Samantha Pullaro: The Butterfly Effect
Master Gardener Samantha Pullaro may be your garden’s best friend. Her knowledge and love for gardening and native landscaping is making her passion an in-demand skillset as the planting season approaches.
Although she was always interested in plants, Samantha says her passion really developed after she and her husband moved to Madison in 2009. It was the first time as a homeowner she was able to express herself and develop her skills in a large format.
“When my husband and I first moved here, it was the first time I actually owning a home and a yard,” says Samantha. “I think back then I was thinking of my yard as a three-dimensional painting and really just had fun with it. There wasn’t really much but some hostas around the foundation but not a whole lot else that was interesting. So, I started thinking that I really needed to figure it out and learn how to do gardening. So, I started buying things I thought looked pretty and just planting them.”
Though she wasn’t successful with some of her first planting attempts, Samantha says she gradually began to understand what was working and what wasn’t.
“I started to pay attention more to other people’s yards. I looked at what I liked and didn’t like and then just started to understand why some plants thrived and why some didn’t. Then I began to realize that native plants could do the same thing.
“I had always thought native plants were boring. A lot don’t have the same look as the European and Chinese ones that are imported,” she recalls. “I also realized that I have a lot more bird life and insect life as things developed.”
Storms Sandy and Irene also provided unintended opportunities for Samantha when several trees in her yard had to be removed.
“We had to cut down some trees that were either a danger or had been destroyed by storms Sandy and Irene. Some plants and shrubs weren’t doing well, but things really changed because we went from a very shady yard to a very sunny yard,” says Samantha. “But that’s where you learn what lives and what doesn’t.”
As her knowledge and skills developed, Samantha says she wanted to become even more adept at landscaping and decided to become a master gardener. Programs offered by UConn allowed her to gain this certification and since 2018 she has been providing hands on detailed advice to area planters on how best to start, maintain, and protect their properties and gardens.
“You learn so much about why things work in the course,” says Samantha. “The master gardener program kind of taught me ‘This is what happens, this is why, and insects and bird life need this.’ It sounds cliché, but I learned to see the way nature works, instead of just asking, ‘Where are my birds?’ It was because I had no food” for them.
“I learned about invasive plants. They really aren’t useful,” she adds. “I was really so fascinated with the way the soil interacted with the life in it. The trees and how it affected them. You don’t want bugs or fungus on your plants, but actually sometimes you do. All you’re ever taught is to get rid of bugs and insects, but they are critical to a healthy garden.”
Lawns are one area that Samantha has taken a different view on since her certification.
“To have a really lush green carpet of a lawn, you really have to use a lot of water, and I didn’t to have to do that. I didn’t seem right to use such a precious resource just to make the lawn green. I just said, ‘Let’s just skip this and just let the clover grow on my lawn.’ It helps replenish the nitrogen system in your lawn and it’s like using fertilizer. From a distance, you can’t tell our lawn is clover, so things like that started happening.”
Utilizing native species is also an important factor in Samantha’s designs and advice. These species are often easier to care for and far more beneficial than ornamental species, says Samantha.
“I got tired of spending money on plants and the species that are not native need a lot more work, generally. So, there was fascination to the way things worked and how plants reacted to different conditions,” says Samantha. “I guess it’s turned into a situation where I’d like to see some of the damage undone.”
Samantha became involved with the Scranton Library after noticing some volunteers pulling weeds outside the building one afternoon.
“At one point the library had a lot of weeds growing out front on Route One. The library and the town had put so much money and effort into the new building and we all wanted to make it beautiful. There were other volunteers who were helping pull weeds and they were organized about it but it wasn’t an official thing. So I said, ‘I’m a master gardener and...what can we do about this?’ I spoke with [Library Director] Sunnie [Scarpa] about some things they might want to consider and the programs developed form there,” Samantha says. “So, I then started to arrange for speakers that are extremely knowledgeable in their field and are excellent teachers. There is a trend happening.”
This led to collaborations with the Scranton and Samantha now teaches a weekly question and answer session in-person at the library and also helps coordinate their gardening lecture series, which is starting up again soon.
“I will answer any gardening question whatsoever. Any plant problem—asking is fine. I call it a clinic and I do that once a week,” says Samantha.
Samantha is a promoter of pollinator pathways as well. These types of projects have gained converts in the last few years by working to wardthe goal of creating even small patches of native pollinator-friendly species of plants that are beginning to help restore the area’s ecosystems. Samantha says there are a number of things gardeners can do to not only promote a healthy environment, but also minimize the homeowner maintenance efforts.
“My first recommendation is that if you want to plant things that don’t require a lot of work, you need to plant mostly natives,” says Samantha. “My other advice is to really notice the sun patterns in your yard. Certain plants need full sun, some don’t. You need to take the time to learn about plants before you start planting.
“You’re taught that you need fertilizers and in fact you really don’t,” she continues. “You don’t need to go hog wild with chemicals. Even the smallest contribution to a pollinator pathway in your yard really helps reestablish a cycle of life here. It’s a much healthier environment not just for plants and birds, and insects for people as well. It really is.”
Some Samantha’s favorite plants include native species that promote a healthy ecosystem and less water use.
“I won’t plant any more non-natives. I am keeping those that I have planted, but I only allowed a few non-natives to propagate,” Samantha says. “I really like switch grass, asters, and also native trees. I really like red osier dogwood as a tree. I like the beautiful trees and beautiful bird life.”
For more info on Samantha’s programs at the Scranton and for the library’s schedule of other gardening programs visit www.scrantonmemoriallibrary.org. To contact Samantha with questions, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.