Being an ecological garden designer in Saratoga County involves a constant reawakening it seems. Every day the world seems new. The habitat here is so rich, so vibrant that most days I feel like Alice in Wonderland. Everywhere you turn in Clifton Park, Burnt Hills, Ballston Spa, Saratoga Springs and all other regions encompassed by the term, “Saratoga County,” there’s wetlands and woodlands just beyond where you stand. In fact, 100% of my Clifton Park gardening clients have woodlands and/or wetlands on or adjacent to their property. Most times when I’m doing a native plant installation, there will be a noticeable bird and butterfly presence in and around the gardens immediately.
Sometimes I don’t even understand how Clifton Park exists. I drive down Rt. 146 in a state of astonishment; there’s thousands of cars on the busy main thoroughfare all the time yet there’s high habitat value wetlands on either side of the road. People race around to their kid’s soccer practice or their meeting with their stockbroker or whatever they’re doing, absolutely oblivious to all this rich life beauty. I think it’s so funny, Clifton Park is such a beautiful juxtaposition to me. How does Rt. 146 not sink into the wetlands like quicksand? There’s miles of big box stores and malls and commerce next to a backdrop of such rich beauty it takes my breath away. And being a garden designer in Clifton Park and Saratoga County, against all this ecological wealth is a serious honor.
Today, at the end of one of my Clifton Park garden design (Halfmoon technically?) client’s roads, there’s a happy looking Elderberry in bloom. Seeing native plants successfully outcompeting invasives on roadsides is a) a sign of a healthy ecosystem and b) what ecologists and botanists spend all day long longing to see. And it’s ubiquitous in Saratoga County. Elderberry has great habitat value for birds, the berries attract and feed upwards of 120 different species of birds.
In the same location it was easy to observe the native plants Nettles, Pokeweed and Virginia Creeper vine. Many, many butterfly species use Nettles as a host plant. Though it’s typically removed from Saratoga gardens, it is nice to let it stay in untouched corners and edges. Virginia Creeper vine is tremendously useful for migrating birds- the species have co-evolved. The vine blazes a brilliant red at the exact time frame the birds are heading south, so the coloring advertises, “I have food.” It’s a good strategy for the Virginia Creeper, the birds eat the calorie dense berries, which gives them good energy for the long migratory, and in turn the plant’s seeds are spread.
Another observation in my work as a garden designer in Saratoga County: there is no shortage of nature preserves, parks and recreation areas that involve wooded trails. At the end of the gardening season last year, my curiousity outgrew any resistance I still had to visiting these places and I began stopping whenever possible. It’s the best way to get a clear pulse on the surrounding ecosystem to make educated ecological notes from Saratoga County, by visiting the wild spaces.