BTG to sell native plants to promote sustainability

Pari Tuthill appreciates seeing the fruits of her labor — sometimes literally.

“I don’t know who wouldn’t enjoy gardening,” said the Bird, Tree & Garden Club member. “If you go pull some weeds and plant a few plants, instantly you can stand back and say, ‘Maybe my back is hurting, but the result makes it worth it.’ ”

Tuthill is especially passionate about gardening with native plants, or florae that are indigenous to the region in which they are located. She is the lead organizer behind BTG’s first native plant sale from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. tonight and  from noon to 5 p.m. tomorrow in the Smith Wilkes Hall garden.

The majority of the plants on sale are native to Chautauqua County, according to Tuthill, and they are butterfly-friendly, lake-friendly, environmentally friendly and, in some cases, edible.

She said the plants will sell at or near the cost at which they were bought by BTG.

“Our goal is not to raise a bunch of money, but to put the word out, to let people know that native plants are good for the environment,” she said.

In addition to the plants, BTG will sell planters and used gardening books and distribute handouts with information about the benefits of native plants. Several master gardeners will be present to answer questions about local plant species and gardening in general.

Chris Flanders, a member of BTG, is one of those master gardeners. She trained as a gardener under Betsy Burgeson, the supervisor of gardens and landscapes at Chautauqua Institution.

Flanders said she is inspired by Burgeson’s commitment to planting native plants and to sustainability in general.    

“BTG has been at the forefront of environmental impact at Chautauqua,” she said. “They’re the ones who’ve been trying to get the grounds to think about not just what people want to see, but what they should see. We’re hoping our partnership with Chautauqua will be even stronger because of Betsy.”

Flanders said she hopes to convince people who come to the sale that native plants can be beneficial for gardens, as nearly all of them attract pollinators.

Many of them also have unique qualities and appearances. One native plant in the sale is Northern sea oats, a grass with a distinctive, neon green hue. Another is milkweed, which, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing, is the only flower that monarch butterflies feed on.

Tuthill believes people at Chautauqua are becoming more aware of environmental concerns with everything they do, including with their gardening.

“Every year, we realize that the beaches are closed for a week or two, not just here in the Institution but across the lake,” she said. “I think people are starting to understand why.”

She said native plants have deeper roots compared to annual seasonal plants, which is why they do a better job containing the soil in the earth during rainstorms, thus preventing erosion into the lake.

She also said fertilizer is not necessary for native plants, which is another environmental and economic benefit. For her own native garden, she uses used coffee grounds and tea leaves as fertilizer.

“They smell good, you can eat them, they flower most of the summer, they are beautiful to look at,” she said. “You really can’t go wrong.”

Flanders believes that gardening with native plants is part of the solution to saving Chautauqua Lake and the environment at large.

She and other gardeners are noticing the growing season in the area has increased by three or four weeks in recent years, likely because of climate change, she said. In addition, as the climate changes, different organisms are able to survive in different areas — including unwanted organisms.

“We have a lot of pests that are coming through now that we never had to deal with before,” Flanders said. “We’ve got a nice, longer growing season, but we also have new pests that we don’t have a cure for.”

Flanders believes this sale will serve as a stepping-stone in the fight to save the environment by educating people about the environmental, aesthetic and even economic benefits of gardening with native plants.

“It’s a hard thing to change people, and it can be particularly hard to change people in Chautauqua, because they’ve always done things the same way,” she said. “What we’re trying to do here is to make people feel better about making one small change.”