Sustainable Once More, With Style

Posted by on Aug 13, 2013 in Art for Community Engagement, Local-Sustainable Living | Comments Off on Sustainable Once More, With Style

Sustainable Once More, With Style

It never ceases to amaze me, just when I think I have seen them all, I discover yet another inspired Hunterdon-Bucks artist who is making a unique, creative space, born from imagination, from the rubble of where they live.

Here, we are surrounded by beautiful places, and hundreds more people who paint those places.
But how often do you encounter an artist who is actually creating landscape?

You can leave out the developers who have systematically changed our vistas with condo developments and McMansions.  I am referring to someone who is purposefully crafting landscape with living things.

I met one last Sunday, William “Bill” Wyman.  He co-hosted a tour of his personal forest, with Hunterdon Land Trust, at his home in Stockton, NJ, an incredibly gorgeous compound of buildings that once again made me exclaim,

“Damn there’s some hot houses tucked away around this town!”  

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Wyman has designed the house to connect with the native plant forest that surrounds it, which he has cultivated for the past two decades.  

Forest viewing walkway from house.

Viewing walkway from house, spans over forest, with seating area at end.

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Wyman would not consider himself an artist I am sure, but instead, a sustainable ecology enthusiast, a gardener, perhaps a land steward.  But after seeing his 16 acre plot of land, surrounded by deer fence and carefully cultivated to bring back the wonderful array of native plants, the lower, mid, and towering-levels of forest that once graced our county before the onslaught of chewing deer, I would say, Bill Wyman has more than a green thumb.  His place is the work of a determined, creative spirit.  And he isn’t alone.

IMG_2911Wyman has spent the past 20-some years cultivating his forested land with his unstoppable 83 year old mother, Anna Wyman.  Together they tore out hundreds of invasive plants to give space for the natives to grow, fostered vernal pools for frogs and insects.  When Sandy felled several trees on their property, Wyman let them remain, as habitat for wildlife.

The results of his intuitive, and studied work were a beautiful variety of plants, and a wonderful green space to hike through, with winding paths, little bridges to ease the way:

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Seats crafted from downed-trees, inviting us to stop and rest:

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Hand painted signs marking trails:

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Tucked along the paths we found the occasional assemblage of found objects:

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And there were composed spots amongst the organized chaos, an empty pot with fern and felled tree decorated our path:

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As we walked through the area Wyman has worked on for the past seven years, it was amazing to see the variety of leaves and little wild flowers, too many to name.

Then we got to the part he’s worked on for the past twenty years, and that was the teaching moment.  It was nearly impossible to see anything.  The forest was so thick.

Until my visit to Wyman’s, I never understood that being able to look around the forest, that cathedral feeling, of vastness which I so enjoy on my Hunterdon County hikes, is a sign of really poor forest health.  I always appreciated the trees towering above me, clear paths through, and few brambles to catch my legs.  But that missing lower and mid-level of plants is a bad sign.  Not enough plants, and less habitat for birds, bees and other living things to thrive.

Wyman’s attention to the planting process reminded me of the fine artist Andy Goldsworthy.  Both use natural materials to create, with failure being part and parcel of the creative act.  Wyman told us about many failed attempts to establish certain plants, only to see them move to where they wanted to be.  And he let them, and was proud to see his forest thriving.  He encouraged us,

“Embrace disaster in a forest.”  

This was the lesson he learned after one of his giant, old oak trees came down in a storm.  Instead of being upset, he realized it let light in, and created new opportunity for other light-loving plants to thrive.

This sort of stewardship is an art.  Its also about justice, as Wyman says, restoring habitat to migrating birds, and struggling plants.

Mega Joe Pye Weed taller than our host.

Mega Joe Pye Weed taller than our host.

On our tour, there were also delightful butterflies everywhere, feeding on the Joe Pye Weed that Wyman planted.  It was magical and the Joe Pye was towering, around eleven feet high, the tallest I had ever seen.

Just the night before my partner and I relaxed on our neighbor’s deck, overlooking a beautiful pool surrounded by dozens of butterflies flitting about, feasting on the lush purple Butterfly Bushes they so love.

I got kind of a sick feeling after Wyman informed us: the non-native Butterfly Bush is toxic to butterflies.  They love it but then later they lay their eggs on the plant.  After the eggs hatch and have their first meal of the poisonous plant, they die.

How’s that for unfair?
How’s that for reading a scene wrong, silly humans!

IMG_2891Wyman is continuing a legacy on this property.  According to Anna Wyman, he bought the land off Dr. Lloyd Wescott, himself a land steward.  Over the past two decades Wyman has turned Westcott’s former homestead, and the surrounding forest into a thing of abundance and beauty.  Perhaps one day his forest will be a public, and preserved space for all to enjoy, like Wescott’s land across the street.