An Eagle Rises: A Celebration of Scouting – Thank You for Your Support

Max together with Scoutmasters Brian Zaino and Paco Shum the night of his Eagle Scout Board of Review

Eagle Scout Max Laible together with Scoutmasters Brian Zaino and Paco Shum on the night of the Eagle Scout Board of Review

My Max has been involved in the Scouts since he was first invited to join the Cubs when he was maybe eight or nine. He came home, handed me a flyer and said, “Mom? I think this is me.”

I think he was right! The Scouting program benefited Max tremendously, and while there were certainly challenges along the way, he seemed to enjoy just about every minute of it. I know of nothing else that so effectively provides the hands on, empowering, broadly based, leadership/community stewardship/handiness/survival/basic life skill sets that the Scouts do. It feeds into EVERYTHING he does.

Scouts accomplish more by their 18th birthdays than many do in a lifetime. When teachers would tell me how my child – who struggled with school – consistently showed leadership, responsibility and practical intelligence, I told them I credited the Scouts. The creativity, kindness and thoughtful, intelligent curiosity are all his own, but they’ve been exercised mightily through the Scouts.

He’s HAD to get organized; To Be Prepared.

“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”

A Scout Is...

People notice the Eagle Projects. While they are perhaps the most personal imprints a Scout might make, I will say they are but icing on the cake; a final hurrah in a decade-long journey. By the time a kid does his own project, they’ve participated in MANY service projects. Even more, they’ve taught, they’ve led, they’ve planned and they’ve tested, all while learning the value of being a mindful follower.

An Eagle Scout candidate has deeply considered what it means to care for self and family, as well as how to be a good citizen in their community, their nation, internationally and in society as a whole. They understand a bit of how local government works, and have been led to really think about the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. They’ve had basic, fundamental human values drilled into their heads weekly, and been engaged in regular interviews where they’re asked what these values mean and how they apply them in their daily lives.

The basic mandate is a golden one: They are to “Do a Good Turn Daily.”

Eagle Scouts have earned a great deal of merit badges, learning to care for self and others, exploring many potential careers and hobbies, and developing deep practical skills. They’ve actively shaped their own experience as well as that of those who lead and follow them. They’ve fed people, guided them on long journeys, learned to safely wield both fire and an axe, and prepared in case of emergency.

At our last Eagle Court of Honor, another Scoutmaster told about how his own child – not very old at all – was the cool head at the scene of a horrific motorcycle accident. This kid knew just what to do, because he was a Scout.

It’s training for big things, and basic preparation. I came in once to find Max teaching himself to knot a tie via his Scoutbook. This is not the only time I saw him pull out that tome as a general reference for life. In getting to last weekend, Max spent well over 70 nights camping, 77 hours performing public service and hiked many, many miles. He earned over 33 Merit Badges in a broad array of skills ranging from citizenship to life saving, camping to chemistry, animation to welding, physical fitness, family life, personal management…

Cliche as it may be, he can’t seem go anywhere without someone asking him how to tie some kind of knot. 

He can conduct either end of a professional interview and has held increasingly responsible leadership positions for years. He worked on at least 12 Eagle projects and led more than 35 people to build his own.

…and, somehow, that’s just a little bit of it…

“On my honor I will do my best to make my training and example, my rank and my influence count strongly for better Scouting and for better citizen-ship in my Troop in my community and in my contacts with other people. To this I pledge my sacred honor.” ~Excerpt from the Eagle Oath

Eagle Projects

While an Eagle project is really just icing on the cake, it’s no lesser detail.

Eagle Projects must be identified, permitted, coordinated and constructed, ideally with the scout himself leading rather than doing as many aspects as possible. They have to create detailed plans (such that should they fall ill the troop can do the project without them), and rally both financial and volunteer support to realize them. Then, they have to report on how it all went.

I can’t remember all the projects Max has participated in, but I know they’ve ranged from dog playgrounds for local shelters, to endeavors to serve folks with Alzheimer’s and developmental disabilities; from trail markings to improvements to the church that hosts us. In his last year alone Max assisted:

Christian Arroyo in developing really cool bee hotels at Elijah Farm in Dix Hills.
Kyle Montagni in building an amazing outdoor classroom for the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery (I love that we can see this one from the road every time we drive by!)
Ashishpal DeWal in transforming an aging Eagle Project greenhouse into a beautiful new butterfly sanctuary for the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s East Meadow Farm.
 
The full list of Troop 205 Eagles is thus:
2014 Matthew Duggan
2014 Tully Frain

2014 John Edward Zaino
2016 Thomas Clarke
2016 Spencer Gliner
2016 Hayden Dancy
2016 Elizar Alden Aspiras
2018 Jack Mok
2018 Vincent Eng
2018 Marc Huo
2018 Matthew Gavieta
2018 Terence Smith
2018 Andrew Aspiras
2022 Grant Dell’Anno
2022 Christian Arroyo
2023 Kyle Montagni
2023 Ashishpal DeWal
2023 Maxwell Owen Laible
 
Each had a different journey, making deep and unique contributions to the community. So did many other scouts who never made Eagle (only about 6% generally do!), but who will be influenced by their scouting experience for the rest of their lives. Max will tell you each one of them has been important to his own experience as well.
A photo of the educational kiosk, fence and garden Max led over 35 others to build at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor
A photo of the educational kiosk, fence and garden Max led over 35 others to build at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor

Max’s Project: Building an Educational Gateway at the Nassau County Museum of Art

Max’s own project involved building a visual gateway to native grasslands now being restored at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor. We wrote a little bit about this before here and here. The final project included a split rail fence, a kiosk that serves as an outdoor education asset, and a model garden of native plants. We are delighted to report that the plants are now being maintained and expanded upon by a local garden club. 

This could not have happened without folks who cared to help. These included fellow Scouts, returning Eagles, parent leaders, friends, family, teachers, and great neighbors. Some offered guidance. Others, financial support. Some lent tools and gave materials. Many rolled up their sleeves and showed up to get the final job done. In particular, we offer grateful thanks to:

Michael Borra
Sofia Calle
Kenneth Cao
The Ceron Family
Amy Cincotta
The Clarke Family
Greg Dancy
The DeWal Family
Jim Darcy
Matthew Duggan
The Gliner Family
Angelo Guardado
Jean Henning
Danielle Kaplan
The Laible Family
Gail Lamberta
Jennifer Lau

The Lim Family
Katrina Ludwikowski
The Ma Family
The Montagni Family
Craig Mooers
Drigo Morin
Rob Nock
Northport Native Garden Initiative
Gavin Ng
Jamie Pedicini
Adrianna Peres-DaSilva
Riverhead Building Supply
Lizette Sanlés
The Shum Family
Justin Tian
Brian Zaino
Lawrence Zeltzer

There were so many more who contributed to this journey, and comprise a village Max will value for as long as he lives. In his program, Max wrote this: 

“I am more than thankful for the many years of guidance, care, patience, and humor volunteered by the adult and youth leaders in the troop. I am honored to follow, lead, teach and learn from each and every one of them. I am immensely grateful to all who were there for me during my arduous journey. They made every minute worth the experience.  ~ Yours in Scouting, Max”

We are grateful. Thanks.

Rising Eagle: Please Join Max in Serving the Nassau Museum of Art

Photo of Max Laible at the Nassau Museum with one of his favorite sculptures.

An Eagle Project is one last adventure in a decade-long journey. Max, here, is leading creation of a fence, educational kiosk and model native plant garden that will serve as an enriching gateway to newly restored grasslands at the Nassau County Museum of Art.

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Native Garden and Ecolandscaping Resources

Bee on Aster by Katheryn Laible

A few years ago now, I started reaching out to friends and collecting resources that we are pleased to share with you!

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Autumn Landscaping Resources

Child in leaves

Autumn Landscaping. Plant Something and Chill

It’s taken a full year to feel like our Firefly Gallery is mostly resettled. Tending to that treasure has left both Synchronicity and my gardens sorely neglected.  
 
Fortunately, things are falling into place and there’s still time to tend to these passions! I am grateful to those who encourage me to get back to writing already, and am delighted to report that autumn is a GREAT time for gardening!
Autumn Dogwood
"Autumn Dogwood" photo by Katheryn Laible

On Leaving the Leaves

To explain why this is so beneficial, let’s start with another post from deeply knowledegable local expert Anthony Marinello of Dropseed Natives, “Leave the Leaves!”

This is rapidly becoming a very mainstream concept.

Here’s a piece from Homeserve.com, “Rake It or Leave It? Here’s Why You May Just Wanna Leave Your Leaves Where They Fall,”  one from the USDA, and even one in Good Housekeeping.

Here’s an article from James Doubek for NPR on the subject.

Environmental groups have been saying this for years. Here’s the National Wildlife Federation on why.

And one from The Xerces Society: “Leave the leaves.”

BTW the Xerces Society is interesting. It’s really focused on saving invertebrates. Their work is deeply fundamental and yet applied at our level in the food chain, so it’s also really helpful! Their Facebook page is a wealth of basic, excellent advice.

…There are tips on winter cleanup, saving seeds, a beautiful sight of Monarch Butterflies migrating….

I learned about them from Long Island Native Plant Group on Facebook, a great community of incredibly knowledgeable and helpful folks who think about our local ecoscapes all year long

…but I digress…

…I was talking about leaving the leaves…

Photo of oak leaf on pavement
"Oak Leaf" photo by Katheryn Laible

Well, Most of Them Anyway

The movement to leave the leaves is really important, but should be taken with a little common sense.

It also remains important to keep the driveway clear, as well as stone patios and pathways, assuming you wish to preserve them. The same goes for grass (though a thin layer of leaves may be mowed quite healthfully), which also likes to be aerated from time to time.

On my property, I’m dealing with invasive Norway Maples that I’m working to eradicate and replace with native trees as quickly as I can afford to do so. With them, I have found raking the leaves is fairly important as they seem particularly smother-y and slow to break down. As I am working to reduce their spread, I also want to be able to get their whirlybirds up in the spring!

As such, my approach isn’t so different from what these folks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have to say, or The Spruce, here.

So, I do continue to rake a bit….mindfully….

Autumn afterblooms
"Autumn Afterblooms" photo by Katheryn Laible

Consider Losing the Lawn

Of course, while lawn health is among the biggest reasons to still rake, folks such as those from Re-Wild Long Island (an incredible collaboration of Long Island experts) suggest you consider doing away with your lawn instead.

This powerful opinion piece in the New York Times suggests you’d best “Kill your lawn before it kills you.”

On the West Coast, this has become a serious affair. Alternatives such as Xeriscaping, which focuses on minimizing water use, have become very popular. There, many factors including severe ongoing drought are coming together to prove that fighting the ecosystem for the sake of grass isn’t worth the trouble.

Related practices are gaining popularity across the country as communities come to realize that tending their own yard is a great way to nurture a healthier environment.

I’m not quite ready to ditch my lawn myself. However, I am committed to neither watering nor fertilizing nor spraying it with chemicals, and to doing all I can to maximize the ecological value of my property.

Here’s a nice piece from Brooklyn Greenways on why native plants are so important.

I am deeply inspired by projects like these “Rewilding Long Island” examples featured on the Rewild Long Island website.

See these 12 Inspiring ideas for a lawn-free landscape from porch.com, and some more on Houzz.

Check them all out and then go, tread lightly into winter, and dream of the upcoming spring.

 

(BTW: You can find resources for that here … it’s never too early to start planning!)

photo looking up at trees in twilight
"Looking Up: After the Fall" photo by Katheryn Laible

Get Support for Going Green: LI Garden Rewards Program

Photo of Echinacea Flowers

As part of a broader initiative to address nitrogen pollution, The Long Island Regional Planning Council (LIRPC) wants homeowners to know about the LI Garden Rewards Program. Through this program, residents may be reimbursed up to $500 for installing green infrastructure on their properties such as rain barrels, rain gardens, or native plantings.

Receipts must show purchases made after 5/1/23. Funds are limited and granted on a first come first serve basis. Don’t miss out!

Folks living in the Peconic Estuary watershed can also be rewarded for removing turf or pavement, and adding rain barrels, rain gardens and native plant gardens. Residents of the Town Hempstead can also participate in a Native Plant rebate program.

Find information on all of it here.

Photo of Black Eyed Susans

About the Long Island Regional Planning Council

The LIRPC is one of the only organizations tasked with considering the long-term economic, environmental, and social well-being of Long Island as a whole. It conducts research, surveys and studies. It also serves as a forum for discourse and debate, touching on topics such as the economy, equity, tax and governance, the environment and infrastructure.

You can learn about various initiatives and insights on the LIRPC website. It’s a great resource.

Photo of Northport Harbor by Katheryn Laible

Photo of Northport Harbor by Katheryn Laible

Why Nitrogen

One major focus of the LIRPC is nitrogen pollution.

Nitrogen is the leading cause of water quality deterioration on Long Island. It comes primarily from a variety of wastewater sources, and stimulates algal growth. This leads to low oxygen conditions, fish kills, and degraded marine habitats.

It also contaminates the groundwater that is Long Island’s sole source of drinking water.

You can learn more about that and the LI Nitrogen Action Plan (LINAP) here. We also have a great, growing resource of sustainable landscaping resources here (tell us more!).

While solutions are multi-faceted, this is a place where individual effort can make significant impact. Go for it!!

Bee on Aster by Katheryn Laible

Photo of Bee on Aster by Katheryn Laible.

Come Learn: Huntington-Northport Oyster Reef Project

Flyer for a three-part educational series at Town Hall on "How to Improve & Protect our Marine Ecosystem." Join them Tuesday, June 6th at 6pm for the next one!

As part of a larger program, the Huntington Rotary has been coordinating a 3-part forum at Town Hall, “How to Improve and Protect Our Marine Ecosystem” featuring Aquaculture Experts at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

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Autumn Landscaping Resources

Child in leaves

Autumn Landscaping. Sorry I'm Late!

This year, what with all the all at our gallery, every other plan I had went out the window.

Both Synchronicity and my gardens were sorely neglected.  

I am thus late with this article and still struggling to accomplish basic fall cleanup.

Fortunately, while I still have important work to do, I am comforted by a whole host of experts who now recommend taking it easy on the leaf removal.

Autumn Dogwood
"Autumn Dogwood" photo by Katheryn Laible

On Leaving the Leaves

This is rapidly becoming a very mainstream concept.

Here’s a piece from Homeserve.com, “Rake It or Leave It? Here’s Why You May Just Wanna Leave Your Leaves Where They Fall,”  one from the USDA, and even one in Good Housekeeping.

Here’s an article from James Doubek for NPR on the subject.

Environmental groups have been saying this for years. Here’s the National Wildlife Federation on why.

And one from The Xerces Society: “Leave the leaves.”

BTW, I just discovered the Xerces Society, which is focused on saving invertebrates. Their work is deeply fundamental and yet applied at our level in the food chain, so it’s really helpful! Their Facebook page is a wealth of basic, excellent advice.

…There are tips on winter cleanup, saving seeds, a beautiful sight of Monarch Butterflies migrating….

I learned about them from Long Island Native Plant Group on Facebook, a great community of incredibly knowledgeable and helpful folks who think about our local ecoscapes all year long

…but I digress…

…I was talking about leaving the leaves…

Photo of oak leaf on pavement
"Oak Leaf" photo by Katheryn Laible

Well, Most of Them Anyway

The movement to leave the leaves is really important, but should be taken with a little common sense.

It also remains important to keep the driveway clear, as well as stone patios and pathways, assuming you wish to preserve them. The same goes for grass (though a thin layer of leaves may be mowed quite healthfully), which also likes to be aerated from time to time.

On my property, I’m dealing with invasive Norway Maples that I’m working to eradicate and replace with native trees as quickly as I can afford to do so. With them, I have found raking the leaves is fairly important as they seem particularly smother-y and slow to break down. As I am working to reduce their spread, I also want to be able to get their whirlybirds up in the spring!

As such, my approach isn’t so different from what Soil Seed and Garden.com says here, or The Spruce, here.

So, I do continue to rake a bit….mindfully….

Autumn afterblooms
"Autumn Afterblooms" photo by Katheryn Laible

Consider Losing the Lawn

Of course, while lawn health is among the biggest reasons to still rake, folks such as those from Re-Wild Long Island (an incredible collaboration of Long Island experts) suggest you consider doing away with your lawn instead.

This powerful opinion piece in the New York Times suggests you’d best “Kill your lawn before it kills you.”

On the West Coast, this has become a serious affair. Alternatives such as Xeriscaping, which focuses on minimizing water use, have become very popular. There, many factors including severe ongoing drought are coming together to prove that fighting the ecosystem for the sake of grass isn’t worth the trouble.

Related practices are gaining popularity across the country as communities come to realize that tending their own yard is a great way to nurture a healthier environment.

I’m not quite ready to ditch my lawn myself. However, I am committed to neither watering nor fertilizing nor spraying it with chemicals, and to doing all I can to maximize the ecological value of my property.

Here’s a nice piece from Brooklyn Greenways on why native plants are so important.

I am deeply inspired by projects like these “Rewilding Long Island” examples featured on the Rewild Long Island website.

See these 12 Inspiring ideas for a lawn-free landscape from porch.com, and some more on Houzz.

Check them all out and then go, tread lightly into winter, and dream of the upcoming spring.

 

(BTW: You can find resources for that here … it’s never too early to start planning!)

photo looking up at trees in twilight
"Looking Up: After the Fall" photo by Katheryn Laible

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

A photo of a scout photographing a site while Jean Henning surveys the brush
Update 5/25! The project is moving! Click here to learn more about Max’s endeavor to serve the Nassau County Museum of Art, scouting and other Eagle Projects. As a fundraiser Max selected a collection of photographs to sell through my Zenfolio site. You can also email me to inquire about custom pieces and direct donations.

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 depend on our groundwater. How we live impacts all of 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.