As we observe the areas around the house, disturbed during house construction and now covered with clover and vetch to begin rejuvenating the clay soil, we can now consider next steps. The expanses of clover and vetch, mowed once or twice each year, are lush and green, but also look unnaturally bare and civilized in contrast to the wild areas beyond. Trees and shrubs are needed to bring biodiversity to the land and interest to the eye.

Before European settlement, much of southeastern Michigan was covered by oak savanna. Groupings of oak trees and native shrubs were scattered across open meadow, with at least 50% of the summer noontime sunshine reaching the ground. Fire was the main factor in maintaining the status quo.

We’ve now planted two groupings of trees and shrubs common to oak savannas. Bur oaks and swamp white oaks are surrounded by sumac, gray dogwood and native plums. We’ll stop mowing those areas and, over time, bring in grasses, flowers and forbs native to oak savannas.

For the time being, this is only a tiny nod to the past. The clover and vetch surrounding our two oak groupings have little to do with oak savannas, and we have no plans to incorporate fire as part of our land restoration. The oak groupings are more akin to permaculture guilds: groupings of plants that support each other’s growth and build soil health.

We expect that birds and small mammals will find cover and sustenance in these thickets as they grow. We’ve found several oaks in hedgerows that appear to be candidates for transplanting to create more such groupings. Blurring the line between “civilized” and “wild” parts of the land (in the midst of old field succession) seems to be a logical next step.

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