Naturalize Your Outdoor Spaces Stinzen Style
story and photos by Cindy Ruggieri
I’ll admit it, the term “stinzen” was new to me. But while following the stinzen planting at Flock Finger Lakes, I’ve had my eyes opened to a whole new way of naturalizing our outdoor spaces.
Flock Finger Lakes in Tioga County is the collaboration of three millennial partners – Summer Rayne Oakes, Sander van Dijk and Joey Lawrence – with a focus on the environment, learning and experimenting with different techniques and educating the public with what they have discovered along the way.
Stinzen plants are from bulbs whose origins trace back to Mediterranean and central European regions, and are often referred to as “vintage bulbs.” They naturalize easily and were commonly used over the past few centuries to beautify the old European estates but were not a style used here in the United States, where well-groomed and pristine lawns were the norm.
Enter Peggy Montgomery from the Garden Media Group, representing European bulb exporters, who were offering a grant of over 70,000 bulbs to introduce stinzen gardens to the United States as part of their effort to educate and inspire planting bulbs. “I have known Summer for a while, and knew immediately that she was the right person to implement this project,” says Montgomery. As a graduate of Cornell with a degree in Environmental Studies, Oakes had the background, knowledge and passion that Montgomery knew would be critical to the project.
I found myself arriving at Flock on a sunny autumn day in October, along with a group of enthusiastic gardening volunteers, to plant an almost quarter acre of stinzen bulbs that would bloom in the spring. The nine varieties of bulbs were mixed together to replicate how they would grow in the natural world – no order and no patterns – and also to take advantage of the different blooming times for the varieties being used.
As part of this experiment, three different planting methods were used. One portion of the ground that had been cleared was fertilized, covered with bulbs in no particular order, layered with two inches of topsoil-compost blend and finally grass-seeded. Another section was planted under existing sod by hand using an auger on an electric drill. And because of the sheer number of bulbs, a borrowed bulb machine – a modified tractor for planting bulk bulbs – was borrowed from Cornell University to plant the remaining 35,000 bulbs under the sod. And then we waited over the winter to see the results. Plant once and done, and see how your garden grows over the next decade or so.
The goal was to achieve 40% bulb coverage of the ground as the starting point. Over time, the bulbs will replicate, either naturally underground or by seed with the help of pollinators. Not only will the stinzen garden eventually become a lush carpet of flowers that continue to bloom in various cycles, it will also be a huge benefit to the pollinators that are so critical to the growing cycle of the natural world.
Although there was some level of expectation that bulbs would produce blooms starting in March, there were few flowers due to the harsh, erratic weather of the past year. But when I arrived to see the blooms in May, it was very successful in the area where the bulbs were planted under the sod. “The sod likely protected the bulbs from the harsh weather, so these bulbs were able to bloom on time and at the level of coverage we had hoped for,” Oakes explains. Flowers of various colors and heights were beautifully displayed among the blades of grass, and the worker-bee and worker-bugs were flying all around doing their job of pollination. It was naturalization at its best.
The space that had been cleared and covered with topsoil had limited growth. “I am hoping in the second year this section will produce the blooms we expect, once the bulbs have become more acclimated to the ground here,” says Oakes.
The experiment will continue over the coming years. The goal of Flock is to continually try new methods, learn from their experience and educate the public. Their YouTube channel is growing, with more than 100 videos already uploaded of interviews of people in and around the Finger Lakes and documenting their experiences on the land. I was excited to be a witness to this project start to finish and will be watching their YouTube channel through the years ahead to see how their garden grows.
Visit flockfingerlakes.com to read about their plans for Flock and to view their YouTube channel.