A Weedy Knoll is Transformed into a Native Garden at South Run


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


Sherry McDonald planting native plants at South Run.

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.


Sally Berman burying cardboard with mulch. The cardboard makes a good weed barrier and will decompose and enrich the soil.

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.

April 2020

The transformed knoll in April 2020.

“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.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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