Friday, December 16, 2016

11th Annual Gathering focused on Biodiversity in the Landscape

by Jenna Messier, Director of the NOFA Organic Land Care Program

The 11th Annual Gathering of Organic Land Care Pros was a huge success on December 9th! 
AOLCPs and other land care professionals from nine states came together to review the current state of pollinators, such as monarch butterflies and numerous species of bees, and to discuss how landscapers can influence their clients to provide diverse plantings and habitat which support the growth and development of critical species of pollinators.

Diane St. John - Monarch butterfly enthusiast

We started the day with Diane St. John, Retail Manager from Natureworks Organic Garden Center located in Northford, CT.  Diane spoke about their incredible annual project which raised over 700 monarch butterflies last season, and how they do so to increase the monarch population and to educate the public -both of which they have achieved.  Diane explained that the rearing of butterflies is a laborious task and described to the audience how sensitive these creatures are to any pesticides or even simple household cleaners which can cause their deaths upon contact.  Diane gave us a nice list of recommendations for creating monarch habitat:
  1. Plant Asclepias species to attract monarchs to lay eggs
  2. Plant nectar plants (lots of flowers!)
  3. Avoid using any pesticides
  4. Limit mowing in an area of your yard
  5. Share the experience with friends, neighbors and clients
  6. Contribute to and support conservation efforts 
Karen Bussolini with her publications
Karen Bussolini, author and garden photographer, wowed the audience with "The Year-Round Pollinator Garden" and shared tons of photos of lovely, diverse plantings. Karen recommends - at minimum - to have three blooming plants for Spring, Summer and Fall because so many of our unrecognized pollinators are active throughout the year.  The bonus for the gardener will be two-fold: more flowers to enjoy and more wildlife will visit your garden. Don't forget flowering trees such as willows, witch hazels,  tulip trees and magnolias.  Karen also joked with the audience that "Friends don't let friends plant annuals" which is not a true indication of your garden knowledge and creativity. She reminded us that annuals produce nectar for long periods of time and do offer an excellent food source for pollinators, and thus should be a part of your plant palette.

Catherine Zimmerman from The Meadow Project and Matrix Media was our keynote speaker, spreading the word about "Creating Habitat Heroes Across the Nation."  Catherine showed clips from her recent film, Hometown Habitat: Stories of Bringing Nature Home, which she co-created with Dr. Doug Tallemy. She shared her experience of filming individuals and organizations across the United
Catherine Zimmerman shooting film
States who are actively working to plant native plants and re-invigorate local habitats.  The film showcases communities who are publicly establishing new norms for landscaping, modeling an approach which encompasses working with the local ecology and weather patterns in mind, when designing and planting gardens. This message also extends to the landscaping industry, with the chapter "Sustainable Practices - Redefining the Horticulture Industry."  Many of the chapters provide messages which will resonate with homeowners and strategies to reach people where they are at - such as working with churches to green their own landscapes first.  This film is a must-have for every land care professional and is available at for $30.  NOFA OLC donated $500 to the project in support of Catherine's critical work of creating a film which can provide a national message about toxin-free, sustainable, and largely native landscapes as a new norm for homeowners.
Dr. Kim Stoner talks about bees

After lunch, Jeff Cordulack, Executive Director of CT NOFA, welcomed Dr. Kim Stoner to the stage by thanking her for her research and activism which contributed towards "An Act Concerning Pollinator Health" being voted in unanimously by Connecticut legislature in 2016.  This act is largely unfunded by does request that Dr. Stoner provide recommendations on creating and protecting pollinator habitat in Connecticut.  Kim then gave her presentation "What do Bees Need?" to the audience and shared her research about the requirements of many types of bees to survive.  Honey bees are not native to the U.S.and they do have significant winter die-off. However, they are so crucial to agricultural production, bee keepers can afford to reproduce the bee colonies each year to keep up with demand, although the populations have been decreasing for decades.  To improve conditions for honey bee survival, we must address Varroa mite management, protect them from pesticide exposure, and ensure they have ample supplies of nectar and water.  Bumble bee species have different needs as they nest in the ground and need early and late sources of pollen and nectar for sustenance.

John Campanelli, UCONN
 Next, John Campanelli from UCONN Dept. of Plant Sciences presenting on Native Mixes for Borders and Roadways.  John is a graduate student and has been working with CT D.O.T. to provide an informed source of plant lists which can easily be used for roadway plantings.  He started by saying that the first goal of roadway plantings is to prevent erosion while providing visibility of the roadside for motorists, so all plants must be selected based on meeting maximum height requirements.  Historically, turf grass has been planted along roadside for years, due to the ability to keep it mowed low, and that has led to a reduction of native grasses and flowers being found next to our roads.   John seeks to plant for pollinators while meeting the needs of CT D.O.T and motorists alike.  One of the findings of his research is that C4 grasses, otherwise known as warm-season grasses, can survive very well in our northeastern climate, look healthy and attractive, and need only one mowing per year.  In addition, these grasses offer increased stormwater management and carbon sequestration due to their deep roots. Some of John's suggested roadside plants are purple love grass (Eragrostris spectabilis), Little Blue Stem, Butterfly Milkweed and Northern Blazing Star.  John also suggests going to for plants lists of native plants and their ranges.
Linda Walczak
For our final presentation, we had Julie Snell and Linda Walczak from TEND Landscape Inc. in Philadelphia.  Julie and Linda discussed renovating a Rittenhouse Square, a heavily used park and its gardens, in order for the plantings and hardscape to be refreshed and useful for a few hundred more years. When designing the gardens, the following environmental factors had to be considered: sun/shade, wind, salt and chemicals, pollution, drought, drainage, pests and diseases and weeds.
The second major point regarding plant selection, was the need for an extensive list of second choices if the plants could not be sourced within 1 hour of Philadelphia.  Julie and Linda were surprised when 18 out of 44 plants needed to be substituted from their lists.

The whole day was wonderful!  Old friends were able to reconnect and many exciting topics were discussed.  We had an assortment of exhibitors and vendors, which is always a nice way to learn about new plants, products and trends within the organic land care industry.  We created a list of OLC Products and Services based upon all of our sponsors and exhibitors from the 11th Annual Gathering. Please save and refer others to this important resource.

Here are some more photos from the event:
Barry Draycott talks with an attendee
Gregg and Peter from Compostwerks!

Dan Furman from Cricket Hill Garden
Fred Newcombe from PJC Organic