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Ferns and New Friends: Vermonters are the best.

by libby. 6/25/21

As you are probably aware of by now, Nora, Marj, and I were in desperate need to find aggressive, deep-rooted native plants to use for a perimeter around out goutweed sites. The original idea was to test the efficiency of several native plants suggested to us by both Mike Bald and google including hostas, irises, and lilies. However, we struggled to find easily accessible individuals of these plants and after failed attempts at posting on Facebook market place (our only comment was a individual joking how they thought we needed hostages and not hostas) and asking our neighbors, we were still empty handed. The community however, like it seems to always do in Vermont, came through.

We went to visit gardeners supply to ask if they had any suggestions for shade tolerant aggressive natives in either seed or plant form and unfortunately they did not. But, one of the employees did make a joke about wishing we could just dig up the ferns over crowding her garden to use... little did she know to us, invasive species management was no joke. Nora quickly volunteered to drive to her house in Hinesburg to help both her clear her gardens and us freely obtain native ferns to use in our perimeter. We decided to take Noras car as opposed to a truck to avoid burning more gas.

That is how we ended up nestled deep in this woman's beautiful garden Friday morning, digging up ferns and bathing in the beauty of Vermont green mountains. With her help we identified the two species of ferns invading her vinca and lillies: Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) and Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina). We dug for about an hour, removing thick clumps of soil where the roots of these ferns remained intact. We soaked their roots in water and put them in garbage bags to keep them moist for the drive home. While we wanted to preserve as much of the foliage as possible, we were focusing more on ensuring the roots remained viable to establish and survive in the soil.

Our relationships with the two species transformed and grew as we worked at digging up their roots. We soon learned sensitive fern had a thick and almost tap rooty whereas lady ferns roots were much more sensitive and dense. At least at the house where we were at, it seemed sensitive ferns preferred the shade and lady ferns thrived in the sun, but both were admittedly in more sunny spots than our shady goutweed site. We tried to get an equal balance of both to test which would do better. Once we filled four large garbage bags, probably around 50ish ferns, we decided to head back! We did a lot of checks to ensure we did not being home any new invasive to our plot at the Intervale like the persistent buckthorn and knotweed also growing on the property.

Our new favorite gardens supply worker bid us farewell with fresh picked snap peas from her garden and an invitation to come stay at the new site her and her family were developing for the app Hipcamp (as she described air bnb for hippy campers). Once back we dug a perimeter around 6inches out from the wooden barrier we have in place at our smothering test site. We planted the ferns and went down to the river to collect water to nourish the ferns. After a few spilled buckets (legend has it Noras pants still smell like fish to this day) the ferns were transplanted and settled and honestly, looked great. It was definitely challenging to find root after goutweed root still in place while digging up the soil but we have hope the ferns will provide a secure border to prevent it from spreading back into our plot.

We stopped for a mulberry break, our current favorite snack, mixing in the fresh summer berries with yogurt! The joys of the Intervale! Once again I was blown away with admiration and gratitude for the wonderful community of people in Vermont who are so willing and happy to help each other and the environment. What a cool experience that invasive species management could connect us with so many people from so many walks of life. We discuss quite often our relationship and challenging philosophies regarding invasive plants and management. But one thing I am grateful for is how these seemingly pesky and problematic invasives have continuously helped us find away to connect with new people and build new budding relationships.

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