Students returned to campus this year to find the WestCo courtyard covered in new greenery, thanks to the summertime efforts of WILDWes members. During their months of hard work, students from WILDWes and the College of the Environment (COE) seeded new plants at the site and planned out the group’s focus for this year.
Nathaniel Dolton-Thornton ’15, who worked on the site over the summer and will be leading the WILDWes student forum this semester, said that all of the main planting at the WestCo site will most likely be done by the end of this school year.
“I think that all the different ecosystems will be planted by the end of this year, and then hopefully we’ll move on to a different site [while] keeping this site going,” he said. “There will be a lot of smaller things to do and a lot of tweaking going on for a long time. That’s a lot of what permaculture is—laying down what you think will work, seeing what the site actually does, and then adjusting it to fit that.”
Four students stayed over the summer to work on the site, with responsibilities that included planting new species, watering plants, weeding, and researching and planning for the location. Dolton-Thornton said that one of his other main jobs over the summer was the creation of an implementation guide.
“One of my main projects was that I developed about an 80-page implementation booklet, which is a working booklet of all of the plants currently on the WestCo site, as well as detailed explanations of how to plant trees and all types of ecosystems on the site,” he said. “It also includes different physiology and biology of trees. It’s an attempt to capture everything that WILDWes has done into a tangible document and a means to have continuity for the site.”
Some of the new plants this summer included test polyculture
clusters under previously planted trees, a shrub-tolerant plant border, and potential trample-resistant species. Polyculture is the simultaneous cultivation of two or more compatible plants. The shrub-tolerant plant border consists of fruit bushes that are resistant to path salting during the winter; these bushes will protect the plants within the border and will define the site’s boundaries.
Another project the group worked on this summer was water preservation. The students installed two rain gardens, basins where water runoff will pool that enable water-loving plant species to absorb this water. They also re-dug the swales—trench-like tracts of land—which catch water and slow its movement so plants can take it in more effectively. Along with these updates, the site already has a rain catchment system on top of the WestCo lounge, which directs rainwater into a tank that can be used to water the plants.
The group also worked on researching potential lighting possibilities.
“We did a lot of research into solar lighting,” Dolton-Thorton said. “Right now we have one test solar light, and we’re going to be getting a few more probably. As [the site] grows and trees grow more dense, we’re going to be putting up more solar lights along the path—that was a concern of the school actually.”
Emma Leonard ’13, who led previous WILDWes student forums, said that this semester the group will be focused on an edible meadow, which will consist of grass and some edible perennial species. Other fruit-bearing species have already been planted, including pear trees, apple trees, persimmon trees, plum trees, and a variety of berry bushes.
Leonard said that it could take around seven years for the trees to produce fruit, though the bushes will produce berries this spring. This winter will be the first test for all the flora that has been planted over the spring and summer.
Along with the fruit trees and bushes planted, the group planted a chestnut seed last semester. The seed was donated by the American Chestnut Foundation and is a hybrid that is fifteen-sixteenths American Chestnut and one-sixteeths Chinese Chestnut. Leonard said plants like the chestnut tree, which can live for hundreds of years, provide good markers for the growth of the site.
“I thought it would be cool to have something on the site that started from scratch, just so that you could mark the evolution of the plant area around the space,” Leonard said. “[The chestnut tree] is a life form that would live long enough to mark that.”
Another priority for the group this semester will be designing and realizing the location as a social space. A labyrinth of plants currently occupies the area of the public social space, though the labyrinth will disappear when the rest of the groundcover is seeded this year. Dolton-Thorton said that they tested different plants like thyme and sedum as possible trample-resistant groundcover to cover the social space.
This year the group will also begin considering new sites to develop. Possible sites that have been proposed include the stretch of land near the Power Plant on High Street and space in the Center for the Arts courtyard.
While some students questioned the slow progress of the WestCo site, Leonard said that growth has been hard to predict because of the climate changes over the past few years.
“[The timeline] was not something you could predict because of the intense climate changes we’ve been having,” she said. “This summer was blazing hot, and they had to water every day; the winter [last year] was nonexistent.”
Dolton-Thorton suggested that the slower growth of the site was also a result of the specific weather conditions and seasons needed for different plants.
“A lot of people felt like it was going to happen a lot faster than it happened,” Dolton-Thorton said. “One thing I think people don’t take into account is the amount of work and time everything takes. A lot of it is that most of these things you can only do in one or two seasons of the year. To make the site secure, longer lasting, and more durable, it takes patience and takes precision in your timing.”
WILDWes will be having workdays every Saturday from 12 to 4 p.m. and group meetings every Thursday at Earth House at 8:30 p.m.