Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.
Native People: Judy Sullivan - Fall 2004
The Institute of Ecosystem Studies (www.ecostudies.org), founded in 1983 on the 1,924-acre grounds of The Mary Flagler Cary Arboretum in the Hudson Valley of New York, is a center for innovative research and education in ecology. It is dedicated to training a new generation of ecologists and to making scientific information understandable and useful to policymakers and the public. While working nationally and globally, IES scientists also study issues and systems of local importance, using the facility's forests, fields, ponds, and streams, even its oversized deer population, for long-term research.
In the Fern Glen, a two-acre former testing area for plants collected from around the world, gardener Judy Sullivan has dedicated the past 15 years to replacing exotics with species native to the spot. Her enthusiasm for daily discoveries on these two acres is undiminished - and highly contagious to visitors. She provides an irresistible example: encouraging curiosity, observation, and critical thinking; leading the way in wet and dirty hands-on exploration; teaching people science when they think they are just having fun; and showing girls that science isn't just for boys. Nationwide, leaders in native plant gardening like Sullivan toil away at their own little slice of native plant paradise, collectively working to preserve America's sense of place.
Q. What is the focus of The Fern Glen? Is it a garden?
A. The Fern Glen might best be described as a sort of "anti-garden." A gardener's perspective is essentially artistic. But how diverse are our gardens, and did we alter existing plant/animal communities? In the Fern Glen, rather than simply plugging native plants into traditional designs, plants are grouped according to habitat and association. These include a hemlock forest, young deciduous woodland, limestone cobble, and a wetland complex featuring poor, rich, and shrub fens, a pond, and lively creek, full of animal/plant interactions.
Q. Why concentrate on plants endemic to such a small area?
A. Fifteen years ago at a gardening symposium I heard an English garden authority rhapsodize about the virtues of a plant. She described its looming height and great clusters of dusty rose flowers, so irresistible to butterflies. The audience gasped in admiration. I gaped in astonishment. The plant was Eupatorium maculatum, common Joe Pye weed, which was blooming its tousled head off in almost every damp ditch in New York State. Hundreds of gardeners drove by it without a second glance. It's easy take the familiar for granted. I focus on endemic species because they belong here, they are an integral part of our local ecology, and they deserve to be appreciated. I receive calls from town planners, landscapers, and homeowners wanting a list of locally native plants which I am developing. Hopefully, listing - and displaying - overlooked plants will encourage their use. It's one thing to use only the showiest blooms when creating a small border. It's quite another to attempt to create a community while excluding a large portion of its members.