Did you know that sheep will eat poison-ivy? Indeed they do, and the Hill-Stead sheep are getting ready to do their bit for gardening at Hill-Stead. Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington is famous for its Sunken Garden, designed by Beatrix Farrand, pioneering garden designer. But something exciting is happening there. Master Gardeners and interns are developing a new garden for pollinators within the ruins of an ancient greenhouse. This garden will provide a haven for pollinators of all kinds, including bees, butterflies, moths, and birds, where they will find pollen, nectar, and hosts for eggs and larva. It will also be a place where children and adults can learn about the role that pollinators have in our natural world. We hope to involve schools, summer camps, and other organizations to experience the vital contributions of pollinators to the natural world and to agriculture.
The chosen site for the pollinator garden is inside the stone foundation of an old greenhouse, where unfortunately, a fine crop of poison ivy (aka PI) is thriving. Earlier this spring several of our brave volunteers worked at clearing some of the PI, and despite gloves and protective clothing, they got extensive, weepy rashes and ended up needing prescription-strength cortisone. So what do we do? Enter the Hill-Stead sheep. Since the garden will be used for pollinating insects and birds, the master gardeners decided to avoid the use of chemical herbicides that may prove hazardous to those tiny creatures. Following the principles of integrated pest management (IPM), which encourages use of the best treatment for a situation, choosing herbicides or pesticides only when absolutely necessary. Once the cooler weather arrives the sheep will have a go at the poison ivy, sheering it down to the ground. Afterwards, a layer of cardboard will be installed to smother the weeds until spring when the ground will be prepared for planting in the spring.
Meanwhile, the team is working on plant lists, designing the layout and planning the hardscape. More on that later.