For nearly a decade now, the humans of Seven Trees Farm have been buying plants at the county conservation district sale. Most of their offerings are natives, chosen for their hardy restoration capabilities, and sold very cheaply in multiples. We wanted to add some buffer zones along the perimeter fences, plus maintain habitat for beneficial wild critters.
The picture above shows one planted area along our south fenceline. It’s grown exponentially in the year since this was taken, with understory plants really filling in the low gaps. The paddock to the left was planted more recently, and there is another paddock to the left of that one, out of picture, that we just planted up this spring. We also added more plants, mainly elderberry, serviceberry, crabapple, hawthorn and rose along the east perimeter. The north east corner of our lot was heavily planted our second year here with shore pines, cascara, red osier dogwood, birches and rugosa roses. The idea was to grow a windbreak to divert the blizzard nor’easters we get most winters. Our neighbor has a woodlot adjoining this corner, which also lends habitat and protection.
This summer we realized that corner was a bit overplanted, and so thinned out quite a bit. It’s still a nice shady nook, enjoyed by critters domestic and wild, but also easier for us to navigate around to reach our feral blackberry patch.
When deciding which species to plant, food production was a top criteria. Judging by the size of the ‘apples‘ to the right in the picture above, it’s evident that the food being produced is more for critters than people. It must have taken uncounted generations to breed domestic crabapples from wild trees, and even longer to develop supermarket staples like Fuji and Delicious apples. The fruit in the center is from a black hawthorn tree. This species is reputed to have medicinal value, but we like it for it’s protective thorns. As the trees mature, the branches intertwine and help keep ‘bad guys’ out. All kinds of wildlife take advantage of the copious fruit, and the tree itself thrives in all kinds of weather and soil conditions. Hips are just starting to form on the scrappy Nootka rose, another fruity-thorny hedge stalwart.
Our two cascara trees (one inherited when we bought STF and one was a free Arbor Day promo) are very prolific flower and fruit producers. All kinds of bees love pollen-harvesting in late spring, especially native bumblebees. The entire tree canopy is literally abuzz at certain times of the year. The dark purple fruits are mainly eaten by birds as summer starts turning to fall. Back in the day, bark from cascara trees was collected by country-dwellers and sold to make a laxative. Local tribes also used cascara for this purpose, with the added lore that peeling the bark up to harvest made a vomit-inducing purge, and peeling the bark down created a purge at the ‘other end’. Botanical literature claims no information on the effects of cascara on wildlife, but anecdotal evidence hints that eating animals that have eaten cascara berries can also be purgative.
The rugosa roses planted just outside our northeast fenceline have grown into a mighty hedge. Just as mighty are the persimmon-like hips they produce. The flowers themselves don’t have a fragrance, unlike the more domestic rugosa variety we have planted closer to the house. Rose hips are a power-packed vitamin source, enjoyed by wildlife and people alike. (We even get human foragers ‘poaching’ hips as they walk past the house.) The hips can be dried and used for tea, or made into cordials and syrups for a taste of summer any time of the year.
These are just a few of the plants we have in our ‘hedge fund’ that add so many benefits to our habitat, with little maintenance required. The Washington Native Plant Society has some helpful resources for identifying useful native plants. We try to choose our new additions by reading about how local tribes used them, in addition to wildlife needs and our microclimate. Although we’d rather not have to resort to cascara purges, it is comforting to know that Seven Trees Farm is hedged in by food, protection and medicine.