An unsightly, weedy knoll that was once filled with dead trees and poison ivy has been undergoing a transformation at South Run District Park. Though park visits have recently been restricted due to COVID-19, volunteers have been keeping their social distance from each other and continuing this environmentally-friendly beautification project.
The work near the entrance to South Run RECenter began in 2014. At that time, the area was covered with dead pine trees, poison ivy and a tangle of non-native invasive plants. The Fairfax County Park Authority and a volunteer team led by Sally Berman launched an effort to clear the knoll and introduce a combination of perennials that folks donated from their own yards. Kurt Lauer, the Volunteer Coordinator for South Run RECenter, supervised the effort for the Park Authority.
This year, a second transformation of the knoll has been taking place under the leadership of Sherry McDonald, a Fairfax Master Naturalist who has joined the volunteer landscaping team at South Run. Under McDonald’s lead, a plan was developed to add
dozens of native plants to the knoll. “Even with the uncertainty of everything due to COVID-19, volunteers have been working to create the ‘Natives Knoll,’ the whole time following physical guidelines,” said McDonald. “We developed a plan with the guidance of Matt Bright, who runs a non-profit organization called Earth Sangha which grows native plants for our area.”
South Run RECenter purchased more than 90 native plants for the landscaping effort. The plants from Earth Sangha include Golden Alexanders, wild bergamot, spotted beebalm and black-eyed Susans. McDonald contributed some golden ragwort. Berman added kalameris, ironweed and coneflowers. The garden will eventually include Maryland gold aster, thoroughwort, purple lovegrass, butterfly weed, hairy beard tongue, golden rod and wild geranium, too.
Because the plants needed to get into the ground, the South Run volunteers were granted special permission to work because of the time sensitivity of their project. The volunteers have been diligent in their social distancing and adopted new safety procedures for their work. Sections of garden have been assigned to specific volunteers so that they aren’t working in the same areas. The volunteers are using their own tools and not sharing anything. All planning is being coordinated via phone, text and email.
McDonald, Berman and other members of the landscaping team view gardening as both physical and mental therapy during these uncertain times. They hope that when the park reopens, people will stop to view their handiwork on this up-and-coming Natives Knoll, but they caution it will take some time for all the plants to fill in. The volunteers estimate it will be a couple years before the plants reach their peak beauty.
“In the future, this garden will include plant signage, and we hope it will be certified as an Audubon at Home wildlife sanctuary,” said McDonald. “We hope the garden will attract birds, pollinators and human visitors. Maybe some people will even be inspired to join our landscaping team!”
Author Carol Ochs works in the Park Authority’s Public Information Office.