Metal Detectors Provide Clues to Old Ways of Life in Fairfax County

 

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Figure 1: Metal Detecting and Mapping Finds at Patriot Park North Site.

There was a slave quarters at one time where Patriot Park North now sits. Fairfax County Park Authority archaeologists found some of its features the same way some beach walkers find things – with a metal detector.

During recent excavations, archaeologists identified the site where enslaved persons lived from approximately 1760 to 1820. They discovered features indicating there was a cellar, a storage pit and something else they are still trying to characterize. There were gaps where relatively few artifacts were recovered during a process called tight interval shovel testing or unit excavation. These methods generally are very effective at finding larger, domestic structures where there are substantial amounts of material left behind by the people who lived there. However, one goal of this investigation was to learn more about the built landscape, including all the man-made structures within the site and secondary structures, such as a smokehouse or corncrib. Those usually leave a relatively light archaeological signature and can be hard to find with standard practices. So out came the metal detectors.

Archaeologists have long used metal detection when working on certain sites, such as military sites. Other archaeological programs, including those at James Madison’s Montpelier, have proven that metal detection helps identify secondary structures at domestic sites. With the help of Montpelier-trained volunteers, Park Authority archaeologists went metal-detecting in two areas where little had been found. The areas were divided into 10-meter square blocks. Within each block, metal detectorists would walk rows spaced approximately two meters apart. When all the rows in a block were scanned in one direction, it would be investigated again in perpendicular rows.

Metal detector hits were marked with non-metallic flags. Each hit was then excavated, and anything found was bagged according to its location. The location of an

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Figure 2: Bagging Finds.

archaeological find is critical to learning its use, and moving a find greatly diminishes its historic value and the lessons it can teach us. When multiple finds at Patriot Park North were identified within a half-meter of each other, they were placed in the same bag. FCPA archaeologists then mapped the location of the discoveries using surveyor tools, logged the bags, and collected them for transport and analysis in the lab.

Once the metal detection finds were cataloged, archaeologists needed a meaningful way to interpret the data. They turned to a Geographic Information System project. Because they were looking for structures, they only considered nails in their analyses. They started with methods commonly used (Kriging and Inverse Distance Weighted (IDW) analyses) to create nail distribution maps. The system maps areas according to the number of artifacts found, and then it projects expected results across areas from which there are no data. Of the two methods, the IDW analysis is more visually appealing and seemingly more useful (Figure 3). However, staff immediately discovered that these tools

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Figure 3: Inverse Distance Weight (IDW) Analysis of Nails Found During Metal Detection.

didn’t answer the questions they were asking. Even lumping artifacts found within a half-meter of each other, the maximum number of nails recovered from any single location was four. FCPA archaeologists wanted to know if there were any significant clusters of nails in the area.

Onwards to another analysis, Nearest Neighbor 5 (NN5) function within the Optimized Hot Spot. This approach considers not only the number of artifacts (nails) recovered during metal detection but also the proximity of hits to each other. Using both of these factors, the analysis looks for meaningful clusters. This analysis revealed one cluster west of the storage pit features with another, less intense cluster northwest of the main cluster and, possibly, another minor cluster east of a cellar feature (Figure 4). It is possible that these clusters represent the locations of support structures.

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Figure 4: Nearest Neighbor 5 (NN5) Analysis of Nails Found During Metal Detection. (Note: The number generated by NN5 analysis reflects the strength of relationship rather than the number of finds.)

The next step will be to look at the artifacts recovered from excavations near the clusters. These data may help archaeologists pinpoint how certain structures were used. Hopefully, this will lead to better reconstruction of the cultural landscape and

Author Christopher Sperling is the Senior Archaeologist with the Fairfax County Park Authority.

The Holly and the Ivy

 

There is a time for everything, including a time for removing invasive plants. Spring and early summer are good times to remove invasives like Japanese stiltgrass and garlic mustard, before they produce seeds and die back for the year. Late fall and early winter can be convenient times of the year to remove evergreen vines like English Ivy and Wintercreeper. These vines are easily visible when other plants near them drop leaves or die back. Native plants like American holly and Christmas fern are better alternatives for evergreen foliage through the winter.

Invasive Plants

Invasive plants are not just nonnative; they are invasive because they spread out of control and disrupt ecosystems. The adaptations that allow them to spread also make them difficult to remove. They produce many seeds that persist in the soil for years, or if cut down they regrow from roots left in the ground.

The following are tips for removing English ivy and wintercreeper.

English IvyEnglish Ivy

English ivy is an invasive vine. It grows over the ground and climbs trees. The ivy weakens and kills trees by blocking tree leaves from sunlight and by harboring bacteria. Weakened trees can fall in storms from the weight of the ivy. Ivy also provides damp breeding grounds for mosquitos and dense groundcover for rodents.

To control ivy growing up trees, cut the stems of the vine around the trunk of the tree, and then cut the stems again about a foot higher or lower. The cut vines do not need to be pulled off the tree. The roots may be pulled up or cut to the ground when they regrow. Rake ivy that is growing on the ground, and cut the stems close to the ground.

WintercreeperWintercreeper

Like English ivy, wintercreeper is a vine that covers the ground and grows up trees. Its evergreen leaves cause wintercreeper to stand out in winter. Wintercreeper should be cut and pulled like English ivy.

Periwinkle and Japanese honeysuckle are semi-evergreen invasive vines that are similar in appearance to wintercreeper and may also be removed through pulling or repeated cutting.

Dispose of invasive plants in plastic bags with the regular trash. Prevent spreading invasive plants. Do not mix invasive plants with yard waste or dump it in the woods.

Native Plants

Native plants are those that have long been growing in an area without being brought there by people. Local wildlife is adapted to eating native plants. You can help expand wildlife habitat by planting native plants in your yard.

Here are some native plants that retain color in the winter.

american-holly.pngAmerican Holly

American holly has broad evergreen leaves, and the female trees bear red berries in winter. The trees are deer resistant and are a source of winter food for birds.

christmas-fern.pngWinterberry Holly

Winterberry is a deciduous native holly. While it sheds leaves in the fall, it retains red berries on its branches through the winter. The bright berries on bare branches provide visual interest and food for birds. Both American Holly and Winterberry Holly have male and female shrubs. Only female shrubs will produce berries, but a male shrub nearby is necessary for pollination.

Christmas Fern 1Christmas Fern

Christmas fern is a native, evergreen fern that can be planted as groundcover in shady areas. Its pinnae, or little leaflike segments, are shaped like holiday stockings with a long toes and small heels.

PartridgeberryPartridgeberry

Partridgeberry forms a delicate groundcover under trees. It provides winter color with evergreen leaves and red berries. White flowers bloom in summer.
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Have you removed invasive plants or planted native plants in your yard? Record your green actions on the Watch the Green Grow map at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/nature-history/watch-green-grow.

Author Tami Sheiffer is the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Watch the Green Grow Coordinator.

 

Evicting the Invaders

Before

Before: Part of approximately 5,000 square feet of invasive plants on the Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail.

This picture looks like simple greenery. You may not even notice these plants as you walk your dog or jog along the trail. But untouched, these simple plants quickly become invaders. They spread rapidly and cause ecological or economic harm by degrading our natural ecosystem. They choke out the native plants in their path.

The Fairfax County Park Authority’s Invasive Management Area (IMA) Program fights these invasive plants in an effort to prevent them from taking over our parkland. The Park Authority can’t do it alone! Many hands are needed to clear a project site. IMA often partners with organizations like businesses, school groups, Scouts BSA and Girl Scouts to battle these invasive plants.

Scout Invasive Project Along Difficult Run 2Here’s one example. Every Saturday and Sunday in October 2019, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Fairfax County Public School students, college students and neighborhood homeowners gathered to pull invasive plants, primarily pachysandra, from a section of the Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail off Miller Heights Road in Oakton. I am a Scout in BSA Troop 987, and I led the project with support from Hornaday Badge Advisor Sara Holtz and with sponsorship from the Invasive Management Area program.

Scout Invasive Project Along Difficult Run 1During 210 volunteer hours, 99 volunteers removed 85 bags of invasive plants from the parkland. The goal was to replace the pachysandra with native plants and trees. Volunteers planted white wood aster, hairy bush clover, American alumroot, trailing bush clover, dwarf cinquefoil, pussytoes, arrowleaf violet, common wood rush, Pennsylvania sedge, bluestem, goldenrod, arrowwood viburnum, witch hazel, hazelnut trees, ironwood trees, and redbud trees.

After

After: Invasive plants replaced with 110 native plants and trees.

I created the plan for this project in order to earn the BSA Hornaday Badge, an award created by conservationist Dr. William T. Hornaday. It is a prestigious award that requires a scout to lead a conservation project, complete several merit badges, and meet rank requirements. By successfully completing this project, I am one step closer to earning the Boy Scout Hornaday Badge, and the Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail is a step closer to being free of invasive plants.

Author Eli Edwards is a Scouts BSA Hornaday Badge candidate in BSA Troop 987.

If you’d like to volunteer on future projects, visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/invasive-management-area.

Gobble, Gobble, Hiss, Hiss … What’s All That Struttin’ About?

TurkeyWhat comes to mind when you think about a Thanksgiving Turkey?

For many of us, it’s that puffed up, iridescent, brownish bird with its tail feather spread into a beautiful, full fan. While an iconic image, it’s the exception, not the rule. What we learned to draw in elementary school is a male turkey struttin’ his stuff to attract a mate and intimidate the competition. In addition to the visual display, they have a range of vocalizations including “gobbles,” “clucks,” “putts,” “purrs,” “yelps,” “cutts,” “whines,” “cackles,” and “kee-kees.” Some of those calls can carry for over a mile. Who knew?

When not showing off, the wild turkey is a long, sleek bird that patrols open woods feasting on nuts, seeds, fruit, bugs, worms and even small lizards. Yes, they are omnivorous. Alert, wily birds with great eyesight, they are always on the lookout and fly up into trees at night to roost out of the reach of predators. Usually walking about to look for food, they do fly well, relatively close to the ground, and for about 100 yards at a time.

Img0089Their domestic cousins retain the behaviors and calls but come in a wider range of plumage colors. Frying Pan Farm Park keeps two breeds that were common during the park’s historic period. Back in the 1930s and 40s, the Bourbon Red was the most popular commercial breed. A lovely bird with unique reddish plumage, its tail fan and flight feathers are a striking white. The name Bourbon comes from their area of origin, Bourbon County, Kentucky. The Slate or Blue Slate can have plumage ranging from white to black, but the hen at Frying Pan is a lovely, soft bluish grey. Turkey breeds also come in brown, black, and white. All the poultry you now purchase at stores have all white feathers, including the Broad Breasted White Turkey that dominates the U.S. turkey market.
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Visit the gobblers at Frying Pan Farm Park before or after Thanksgiving Day, as they will not end up in the frying pan. Closed on Thanksgiving Day, the farm is free to visit and open all other days from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The park grounds are open from sunrise to sunset.

Author Yvonne Johnson is the Site Manager at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, VA.

Backyard Birding All Winter Long

Bird-1A past survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that more than 50 million Americans watch birds. By considering the four elements emphasized in the National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat program — food, water, cover, and a place to raise young — you can be assured of a variety of birds to watch from the windows of your home. Some of your visitors will be just that — visiting birds passing through on long flights of migration. Others will become familiar, year-round residents.
Their needs aren’t so different from yours. Birds just define their desires a little differently.

FOOD

Bird feeders supplement natural food sources, though principally only seed-eaters — or, in winter months, suet-eaters — will use feeders. Place feeders at least eight feet from trees or other squirrel launching pads, or use free-standing poles with baffles. Feeders will be busiest from late October through the winter, and it is important to remember that late spring, when natural food supplies are still low, is a critical time to continue offering food.

 

Bird feeders can host bacteria and parasites that can spread disease through the wild bird population if the feeders are not regularly cleaned and sanitized. Many homeowners are concerned about attracting the “wrong element,” such as crows, starlings, squirrels or rats. Putting out a minimal amount of seed per day, using shelled seeds or certain types of seeds can alleviate the problem. Spillage and the aroma from discarded shells is often the cause of attracting unwanted creatures. Providing only water can bring in some birds, help them, and eliminate the nuisance animal issue.

WATER

Birds will happily drink or bathe in ponds, streams, ditches, puddles, or birdbaths. A birdbath should be set in a sunny clearing, ideally 15 feet from trees or shrubs where predators can lurk but with nearby branches to use as an escape route. Baths should be no more than 2-3 inches deep and should be rough-surfaced. Birds especially will be attracted to baths or pools with dripping or running water.

For the winter, when birds continue to need water, birdbath heaters are available, or you can break or melt the ice on baths or pools. Year-round, it is important that water is clean. Note that water additives that prevent ice from forming negatively affect birds’ feathers, which can prove deadly for them.

Bird 5SHELTER & A PLACE TO RAISE YOUNG

Birdhouses, nesting platforms, and winter roosting boxes can supplement garden plantings. Some 50 bird species will accept nest boxes, while about 35 will use them regularly. If you use birdhouses, remember that you will need to clean them out between broods and at the end of the nesting season.

Fairfax County Park Authority Nature Centers feature many birding programs and resources.

This blog was adapted from an article in the Park Authority’s ResOURces newsletter files.

More blogs about birds:
Winter is a Great Time for Birding
What to Feed Birds When Your Kid is Allergic to Nuts
What Do Animals Do During a Rainstorm?
Where Do Animals Go During A Snowstorm?
Walk on the Wild Side of Winter
The Value of Exhibit Animals at Nature Centers
Night Thief
The View from the Tower at Huntley Meadows
Keeping Fairfax County Blue
Woodpeckers

A Great Time for Larkspurs

Larkspur

Photo credit: Arizona State University Cooperative Extension

Spring in 2019 in Northern Virginia brought just the right amount of precipitation, and the air temperature warmed slowly and stayed in comfortable ranges for weeks. Consequently, spring flowers lasted for a long time, unlike years when the temperatures rise too quickly.

One plant that benefitted was Consolida ajacis, also known as rocket larkspur. At Green Spring Gardens, larkspur was a standout in garden beds, and we received many inquiries for the name of “that tall blue, purple, lavender … flowering plant out by the gazebo, in front of the glass house, by the traffic circle, etc.”

Consolida ajacis is an annual species, meaning it germinates from seed, grows, flowers, sets seed, and dies within one year. However, it self-sows so abundantly that crops can return year after year. New colonies also develop nearby because seed is transferred by wind, water, people and animals. Allow the flowers to go to seed, and you will have larkspurs year after year.

Consolida ajacis is native to Europe and Asia but was introduced to North America, perhaps by European settlers, and has naturalized in North America. It is grown as an ornamental plant in flower beds, as a cut flower and for drying. It’s not a plant commonly sold in pots in nurseries because it does not transplant well, however, seeds are available through catalogues.

Growing Consolida ajacis from seed is simple. Scatter fresh seed in a prepared flower bed in autumn, and lightly cover the scattered seed with a thin layer of soil or leaf mulch. Make sure the planting bed receives full sun and is moist but well drained. After sowing, lightly water the bed and let it be until spring when seedlings should start appearing. Seeds need darkness and the winter’s cold temperatures to germinate in spring. Once seedlings appear, gently thin them so the remaining seedlings have adequate space to grow. If you have a successful crop, simply let a few plants go to seed before removing them after they die in early summer. Most plants will brown out, die, and set seed in our area by mid-June.

Two species of larkspur are native to Virginia and, unlike Consolida ajacis, are perennials. The first, Delphinium tricorne, sometimes referred to as dwarf larkspur, is a spring ephemeral that breaks dormancy and flowers in early to mid-spring, then returns to dormancy when temperatures rise. It grows in woodlands where it takes advantage of spring sun before the tree canopy leafs out, but it still benefits from some shade. It has blue, sometimes white, and sometimes blue and white flowers, and it grows one to two feet in height. The second native species, Delphinium exaltatum, also known as tall larkspur, prefers full sun and blooms in summer. It can grow from 4 to 6 feet tall and has beautiful blue flowers. In hot, humid areas it does appreciate some afternoon shade.

Native larkspur can be purchased as potted plants or sometimes as dormant bare roots in autumn through specialty nurseries or online. All three species can be grown from seed.

Growing from seed starts in autumn. Seeds can be directly sown in garden beds, however, it may take a year or two for them to flower. It may be easier to care for the seedlings if the seed is sown outdoors in seed flats placed in a protected area or a cold frame. Protect seed flats from digging critters and downpours with a covering of mesh or screening material. Seeds also need the cold of winter to force germination. Once seedlings appear in spring and have developed true leaves, they can be transplanted into nursery pots or nursery beds.

All parts of all three species, including the seeds, are toxic if ingested. This makes them safe from deer and rabbit browsing, but keep them away from small children, pets and grazing livestock. It is best to wear gloves when handling all parts of the plants.

Author Alda Krinsman is the Garden Gate Plant Shop Coordinator at Green Spring Gardens.

Historic Green Spring and The Importance of a Name

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet….”

~ William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet, Act. II, Scene II

What’s in a name? A lot. It’s how others identify and refer to us, and it’s important to get names right — people’s names and place names.

Green Spring_109The Historic House at Green Spring Gardens and the land on which it stands have gone by many names. In their early days, both the land and the house were known by the owners’ names. In 1853, the property was advertised for sale as “the well known FARM known as Green Springs (formerly Moss’s Farm.)” This is the first known use of the Green Spring name. By 1859, the ‘s’ had been dropped, and it was listed as “The very desirable FARM known as GREEN SPRING.”

By the 1880s, the site was again referred to by its owner’s name and was identified in a 1924 auction announcement as “The Old Captain Beattie Farm.”

 

In the 1930s, the name reverted to Green Spring Farm, which stuck until 1970 when the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) acquired the property from Michael and Belinda Straight. The FCPA changed the name to Green Spring Farm Park to reflect its use as a recreational resource, however staff and volunteers received incessant questions from eager callers and perplexed visitors about farm animals!

By the late 1980s, the site’s horticultural mission was firmly established, so in 1991, “Farm” was changed to “Gardens.” In the early 2000s, the name Green Spring Gardens Park was further refined to the present-day Green Spring Gardens.

Green Spring_190510_0058The Historic House has changed names a few times, too. It’s been known as the “Old Moss House” and the “Beattie Residence.” In early sales advertisements, it’s described as the “Brick Dwelling House,” and an 1840 survey plat of Green Spring Farm identifies it as the “Mansion House.”

Michael Straight seems to have been the first to refer to the house as a “manor” — he sometimes referred to it as Weyanoke Manor, after the neighboring subdivision — and the name “Manor House” was adopted by the Park Authority in the 1970s. In 1995, the Fairfax County History Commission questioned the accuracy of the name, which was historically a European term and hadn’t been used in Virginia since the early 18th century. However, in the interest of continuity, the FCPA kept it.

In 2003, the current nomenclature was established. As the listing of Green Spring on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places was nearing completion, former site historian Sherrie Chapman announced a new all-embracing name for the historic portion of Green Spring, which included the house, the spring house, and the Beatrix Farrand landscape: “Historic Green Spring.” And, because the house was never, in its historic period, called the “Manor House,” it became the “Historic House.”

Sherrie understood the power of a name, that incorporating the word “historic” more clearly defines identity and accentuates the historical significance of the house and surrounding landscape to visitors.

Green Spring_180830_0171Places like Green Spring are never static, and their names often change to embody their histories, to differentiate them, and to convey their mission, relevance, and value.

So, what’s in a name? According to Juliet, not much. But names are important, and it behooves us to get them right. After all, a garden by any other name is not as sweet as Green Spring Gardens!

Author Debbie Waugh is the Historic House Coordinator.