Landscape Committee News – October 2020

Landscape Improvements Coming

Many of the landscaping issues at the Mews are those of our own, that is human, creation. Rain run off is always a problem. Besides causing erosion and polluting the water systems, it creates swampy areas. So why is there rain run off anyway? This happens when permeable landscape is paved. The water has no where to go other than to run off and cause erosion.

There are always consequences to human action, but human needs usually win. Do we need a wider roadway here? Let’s add a sidewalk? And what about expanding that parking area? Each of these seem like a small action, and citizen safety is foremost, but in the end the land suffers.

One example is the land on the Mew’s side of King Street. The area has changed from a dry environment to one that is almost always damp. This is because there is significant run off from King Street. Water tolerant Native trees and shrubs were chosen for replacement that not only absorb the water but thrive.

With that said, Fairlington Mews is moving forward with an All Fairlington initiative to return the property to Native plants. Where to begin? Needless to say, we can not rip out everything and start anew. What we can do is identify areas for improvement. One way to begin is with ivy removal. Starting this autumn and into next spring, the Landscape Committee will do just that.

King Street has been a focus for the Landscape Committee this past year, so we decided to start with the courts across the road (the back nine?), that is Courts 7 thru 15. Ivy covered areas in Court 7 and in Court 12 have been chosen. Once Environmental Enhancements removes the ivy, our contractor, Nate Erwin, will assess the sun exposure, create a design, choose the plants, amend the soil, and then create an insect friendly environment.

“Planting these bare areas with (native) shrubs and perennials that will hold the soil in place and enhance pollinator and other wildlife diversity, will improve the overall biological diversity of the neighborhood. These plantings would also enhance the established conservation garden planted along the edge of the tennis court near the swimming pool.” Nate Erwin

I will be coming around personally, knocking on doors, to ask your assistance in watering these new plantings this autumn.

Happy Fall,

Fern Birtwistle, Jamie Boone, Sue Davis, and Penny Glass 

Landscape Committee News – September 2020

Plant Them and They Will Come

Common milkweed is just that, a common ‘weed’ as well as the principal food of Monarch butterflies.  How do you know if it is milkweed?  Gently tear the tip of a leaf and you will see a milky substance, but remember not to touch it, as the sticky substance has toxins that will make you sick.  There are other types of milkweed growing in this area including swamp milkweed and butterfly weed.  The Monarch pictured to the left passed through the Mews this June and stopped to enjoy a milkweed flower.

Monarch butterflies lay eggs under the milkweed leaves.  Nothing more than a tiny white dot, it seems impossible that it can turn into a butterfly.  Once the caterpillars hatch they eat the milkweed leaves.  The poison toxin in the leaves is not a problem for the caterpillars.  As a result, the adult butterflies themselves are toxic. Predators quickly learn to leave the adult Monarchs alone.  Although toxic to vertebrate predators, wasps and ants will prey on the caterpillars, as the toxins do not affect them.Yes, the odds are really stacked against the Monarch.  When the caterpillar reaches maturity, it leaves the milkweed and looks for a place to transform.  After carefully attaching itself to a leaf, branch, or fence with silk, the caterpillar forms the characteristic “J” shape. 

Now the magic starts.  I have tried to watch this process many times, but I always sense the caterpillar knows I’m there.  It can also take a long time.  Slowly the inside of the animal begins to deteriorate and shake.  I notice the changes most in the antenna that simply seem to dissolve.  When you are not watching (because that’s usually what happens), the caterpillar’s ‘skin’ (the external skeleton) peels off and what is left is a green chrysalis.

Why is it this butterfly called the Monarch?  Look closely at the top of the chrysalis.  Do you see the gold dots?  That is the crown.  

Swamp milkweed was planted in the Conservation Garden near the swimming pool this year.  Shortly afterwards a female Monarch laid her eggs.  Within two weeks, there were plenty of caterpillars chewing away at the leaves.  Below there are links to video.

Other Landscape Committee News

The annual tree inspection will take place on September 29.  Several of you have let the Landscape Committee know of problems you’ve seen in your court. Please let us know if there other concerns.

The Landscape Committee: Fern Birtwistle, Jamie Boone, Sue Davis, and Penny Glass

Landscape Committee News – August 2020

New Trees for the Mews!

The Arlington Tree Canopy Fund Fall 2020 has just awarded the Mews Community three trees. These will go in Court 1, 2, and 11, and include a Linden, a Swamp Oak, and Hackberry. The Landscape Committee will be recruiting volunteers to water the new trees when they arrive this fall.

In other news:

Most of the time people forget that there are seven distinct communities in Fairlington.  Each of the villages is different and unique, but we have commonalities as well.  Teresa Cordova from the Commons recently reached out to all the Landscape Committees across Fairlington to share information and best practices. Each community has mutual concerns from dying trees to healthy grass to landscaping companies. The hope is that we can share our problems and expertise to educate the community about what a landscape is. The hot topic today is a return to Native plants.  

So, why Native plants?  Bradford Pear, once everyone’s sweetheart, is on the ‘do not plant’ list.  Day lilies, a garden staple, are getting snubbed.  English Ivy, ground cover to end all ground covers – forget about it.  After years of planting non-natives, it’s clear that native plants are already adapted to this climate making them heat and drought tolerant, they attract insects and birds, and are just as attractive as their non-Native counterparts. For those of you who follow these posts, here is a link from May’s newsletter about planting Natives.

The group has met twice, and there was no lack of conversation.  Whose grass looks the best?  Do organic fertilizers work?  What rules and protocols do residents follow in your neighborhood?  What special projects does everyone have?  How can we share all of this?  Which landscaping company do you use?

For the Mews, it was good to meet with other dedicated individuals who value the importance of Native plants; individuals who are moving Native plant theory into practice.  An example is the shade garden at 2934 Columbus Street in North Fairlington. The group is also planning a new monthly post in the All Fairlington Bulletin featuring articles on turf, shade gardens, and cicadas.  

This Fall the Mews team is working on creating a list of suitable Native plants to use in the Mews.  The hope is to get our landscape to a 50/50 level – half native, half non-Natives. We are already working in that direction.  The King Street Rejuvenation Project and the Conservation Garden near the swimming pool contain only Native plants.  

If you are interested in what we are doing and want to be part of our team, contact Sue Davis at  New members are always welcome, no green thumb required.

The Landscape Committee: Fern Birtwistle, Jamie Boone, Sue Davis, and Penny Glass