The Barnstable Patriot
Posted Feb 8, 2018 at 10:15 AM
Updated Feb 14, 2018 at 1:21 PM
Landscaping with native plants can help clean Cape waters
Part two in a three-part series.
The Barnstable Clean Water Coalition is taking proven nitrogen mitigation technologies out of the lab and into Marstons Mills Watershed.
“By implementing several technologies in the same watershed, we aim to study the cumulative impacts of the overall strategy,” BCWC Executive Director Zenas Crocker said Feb. 1. “This ‘living laboratory’ will take science out of the lab and test it under real world conditions.”
While the BCWC also supports and advocates traditional, municipal treatment, Crocker said, “we see a number of relatively low-cost alternatives as a way to begin mitigating nitrogen as soon as they’re implemented.”
Aquaculture, dredging, and wetlands restoration will positively impact the water within years, instead of decades, Crocker maintains.
Likewise Jack Ahern, a professor at UMass-Amherst, and 10 of his graduate students are exploring alternative water treatments in a new book, “Three Bays Watershed: Landscape-Based Solutions to Improve Water Quality,” published in partnership with BCWC.
Winner of the 2003 Fábos medal for his international leadership in landscape and greenway planning, Ahern advocates using “Cape-friendly landscapes” that focus on native plants.
Native plants limit the need for fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation, which helps minimize nitrate concentrations in freshwater wells, ponds, and lakes as well as ocean bays and estuaries, Ahern said.
“I connected with Zee (Crocker) because I am a homeowner in Osterville and concerned about trends in landscape design all over Cape Cod, including in Barnstable,” Ahern said.
Ahern said he wonders why there are relatively few outstanding native plant landscape designs in Three Bays, considering the waters are so compromised with high nitrogen levels.
Landscape for new development and redevelopment “tend to go in the conventional way,” he said, “which incrementally erodes why – consciously or unconsciously – you come to the Cape in the first place: it’s a distinct landscape. The unique landscape of the Cape is being incrementally transformed.”
Going forward, Ahern said, he would like to develop working partnerships with people willing to illustrate the concept.
“I’m talking about landscapes that have been developed by people building houses and office buildings,” said Ahern, adding that his research team is seeking partners and demo landscapes that “walk the walk in a public way.”
“The aesthetics matter,” he said before adding: “The way to convince people is not to lecture about what’s wrong. It’s also (about what’s) beautiful.”
Particularly memorable examples of doing it right, he said, include WHOI’s Quissett campus in Woods Hole; the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s world headquarters in Yarmouth Port; and West Tisbury Free Public Library on Martha’s Vineyard.
Ahern recommends featuring native plants like bayberry, beach plum, and inkberry shrubs; meadow grasses like Little Bluestem and Seaside Goldenrod; and unmowed grasses like New England Aster, flowering Baptisia, and Rudbeckia.
For detailed “how-to” information and a link to downloadable rain garden app, visit www.nemo.uconn.edu/raingardens. For a rain garden plant list, go to www.apcc.org or www.ostervillevillagelibrary.org. For ways to help protect local waters, see www.bcleanwater.org and www.apcc.org.