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Fresh Pond Reservation: Native Wildflower Showcase

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Handy by Cambridge in Arlington, MA lies Fresh Pond Reservation, a reservoir of drinking water ringed by a tonsure of forest and flowers. This is just one of myriad places that has changed immensely for the better since I left in 1981. A vigorous effort to restore this place to native vegetation is underway, and on this bright twenty-third morning in July 2015 I am floored by the results.

My first sighting is of a black French bulldog wearing a life jacket, and that kicks the walk off to a charming start. Though his deep chest, short legs and shorter face would normally keep him from being able to swim at all, he is swimming with the big dogs. He seems to know that this is a very special thing, and joy shows all over his face. Mine, too.

Hodge and I walk on to a spectacular show of Bidens cornuta and Daucus carota, tickseed sunflower and Queen Anne’s Lace, respectively. You’re never going to get rid of all the non-natives, and I have to say that they are additive here, the lacy doilies of QAL waving prettily amongst the stouter stems of tickseed sunflower.

A bumblebee snores on a buttonbush inflorescence. Cephalanthus occidentalus (the genus name means "head flower") is a nice wetland native shrub that you don't see all that much. I like to find bumbles before they go to work in the morning, sleeping off their nectar drunk like insect winos.

Ratibida pinnata, or gray-headed sunflower, has charmingly reflexed petals, making the happy pale flowers look like they are blasting off to a distant galaxy.

At this point we are behind a retirement home. I have to think that it’s cheering to look out on this head-high mass of beauty. I’m not sure what they’re feeding these coneflowers, but knowing Cambridge, there’s probably some community composting going on. Wow. They’re well-nourished and thick as thieves.

Same goes for the wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa. I feel like rolling around in the tangy, turpentiney scent of its leaves. It’s hard to convey the masses of bergamot they’ve planted here. The pale lavender doesn’t carry well in photos.

And the entire field of bergamot:

I play with my iPhone6 and am astonished again and again at the way it handles brilliant sun and shade, somehow managing to strike the correct balance so that shaded flowers in the foreground show up in their true colors, and the brightly lit sky and forest background are treated fairly as well. I remember my frustration with my Canon AE1 film camera. I despaired of capturing any shaded foreground color or detail if I exposed on the clouds and sky, and the sky was burned white if I exposed on a shaded foreground. Somehow the iPhone6 figures it out, and I am forever grateful for that. It seems to see such scenes just as my eye does. To me, who struggled with film cameras for years before digital swooped in and saved me, and then having found the iPhone6 camera to be quantum leaps ahead of any digital camera I've had, this seemingly simple feat is every bit as amazing as putting a man on the moon.

Feral chicory cuddles up to native coneflower. I say you GO, girl. I do not begrudge you a square inch of American soil, if you put on a blue like that. And may I say that the iPhone has captured your blue? Who can do that? Who has ever done that? Only my favorite blue in the world.

Speaking of begrudging space…Silphium perfoliatum is a native prairie plant commonly called cup plant, for the water reservoir made by its perfoliate leaves.  Perfoliate means "punctured by the stem." It is a plant of titanic proportions; these were easily 10’ tall and still growing. I do not think that I would necessarily have chosen to plant it here, where space is a bit limited. 

It’s spectacular, but it seems to me it is taking over. I’ve been offered cup plants by native plant gardeners who’ve found themselves overwhelmed. My rule of thumb as an older, wiser gardener is not to take free plants unless I already want them and know their disposition. Usually, you’re taking extras of something that’s proven itself an invasive thug. Beware the garden club plant giveaway! I’m digging ditch lilies and blue hosta out of my front bed this fall, by gum, making room for things I like better. Like Lucy’s bleeding hearts.

Homage to Sweden—chicory and tickseed. This color combo makes me think of my dear friend Ann from North Dakota, and a certain wedding a few summers back.

Red Admiral, Sweet William and Queen Anne—all the celebs are making the scene at Fresh Pond Reservation this morning! It’s a quietly riotous party.

I recorded these images, and looking at them I can't quite believe I saw all that. The blue sky, the crisp unbelievable colors. But I did, and I had to share them with you.


What a summer color riot. Beautiful.
A little envious of gatorless lakes where dogs can swim.

Dearest Julie! Thank you for sharing your walk with us. I felt that I was there with you, the pictures were so crisp, and the text so evocative. What a great start to my morning!

Posted by Anonymous July 27, 2015 at 4:17 AM

You are obviously using the HDR setting on your iphone6 to get so much contrast. A lot of folks do not know it exists.

I grew up in Massachusetts and now live in southern New Hampshire. I'm ashamed to say that while I know about Fresh Pond, I've never been there! Thank you for sharing such a lovely spot - apparently I need to make a trip out there!

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