The development of Wildside Cottage and Gardens surprised Sue Bridge. She spent an active life learning and working. She earned a Masters degree in Russian and Middle Eastern studies, learned about different worlds while hitchhiking to Morocco, worked for the Christian Science Monitor, and learned how to gather information and pass it on through print and electronic media. She also supported environmental causes because of her belief that future generations would face great challenges.
Ten years ago she bought eight acres on the hills of Conway where she built a small, off-the-grid house she named Wildside and set herself to building a sustainable homestead. Soon word spread about what she was doing, and it did not take long before local people began asking to come and see. She had long been a communicator in one way or another and realized she had now an opportunity to share what she was learning about the land, about food, about energy and a new way of living.
I first visited Bridge three years ago. I asked her if she had ever imagined that she would be giving tours of Wildside to adults and to children. She shook her head and smiled. “I did not intend, but I do not resist,” she said.
On that first visit three years ago she invited me into her solar powered home. I opened the French doors from the living room and walked out onto the stone terrace to admire the view of planted terraces falling away down the hillside, the little greenhouse with its sod roof, and several fruit trees all embraced by the surrounding hills. She does not care for all this by herself.
Jono Neiger of Regnerative Design was early on the scene, but he has been joined by others, from summer interns to teachers.
The word ‘gardens’ does not begin to describe the way vegetables, fruits and nuts are grown on Bridge’s eight acres. A map she has created of the space divides it into areas by use. Bridge gave me my own tour beginning with the area around the house with its solar panels, root cellar and terraced beds.
We walked down the hill to the greenhouse with its sod roof. Three years ago it was filled with a winter’s worth of sweet potatoes as well as small plantings of ginger and turmeric. Now a fig tree is bearing fruit.
A large vegetable garden lies next to the greenhouse, and I was able to walk around the fence in the new deer deterrent path. The path was mowed and shrubs with fodder for deer were planted while tall saplings visually reinforced the wire fence. Marauding deer can eat their fill of berries or fruit intended for them, but will be disoriented by the organization of space and barriers and will not try to get over the fence. Deer do not jump over fences unless they understand where they will be landing.
Bridge walked me past the rice bed. It cannot be called a rice paddy where rice is planted in a submerged bed; she use a dry bed technique. Three years ago that bed was quite small, but it has grown to encompass 450 square feet.
On our way back up the hill to the house we passed through the ForestGarden which includes blueberry bushes and a variety of fruit trees from apples to paw paws. Bridge has also planted what she calls Fertility Beds. These beds of comfrey, bush clover and switch grass are cut down twice a year and used as mulch or compost.
Comfrey is known as a dynamic accumulator whose deep roots gather nutrients like nitrogen and potassium from the soil, and then returns them to the soil as it decomposes. Bush clover is a legume which can also fix nitrogen. These are sustainable ways that soil is improved without chemical fertilizers.
It was on this hill that I first met mountain mint that attracts many kinds of bees, beneficial wasps, butterflies and moths who are all busy pollinators. I have added it to my own garden and love watching all those busy bees.
We walked and compared notes and experiences in the garden, some of which were more humorous than instructive, but I have always said that there are mysteries – and a lot of fun to be found in the garden.
Bridge told me about the teacher from WellesleyCollege who came to teach school children about bees and other pollinators. In order to examine the pollinators more closely, the children caught them in plastic tubes (formerly holding tennis balls) and laid the tubes in an ice filled cooler. Within 10 minutes the pollinators had fallen asleep and could be closely examined with out fear of stinging. This is a technique that is sure to enchant grandchildren and others of your acquaintance! This is training for citizen science at a very young age.
We can all learn about how to use our land, whether acres or backyards, more sustainably from Bridge’s example at the Wildside Cottage and Gardens. She has a website,www. wildsidecottageandgardens.org and will be holding workshops. However, some of us older folks have an opportunity to get a virtual tour of Wildside. Sue Bridge will be speaking on Planting for Uncertain Times at the Greenfield Community College Senior Symposium at the Downtown Campus on Wednesday, November 9 from 2-4 pm with many photographs to illustrate the projects at Wildside Cottage and Gardens. You can call 413-775-1605 for more information.
Between the Rows October 29, 2016