It was just an orchid, growing in the woods not far from his house on Long Mountain Road in the dead of winter.
“My son liked to hike, and he came back one day and said he’d seen this flower growing out of the cold ground,” says Bruce Jones. “So we went back and found it, and that just started me going.”
Jones began to study everything he could find on native plants — naturally occuring flora in Rappahannock County and this part of the Piedmont — and “it just grew from there.”
“It” is now a private nature preserve surrounding the home that he and wife Susan eventually retired to, with thousands of native plants — along with the birds, insects and animals these attract — and a network of trails developed by Jones in the 15 years since spying that native orchid.
The Jones’ place near Washington is one of four wildlife-friendly farms featured on a first-ever tour sponsored by Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) on Saturday, June 19. The others are the Fannons’ Laurel Hill Preserve near Castleton, the Lathams’ Sunnyside organic farm just outside Washington and the Akres’ Rock Ford Farm at the northern edge of the county near Hume.
They’re all meant to inspire — as are the handouts, plant lists and the presence of experts at each site — those who seek a more nature-friendly direction for whatever little bit of Virginia they may have stewardship over.
An alternative, as Jones says, to covering a field with Kentucky bluegrass, say, and then shaving it down to within an inch of its life every 10 days.
At the Long Mountain preserve, Jones will lead brief tours, of his close-in preserve as well as the leased former farmland next door bring developed as a habitat for game birds and other species native to a naturally occurring Virginia grassland.
At Laurel Hill, wildlife biologist Ken Kesson will talk about what went into the 1,000 acres of rolling hills and extensive shallow wetlands that are managed for upland game birds and waterfowl, and why ducks and Bobwhite quail populations are growing. He’ll also talk about programs that help pay for habitat improvements on private land, and those interested can take a short walk to a quail-specific habitat.
At Sunnyside, you’ll see and hear how the Lapham family has taken on the twin goals of sustainable agriculture — this being a certified working organic farm — and ecological restoration, and what the Lathams have learned about the connection between biological diversity and sustainable agriculture.
At the Akres’ Rock Ford Farm off Crest Hill Road, tour participants can see how design with native plants can be as inviting as a traditional Virginia garden. At the farm, natives provide food and shelter for turtles, toads, insects and birds that need only small areas to live. Dee Akre will describe the landscape plan, the stages of the process, the plants and how you can make a place for wildlife around your house. The tour organizers will provide handouts that explain where to get help, find plants and estimate costs. The tour will be run rain or shine.
For reservations contact Sabrina at 540-347-2334 (or firstname.lastname@example.org) by Friday, June 11. For a map and other details: www.pecva.org.