Spaddadock Pond II: Planting

So once the design was done, we got the plants from a kooky old lady with a backyard nursery operation. She kind of reminded me of the Nox from Stargate. One major concern with purchasing native plants is the purity of the plant material you get, i.e. whether or not it is mixed with potentially invasive or aggressive weeds. Although her garden was quite beautiful, John, Justin and I definitely exchanged doubtful looks. The real kicker came once we had bought the plants, because we had asked for Bull Tounge, Sagittaria graminea, but instead got arrow head, Sagittaria latifolia. That may sound a little picky, but although both plants are native, latifolia is much more aggressive and we were worried that it might take over the pond and push the other plants out.

Once we had bought the plants, the real fun began. In one of my favorite days of the summer, Justin and I spent all day planting the shorelines of the pond. Rather than digging a hole (which is hard to do in underwater muck) we just stuck the shovel in and wiggled it around to open up the sediment.

As we were planting, people would come by and talk to us or just yell "good job!" One guy was especially talkative, and offered a perspective on the environment rooted in his Christian faith. It is extremely heartening to see the Christian environmental movement begin to take hold in the United States. Its been so long that the right wing has had a hold on Christianity in our national discourse, sometimes its hard to remember that Jesus' actual teachings were actually quite liberal. Concern for the poor, pacifism, and yes, even stewardship for God's creation (the environment in liberal-talk) are all more prominent in the Bible than Republicans would have you believe. So anyhoo the guy was awesome and Christianly environmental.*

Through out the day, we were not only adding native "good" plants to the pond's shores, we were also pulling out a lot of Cattails. Cattails are native to most of the United States, but they have become a nuisance because they have a habit of completely dominating disturbed wetland systems, which can turn a very diverse system with lots of wildlife value into a giant cattail monoculture. Its interesting to note that a lot of invasive plants are the ones that are adapted to thrive in disturbed conditions. They are the pioneers, adapted to start a colony after a hurricane, fire, or tornado. Before our civilization got enormous, these species would decline as the system lent itself to secondary species that were adapted to the conditions created by the pioneers, and others that were adapted to the secondary species. This pattern continued with time since disturbance until you had a really complex, rich wetland. Now that we're around, however, disturbance happens so often that it can be hard for systems to ever move past that first stage, and you end up with lots of Cattail-rich wetlands and not so many of the good kind.

By pulling out the Cattails and planting a diverse array of other species, we're trying to simulate a later stage of ecological succession. Its also fun to pull Cattails out of the muck and scream at them, as you might have seen in the picture... oh yes, totally badass.

As we kept right on planting, we immediately started to see wildlife come by and check out the new additions. First a dragongfly, then a few birds, and later even a turtle! (So maybe the turtle was already there, but it definitely looked happier.) We realized some of the Bull Tongue we planted early on was high and dry, so we had to replant those a bit lower, especially since we were anticipating a drought. Once we were done planting the things we had bought, it was time for the grand finale.

We headed over to another pond to fish out some "Spaddadock" (a native water lily) and bring it back. By the way, the pond got its name when we were in the planning phase. Justin famously and gloriously misspelled the word Spatterdock on one of the design grids, and we never let him down for it. He also pronounces it in that distinctive country/Michigan accent of his, so that it sounds a lot more like the way he spelled it. Anyway, we waded into this fishing pond to pull out a big chunk of this plant, and ended up having to dig up a gigantic root mass. We definitely got more than we bargained for! And yet, for redundancy, we grabbed a second, smaller Spaddadock with much more finesse. Practice makes perfect! We threw the water lilies in the Mule and rushed to our pond like doctors preforming an organ transplant. I guess you could say we were doing the ecological equivalent of an organ transplant, but I'm not going to because that's lame.

The final piece in place, Stage 1 of our wetland design was complete, and we called it a day. According to Justin and John, I was glowing with joy the whole time we were planting and for the rest of the day after that. Its that feeling of actually doing something, physically, that makes a place better. Give me more days like that, world, and I shall be a happy man.

Justin and I survey the scene.

A newly planted "Powdery Thalia" surveys the scene.

* For more thoughts on religion and such, check out my other blog at
** Photo Credit for Spatterdock image: