Updated: Aug 29
Biodiversity is an important measure of the health of our wildlife. The greater the variety of plants and animals, the healthier and more resilient the environment—and the better able it is to adjust to a changing climate.
So how do citizens of Maynard think about biodiversity, and what steps are they taking to foster it? What do people value about the wildlife in the gardens, woods, wetlands, and meadows in town? How and why do they cultivate biodiversity in their gardens? How do they protect and enhance biodiversity in the landscape? This blog attempts to answer these questions through conversation with a range of individuals with diverse viewpoints and approaches. We will look at efforts both small and large, from the cultivation of a single Bee Balm plant in a pot to town-wide initiatives.
First, a bit about me. I am interested in the biodiversity in my garden, and my efforts have been rewarded with a steadily increasing range of insects, plants, and amphibians. But I am neither an expert gardener nor a botanist, so I am curious to learn from others. I bring my interest, my questions, and a desire to understand how people think and respond to a changing world.
The Gardens of Carolyn Stock
I visited Carolyn Stock, who lives on Everett Street close to the center of town, where she cultivates a quarter of an acre of lovely gardens.
When I arrived, it was about to rain, so Carolyn showed me around quickly, and I was spoilt for choice of photo opportunities as one vista after another revealed multiple mature bushes, flower beds, vegetable gardens, and fruit bushes. There were several very extensive herbaceous borders and a long length of herb garden. These perennials were a dynamic mixture of native and non-native species. Small arrangements of colorful stones and rocks figured throughout the garden, slotted in between the luxurious growth of plants. Later, I wished I had asked about the meaning of these stones. Were these small shrines or an extension of Carolyn’s art practice?
We were hurrying to get in before the rain, but even so I heard snippets of garden history and Carolyn’s thinking: “These phlox have never been so good.” “The Elderberry are self-sown.” “I don’t mind the Goldenrod being here as long as it stays round the edges.” “That huge spirea bush, the bees love that.” “We've been sautéing these huge mushrooms for weeks.”
She waved at a cage full of blueberries and said, “We froze 16 quarts this year and gave away more.” Carolyn showed me the carefully tended grave of her two cats. There was a productive grapevine growing rampant over a gazebo and an outdoor fireplace that had come into its own during Covid.
At the back of the garden there was a large bed of shade loving plants: Solomon’s Seal, Bleeding Hearts, and the largest Jack in the Pulpit leaves I’ve ever seen. “These shade lovers continue to flourish even though the trees that provided shade have gone," Carolyn explained. "The trees were Norway Maple, which are so discouraging to anything growing underneath, so we took them down."
Carolyn then pointed to a huge bush of a tree, so healthy it appeared to be exploding into a second budding. “And this is my pride and joy, a Redbud Rising Sun,” she said.
Carolyn has been working in this garden since 1987. It bears an enormous amount of habitat, food, and fuel for a range of wildlife. There is such a diversity of plants and habitats that it's a visible haven for birds, insects, amphibians (and previously, some unwelcome groundhogs, and now deer)! I was enthusiastic.
While Carolyn went inside to make fresh Mint and Lemon Balm tea with honey, a hummingbird watched me from the Bee Balm, a robin sang brilliantly out of sight, and a blue jay screeched into the undergrowth.
Interview with Carolyn Stock (view full gallery of garden photos at end)
CS: “I was worried you would be disappointed.”
SM: “What do you mean, I might be disappointed?”
CS: “I am old school. When I started gardening, we did not think about whether things were native or not, we just grew things we liked. Over the years I learned about growing vegetables, but it was pretty unplanned and still is. I just saw something I liked and planted it. People gave me things and I planted them. I organized things by size but not so much by color. I know that some of the plants are good for pollinators, and I'm all for it, but my focus is on aesthetics—not whether it's native or not. Like my hibiscus: I know it is a hardy variety, but I have no idea if it is native or not. I don’t always know what is native and what is not. Perhaps if I was starting a garden from scratch today I might consciously choose natives.”
The result of this approach, I pointed out, happened to be both aesthetically pleasing and biodiverse.
CS: “What do you mean by biodiversity? Just a large variety of plants and insects and animals?”
SM: “Yes, it means a variety of species of plants and animals and their quantity, but also the interactions between the plants and other living things—insects, amphibians, animals—and the networks of relationships between them.”
There was movement across the yard.
SM: “What’s that eating your geraniums?”
CS: “It’s moving, it looks like a groundhog.”
Then it came into full view and we could see it was a squirrel, which scampered into the undergrowth.
CS: “I read Doug Tallamy's book The Nature of Oaks. He ranks oaks as the number one best wildlife resource because they are host plants for hundreds of species. This is newish knowledge coming out; we have never had information like that before. Like understanding the role of blue jays, which are adapted to propagating acorns across the forest." [Blue jays can carry up to five acorns at a time. They bury them, one in each hole, up to a mile from the parent oak tree to use as food for later. This is credited with the spread of oak forests after the last Ice Age. ] "And understanding the importance of leaving the ground beneath an oak tree undisturbed so that caterpillars can complete their lifecycle in the leaf litter."
SM: “I have been trying to grow things under our oak trees for years, but it has not worked very well. I have Tallamy’s books on my list, and perhaps they would change what I am doing in that part of the garden.”
CS: “Yes, you have to leave the fallen leaves to support various life forms that oaks support. You definitely should read it. So, why did you start this blog, Sarah?”
SM: “There are several thousand yards in Maynard, and most of them either have a dried-up bit of lawn or a lawn care company lawn. Either way, it is an ecological desert. There is enormous potential in Maynard to increase biodiversity in those gardens. Doug Tallamy calls us each to create our own miniature “Homegrown National Parks.” I am hoping the blog will encourage conversation in town about biodiversity. [Homegrown National Parks is a grassroots call-to-action. By asking people to create small or large habitats for wildlife, vast corridors can be created across the U.S., enabling species to travel and adapt to a changing climate.]
CS: “I was a founding member of the Garden Club in Maynard. The club has always been an unpretentious organization. No one in Maynard hires a lot of gardeners and/or has big gardens. For years it was the same few people running the club. Now there is a sudden new interest in gardening and the environment, and attendance has expanded.
SM: “That is wonderful news! It is marvelous that there is this new interest in Maynard.”
The tea was refreshing and welcome. The rain was slowing up.
CS: “Let me tell you about my background. My parents never gardened. We grew up in Florida. We had a backyard but nobody gardened. When I was 8 or 9, I wanted to grow things, and for a short time I got my own little garden where I grew pink dianthus. But then we moved to Brookline, MA, to an apartment, and I was miserable. Then for a short time we lived in a villa in France called “Beloved Villa,” and it was full of fruit trees that I loved.
SM: It sounds as if you had a longing to grow things even as a child, is that right?
CS: Yes, I did. But it was not until I was 25, in the 70s, after graduating college, and after meeting my husband, Holt, that we went to Vermont for a week. Around that time I came in contact with the work of Scott and Helen Nearing as well as reading Rodale’s Organic Gardening magazine. I was influenced by the Nearings’ 1950s book Living the Good Life, in which they advocate rural homesteading as a moral and effective dissident lifestyle. It was perhaps because of these influences that I have always gardened organically, without pesticides, weedkillers, or artificial fertilizers. I practiced feeding my soil with compost that I make myself. I followed the advice of various publications on how to make and use compost and what organic fertilizers to use. I have always had a respect for soil health. If it’s good for the soil, it is good for the insects, birds, and everything else. These ideas, which were rediscovered in the 70s, have always been my foundation for gardening. They seem now to be having a comeback."
SM: "So, there is a lot more to your gardening than aesthetics. Your principles about organic farming, healthy soil, and conscious living have informed your gardening choices since you were 25 years old. These are the fundamental principles that lead to biodiversity in the managed landscape."
The mystery flower from last post we think is Pearl Yarrow (Achillea ptarmica). Congratulations to Emma Thompson-Fiege and Clare Draper.