Barnyard Grass (Echinochloa crusgalli) -- considered "a very serious weed in many major world crops" -- grows wild and proud in Eastern Salt's storage yard across the street from the pier, half a block from our house. Until recently, not much else would grow in that dirt-poor little acre of industrial wasteland used for temporary storage of heavy equipment, but this summer a swarm of butterflies, moths, bees, wasps and other members of the nectar-sipping community have been discovering the joys of our young Harvard Design School friend, Dan Adams's experimental garden, "Flowers at the Industrial Edge" (see below). Invasive or not? It depends on where you live. Barnyard Grass is not listed in the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England, but other plants growing on the site are, including Japanese Knotweed, Garlic Mustard and Tree of Heaven. We haven't seen much of any Japanese Knotweed elsewhere in Chelsea, but Most-Wanted fugitive Garlic Mustard has become a weedy nuisance in our garden over the last few years, while Tree of Heaven -- despite weedy tendencies -- has always been a welcome source of space definition and shade on our property and throughout the city.
For about $50, Dan and Eastern Salt groundsmen had bought three packages of mixed perennial flower seeds at the local Home Depot in early summer, spread out some surplus loam that had been lying around the yard and sown the seeds to create a broad border around the perimeter. Like a nervous father-to-be, Dan worried his way through the germination period, wondering whether anything would grow.
We'd noticed something colorful sprouting up behind the fence along the verge of the storage yard the last few times we walked by. Today the man of the hour, Dan himself (above) was there, videodocumenting some of the happy consequences (see below) of his minimalist landscape intervention, part of an ongoing project -- in cooperation with Eastern Salt -- to energize this part of the Chelsea working waterfront, making it a draw not only for bees and butterflies, but for people, too, a destination for both active and passive recreation. Last weekend -- an event we missed due to out-of-town partying -- the salt pier was the setting for a creekside festival with visiting Coast Guard boats open for public inspection. If all goes according to plan -- or should we say according to pipe dream? -- a working replica of Darwin's HMS Beagle may be lying alongside Eastern Salt for public inspection in a year or two (at the link, scroll down to "2. 'There is grandeur in this view of life'").
With his state-of-the-art video camera, Dan was able to produce these informationally rich "magnifying-glass" images documenting visitations of a Monarch Butterfly and Bumble Bee who found his "Flowers at the Industrial Edge" garden to their liking. Build the nectar source, and they will come. "I didn't realize that you are so knowledgable about these 'wild' plantings," Dan emailed following our serendipitous meeting in the garden this afternoon, recapping what this latest work-in-progress is about:
As I expressed to you, this first crop was mainly an experiment to see how things would grow. In the future, what I think would be interesting is to be slightly more calculated about which seeds we plant, but as we discussed I am really just happy to see how an industrial edge, temporarily fallow landscape can flourish and bring some bright colors into the community.
The flora and fauna of disturbed landscapes are our cup of tea. Shall we pour?
Update: Beauty in the eye of the beholder from blogfriend Jill Fallon of The Business of Life in the comments:
I love this story. Dan could be the spiritual child of Johnny Appleseed and Lady Bird Johnson. More beauty. Beauty everywhere.