• Coming Soon – Humes Preserve, Mill Neck

    The North Shore Land Alliance purchased the Humes Estate (28 acres) from the Humes Family for conservation purposes on July 10, 2015. Two years later we purchased the adjoining Humes Japanese Stroll Garden (7-acres) and Smithers connector parcel (7 acres). The Estate property had been severely neglected for many years prior to our acquisition. It included eight structures in various stages of disrepair, a central meadow which had been used as a public dump (for a decade) and eight underground oil storage tanks that required removal! The purchase price was $5.2 Million, and the Land Alliance needed to borrow $4 Million to close the deal. At this point, some might have questioned why we took on this challenge. Five years later, thanks to the help of many (and a few complicated transactions), the Land Alliance retired its Humes debt in January 2020. With that behind us, we have begun to make the long-awaited improvements necessary to open the Humes property to the public. In this instance, foresight has paid off and things are coming together beautifully. The Land Alliance hopes the Humes Preserve will become an integral part of our community – a place where people can watch birds, observe native plants, hike woodland trails or sit on a bench by the meadow watching the grasses bend in the wind. We see this as a place where a growing family can push a stroller, a young child can safely learn to ride a bike or climb on a log and feel joy when a chipmunk pops out to say hello. We hope this will be a place where people can connect with the wonders of nature while appreciating the richness of the past and working together to build a better future. The Humes Preserve is not intended to have the manicured perfection of Planting Fields or Old Westbury Gardens, nor will it have the undisturbed nature present in Shu Swamp. It is more of an in-between place – a place where people meet nature! On one end of the preserve, one can experience the culture and formality of the Humes Japanese Stroll Garden. From there you can connect to a trail which will take you through the woods to the wonders of Shu Swamp and extends all the way to Upper Francis Pond. If you veer right, you will pass the outdoor exercise area, cross the child-friendly interior road and end up in the newly restored meadow. The possibilities are endless! While we will have to get back to you as to an exact date for opening (pending Mill Neck Village approval), we hope to welcome you later this summer. Only then will you understand why it was so important to protect this wonderful place. While taking on the debt took some courage, the conservation value of the land, then and now, was just too great to risk losing it to development. Those values included: Connectivity: With its location between Shu Swamp, Upper and Lower Francis Ponds and adjoining 15-acre Nassau County property, the Estate created an important open space corridor on the North Shore of Long Island, totaling nearly 150 contiguous acres. Water Quality: The Humes property is referenced as a priority parcel in the 2009 and 2014 New York State Open Space Conservation Plans. It is a Class I freshwater wetland area and falls within the Town of Oyster Bay’s Special Groundwater Protection Area. It also is a United States Geological Service designated watershed and in FEMA’s 100-year flood zone. Scenic and Habitat Value: The Humes property is comprised of beautiful sloping land, specimen trees, historic buildings and garden remnants. It has the potential for a series of scenic hiking trails. It will provide community access (including disability access) to a valuable natural area that has not been previously available to the public. It also is home to noteworthy flora and fauna, including regionally rare plant species. In addition, it provides an area for species adaptation as sea level rises. Historic Significance: The Humes Estate is part of a historic 1650 border treaty, which created the boundary between the Dutch to the west and the English to the east. The evolution of the property paralleled the development of the North Shore from its earliest days as a home to the Matinecock tribe, followed by farmers and finally, the country estate of former U.S. Ambassador to Austria, John P. Humes, Sr. and his prominent wife Dr. Jean Schmidlapp-Humes.


    Continue reading
  • Benefits of Native Plants

    With warmer months finally settling in and more time spent at home, many of us have been planting. Have you considered native plants when making your choices? In the past, beautiful and hearty native plant options, especially Long Island species, were not readily available but that has changed. There are numerous benefits to having these species in your garden. : Native plant species attract and support native birds, pollinators and other wildlife. Douglas Tallamy, University of Delaware Professor, points out in his now infamous Bringing Nature Home, that a native oak tree can support 500 species of butterflies and moths. The caterpillars of these insects in turn provide a large volume of food for hungry chicks. Just think about it: a single nest of recently hatched chickadees will gobble up 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars while under their parents’ care. The juicy caterpillars (and many of the insects native plants support) are easy for adults to shove into nestlings mouths. It’s no wonder nearly all (call it 96%) terrestrial bird species depend on caterpillars as a major food source while nesting. And speaking of food for wildlife, an important part of garden maintenance is not removing seed heads on plants in fall/winter. They provide further sustenance for wildlife throughout the colder months until spring arrives. In addition to food, native plant species provide many more of the shelter resources our wildlife requires than non-natives. Long Island’s warm-season grasses, for example, often grow in bunches, leaving open areas among them so that ground-nesting birds can escape from predators. Conversely, non-native species can cause harm. Note the heartbreaking effect of invasive black swallow-wort and pale swallow-wort on the Monarch butterfly. It is well known that Monarch butterfly eggs will hatch only from milkweed plants. When these butterflies instead lay eggs on swallow-wort, which are in the milkweed family (Asclepiadaceae) but native to Europe, the caterpillars will not eat them which results in wasted reproduction attempts that can cause a sink in Monarch populations. Swallow-wort can also outcompete the native milkweed. Planting natives in turn supports greater biodiversity and abundance of native wildlife. When buying, look for straight species (non-cultivars – missing the “name in quotes” following the species name). While some cultivars are bred for traits in ways that result in plants almost identical to the straight species (from a pollinator benefit perspective), many do not have the nutritional value non-cultivars do and some are even toxic to wildlife. Native species also tend to require less maintenance than their non-native counterparts. Once established, native plants generally do not need regular (if any) watering. Natives do not rely on use of fertilizers and pesticides to thrive. A reduction in phosphorus and nitrogen found in fertilizers means less algae-producing runoff into our waterbodies. Native plants, in addition, do not require mowing as lawns do. Substituting native plants for part of your lawn, then, will yield more food and shelter for wildlife while decreasing water use and contamination of our water resources. And if it’s only the bottom line that counts (though we know that for readers of Conservation News this is not the case!), keep in mind that maintaining a wetland or native grassland costs a fraction (about 15% over 20 years, according to one study by Applied Ecological Services) of lawn maintenance costs.  


    Continue reading
  • Improvements at the Humes Property

    Humes Formal Garden: Finishing touches are being made to one of the larger ongoing projects at Humes. Following the clearing of overgrowth and masonry repairs of the Innocenti & Webel designed formal garden and the refurbishment of the old tennis hut, planting is finally underway. In addition, the tennis court has been completely removed and is being converted into the visitor parking area, this time with a permeable bluestone surface! James Wellington of Innocenti & Webel was chosen as the landscape designer and has implemented a thoughtful and elegant plan. Arriving visitors will be greeted with an element of formality reminiscent of a country estate that wonderfully juxtaposes itself to the more natural elements of the adjacent meadow and woodlands. The formal garden and welcome hut complex will offer visitors a serene environment to enjoy a beautiful array of plants and shrubs, including boxwoods, holly, sedge, cypress, roses, azaleas and rhododendrons. Humes Flexes Its Muscles: The Land Alliance is excited to announce the creation of an outdoor fitness area at Humes. Thanks to the generous support of an anonymous donor and fitness enthusiast, this area will be a unique amenity enhancing the Humes visitor experience. Following multiple site visits with the donor and local trainer Carl Wermee, a discrete location next to the woodland trail has been chosen. Strategically tucked away outside a wooded area, the five-station fitness nook will offer a diverse array of exercise options. The stations are a subtle combination of steel and wood that will blend in naturally with the surrounding habitat. Tennis Hut (Before) Tennis Hut (After)


    Continue reading
  • Meadows and Trails Update

    Since our 2019 Fall Conservation News newsletter update, the Suzanne and Carter Bales Quiet Meadow has started to look more meadow-like. After two years of clearing, rubbish removal and weed management, we seeded warm-season grasses and a small volume of wildflowers (along with winter rye), in the phase one area (3.5 acres) last November. The winter rye, an annual, has taken hold to help with soil stabilization and weed competition until natives can become established. The native grasses and wildflowers will come in more gradually. To add some color to the meadow this first summer and fall, we added more mature perennial wildflowers (aster, goldenrod, phlox, indigo and others) in a number of planting locations alongside the trail, thanks to a very generous donation from the North Country Garden Club. Phase 2 areas adding up to almost an acre are still undergoing clearing and weed management but are slated to be seeded this fall. One of the highlights of our winter work was the use of a forestry mower to tackle long-entrenched woody debris in these areas. Now steps made of river stone, accompanied by an array of grasses, shrubs and wildflowers have just been installed. We were VERY surprised and delighted to receive a gift to wildlife and the meadow from Land Alliance Treasurer Jonathan Moore: an enchanting bird box he built at home by reusing cedar boards, pineapple cans and other materials. Jonathan also installed the box, facing east, adding a very welcome dimension to the meadow. MANY thanks to you, Jonathan!! Conservation News readers viewed in our last issue a network of existing and proposed trails through a corridor of 150 acres of protected land in the Beaver Brook watershed. New woodland and meadow trails at Humes and the Frost Mill Connector Parcel connect to existing ones in Shu Swamp and Upper Francis Pond to complete a five-mile circuit. Our O’Neil Stewards and volunteers are taking on some of the trail installation, vine removal, weeding and monitoring (native and invasive) plant growth along the trails and in the meadow. Steps made of river stone


    Continue reading
  • Humes Property

    Experience the History of the Humes Preserve

    The Schmidlapp-Humes Estate, now known as the Humes Preserve, has a long history that dates to the Matinecock Indian tribe’s occupation of the area. It includes 17th century boundary disputes between the Dutch and English and milling and farming from the 18th to 20th centuries. Its transformation to a country estate began in the early 1920s, during the second wave of the Country Place Era. This was a time when wealthy New York City families sought a retreat from city living and commissioned prominent architects and landscape architects to create their country estates. Articles in The New York Times and The New-York Tribune document Carl J. Schmilapp’s real estate transactions from 1924 through 1927 that resulted in an 83-acre estate complete with buildings designed by Peabody, Wilson & Brown, gardens by Ellen Biddle Shipman and Vitale and Geiffert and two stocked trout ponds and trout streams. The oldest structures we see on the property today – Rumpus House and Tavern House – served as primary residences for the Schmidlapp and Humes families for nearly a century. The transition from a single country estate to two distinct family complexes began in 1952 when Frances and Carl Schmidlapp hired architect Alfred Shaknis to design a remodeling and expansion of the two-bedroom Tavern House (located on the west side of the property along Oyster Bay Road). A year, later Frances and Carl gave their youngest daughter Jean Schmidlapp-Humes three acres of land, the now four-bedroom cottage and a garage with parking court. In 1954, Jean hired Kasso and Luce to build a children’s playhouse where the remodeled tennis hut now stands. Two years later, with a fifth son on the way, Carl Schmidlapp sold two more acres of land to the Humeses, bringing their land holding to just under 6 acres. This transaction marked the beginning of the development of the Humes family compound. The building campaign they initiated under Alfred Shaknis and guided by Innocenti & Webel’s landscape design lasted from 1954 to 1962. Projects included a second-floor addition to the Tavern House, an expansion of the garage to accommodate guest quarters, a new garage and entrance drive, a tennis court and adjoining rose garden for Jean. They also included the creation of an entertainment area complete with a swimming pool, fountain, pool house and patio with a built-in barbeque that served as the centerpiece of the property. It was outdone only by the addition of a curved stairway that led to the wine cellar constructed below a new greenhouse with a fountain and potting shed. The last major landscape undertaking was John’s Japanese Stroll Garden which was inspired by his business travel to Japan and interest in Asian culture. After his purchase of a tea house in Japan in 1962, the Tavern House back yard and pond were transformed over the next three years into a stroll garden under the direction of Joni and Douglas Defaya. When the Humes Preserve officially opens to the public, a series of photographs depicting the property’s history will be housed in the former tennis hut. The exhibition will include aerial photographs, designs from Innocenti & Webel’s archives and images from what remains of the Humes family photo albums. The tennis hut/exhibition space was recently restored through a generous grant from the Paul and Maxine Frohring Foundation. Please stop by to learn more.


    Continue reading