Tucked away on Featherbed Lane, a little stone house built circa 1935 by Mathematics Professor Cletus Oakley, houses one of Haverford’s many hidden garden treasures. Five years ago Richard Ball took over the reins when Professor Lyle Roelof moved on to Colgate University and he has waged war on invasive plant species ever since. Gout weed, Lesser celandine and Norway maple don’t stand a chance when faced with Richard’s boundless energy. He won’t admit how many hours he spends in the garden but looking at what he’s accomplished over the last several years, it’s quite a lot.
While Richard loves most plants he considers himself a tree man. Scattered around his wooded garden are, at last count, 25 small trees that he has planted. Whether he bought them from the Forest Farm nursery catalog, a local native plant sale, or plucked them out of cracks in the sidewalk in Avalon, each plant is lovingly labeled the year it was planted and fenced off. Not just for protecting it from deer, but his own feet as he moves through the garden.
Chemical free, Richard has some unique ways of dealing with invasive species. Lesser celandine over the last decade has taken over our local woodlands, choking out the native flora. Richard has hand dug the bulbs, wheelbarrowed them over to a remote part of the property, and has covered the bulbs with a tarp. He’s hoping, one day, to be able to use the soil again. Another technique is picking up discarded boxes from the Dining Center and laying them over the plants he wants to eradicate and covering them with compost or wood chips. Previously, he had been using old carpet to smother the plants, but felt the cardboard boxes were a more sustainable approach as they can be tilled in once they break down.
Moving through the Dahlias, Crocosmia and Daylilies you come upon a grove with stone picnic benches built by Oakley, the home’s original owner. Shaded by evergreens, the tables and benches are covered with rocks. When asked about them Richard replied, “They just grow by themselves.” What to do with them? “My plan is to make a plan,” he replied.
His love for the garden is unmistakable. As horticulturists, the Arboretum crews have often walked through his garden and appreciated his work. Richard commented that this is the first year he feels that he’s seeing results that even the lay person can appreciate. So next time you bump into Richard on campus, ask him about his garden, he’ll be happy to fill you in.