Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Life & Style

When the Plant World Has Other Ideas

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The Westbrook Garden Club tackled the renovation of a feral Post Road location in early 2018. 

Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly

The Westbrook Garden Club tackled the renovation of a feral Post Road location in early 2018. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly)

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Tom Christopher of Middletown attended the first Earth Day at his high school. It proved an important turning point for Christopher, who went on to a notable career in landscape journalism and horticultural communications. 

Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly

Tom Christopher of Middletown attended the first Earth Day at his high school. It proved an important turning point for Christopher, who went on to a notable career in landscape journalism and horticultural communications. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly)

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Suzanne Thompson of Old Lyme founded Nix the Knotweed in 2020. Today, the group works in Niantic, Old Lyme, and Lyme to fight infestations of Japanese knotweed. Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly

Suzanne Thompson of Old Lyme founded Nix the Knotweed in 2020. Today, the group works in Niantic, Old Lyme, and Lyme to fight infestations of Japanese knotweed. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly)

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Today, the Tom ODell Meadow Walk is a vibrant space filled with native plants, thanks to the efforts of the Westbrook Garden Club. Enjoy it by visit the gardens next to the Westbrook Post Office at 1411 Boston Post Road. 

Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly

Today, the Tom ODell Meadow Walk is a vibrant space filled with native plants, thanks to the efforts of the Westbrook Garden Club. Enjoy it by visit the gardens next to the Westbrook Post Office at 1411 Boston Post Road. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly)

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Volunteer groups such as New London Trees add trees to city streets and educate residents about trees. 

Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly

Volunteer groups such as New London Trees add trees to city streets and educate residents about trees. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly)

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Street trees often have short, difficult lives. They face both natural and human-generated challenges. Here, an Essex Tree Committee sign shows the public this young street tree has a sponsor. Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly

Street trees often have short, difficult lives. They face both natural and human-generated challenges. Here, an Essex Tree Committee sign shows the public this young street tree has a sponsor. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly)

Once upon a time, I called a newspaper editor and inquired if she needed a garden column. She said they’d give me a try, and this column, Green & Growing, launched in February 2013. This edition marks the 10th Earth Day since the column began and about the 150th installment.

I started out imagining that I’d write veggie and flower garden how-to articles with an organic flair and a local bent.

But my subject, the plant world, had other ideas. As I keyboarded tales from the landscape of the Connecticut River Valley and Long Island Sound shoreline, the plants themselves made me aware of their world and their partners—the birds, insects, wildlife, soil, water, and weather.

Nature, I was reminded, is like a dancer with an indescribably intricate routine. We humans assume we can rely upon our dance partner entirely and indefinitely. But everything has its limits.

As I wrote about invasive plants, plant diseases, jumping worms, declining numbers of pollinators, and the precarious lives of urban and suburban street trees, the message was more and more troubling.

Conventional garden topics seemed trivial by comparison. I found myself unable to write about one tomato variety versus another, the colors available in zinnias, or the latest news in lawn care.

Instead, the work of dedicated conservation volunteers caught my attention. I saw the difference made by hardworking garden clubs, met inspiring forest managers and aspiring master gardeners, and visited farmers who experimented with new growing methods, including ocean farmers. I met insightful garden center owners, reviewed some eye-opening books, and spoke with stimulating authors.

I heard the success stories of people who planted street trees in New London and visited the bird gardens at Meigs Point Nature Center in Madison. I saw the knotweed warriors who successfully fight this invasive plant with simple clippers and strategic timing in Niantic, Lyme, and Old Lyme.

Luckily, knowledgeable professionals at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and the UConn Extension System were patient with my inquiries about complex topics. They supplied direction and information more times than I could count.

I learned, too, that positive trends are underway.

The popularity of native plants may be one of the most remarkable turnarounds of the past decade. According to more than one expert, native plants in our backyards and streetscapes can directly improve the survival of insect species. All food chains ultimately involve insects, both as ecosystem engineers and as food for other creatures. My investigations have concluded that insect Armageddon is not an academic question; it is an impending threat.

Had anyone even heard of a pollinator pathway 10 years ago? Today, there are town chapters in almost half the state’s 169 municipalities. Members take a pledge to plant for pollinators and declare their pesticide-free practices. Their participation is made visible through lawn signs. The message is contagious, and the movement is increasing.

Plant shoppers who take the time to seek out and care for native plants are a part of the solution, both directly and indirectly. Because people buy native plants, the nursery trade responds with more offerings. Our state has at least two all-native nurseries, and numerous garden centers feature a growing list of native plants.

Connecticut’s Northeast Organic Farming Association launched an organization that finds and distributes eco-typical native plant seeds. Its work may further improve the outlook for the region’s insects—for more information, visit www.Eco59.com.

Many would say the Internet and social media are mixed blessings. However, for those of us trying to find the right native plant for a place, the Internet is a free, reliable support system. Who would have thought there would be a Connecticut Native Plants Facebook page 10 years ago? For more information, visit www.facebook.com/groups/connecticutnativeplants.

Also, see below for a list of plant-finding databases. The wealth of information listed here will help you customize your native plant selections.

Earth Day events are easy to find in the next few weeks. We have listed just a few here and many others can be found with a simple Internet search.

Implement one new idea. Tell your friends and family what you are doing. When they see your idea, they may adopt it. Then, their friends and family may see it and adopt it. Begin anywhere; begin now.

Online Native Plant Selection Tools

Native Plant Trust: plantfinder.nativeplanttrust.org/Plant-Search

National Wildlife Foundation: www.nwf.org/nativePlantFinder/plants

Host plants for specialist bees: www.jarrodfowler.com/host_plants.html

Native plant species for specific birds: www.audubon.org/native-plants

Pollinator conservation resources: xerces.org/pollinators-northeast-region

Pollinator Pathway: www.pollinator-pathway.org

Pollinators in Connecticut: portal.ct.gov/CAES/Publications/Publications/Pollinator-Information

University Rhode Island Native Plant Search: web.uri.edu/rinativeplants

Earth Day 2022 Events

Earth Day: Does it make a difference?

I remember a friend, Tom Christopher of Middletown, who once told me (proudly) he had attended the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.

“The first Earth Day was transformational for me,” said Christopher. “We celebrated it at my school with a panel of speakers. I was 16, and I had grown up hiking, hunting, and fishing, but also watching the farms and fields around my town fall victim to suburban development.”

On that long-ago April day, after listening to the speakers, Christopher resolved to devote himself in some way to restoring nature to the extent he could.

“That’s what I’ve been doing, more or less, one garden at a time, ever since,” he says.

Christopher became a professional gardener, a landscape journalist, and the author or editor of nearly two dozen books on horticulture, land care, and gardening. He has won national awards for his work. Visit his website and listen to his informative weekly podcasts at www.thomaschristophergardens.com. Since that long-ago Earth Day, his work has reached thousands, if not millions of people.

Christopher adds, “I have never lost the optimism of that first Earth Day. For all the problems we face today (at times they do seem overwhelming), we have also made great progress in education, and now there is a wonderful new generation taking up the battle.”

Go ahead. Find some ideas below for Earth Day events in your area. It matters.

Earth Day Events in Eastern Connecticut

Thursday, April 21, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.: Mercy by the Sea, 167 Neck Road, Madison, will host Contemplating With Creation, An Earth Day mini-retreat with Christina Leaño. Participants of all faith backgrounds or “none” are welcome. No experience is necessary.

Thursday, April 21, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. A River Speaks screening at Scranton Library, Madison. A documentary that explores humanity’s relationship with rivers, focusing on the Mill River in New Haven. Director Steve Hamm will also present his book The Pivot: Addressing Global Problems Through Local Action.

Friday, April 22, 3 to 4 p.m.: Earth Day Climate Strike, State Capitol, 210 Capitol Ave., Hartford, Friday, “As the climate crisis accelerates, we need to see action at every level of government.” For more info, email sunriseconnecticut@gmail.com.

Friday, April 22, 7 p.m.: Spring Emergence: An Exploration of Wildflowers in Pleasant Valley and Jewett Preserves with naturalist Mike Zarfos. This Zoom event is the third in a preserve exploration with Zarfos. For more info, email sue.cope@lymelandtrust.org.

Saturday, April 23, 9 a.m. to noon: Spring Into Action, an Earth Day Fair on the Branford Green, 1011 Main Street, Branford. More details at www.livingwiselyandwell.org. This year’s Branford Clean-Up Day will also take place on April 23. Volunteers with questions email heatherwsweeney@gmail.com. Rain date: Sunday, April 24, noon to 3 p.m.

Saturday, April 23, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.: Old Growth Forest Walk at Johnston Preserve, Route 82, Lyme. Presenter is Anthony Irving. Preregister at openspace@townlyme.org.

Saturday, April 23, 10 a.m. to noon: Beach and Trails Clean-Up, Hammonasset Beach State Park, Meigs Point Nature Center. Pre-register with Jamesmazur@gmail.com. For more info, visit www.hammonasset.org.

Saturday, April 23, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Sierra Club Table at Hamden Earth Day Celebration, Hamden Middle School, 2623 Dixwell Avenue, Hamden. For more info, email Ann Gadwah at ann.gadwah@sierraclub.org.

Saturday and Sunday, April 23 & 24, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Madison Earth Care will hold its Earth Day Festival & Market. It also will be celebrating 50 years as a family-owned business in Madison. 1250 Durham Road, Madison.

Wednesday, April 27, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.: Webinar: “Pollinator Pathway: Take It to the Next Level.” Presenter is Kathy Connolly. Sponsored by the Middletown Pollinator Pathway. Register with Middletown.Pollinator.Pathway@gmail.com

Saturday, April 30, 8 a.m. Old Saybrook Green Up Day. Meet at the Town Green at 8 a.m. for coffee and get garbage bags. Register atosgreenup.weebly.com.

Saturday, April 30, Rock to Rock Earth Day Ride, East Rock Park, College Woods, Cold Spring, Orange Streets, New Haven. More than 20 partner organizations are working together in response to the climate emergency. Register at www.rocktorock.org.






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