SSU hedge group plants on Oct. 19
Volunteers worked in rainy weather last week to begin the construction of a native habitat hedgerow near the Environmental Technology Center.

NATURE'S WAY


Bordering the Edges With a Native Hedge

By Lakin Khan

Just for the record, on October 19,  the day the hedgerow was planted on campus, it rained more or less non-stop all day, except for the 45 minutes that I was there. Puddles glinted and dark clouds cluttered the sky as I walked towards the Environmental Technology Center at noontime to meet the creator and organizer of the Hedgerow Habitat event, Frederique Lavoipierre, a graduate student in the Biology Department.

And what, may you ask, is a hedgerow?  Doesn’t it have to do with English country lanes, high tea with the vicar, maybe the body of the local peerage bleeding on an oriental rug in front of a roaring fire, rustlings along the hedgerow coming in through the open French doors? Or, well, maybe that has more to do with Agatha Christie...or Halloween.

Hedgerows are living fences used to define property lines, provide privacy, or create boundaries of any sort. They are constructed of various shrubs and bushes, often small trees, plus ground covers, perennials, grasses, and trailing plants that together provide erosion control, wind protection and shade, as well as buffering noise, heat and dust.

They can be dense enough to keep livestock within and undesirables without; they can be casual and unclipped, needing little maintenance; they can be quite formal and regularly maintained. Many species of birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and beneficial bugs find shelter and sustenance within a hedgerow. Although designed for our own human purposes, it is a habitat in and of itself — which does not detract in the least from its importance for wildlife.

Hedgerows seem quintessentially British, a defining characteristic of their rural landscape and a home to hedgehogs. While in the past century, they have fallen out of favor and were often removed, they have been in use throughout Europe, especially Britain and the Low Countries, for well over 700 years. Now there is an active campaign, both here and abroad, to plant and preserve hedgerows, sprucing up the landscape while offering a supportive environment for wildlife whose habitat is succumbing to urban and suburban sprawl.

 Rain dripped from the trees as I came around the corner of the Children’s Center and crossed the parking lot in front of the Environmental Technology Center. The gentle chatter and ribbing that goes with a group laboring for a common cause, underscored with the rhythmic slicing of shovels, filled the damp air. Scattered around the Community Garden and along a strip of soggy land between that garden and residential parking for Viognier and Chalk Hill, were ten or twelve very active people.

Students, instructors, alumni, grounds keepers and members of the community, all  in various combinations of wet weather garments: sailboat-blue rain jackets, raincoat-yellow bib overalls, water-proof work boots and hats, were digging, hauling, watering (even in the rain) and planting. Most of the trees and shrubs were already in place and the work day wasn’t even half-over. The air was well-washed, the ground wet, the plants happy.

Lavoipierre was directing traffic while assisting a bit of clean-up along the parking lot edge of the long low mound that will serve as a foundation for the hedgerow, her shovel scraping along the pavement. As I hailed her, she took off her gloves and wiped droplets off her forehead, then took me on a short tour. "Hedgerows are a haven for small birds. We tried to pick plants that will attract beneficial insects but also provide bushy habitat for the quail that seem to have fondness for our campus," she said, "and we specifically chose native plants."

In the mist and rain that day, this busy group planted ceonathus, coffeeberry, snowberry, redtwig dogwood, native buckwheat, lupine, sage, manzanita, twinberry, monkey flower, California fuchsia, all donations from local nurseries.

Aside from the aforementioned quail, squirrels, Pacific chorus frogs, native toads, hummingbirds, finches, and sparrows could find this hedgerow homey. As for bugs, look for pollinators such as native bees and butterflies, pest predators like lady beetles and lace wings, or dragonflies, flowerflies, katydids. "Ecology isn’t just about forests and oceans but our back yards, too,” said Lavoipierre, "and look at all this, a laboratory for the agro-ecology classes."

As the rain clouds mustered up to drench us again, the trees looked spare and twiggy, the bushes squat and condensed, the round cover but small dots running between on the carpet of wet wood-chip mulch. It didn’t seem like much, for all the hard work in the rain and wet.

But come spring, take a walk out by the garden space near the ETC and witness a habitat revived and returning as a result of this group’s commitment to the campus' well-being.

E-mail our amateur campus naturalist with any observations, stories or reactions you have about our shared environment with the natural world on campus. Khan is an administrative coordinator in the biology department and can be reached at lakin.khan@sonoma.edu.

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