THE GREAT OUTDOORS:
Gardening has been a part of Sarah Barringer’s life since she childhood.
By Bill Lawyer
Gardening has been a part of Sarah Barringer’s life since she childhood. Growing up in Massachusetts, she helped her parents tend their extensive vegetable garden, and she loved it. So it wasn’t surprising that when she and her husband Scott moved to Rye in 2004, they’d look for a place with gardening “opportunities.” The house they decided on had an attractive, formal front lawn featuring the normal suburban groundcover – grass.
For a short time, Barringer tried to maintain her lawn with a mower, treating it to get rid of weeds, and fertilizing it heavily. But it wasn’t really working. The front lawn was at the low point of the entire neighborhood, which meant that whenever it rained heavily the lawn would be inundated with more than a foot of water.
And then came the damaging floods of 2007. That’s when Barringer’s journey toward a more natural, sustainable landscape began.
In 2006 she joined Rye Garden Club, meeting an enthusiastic group of people working and learning together to make their properties and all of Rye greener. Well, not just green – red, yellow, white, and pink, too.
The Club sponsored a presentation by Doug Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home,” which was also the title of his program. Tallamy is Professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware.
Barringer recalls that he pointed out that many of the ornamental and non-native plants people were putting in their yards “gave nothing back to the environment.” Tallamy also stressed the importance of beneficial insects, birds, and other wildlife in providing a healthy environment for people as well as plants – children in particular.
Over the next two years, Barringer began consulting landscape designers with an environmental focus. Eventually she met up with Camilla Worden, and they joined forces.
What followed was the development of a formal plan to turn her front yard into a native plant meadow. Their target was to get the project underway in the spring of 2012.
That January she attended a program at the New York Botanical Garden by meadow specialist Larry Weaner. She followed that up with visits to meadow gardens he had designed in the Hastings-on-Hudson area.
While it seemed harsh, they concluded that in order to get a fresh start in the conversion process, they had to kill off all the existing grass in the area. In March they used an organic burn-off product that did not harm the wildlife.
By June the ground was ready for planting. Twenty-one varieties totaling over 100 plants were selected and acquired as tiny “plugs.” Despite their small size, they quickly grew, so that by the fall they were well on their way.
In late winter 2013 they cut back the first-year’s growth, and the plants grew back abundantly over the summer. That fall they planted 14 more varieties.
By last spring, Barringer and Worden had gotten a good idea of what was working and what needed “adjustment.” While the meadow is not huge, it does have a variety of microhabitats — slope, wetness, and compatibility with other plants.
Barringer’s next challenge was to get plants to take hold on the land along the street and driveway, which slopes fairly steeply down toward the center of the property. So, she planted prairie dropseed, grow-low sumac, sweet fern, summerwine nine bark, inkberries, winterberry, high bush blueberry, and little Henry sweetspire.
A visit to the meadow last month reveals a lush, colorful, and thick mixture of plants of varying sizes and shapes. A path goes down to the low point of the meadow, where there is more room to survey the plants in the shade of a pre-existing willow tree. Two of Barringer’s favorites are blue flag Iris and cardinal flower. The Joe-Pye weed and crimsoneyed rosemallow are doing particularly well.
While one could write lengthy descriptions of the site, this is one of those instances in which a picture is truly worth a thousand words. Interested persons should go walk or bike over to her property on Martin Road and see for themselves.
Barringer says she’s still working out the fine points of the development and management of her meadow. But, overall, she’s very happy with the transformation that she’s carried out, with the help of Camilla Worden and the inspiration from so many other environmental meadow proponents.
If you’re interested in learning more about healthy lawns, the Rye Garden Club is sponsoring a program on “Toxic Brew in Our Yards, ” at the Rye library Tuesday, October 7 at 10:30.
The speaker will be Dr. Diane Lewis, founder of the Great Healthy Yard Project and author of a book by the same name. The environmental nonprofit group works to improve and protect the quality of our drinking water.