In June, the Jay Heritage Center hosted its second Annual Sustainable Landscape Weekend, featuring exceptional conversations with Charles Birnbaum, President and Founder of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Washington D.C., and noted ecologist Tom Wessels, Chairman of the Center for Whole Communities, Vermont.
In June, the Jay Heritage Center hosted its second Annual Sustainable Landscape Weekend, featuring exceptional conversations with Charles Birnbaum, President and Founder of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Washington D.C., and noted ecologist Tom Wessels, Chairman of the Center for Whole Communities, Vermont. The free public program was made possible through a grant from Con Edison, and co-sponsored by Audubon NY and The Little Garden Club of Rye.
On the first day, Charles Birnbaum presented a talk that reflected a deep understanding of landscapes forged during his fifteen years as Coordinator of the National Park Service Historic Landscape Initiative. After reviewing a photo gallery of New York State architectural treasures that his audience knew well, he astonished everyone by revealing how many of their landscapes do not yet have historic designation, despite the imprint and pedigree of sometimes more than one prominent designer, Frederick Law Olmsted or Calvert Vaux of Central Park fame, for example. Few people realize that the Jay estate and gardens bear the imprimatur of Brinley & Holbrook, landscape architects well known for their work at the New York Botanical Garden and our own Rye Town Park.
Shaping his discussion around maintaining or rehabilitating these treasured spaces, Birnbaum explained how landscape restorations of every kind demand treatment that respects original intentions and viewsheds, but also allows for modern and relevant public use and access.
Everyone was treated to a breezy lunch on the veranda afterwards. With the help of fellow landscape professionals like Rye’s Peter Rolland, Birnbaum framed a lively discussion about landscape stewardship as it related to other historic sites in our area, such as Bartow Pell, with its garden plan by Delano & Aldrich.
Day 2 was equally informative, and took the discussion directly to the historic gardens, trails, and natural habitats that exist on the 23-acre Jay property. Wessels “translated” the stories of toppled trees in the landscape, identifying the telltale signs of their direction of growth that revealed them to be hardy survivors of the Great Hurricane of 1938, also known as “Yankee Clipper”.
Wessels trained everyone’s eyes to look for clues in old stonewalls, and even stumps. Does the black residue on a rotting log indicate death by fire or a fungus? Participants in his walk through the Jay gardens learned how to identify the evidence that belies what kinds of storms or natural weather phenomenon affect the growth patterns in trees, and what other natural agents hasten their demise.
Participants gained a new visual vocabulary, including concepts of “cognizance” between oaks that result in coordinated “masting”, or supersized volumes of seed production at certain times each decade. (Think of those years when there are thousands of acorns in your yard.)
Over a glass of ice tea on the porch overlooking the Jay meadow on Long Island Sound, guests listened to Wessels talk about the declining populations of grassland birds and make constructive suggestions on ways to bring native New York species like bluebirds and bobolinks back to Rye.
All in all, it was a glorious and enriching weekend. Mark your calendars for next year’s free Sustainable Landscape Weekend at JHC, June 1 and 2.