Ballston Spa Nature Preserve
Over the past month, we’ve had the honor of being a part of a lovely project. A couple in Ballston Spa, NY (just outside of Saratoga Springs) contacted us around Mother’s Day with an opportunity to build a nature preserve, with native plant gardens on a half an acre of their property. The parcel had been allocated, “forever wild” land by the town, but over the past 15 years the couple watched with disappointment as each and every one of their neighbor’s planted lawns in that “forever wild” allocated space. They had left their piece as undisturbed meadow, prairie and young woodland but somehow it did not feel like enough. What a delightful project to be a part of. A friend once described the view of the nature on her farm. It’s like, you just can’t stop it. Nature bursts out of the cracks and it’s so wild, untamed and so different than what we get a chance to experience in urban or suburban settings. Everything about this new Ballston Spa nature preserve and native plants gardens is just so. The nature is tangible.
Our design strategy was to simply cooperate with the ecosystem as she stood and not overthink it. Our first step was to plant woodland gardens throughout the naturally occuring woodland areas. Lots and lots of shade tolerant native shrubs were used including Lindera benzoin (Spicebush- host plant to the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly), Aesculus pavia (Bottlebrush Buckeye), Clethra alnifolia (Ruby Spice Clethra) and Amelanchier canadensis. Shrubs and trees are the bones of any garden or natural area, and it felt appropriate to begin such a large endeavor by building a structure with woody plants. Many understory forest floor level herbacious plants were also added to the woodland gardens including Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple), Caulophyllum thalictroides (Blue Cohosh) and Actaea pachypoda (White Baneberry).
The second step was to build a nature trail that circles through the entire property, connecting all the gardens and making the nature preserve seem accessible. Building the nature trail was exciting.
Next, we used lasagna garden, organic no-till strategy to create prairie gardens and wildflower meadow gardens. So many, many beautiful native plants were added. (There’s no way to do justice to the mass inputs of native plants, but the highlight for me is the 13 Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed, which transforms this space into instant Monarch butterfly habitat. Asclepias incarnata is the Monarch butterfly’s host plant.) This nature preserve garden project in Ballston Spa, NY is going to be ongoing, we expect to continue to add native plants to the woodland, prairie and meadow gardens over the next couple years. Eventually a small pond will be added, which will complete 100% of the property’s requirements for wildlife habitat area certification with multiple conservation organizations. Over time the native plants that are establishing their roots this year will fill in and spread onsite and spiderweb out to the local ecosystem by birds spreading the seeds. The dramatic positive effects of a project like this on the local environment are going to be experienced for years and years into the future by all members of the neighboring community. Super honored to have been asked to be a part of the homeowner’s lovely vision.