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  • Jennifer Jewell


Beth Chatto. Image Courtesy of Beth Chatto Gardens and Trust. All Rights Reserved.



The New England Wild Flower Society is one of the oldest native plant conservation organizations in the country. Their newest book "Native Plants for the New England Gardens" is out now, just in time to act as a reference companion during their summer ecological and pollinator garden workshops - entitled POLLINATE New England - across the New England states this summer.

Per their website: "The New England Wild Flower Society conserves native plants in the wild and encourages gardeners and landscape professionals to choose natives when they plant outdoor spaces, particularly plants grown from local seeds, harvested sustainably in the wild.

Our mission is to conserve and promote the region’s native plants to ensure healthy, biologically diverse landscapes.

With more than a century of successful habitat restoration, scientific research, and public education dedicated to native plants, we are the established leader in the region and an expert resource for professionals in other parts of the country and the world.

The Society is based at 'Garden in the Woods', a renowned native plant botanic garden in Framingham, Massachusetts, which attracts visitors from all over the world. From this base, 25 staff members and more than 700 volunteers work throughout New England to monitor and protect rare and endangered plants, collect and bank seeds for biological diversity, control invasive species, conduct research, and educate the public.

The Society also operates a native plant nursery at Nasami Farm in western Massachusetts and owns seven native plant sanctuaries in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, six of which are open to the public."

This week Cultivating Place speaks with Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe of the New England Wild Flower Society’s "Garden in the Woods Botanic Garden" to talk to us more about the history and mission of the society as well as several new outreach initiatives, including their Pollinate New England workshops across their region and their new book: "Native Plants for New England Gardens" out now from Globe Pequot Press.

Mark is the Botanic Garden Directory and Dan is the Chief Propagator at Garden in the Woods. The two men also collaborated on the society’s new book: Native Plants for New England Gardens out this year from Globe Pequot.

While this is a regionally based organization, they are a model for lessons native plant and ecological gardening enthusiasts can all learn from.

“In the book, we cover things like how you maintain an ecological garden - one of the big things we talk about is using groundcover plants in place of mulch. No one ever got into gardening for the love of mulch.”

Dan Jaffe, Propagator and Stock Bed Manager

Photographer/Co-Author, "Native Plants for New England Gardens"

While The New England Wild Flower Society might sound quaint, the organization is one of the oldest and largest native plant conservation groups in the US. Their initiatives are making a positive impact on plant diversity and conservation in their large region and their work has lessons for us all.

Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe shared early in this program that their paths to professional and public horticulture were somewhat circuitous and both experienced transformational moments working in landscape maintenance where they realized that our gardens should be more than pretty – they should be ALIVE.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON OR TO REGISTER FOR the POLLINATE New England workshops and lectures across the region, please visit: POLLINATE New England.

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Oh my goodness are these two men are passionate. I love it. I love their articulate and almost breathless interest in sharing information on their passion: native plants, conservation and native plant gardening. From their educational pathways, I am glad they found their way to the work they are now engaged in wholeheartedly.

One of the interesting things to me in their history of the New England Wild Flower Society was the catalyst for the society’s own beginnings in the early 1900s, when floristry as an industry was taking off in New England’s urban hubs – Boston, New York, Philadelphia. As a matter of personal interest, one of my maternal great grandfathers was a florist of note on fifth avenue in New York City at about this time. Florists were sourcing plants directly from the wild – a fact that someone - several someones - right then thought about and then acted on their instinct of “Wait. This is not going to work. This is not a balanced give and take and we are all going to lose.”

That instinct of conservation and safeguarding natural resources was not common in that era and even more so in the face of the potential short term profits so lauded by industries of all kinds. That instinct followed by action was really brave. And although we have come a long way in the world of legal protections for natural resources and native plants, as well as on scientific research on ecosystem integrity, we still need a lot more of this kind of bravery.

Bravery in standing up to commercial interests offering truly negligible or non-existent social or environmental justice.

What can I do to be a lot more brave in protecting and advocating for the rights of plants, places and all people?

Here where I garden we’re in our summer run of long periods of time over 100 degrees daily. 101, 103 107. I can hear the people just north of me in the town of Redding, laughing and saying – we’re hotter than that, you big baby.

This seasonal heat – the norm for us although no doubt increasing with climate change – is a period of dormancy in our wild areas – like winter in colder regions. And in dormancy, we can often fail to see the subtle beauty and strength – reserve and resilience – that is in fact all around us.

The plants – as always - hold lessons for us in this season – how to diminish heat, how to reflect the sun, how to hold water, how to shed unnecessary mass. How to rest in the day and come out to enjoy the cool of the evenings, like the sacred white datura trumpets and the quiet crepuscular sphinx moths.

The plants hold lessons on how to thrive in adversity and live your life cycle to its fullest nevertheless. I thought about some of this while researching and reading Mark and Dan’s new book "Native Plants for New England Gardens" specifically in the way they write about and have photographed the plants and genera they introduce readers to. They show great appreciation and respect for the whole life cycle and each stage within it of these plants they love.

You get a sense of this wholistic appreciation and respect in their conversation with us today, don’t you?

And there’s something in this that’s important, I think. This sense of understanding beauty not just as the big bold moment of flowering, or fruit, but about the whole life process and interdependent systems of our plant companions on this earth.

Integrating this recognition and appreciation into all that we engage in – expands everything doesn’t it? Maybe it's this recognition and expanded awareness that creates the spaciousness we need to find the bravery we need?

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We nature loving gardeners (and there are A WHOLE LOT of us) – we make a difference in this world. We make a difference to our individual and communal wellbeing, to the environment, to the economy, to the culture and health of our towns and cities. We make a difference for the better.

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