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Playing in the Mud

August 24, 2022


If anyone was out in the arboretum’s Myrtle S. Holden Wildflower Garden on the afternoon of July 20, 2022, you might have heard a commotion – a lot of grunting with effort, complaining, and especially a lot of giggling. The Horticulture crew came together on a group project to revive the lower pool. Years of sediment had filled in the small pond and even though they are native, the surrounding blue flag iris, Iris versicolor, lizard tail, Saururus cernuus, and even a spatterdock, Nuphar lutea, had taken advantage of the situation, by invading and covering the area with a dense mat of roots. Their unchecked growth had taken all the space a few more rare plant species and the animals that should be here needed so, as frequently happens in a garden situation, the Horticulture crew needed to step in to get things back in balance.

just before the work started

For several years, we had tried to figure out a way to get machinery into the garden to dig out the sediment and invading plants, but the position of the pool made it impossible without potentially doing a lot of damage to the rest of the garden. The week before we took this on, I used a weed whip to cut down the herbaceous growth and get a good look at things. I then dug out a small area on either end of the pool to see what could be done and what to expect. I also lifted out the state threatened species, buckbean, Menyanthes trifoliata, that was struggling to survive.

On Wednesday afternoon, while the weather was in the 90’s, it was time for action by the whole crew. Several people went right into the middle and started cutting out pieces of sod – the goal wasn’t to dig out the pond as it was never meant to be deep, but just to remove the root mass and the soil that came with it. Using spades and shovels, we cut the sod into liftable weight chunks of root and mud and then passed it out to our waiting coworkers with wheelbarrows to carry it out of the garden to a vehicle for transport. Rather than composting everything, we moved the sod pieces into the wet cedar meadow just south of the Wildflower Garden where the focus has been to remove many of the invasive exotic species such as yellow flag iris, Iris pseudoacorus.  

Some of us needed a little help getting our boots off after filling them with water and mud.

This is one example of our many group work projects that brings the Holden Arboretum Horticulture Department together. The project would have taken a huge amount of time for a single person, but with the group effort, within about an hour and a half, it was done, no one broke their back, and we were cleaning up. By the end, the tools and especially the people all needed quite the cleaning. I can’t thank my wonderful coworkers enough for all their help (even though I gave it a go with some homemade sweet rolls) and for all the laughs while we played in the muddy water on a very hot day.

end result
By the end of the next day, many frogs and several species of dragonfly had returned to the water, including this twelve-spotted skimmer dragonfly, Libellula pulchella. I also replaced the Menyanthes trifoliata, hoping it will be happy with more room to thrive.


Senior Horticulturist

Senior Horticulturist in charge of the Myrtle S. Holden Wildflower Garden. Also overseeing the restoration work in the Core Natural Areas, and surveying in situ rare plant populations in the main natural areas while supervising the staff holding Gardener positions in the arboretum Horticulture Department . I started as a seasonal at Lantern Court in June of 1987, and worked 4 summers here. Then I moved to working with Brian Parsons in the Wildflower Garden and conducting a Plant Community Survey over all the natural areas of Holden. I had a baby in late 2007 and gave up my full-time position as Field Botanist to be a part-time stay-at-home Mom, but kept my foot in the door at Holden as a contractor a couple days per week. After a few years, I teamed up in a job-share running the Wildflower Garden again until July 2019 when the Horticulturist at Lantern Court left and I was asked to fill in and I stayed there through 2021. Now with the divestment of Lantern Court, I have moved back to the main campus of Holden Arboretum.

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