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The Forest and the Trees: Giving Intention and Disturbance to the Land

by Matthew Ball, Field Operator

On April 24th, a small group came together to plant 160 bareroot seedlings of eight woody shrub and tree species into a temporary nursery space at Glynwood. They will reside here for a year, a relatively long heel-in stop-over, before being dispersed to permanent locations around Glynwood and at the proposed new home of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in Garrison. The trees and shrubs—eastern white pine, white spruce, pagoda (alternate leaf) dogwood, river birch, serviceberry, sweetbay magnolia, witch hazel, and ninebark—were acquired through Putnam County Soil and Water District’s Annual Plant Sale. All but the white spruce is native to this area. They are largely adaptable species, being able to grow well, if not thrive, in varied conditions.  It was a fun and energizing morning to talk and think about these plants and where they are headed.

When planning and preparing for these perennial plants, Dave Llewellyn, Glynwood’s Director of Farmer Training, mentioned that in all his years at Glynwood, he could not recall any trees being planted. Granted, there is plenty of natural woody regeneration happening around us all the time. Generally, our Hudson Highlands provide ample water, nutrition and seed to the land to allow trees to grow into a healthy closed-canopy forest if disturbance (or lack thereof) falls into place and time. If you take a look at the edges, the hedges, the ecotones, the rough and rocky patches you will find dynamic systems of succession and potential paths to mature trees. 

We see this at Glynwood with many young willows, junipers, birches, alders, poplars, boxelder maples, and the occasional black cherry, red maple, and oak popping up at the margins and in the wild scrublands. This is in contrast to the large block of Fahnestock State Park’s hilltop oak and mixed hardwoods forest, arguably stagnant in an even-aged structure with infrequent and small disturbance regime. The large open-grown hardwoods that grace Glynwood—particularly the sugar maple suffering from multivariable “maple decline” and white ash in its death throes due to emerald ash borer—are in need of some new company.

The landscaped and farmed land at Glynwood, like most developed and maintained ground, is under constant disturbance. The tools we use are mechanical mowers, livestock, tractor cultivation implements, chainsaws, and occasional earthmoving machines. We are continuously making long-term and short-term decisions about how we want the composition, density, and structure of plant communities to be. For the most part, on a farm in the modern European tradition, it has been decidedly not shrubs and trees. Annual food crops and livestock generally demand predictable conditions by ways of ample sunlight, soil, water, and nutrition. Continuously open ground simplifies fulfilling these needs.  Also, the tilled land and pasture/meadow land of Glynwood provides a steady suite of ecosystem services to all sorts of wildlife and general biodiversity in a sea of temperate forest. The lawn and farm keeps succession of plant communities within the ebb and flow of the parameters we desire. 

This is all to say that change in landscape, however small or grand in scale, is important! Planting these trees and shrubs throughout Glynwood and the former golf-course ground of HVSF is a small effort under a big vision to bring intention to how these spaces will look, feel, grow, and evolve over time. At Glynwood, this particular planting project has the potential to energize and inform how we think about future planting projects with hydrological, windbreak, wildlife, silvopasture, and coppice systems in mind. In the meantime, after being given a comfortable bed of native soil, compost, and wood-chip mulch back in April, these 160 plants are soaking in the sun and water and beginning to put on their carbon weight!

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