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From Alfalfa to Pasqueflower – Building a Home for Nature in Harvard

Published on
23 March 2023
Christine and Paul Rechten

When Paul and Christine Rechten bought a four-acre parcel outside of Harvard in 1971, the land had lived its most recent years as an alfalfa field. Before they even moved to the property, they planted trees – about 300 trees of various sizes – each year for four years. They continue the work of planting trees, although not as many as in the early years.

They started living on the property in 1976 while building their home and making plans to become part-time homesteaders, growing their own food and raising animals, which they did for about 12 years.

Eventually their evergreen plantings shaded out the alfalfa, allowing woodland flowers and hardwoods to grow. Paul, who has been a rock collector all his life, added many rocks to the landscape. He would go to a limestone quarry near Milwaukee to load up, building low walls throughout the woods so ferns, hepaticas and columbines could grow out of them.

In the drier areas, the Rechtens planted prairie grasses and forb plugs. After visiting and taking inspiration from some dry sand prairies, they ordered five truckloads of sand to create a firmly established colony of pasqueflower.

The growth of a conifer planting in the northwest section of the property allowed for the self-introduced Purple Twayblade orchid. Downy Rattlesnake orchid self-seeded after the Rechtens introduced it on the eastern side of the property. They also planted Yellow Lady Slipper in the woodland, and they enjoy the wild turkeys that roost in the trees planted in the early years.

Yellow lady slipper, Jacob’s ladder and shooting star
Spring ephemerals in bloom
Downy rattlesnake orchid
A view of the woodland on the Rechtens’ property

As Christine says, “We enjoy the diversity of life! We’re always looking for new species of native plants that might be willing to grow on our property.” They created paths for highlighting certain plants such as Maidenhair ferns, Twinleaf, Rue Anenome, Hepaticas, orchids, and various species of Trillium.

Like most native gardeners that have disturbed soil, they work to control invasives. They have spent more than a decade of springtimes controlling garlic mustard, vinca, creeping Charlie and honeysuckle. Years ago, at the height of the garlic mustard problem, they pulled, bagged, dried, and burned 40-plus lawn bags of it in one season. Now they are down to one pail on their property and one bag from the surrounding neighbors’ properties.

Because of the land’s special features and the work they’ve done to restore it, they decided to work with TLC to preserve it for life with a conservation easement. The property lies in close proximity to Crowley Sedge Meadow, Crowley Oaks and Alden Gap as well as three other private conservation easements. This space is important because it is in a sensitive aquifer recharge area and provides habitat for native flora and fauna of McHenry County, along with scenic views and educational opportunities for the general public.

In addition to placing a conservation easement on the land, the Recthens plan to donate their land and house to TLC through their will. They hope that their home and land can be used for staff or intern housing and educational purposes. Once TLC owns a property it can actively manage it in perpetuity. The long-term management of the property will be funded by a special fund set up by the Rechtens through TLC; after ownership is transferred, TLC will utilize the funds annually to maintain upkeep on the property.

As Paul says, “When one cares for a piece of land, it’s like your baby. You shape it to your values, loving to watch as it changes and grows. After several decades, it responds to the care with a flourish. The property, like the house, are uniquely designed features, so donating our land to TLC makes sense. Our vision and TLC’s will be the same for the land.”

Thank you Christine and Paul for preserving your land for life!