Nassau County Museum of Art: Touring the Grounds in Preparation…

A photo of a scout photographing a site while Jean Henning surveys the brush

Above is a photo of my Life Scout son, Max and my dear friend Jean Henning on the grounds of the Nassau County Museum of Art. They’re considering how they might craft an Eagle Scout Project that provides a gateway to a larger grasslands restoration endeavor. A primary objective will be to educate visitors about the local ecosystem, sustainable landscaping, and the need to address damage already completely out of hand.

It is a HUGE delight to me that, somehow, I don’t think I ever thought of the Museum as we brainstormed potential projects. Max remembered it himself from childhood and found Jean’s email address on the website. I am thrilled that for Jean the timing happens to be perfect. It is wonderful to witness them consulting. My job remains to hold myself back and just watch them work.

It is not easy! I am glad I get to help a little and am consoling myself by happily getting to tell the story.

Jean Henning

When I first met Jean in 2008 she was both the former Museum Educator and the Senior Museum Educator of the Nassau County Museum of Art. She told me this meant she was actually slowly retiring. Together with Patricia Lannes, they were guiding school children, general visitors, docents and others through incredible arrays of exhibitions.

In addition to art, art history and cultural understanding, they were developing observation, discourse and diverse “21st Century Learning Skills” with visiting school children from all over Long Island. They taught me a great deal about the value of BOCES as a vehicle for their deeply enriching school field trips, and cutting edge thought in teaching and learning. A primary focus involved groundbreaking programs using art as a vehicle to English Language Literacy. There was much more. She was always good for an interesting conversation! Among her favorite topics were the grounds themselves.

Jean assures me she is still slowly retiring, “Honestly, I hardly even go into the building anymore. I thought I’d miss teaching in the galleries but, while I really loved it, I find I have other things to do now.”

Photo looking up at the Nassau County Museum of Art in 2016
Photo looking up at the Nassau County Museum of Art in 2016

The Nassau County Museum of Art

The Museum has been an independent 501(c)3 not-for-profit since 1989. It occupies a late 19th century neo‐Georgian mansion on 144 acres in Roslyn Harbor. The property’s first owner was poet and longtime NY Evening Post Editor William Cullen Bryant. The mansion was built by US Representative Lloyd Stephens Bryce. It was all later purchased by US Steel Corporation Founder Henry Clay Frick, though it was his son, Childs Frick, a well-known paleontologist and naturalist who actually owned it.

The grounds include multiple structures and formal gardens originally designed in the 1920s by Marian Cruger Coffin. She was one of America’s leading landscape architects. The rest involve relatively large parcels of relatively untouched lands that back up to Cedarmere Preserve. There are fields and forests, including a pinetum with over 100 rare species of conifer. There are ravines and ponds. All of it contains diverse plant and wildlife species.  

Photo of Porcelain Berry by Katheryn Laible
Pretty poison Porcelain Berry in my own back yard in late October, 2021. It quickly spreads to strangle trees... If you've ever seen Stranger Things, it's root network is reminiscent...

Rare Species...and Invasive Ones: Moving From Preservation to Stewardship

“Honestly, it’s now a catalogue of invasive species.” Jean notes with a grim look as she guides us on a survey of potential sites. We discuss the bigger picture and note relevant details as Max takes it all in.

She leads us down a path that is much wider than I remember.

“COVID” she says, seeing my expression, “SO many people came here walking. I hope they keep it up. They created some really great paths. It’s actually helping us get inside and see what’s going on.”

She navigates under a large fallen tree noting that it’s, “good exercise for people, especially someone my age.” As we go along, she shares resources she’s gathered and what she’s learned since she really got to focus on this.

Jean reflects that while the problems associated with invasive species have been developing under our noses for decades, solving them is something of a new field. Dealing with it all is a process of debate and experimentation. So far, there’s been a lot of mowing and letting-growing. She’s long been determined to minimize the use of poisons, but also knows many are recommending thoughtful applications. She considers that a bit as she eyes some of the more intractably infested areas.

A main focus has been the pretty poison that is Porcelain Berry. English Ivy, and Multiflora Rose run amuck. As she points her plant app at species she’s unsure of, some results make her smile. Others furrow her brow.

She makes it clear that if the gateway garden Max plants could actively replace invasive species, that would be wonderful. Max responds that weeding would be considered more of a Service Project than an Eagle one, but he agrees with the need and will see what he can do.

We discuss wonderful volunteers. She lights up and tells me she’s learned something heartening from a biologist she’s been consulting:

“He tells me that in the ground are living seeds representing a record of 100 years.” She explains further about this wonderful news: The Earth is a living seed bank, especially in these undisturbed lands. If the now smothering invasives are removed, diverse native species, rare ones even, may spring up as payout.

 

Photo of unfurling fern in my backyard, May 2022
Photo of unfurling fern in my backyard, May 2022

Fun to Watch This Take Off

Jean points out spots where she’s witnessing a reemergence already, delighting at ferns with slowly unrolling fronds. Pulling out her phone again, she recommences indentifying things along the edges of land they’ve been reclaiming.

As she finishes the tour, Max offers a few of his evolving thoughts. He explains a bit about his project application process, and how he’ll next consult with the Scout Master and Eagle Coach. He tells her a main purpose of the project is not just to build something for the community, but to exhibit leadership, project management and community connection. He notes there are other scouts who have been intrigued by his ideas. They brainstorm a few options…

It’s going to be fun to see where this goes.

A photo taken of an ascending eagle in Georgeton, Maine in 2015
A photo taken of an ascending eagle in Georgeton, Maine in 2015. Have you seen the ones in Centerport?

For more information on sustainable landscaping, check out our full list of Native Garden and Ecolandscaping Resources. We look forward to adding information on the Museum’s projects and others we’ve come across soon!

Northport Native Garden Initiative: Building Community, Healing Our World, One Plant at a Time

Photo of Nicole Tamaro, Matt Goreman and Sara Abbass at the 2nd Annual Northport Native Garden Initiative Plant Sale

Northport Native Garden Initiative Co-Founders at their second annual Native Plant Sale. From Left: Nicole Tamaro, Matt Gorman and Sara Abbass.

Photo Credit: Meghan Fisk

Meeting a Northport Native Garden Initiative Founder: A Very Busy Bee!

I met Sara Abbass when she came into The Firefly Artists one day in early 2021. She was walking around the Village of Northport sharing a cool fundraiser for the Ocean Ave Elementary School PTA. The endeavor was designed to also support local businesses, and to be a booster for the masks that were helping us all get to be a little more human again.

We soon started brainstorming children’s art classes. Somehow, we got onto plants. She then shared a really cool idea of an organization she’d helped start with some friends that seemed to set a fire behind her eyes: The Northport Native Garden Initiative (NNGI).

The next time I saw her, Drigo Morin and I were at the monthly Northport Village Board meeting to inquire about Plein Air. She and Trustees were excited about a demonstration garden of native plants that they were installing at Village Hall, right there on Main Street.

Buzzing About the Second Annual Native Plant Sale

Now. Wow. The first thing I see when I come to get my plants and help out at the 2nd Annual NNGI Spring Plant Sale is a table in the driveway manned by kids and a sweet black dog. They’re selling lemonade, cookies and other treats to raise money for Grateful Greys an organization that serves Greyhounds. They tell me they have a $300 goal and are pleased to report that they’ve already earned well over $200.

Around back is a yard full of plant orders, several tables filled with specimens not yet spoken for, and a bunch of busy bee volunteers helping folks find what they are seeking.

“This is nothing,” one tells me, “Before, the whole yard was filled. It’s so much bigger than last year!”

Nicole Tamaro, another co-founder, provides a quick rundown of a nicely organized setup. She then directs us to wagons, and leads us to find our own orders. We laugh at the irony that the Iron Weed will be late because the spring has been so cool, but today is more like muggy July.

Mostly, though, conversation swirls about the large variety of plants they are fetching and brainstorming with neighbors as they guide them in placement and care. Honeysuckle and certain ferns are in short supply – everywhere. They ponder solutions and earnestly brainstorm other options.

A photo of my wagon of plants.
Part of my Northport Native Garden Initiative haul: A native honeysuckle I was luckier to get than I knew, and two switchgrasses to replace some pulled invasives -- Can't wait to get these guys into the ground!

The Hard Work is Paying Off!

“We are so happy people have been so receptive and that this is taking off,” says Sara when she finally has a moment to recognize me and chat. She laughs at how tired she is. This exceptionally multitasking mother usually does manage to get her sleep, which is wonderful, thank you, but last night they came home exhausted and exhilarated. They finally crashed and then sprung up to do it all over again!

She doesn’t look tired, though. None of them do. They’re having a good time and thrilled that their efforts to help folks make more thoughtful landscaping choices seems to be making a difference. 

“Until you know, you don’t know,” says Sara, “and you can’t learn unless there are folks willing to teach.” She looks at me, “That’s why we’re so committed to offering lectures ourselves, and to bringing in outside speakers so we all can learn more.”

NNGI Co-Founder Nicole Tamaro educated attendees about their native gardening options.

Not Just Natives

They’ve been to schools, churches and libraries, spreading their passion for ecologically friendly yards. The native plants are a huge part. “But it’s more than that,” says Sara. “It also involves things like offering homes for mason bees, understanding the need for storm water mitigation, thinking about things like light pollution, and…just pausing to think about how what we do and how we choose to landscape impacts the health and well being of the world around us.”
 

In addition to serving neighbors yards, they’ve also raised and matched funds to seed oysters that will help filter the water in Northport Harbor. The truth is, we live on a densely populated island of many harbors and depends on our groundwater. How we live impacts that for generations, and there’s already great damage to repair. It’s a lot to deal with, and it’s nice to know there’s something folks can do that makes a difference, one yard at a time: Ecologically supportive landscaping.

“Rain gardens are great!” says Sara, “So are plants that have deeper root systems, because they provide filtration of what’s going into the ground.” There are so many things. Our conversation turns from problems to solutions as we share love and wonder for plants and she hurries to tend to the event.
 
“I say it all the time,” she says, “Let’s get jazzed about plants!”
 
I am totally jazzed.

 

A bit of Matt's Garden and his Gazebo with Plant Sale activity in the background.
A bit of Matt's Garden and his gazebo with plant sale activity in the background.

Garden Tour

As Sara and others offer guidance to customers regarding their selections, another co-founder named Matt Gorman offers an informative tour of his own increasingly diverse native gardens. He shows me native Blueberries and Joe Pye Weed, Goldenrod and New England asters.

“The Chokeberry is aptly named,” he says, pointing to a plant with beautiful clusters of white blossoms.

“Oh, yeah?” I say, “Is it toxic?”

“No, but if you eat them when they first ripen they will really pucker your mouth.” His eyes gleam, “You can make good jam out of them, though.” He explains they’re actually considered a “superfood” with nearly twice as many antioxidants as blueberries.

He indicates native honeysuckle and clematis vining around the gazebo, talking about how the slightly different conditions on either side of the structure impact growth. Then, he shows me one of his favorite elements: Little birdhouses filled with bamboo that mason bees are busily entering and exiting.

 

photo of Mason Bee House
A Mason Bee House peacefully hangs out on the gazebo in Matt Goreman's garden.

Love the Pollinators...

“We got these guys as cocoons,” he smiles. The Initiative has a workshop they ran with Blossom Meadow Farm about these important pollinators on their website. There’s also a 101 on native gardening. Once they get through the sale, they’ll upload more

“I loving hanging out with my bees,” I say, “but I’m surprised you have them right here on the gazebo.”

“They won’t hurt anyone,” he answers, “The males don’t even have stingers. The females….you basically have to squeeze them to get them to sting you. They’ve got better things to do than bother us.”

He is a fount of information and clearly totally jazzed about his plants. “How’d you get into this?” I ask.

“It all started with some Butterfly Milkweed I got. I noticed how many pollinators it attracted and I just started thinking…what else could I add? I started researching, and bringing things in…pretty soon I had a lot of native plants and SO much wildlife in my yard. Birds, bees, butterflies, more…it’s really cool.”

Photo of Chokeberry Blossoms

Professional Design Services

I marvel at one particularly large order in the yard. It’s going to a client’s home in Asharoken for, in addition to the non-profit, Sara has now founded Sara Mairéad Landscape Design, Inc.

“It is so much fun to design for different areas,” she says, “Full sun is easy. I like hard to plant spots and hard to find plants.”

“Woodlands may be my favorite,” she continues, “I love taking areas where people say, ‘I can’t do anything with this’ and creating something special.”

“I love naming them, too. ‘Woodland Oasis…” you can see she might start to daydream, but she quickly turns earnest, “I try to bring it all to a different level, to create a really good feeling for clients…one that gets them excited and invested, too.”

Photo of Native Plants

Building Community

Although they are very locally focused on their Northport community, the NNGI is also totally jazzed about the partners they have found to jam with in their endeavors. They mention Kimberly of KMS Plants, who supplies much of their inventory, as well as others they have befriended. In addition to a very active Facebook page the group is really happy about their new website, which empowers them to host all sorts of information.

“You know what I think is the coolest thing about that?” asks Nicole, “We’ve now got an interactive map where people can add themselves and tell us how many native plants they have.”

“Why do you love it?” I ask

“Because it shows people how involved others are becoming in this, and how even one yard can make an impact. It connects our community through native plants.”

While gardens are often places of delicious solitude, they are also community touchstones. You can see it in the friendships here and on their map. It is evident in the folks they are connecting with and amplifying island- and even nation-wide. You can find it right here in their conversations with neighbors seeking guidance, who are talking to each other as much as to the busily working friends, family and volunteers.

It is clearly evident that they are totally jazzed, and making their deepest difference one yard, one plant, one person at a time.  

It’s really cool.  Check ‘em out.

For more information on sustainable landscaping, check out our full list of Native Garden and Ecolandscaping Resources, It has just been updated to now also include contact information for Sara Mairéad Landscape Design, Inc.

The Summit is Coming! We Get to GO!

Can’t say it enough: These in-depth interviews hosted by Eric Alexander featuring a broad range of local leaders are fantastic. Learn and get inspired by these amazing Long Island community members….We do!

Honestly, like they always seem to, the good folks of Vision Long Island have done an incredible job of turning the challenges of the COVID-19 era into new opportunities to highlight people making a huge difference in our communities, and generally helping those folks wrap their heads around the challenges and opportunities of today.

Still. We’ve REALLY missed being able to see these folks in person. We are so excited that the Smart Growth Summit is being held November 17-19, 2021 and will have an in-person component on the final day!

 

Check out their website for details and get on their email list!

A Park for Joy!!!

Here’s the story we wrote about Joy Squires, Huntington’s Environmental Sage in 2016. She’s been chair of the Huntington Conservation Board since 1979, and also long-led the NYS Conservation Commission, where she continually endeavors to help others better steward their own open spaces and to encourage new generations to be actively engaged in environmentalism.

If you know her, you have probably been informed about parks in your area and opportunities to serve as their steward. We are delighted to hear that Manor Plains Park will now be renamed in honor of her!

When: Thursday, April 22, 2021 at 12:30pm

Where: Manor Plains Nature Park, 91-93 Manor Road, Huntington

A Few Good Places to Give

Long Island needs more people to give to local organizations addressing our local challenges. Here are just a few to consider:

Continue reading

Down to Earth with the Synchronicity Network – Thanks for Great Resources!

Photo of Bee on Aster by Katheryn Laible

Here at home, one way Katie’s been overcoming pandemic poos is through her garden. It works!!! She’s been weeding, mostly, identifying local and invasive species with apps like PlantNet and iNaturalist, and then wrestling those who’d best go out of the Earth until she’s too tired to do it anymore.

The reward has not only been a tremendous amount fresh air and healthy stress sublimation, but a yard full of gorgeous asters, goldenrod, wild raspberries and delighted pollinators! In recent week, the birds have started coming. It seems her yard is well rated on the Zagats Migration Edition!

She’s been grateful for the Huntington Gardeners and the Long Island Native Plant Gardening Group on Facebook as she’s overcome her well-earned terror of poison ivy and endeavored to cultivate and better understand her own hyper-local ecology. They are wonderful!!!

You can find others in our ever-evolving Down to Earth with the Synchronicity Network (submissions welcome!). Soon, we will add KMS Native Plants LLC, one of a growing number of sources for local plants and an excellent resource itself!

Autumn is a great time for planting. There are still a few weeks to take advantage of it! Katie has been transplanting volunteer native trees and plans to purchase native plants this weekend! Her gardening grand finale for 2020 will be the Winter Solstice, when she will honor a tradition started when her first child was tiny: Planting bulbs as a rite of faith that spring will dawn again.

This helps, too! Brain Pickings, we love you! Speaking of well-known appreciators of Long Island and human nature, Maria Popovich recently resurfaced this lovely meditation on Long Island’s own “Walt Whitman on Democracy and Optimism as a Mighty Form of Resistance” Read it, and carry on with whatever great mission you are on!

 

Spencer’s Picks: Overcoming Pandemic Fatigue; Art, Science & Suggested Solutions; The Happiness of a Dog

Dr. Spencer Thomas atop the Uffizi in Florence, Italy

Photo of Dr. Spencer Thomas atop the Uffizi in Florence, Italy. Photo by Katheryn Laible

 

As usual, when he’s not scrying into the mysteries of metals at the atomic level, or pondering puzzles of more efficient means of tapping energy, Dr. Thomas is bringing some light into our life. Here are a few of the things he’s brought to our attention:

Now that we’re about a month into the college semester with social distancing and remote learning, a lot of people I know are feeling a bit of a drag. You are not alone: Lonliness at Pandemic U: 14 tips for college students and their parents

Along similar themes, but more for everyone:: Your Surge Capacity is Depleted. This is Why You Feel Awful (and a couple good things you can do about it)

One thing that’s helpful is — to help! Here is a heartwarming and inspiring story from one of my very favorite professors from back in my undergrad time at Stony Brook. Bente Videbaek is an amazing person who has been working hard to make sure people have masks Facebook Page: “Humans of Mather Hospital”

When you feel a bit grounded and ready to stare some of the bigger challenges facing humanity in the face: Countdown is a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis. One of the speakers, Dr. Rose Mutiso, is a friend of mine – we were graduate students together. She’s the incredible CEO of the Mawazo Institute, which supports women scientists and leaders throughout East Africa. She has also spoken at TED and written in Scientific American about the challenges that people in Africa face building digital and clean-energy infrastructure.

One for the Coltrane fans out there: The most feared song in jazz, explained. It’s not too hard for a layman to follow this breakdown of “Giant Steps,” even as it’s still among the most challenging things a musician may face

Finally, no big point here, but a bit of joy for you since we could all use it: The happiness of this dog after they put prostheses on

Spencer Thomas received his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. After some time at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, we are DELIGHTED to welcome him back to Long Island as a researcher at Stony Brook University. He also happens to be Katie’s brother. For a time, Spencer studied metals at the atomic level; the way atoms are arranged in a material can change its properties; one can take ordinary metals make them stronger, more flexible, corrosion resistant, even radiation resistant. We’re still endeavoring to understand what he’s doing now well enough to explain it so simply.

Spencer believes that no matter who you are, good communication can put scientific concepts within reach. The modern world demands scientific literacy and it is the responsibility of scientists to make that possible.