Some Swell Swale: An Analysis of My Relationship with a Developing Garden

By Andrea Brown ’19

The native pollinator garden at Dumbarton Oaks, recently designed and planted by Tyler Fellow Deirdre Moore, is named “Some Swell Swale” after the Maurice Sendak story “Some Swell Pup.”

Sendak CoverThe alliteration potential was likely the reason for the naming. However, as the Garden Biodiversity intern, the garden is my summer project. I have realized that there are some deeper connections between the children’s book and my relationship with the newly planted garden back behind the parking lot.

The story of “Some Swell Pup” proceeds as follows: A brother and sister buy a puppy. They realize how hard it is to control said puppy. Finally, they come to appreciate the puppy for the young lovable doggo it is, despite its messiness. The tale also features a wise old dog with a purple cloak.

My relationship with the garden has followed a similar path. I will describe the three phases of the experience.

Phase One: We Just Got a Puppy and We’re So Excited

Book: Isn’t she cute?

Me, first day: The garden is so cool. All the plants are native and have been chosen to attract a diverse array of pollinators to the garden. I get to learn how to identify a bunch of native plants that I actually have a chance of seeing around the area.

Phase Two: The Dog Is Chewing Up Our Chair

Book: Our house is just a shambles! We know that mutt is a raving lunatic! It eats everything and makes messes everywhere!Garden 2

Me: The garden was so recently planted that nothing is flowering yet. The Coreopsis are only two inches high and the planted trees are either a foot tall or half dead.

One day, a woman, peering through the fence next to the garden, asked if we were going to plant anything there, even though we were done with the planting. (Note: this phase occurred during a really hot day of weeding in the garden, and thankfully passed quite quickly.)

Phase Three: Oh, I Get It. We Can’t Expect a Puppy to Be Trained Yet.

Book: After some guidance from the wise cloaked dog, the children begin to realize that raising a puppy takes effort. “Hey, he bit me!… That’s love…How sweet,” they say.

Me: We can’t expect the garden to be lush and in full bloom just a few weeks after it was planted. The fact that the plants are taking in the sandy soil (used so that water running off from the parking lot will percolate more quickly) is really encouraging. After mulching, the garden looks much more finished, and I’ve already seen a few bees and wasps checking out the garden. Weeding the garden also gives me the chance to watch the native plants develop and work on my plant identification skills. Plus, the milkweed is flowering!

Garden 3When more plants begin to flower, I will be working with Kim Frietze, another gardener here, on sampling and collecting pollinators who visit the garden. This will give us an idea of how successful various plants are in attracting specific species, and will allow us to have some insight into the success a native plant garden can have in attracting native pollinators.

At the end of these three phases, the children of “Some Swell Pup” are looking forward to their years with the pup, just as I am excited about my summer with the garden.

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