As you walk along toward the path to the Orchard, note the vegetation that marks its borders. On the left you will see lots of native Staghorn Sumac, while on the right the greenery is largely composed of exotic honeysuckle and buckthorn. Interspersed with these brushy shrubs, you will see occasional Black Walnut trees arching above their shorter neighbors.
These invasive shrubs can quickly take over natural areas as well as locations like this walkway. They form dense thickets which can crowd out native species and alter the composition of the habitat by decreasing the amount of light available for other plants. Both honeysuckle and buckthorn produce plentiful berries that birds and other wildlife feed on, increasing the rapidly increasing their distribution over a large area. On the Bennington campus, a recent Forest Assessment project discovered that buckthorn–which can grow to the size of a small tree–is now one of the most common species (by number of stems) found in campus forests. Control of these invasive species is difficult, since cutting or mowing can cause re-sprouting, and care must be taken not to confuse the invaders with native shrubs. Common methods of control where these species get out of control include repeated mowing, girdling, herbicide application, and controlled burning.
The Orchard on campus is the site of faculty houses, but at an earlier time it was the Jennings family apple orchard. As you walk along, notice to your right the two rectangular lawns ringed by Eastern Hemlock trees (identified by their drooping evergreen branches and tiny cones) and a few very large Silver Maples. On the left, you will see another green space, enclosed by a high brick wall and a pair of enormous wooden doors. Both this “secret” garden (now used for quiet contemplation as well as the occasional performance) and the hemlock lawns were previously the kitchen gardens that supplied the Jennings household, and later housed the chickens and turkeys that were raised at the College during the years of World War II.
As you walk through the Orchard, keep an eye out for the American Goldfinches that frequent this part of campus. These small, bright yellow and black birds can be identified by their characteristically undulating flight and “po-tato chip! po-tato chip!” call. Goldfinches fit in well at the vegetarian-friendly Bennington College—they are some of the strictest vegetarians in the bird world. While even most seed-eating birds will consume insects during the breeding season, Goldfinches eschew them almost entirely, feeding their young a steady diet of seeds from shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers.