Mallory Creek Native Grasses and Wildflower Meadow
Decades of urban and suburban development have significantly decreased the occurrence of native plants across Virginia and the United States. Without these native plants, the thousands of insects, moths, butterflies, and other pollinators that we all reply upon cannot survive. Once mature, the Mallory Creek native grasses and wildflower meadow will represent a small sample of what fields were like in the Rockfish Valley hundreds and thousands of years ago. The plants sown here will offer food and shelter for bugs and small animals that evolved with them over the millennia.
Over the coming years, an ever increasing diverse population of pollinators will rely on its flowers for nectar and as a source for food and habitat. We will all be able to enjoy the beauty of the wildflowers and butterflies, but don’t forget to look for caterpillars, moths, bees, and other insects that create the complex biodiversity needed for a healthy environment.
Monarch butterflies should be of special interest to us all. Large monoculture farms and increased use of herbicides have endangered this iconic species. It can only survive if we all take every opportunity to re-establish the only resource Monarchs must have, milkweed. Our meadow will be sown with common milkweed and we will add some swamp milkweed plants as well. You can help Monarchs by planting a butterfly garden on your property including milkweed plants.
The Mallory Creek Native Grasses and Wildflower Meadow is a cooperative effort of the Nelson County Master Gardeners, Rockfish Valley Community Center, the Wintergreen Nature Foundation, the Central Virginia Master Naturalists, and others.
Special recognition is extended to J.W. Townsend Landscapers and the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation Office for their expertise and support.
It's Not Easy Growing A Butterfly
The one-two punch of reading Barbara Kingsolver's, Flight Behavior, and then hearing Doug Tallamy speak about the importance of gardeners using native plants in their landscapes, pushed me to undertake what is now called The Mallory Creek Project. For some time, the Rockfish Valley Community Center had wanted the Nelson County Master Gardeners to become more involved with the center. Since I was a volunteer with both groups, I had some insights into each organization.
I wanted the center to give us a half acre of their land to install a native grasses and wildflower meadow. The center wanted a nature trail along Mallory Creek. In January of 2014, I convinced the Master Gardeners to take on both as a single project. With grant money from the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation Office and the Master Gardeners and the Rockfish Valley Community Center, our project was begun.
With winter still with us, we determined that the nature trail was our first order of business. The Master Gardeners worked to clear a mountain of invasive species all along the 700 foot trail and with the support of RVCC volunteers; we added wood chips to the nature trail and created a walking trail adjacent to our proposed meadow. We also placed a picnic table and benches beside the trail, and in the spring, we planted over 100 native plant species to create a people friendly trail.
As for our meadow, I proposed to convert the existing turf grasses at the center to native grasses and wildflowers using a process known as "solarization". Clear plastic is laid over the existing grasses and the heat of the sun kills the grasses and their seed. That plastic was laid down in April and remained in place until the last week of June. Then with the assistance of J.W. Townsend Landscapers, our custom blend of over 45 species of native wildflowers and grasses were sown. In addition, Master Gardeners planted 2 dozen native perennials along the borders of the meadow.
Within 2 weeks, our meadow was coming alive. With a little luck, we will see many flowers blooming this summer, but our real success will not be evident until next year when the plants have had a year to mature and re-seed.
This small oasis will provide food and shelter for a diverse group of insects, moths, bees, and other small animals. We have taken a special interest in attempting to grow common and swamp milkweed to help the iconic Monarch butterfly. These and other pollinators are vital to our ecosystem. We hope the Mallory Creek Project is a small step in their recovery.
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Nelson County Master Gardeners are very fortunate to work within a county and Extension office that values education, values horticulture, and values the time given to young people who are eager to make their world a more sustainable home.
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