.

Maintaining properties here, whether private or public has its problems. For many years there appeared to be a lack of control of non native invasive vines such as Oriental Bittersweet, Japanese Honeysuckle, and garden escapees like Wisteria. Now new fast growing vines like Mile a Minute plant join the list taking over our sunny verges in certain places. Shrubs like Japanese Knotweed have created clumps of dominating foliage clogging areas of our fresh water wetlands. Multiflora Rose has been here for decades crowding out other plants and continues to do so though itís late May blooming tiny blossoms smell lovely. Norway Maple, once the choice for shade in our school yards if allowed to grow wild will seed and take over an area so nothing but its offspring can grow under its matted roots. Some public refuges are now clearing away at invasive vines and removing them from trees in areas where they were once allowed to grow as cover for native animals. Now new native invasive and pioneer plants have come in there like the deep rooted Pokeweed. Certain mature native trees however have been plowed under on private sites with the vines that cover them instead of cutting off the vines or pulling them out. Prevention and preservation are viable alternatives. Removing or cutting back these vines and shrubs when they are young are possible. Weeding by hand is a remedy.
Page 2 Listening B. Roux

The landscape industry itself seems to consist of weekly maintenance crews of trucks and trailers arriving to provide high maintenance required from manicured turf lawns and ornamental plantings. Their use of high powered back pack leaf blowers on lawns and driveways that are sound polluting can be heard outside far away. These workers come even when the leaves are not yet open on the trees in March and begin their sweep. Their removal of leaf debris under trees that have an understory of native shrubs like Maple Leaf Viburnum, Mountain Laurel, Spice Bush and Shadbush and a groundcover of ferns can be damaging. Their root systems can be shallow and require protection and nutrients from leaf litter. The larva of butterflies and moths need to survive in this leaf debris as well. And piles of leaves pushed along a neighborís verge are not only intrusive and unsightly but can rot the root collars of trees they are piled against. The odor of chemicals emitted from gas back pack blowers is also offensive to our environment. Areas devoted to pristine lawns serviced by landscapers are often treated with chemicals that have a number of cycles and provisions for everything from pre emergent herbicides to fertilizers and broadleaf weed control that may raise the toxicity level of water run off that reaches our harbors, ephemeral brooks and wetlands, a nursery habitat for many animals and plants. This is a land of hills and valleys. Some residents still use wells for their drinking water and we need to keep that and all our drinking water safe from run off chemicals. Our wetland habitats need healthy breathing space to grow into areas they will seek as global warming causes waters to rise. Some wetland birds are making a large showing here now like the Osprey but there is a huge decline in certain songbirds that migrate to New York State. This may be caused by a complex combination of habitat loss and polluting chemicals in certain habitats. White tailed deer have also been a presence in recent years and have had an impact on the erosion of our forest understory. Plant disease too has taken a toll.

In many areas of our village, people continue to integrate native habitats and non native plants with their homes and are in tune with the flora and fauna that thrive here. Peninsulas of trees, shrubs and groundcover extend from their homes into natural woodland or landscape buffers. Many residents allow a natural process to take place between the ecosystem components of their grounds. They compost food scraps. They use safe organic herbicides. They use a quiet rake on their lawns. Some native trees that die and fall are allowed to decay to provide food and shelter for a host of small animals and plants. Native flowers like Wild Geranium and Aster bloom next to non native Hostas and thrive. Tulip Tree and Oak and Birch canopies shield understory native Dogwood and Viburnum and ferns. Oxygen is given off from plants and their roots absorb rain and nutrients and an ecological harmony exists. On some parcels, meadows still exist and orchards of heirloom apples still bear fruit. Some residents and park areas allow native evergreens like Red Cedar to colonize with Goldenrod and Black Eyed Susan on sunny slopes. And the waves hitting the pebbles along our shores at low tide can still be heard.

Barbara Roux 2008

 

 

 

 

 

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