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At Longwood, we take a holistic approach to sustainability that we term “soil to sky.” We care for our existing high-quality landscapes and restore others by promoting biodiversity and encouraging a robust web of life on our property. Overall, for us, sustainability means a true and balanced collaboration of nature and culture.
These best practices also include our land management and care for in-between the seasons and garden cleanup for winter.
Land Steward Specialist Tom Brightman takes us through some suggestions for a more sustainable winter prep for your garden.
Sustainable tip #1
Consider leaving your native grasses and perennials standing over the winter months.
“Many of these native plants will stay erect during the winter months, rather than matting down,” says Brightman. This effect will provide a safe habitat for over-wintering birds to gather stray seed, and seek comfort from the weather and predators.
Brightman says we provide exactly this type of habitat at Longwood Gardens by not cutting back the majority of our Meadow.
Sustainability tip #2
Where applicable, consider mowing meadows and hayfields only once a year for greater biodiversity
“We don’t mow our meadow until late winter (late March, early April). We leave fallen wood in our woodlands as cover for insects and amphibians, as it helps the process of regenerating the soil,” says Brightman.
By reducing mowing to once a year, Brightman says this enables native plants to complete their life-cycles of growth and reproduction.
“It benefits wildlife by providing habitats for feeding (because most birds feed insects to their young), nesting, and protective cover for most of the year,” says Brightman.
Additionally, reducing mowing saves on carbon dioxide emissions from the mowers and can reduce the cost of maintaining a meadow. A once-a-year meadow mowing will generally keep non-native invasive plant species from taking hold in the meadow or at least reduce their numbers and the amount of area they cover within the meadow.
“This also allows birds that are nesting in the meadow to complete their breeding cycles (usually late April through July) without disturbance,” says Brightman.
Also, leaving a meadow standing for the winter provides a lot of food for hawks, foxes, and other predators that eat mice, voles, and moles during a time of year when it is hard for these predators to find food.
Sustainable tip #3
Plant native plant species that attract birds
Many birds migrate through our area in the fall and having native shrubs with berries provides them with the energy to complete their long migrations. Brightmans says shrubs, like winterberry holly, American holly, and hawthorne, keep their berries well into the winter, providing an important food source for over-wintering birds like robins.
The first substantial snowfall of the year can draw hundreds of robins to the winterberry hollies that Longwood has planted on either side of Route 1 below the bridge over Route 1. “I have seen robins completely strip the berries in the days following the large snowstorms that we had the past two winters,” says Brightman.
Sustainable tip #4
Now is the time for birdfeeders
“Along with keeping grasses and forbs high for the winter, a home gardener may also want to consider putting up a birdfeeder. Keeping grass and forbs high provides a place for birds to seek shelter after they have gathered seed from the feeder, sheltering them from predators like Coopers and Sharp-shinned Hawks,” says Brightman.
Brightman recommends the following bird seed to provide food for birds:
• Black oil sunflower seeds for birds like cardinals, chickadees, Tufted Titmice
• Suet for Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied woodpeckers (plain, without seeds or nuts, is best to keep the squirrels away)
• Niger thistle for mourning doves, goldfinches, purple finches, and pine siskins
Brightman also notes to always keep feeders clean and free of mold.
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Get ready for an evening of oohs and ahhs, as Longwood presents spectacular Fireworks & Fountains shows guaranteed to make your summer memorable.
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