Unconventional by Nature

Hawthorne Valley Association

In May 2022, Hawthorne Valley Farm and Farmscape Ecology Program (FEP) teamed up to honor Hawthorne Valley’s 50th anniversary by planting a 350-foot long hedgerow, featuring the valley’s namesake hawthorn trees. Farmers, staff, students from Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School and the Visiting Students Program, and volunteers helped to plant over a dozen different varieties of mostly native trees and shrubs, many of which were sourced from Arthur’s Point Farm’s ecological plant nursery.


“Tree planting, and especially hedgerows, connects the past with the future,” says Spencer Fenniman, Director of Farm Operations. “The impulse was also to create a beautiful, vibrant walkway for students and campers that could also serve as a landing place for art.”


The chosen location for the hedgerow is along a well-worn lane that is frequented by dairy cows, students, summer campers, and staff alike as they walk to and from pastures and forests. To further enhance the landscape, in the fall of 2022, artist Patty Harris installed “Milkweed Phenology: Illustration of the Life Cycle of Milkweed” along the hedge through a partnership with Millay Arts FollyFields Artist-in-Residence Program.


In these two years, the trees and shrubs have started to establish themselves, despite repeatedly being grazed by deer and enduring drought that first summer. Staff members, especially Hawthorne Valley’s Executive Director Martin Ping, and volunteers dedicated many hours walking the hedge with hose in hand to ensure the plants received adequate water. Today, the elderberry trees are standing tall over the shorter hawthorns and other varieties that continue to grow.


Ecologically speaking, the hedgerow has extended the riparian corridor on the farm further into the fields. Claudia Knab-Vispo, botanist and FEP co-director, says the wide variety of plants used in the hedgerow not only creates more biodiversity on the farm but also provides resilience from disease like Cedar-apple rust and adds prolonged beauty to the landscape.


“When you make hedges out of one species, they provide flowers or fruits in their one brief period but then there’s nothing else all year,” she says. “If you have a variety, then you spread out the flower resources for the pollinators, and also the food resources for the birds later in the season.”


As the hedge grows, it will create the practical benefit of providing a windbreak for the farm’s barn complex, but its true value to the landscape far exceeds that. Spencer reflects that Rudolf Steiner, in his agricultural lectures delivered in June of 1924, speaks to the hedges, the shrubs, the bird life, the insects, and so on, having a strong effect on the farm as a whole.


“Providing expanded places for this ecological edge effect creates biological complexity in the landscape, and the addition of art and location of a corridor frequented by students, faculty, staff, and visitors unites this biologically complexity with the educational, artistic, and agricultural activities at Hawthorne Valley,” Spencer says. “Sharing spaces like this provokes encounters with other life cycles and opportunities for new ways of thinking and growing relationships.”


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