There are great views of distant hills but that isn’t how Distant Hill Gardens gets its name. The property sits up on a knoll which was once called Distant Hill. What started out as 21 acres has now grown to 58 acres and includes its own Christmas tree plantation and a sugar bush that produces plenty of maple syrup each year.
There is a pond on the property along with several vernal pools and a cranberry bog as well.
I think this was the smallest water lily I’ve ever seen. It was a beautiful little thing that would have fit in a tea cup.
My favorite part of the property is the cranberry bog where round leaved sundews, pitcher plants, tawny cotton grass, cranberries, and rose pogonia orchids grow. Originally a pond with a small island, the island has grown into a floating mat of sphagnum mosses that now covers a large area. I’ve never heard of this happening so quickly but it has all happened since Michael and his wife bought the property. Michael figures that nearly a foot of peat has been produced in a little over 30 years, and that is astounding. I’ve always read that peat takes many thousands of years to accumulate.
Technically the bog is really a fen, which has less peat and more plant species than a bog. A boardwalk lets you walk right out into it and get close enough to the plants to touch them.
There were plenty of cranberries to be seen though they were far from ripe at this time of year. When they ripen the Nerries will harvest them.
Tawny cotton grass (Eriophorum virginicum) is really a sedge and has tufts of silky hairs at the end of a long slender stem. These examples were just starting to bloom but as the season progresses the white hairs will grow longer until the whole mass looks like a ball of cotton at the end of a stick. The white hairs are actually the flower bristles and the “tawny” part of this plant’s common name comes from the way they are often tinted a reddish brown coppery color. It was great to be able to see it up close just as it was starting to bloom.
Near the cranberry bog is a seep where all kinds of fascinating things grow. I never would have seen this tiny eyelash fungus (Scutellinia scutellata) without Michael’s help because I have trouble seeing red and it wasn’t much bigger than a pea. This fungus gets its common name from the eyelash like hairs that grow around its rim. You have to look closely at this photo to see them, but they’re there. This fungus seems to like a lot of water; this example grew on a rotting twig that was lying in water. Another common name is Molly eye-winker.
Another oddity that grew in the seep were swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans,) one of the only fungi that I know of that grows in water. They are classified as “amphibious fungi” and use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low-oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue they aren’t found on twigs or bark and this photo shows how they are growing out of a saturated leaf. Another common name is “matchstick fungus” and that’s exactly what they remind me of because they are just about the size of a wooden match. I had never seen this fungus before my visit to Distant Hill Gardens but now I’m seeing them everywhere.
Back in the cranberry bog a clump of northern pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) grew far enough from the boardwalk to be just out of reach. Michael said that these plants were dying and you can see the progression of their death in this photo, from bright red to brown to white, where they finally fall over and lay like sun bleached bones on the reddish moss. He said he suspects that the plants are struggling because the pH of the water has changed slightly. That’s the thing about bogs and fens; the plants that grow in them are very fussy about growing conditions. Everything has to come together perfectly, and that’s why these plants are rarely seen.
Though many bog and fen plants are rarely seen, when they find a spot that they like their numbers can be amazing. Round leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) was a good example of that and grew everywhere you looked. This is another plant that I have trouble seeing due to its color and very small size, but now that I’ve seen them growing naturally I hope to see more. Since bogs and fens are so low in nutrients this plant and others like the pitcher plant have evolved to be insect eaters. By doing so they get all the nutrients they need.
In just a short time at Distant Hill Gardens I saw more than a dozen plants and fungi that I had never seen before, and the high point was the rose pogonia orchids (Pogonia ophioglossoides.) This is a plant that I’ve hoped to find for years so I was very happy to see it. They were there by the hundreds and it looked like the fen was alive with pink butterflies. Michael surprised me by saying that they hadn’t been there but for a few years. Once the island in the pond started to grow and form sphagnum mats the orchids just appeared, as if they had been waiting for just such an opportunity. They were beautiful things and I felt very lucky to be able to get close enough to smell their delicate fragrance.
John Muir once found a rare calypso orchid and wrote “I never before saw a plant so full of life, so perfectly spiritual. I felt as if I were in the presence of superior beings who loved me and beckoned me to come. I sat down beside them and wept for joy.” As I knelt beside the rose pogonia with the water of the fen wetting my knees I knew just how he must have felt.
Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. ~Anonymous
Thanks for stopping in. If you’re able to I hope you’ll visit Distant Hill. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget, of that I am certain.