With pollinators in mind, garden clubs help lead shift to native perennial plantings

Case Hathaway-Zepeda, town garden chair, left, and Judy Oxman, of Hanover, unload a flat of creeping phlox to plant in the traffic island at the intersection of Lebanon and South Park streets in Hanover, N.H., on Friday, May 31, 2024.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Case Hathaway-Zepeda, town garden chair, left, and Judy Oxman, of Hanover, unload a flat of creeping phlox to plant in the traffic island at the intersection of Lebanon and South Park streets in Hanover, N.H., on Friday, May 31, 2024.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

Delta Baumruck, 6, of Jupiter, Fla., helps Quechee Garden Club member Bonnie Fiorelli plant bachelors buttons in the perennial garden at the Quechee Library as Gabby Osheyack, 9, and her mother Abby, of White River Junction, pass by during a childrens gardening event in Quechee, Vt., on Saturday, June 8, 2024. The garden club sponsored the event with crafts, ice cream and opportunities to plant a vegetable garden and make seed balls to take home and plant. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Delta Baumruck, 6, of Jupiter, Fla., helps Quechee Garden Club member Bonnie Fiorelli plant bachelors buttons in the perennial garden at the Quechee Library as Gabby Osheyack, 9, and her mother Abby, of White River Junction, pass by during a childrens gardening event in Quechee, Vt., on Saturday, June 8, 2024. The garden club sponsored the event with crafts, ice cream and opportunities to plant a vegetable garden and make seed balls to take home and plant. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Katie Bordeau, of Jupiter, Fla., left, hands a pea to Blake Grondin, 4, of Quechee, right, to plant in a vegetable garden sponsored by the Quechee Garden Club at the Quechee (Vt.) Library on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Katie Bordeau, of Jupiter, Fla., left, hands a pea to Blake Grondin, 4, of Quechee, right, to plant in a vegetable garden sponsored by the Quechee Garden Club at the Quechee (Vt.) Library on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

Case Hathaway-Zepeda, town garden chair, looks at the seed head of a crocus that she found while cutting back the foliage of the spring flowers with Judy Oxman, of Hanover, in the traffic island at the intersection of Lebanon and South Park streets in Hanover, N.H., on Friday, May 31, 2024. They planted the spring ephemeral bulbs along paths in the middle of the garden to provide early season color. When the foliage dies back they use the paths to get around the triangle away from traffic at the edges. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Case Hathaway-Zepeda, town garden chair, looks at the seed head of a crocus that she found while cutting back the foliage of the spring flowers with Judy Oxman, of Hanover, in the traffic island at the intersection of Lebanon and South Park streets in Hanover, N.H., on Friday, May 31, 2024. They planted the spring ephemeral bulbs along paths in the middle of the garden to provide early season color. When the foliage dies back they use the paths to get around the triangle away from traffic at the edges. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Chandra Gurmachhan, left, and Sara Johnson, right, both of Hanover, plant hostas during a Hanover Garden Club work session in the traffic island at the intersection of Lebanon and South Park streets in Hanover, N.H., on Friday, May 31, 2024. The club draws members from about 25 surrounding towns and they maintain 10 to 12 garden sites. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Chandra Gurmachhan, left, and Sara Johnson, right, both of Hanover, plant hostas during a Hanover Garden Club work session in the traffic island at the intersection of Lebanon and South Park streets in Hanover, N.H., on Friday, May 31, 2024. The club draws members from about 25 surrounding towns and they maintain 10 to 12 garden sites. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Gabby Osheyack, 9, of White River Junciton, during a childrens gardening event hosted by the Quechee Garden Club at the Quechee (Vt.) Library on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Gabby Osheyack, 9, of White River Junciton, during a childrens gardening event hosted by the Quechee Garden Club at the Quechee (Vt.) Library on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-14-2024 4:01 PM

Modified: 06-15-2024 9:01 AM


HANOVER — Walk by the Nugget Theater in downtown Hanover and it’s hard not to notice the flower beds that pull together the area where people regularly meet for ice cream and conversation.

The flower beds — which members of the Hanover Garden Club have maintained for decades — are undergoing a transformation. Where there once were annual flowers that needed to be planted every year, there are now native plants such as trillium and wild geranium.

“These gardens are so public that they kind of are a sample garden for everyone in town,” Case Hathaway-Zepeda, who serves as the town garden chair, said during a tour of the beds last month. “We want to show what’s possible here.”

For decades, garden clubs have played an important role in towns throughout the Upper Valley. They host annual plant sales and education programs, and give advice to new gardeners. Volunteers also take responsibility for public spaces — often referred to as town or civic gardens — at little-to-no cost to taxpayers. And in recent years, many clubs have put greater emphasis on incorporating native plants into their work in order to promote biodiversity and support pollinators.

“It’s important to recognize just that beauty and lovely places are really important,” Ruth Smith, master gardener program manager for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, said in a phone interview this month. “Gardens clubs do that. Many do more than that.”

The Hanover Garden Club is currently in the second year of a three-year process to convert gardens that feature annuals — plants that must be planted year after year — with perennials — plants that bloom year after year. Previously, volunteers would plant annuals in the roughly 10 town gardens each year.

“They would be gorgeous,” Hathaway-Zepeda, of Hanover, said. “But it was really hard to keep up and a huge amount of work.”

While perennials and native plants still need attention, they tend to require less water and upkeep. Among the newer additions are black huckleberry, creeping thyme and milkweed.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Former Listen director faces sentencing for embezzlement
Police investigating shooting of man found in Grafton
Claremont man transported to hospital for mental health evaluation after city hall lockdown
New Hampshire has no locally owned casinos in operation, state eyes new regulations
Bike lanes change traffic patterns on Route 5 in Hartford
Route 14 railroad underpass reopens in Royalton

“A garden is an evolving project,” Hathaway-Zepeda said.

A different kind of beauty

Volunteers typically begin work on the town gardens in May and continue through the fall. Chris Bentivoglio, of Hanover, joined the Hanover Garden Club as it was beginning its perennial project.

“It coincided perfectly with what I wanted to learn more about,” Bentivoglio said in a phone interview.

For 30 years, she had been gardening in what she described as the “traditional way.” Bentivoglio learned to garden from her mother-in-law, who was a landscape architect.

“(I) learned about concepts of design and beauty … that did not take into account what was native to the area you were gardening,” Bentivoglio said. For examples, she used to use non-native geraniums and petunias which “are not things that would normally be growing here in New England so they’re grown and planted and taken out every year.”

In recent years, Bentivoglio has grown more fond of native plants like boneset, Joe Pye weed and swamp milkweed, which all have flowering blooms. As the Hanover Garden Club transitions to use more perennials, Bentivoglio has been doing something similar with her own garden.

“To garden with things that are native to your region is a whole new way of looking at it,” Bentivoglio said. It’s also been helpful: Last summer, Bentivoglio’s well ran dry and this year she decided to rely on rainwater collection to water her garden. “By definition, native plants grow well in this area without additional water. They have already evolved to be happy with what nature provides.”

Kim Holtzberger, of Norwich, also volunteers in the Hanover town gardens.

“Besides meeting people, seeing people, kind of the social aspect of it, I just love playing with the plants, digging with the dirt,” Holtzberger said in a phone interview. She enjoys talking to people about the work the club is doing while she’s out in the gardens, including talking about how beautiful native perennials can be. “I think we need to sort of let go a little, be a little messy and realize it’s OK because it’s good for the planet, for the birds and the insects and the people too.”

It’s a shift that Smith, of UNH Cooperative Extension, has noticed taking place over the last decade and really gained momentum when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Some people who were stuck at home began paying more attention to the natural spaces that surrounded them and wanted to learn more about how they could support them.

“What we look at as a beautiful garden might actually be a pollinator desert,” Smith said. Some versions of hydrangeas, for example, have been hybridized over the years to create bigger blooms for aesthetic purposes. When that happens, native insects no longer recognize them as a potential source of food. “Through that process they were changed enough that they were no longer attractive to pollinators.”

There’s a misconception out there that pollinator gardens and native plants aren’t as beautiful as gardens with annual, non-native plants.

“One of the things that is often pushback on native plants is they’re not as showy and beautiful, which frankly is in the eye of the beholder, as with all beauty,” Smith said. “From the pollinators’ perspective they are more beautiful.”

Education is key

On a Tuesday morning earlier this month, members of the Quechee Garden Club were working on an evolution of their own outside the Quechee Public Library. The library’s gardens, which are under the purview of garden club volunteers, include a mix of annuals and perennials.

“It just puts a smile on my face,” Quechee Garden Club president Carol Stall, of Quechee, said in an interview in the library’s gardens. “Something is always blooming.”

This year, volunteers — led by master gardener Marion Gerardi — are working on a putting in a small vegetable garden at the library. Children helped plant seeds earlier this month and there are other garden-based programs planned for throughout the summer.

“That educational component is key,” Gerardi, of Quechee, said during an interview at the library. “They’re learning good gardening practices, how to take care of the pollinators.”

Education is also key for the Grantham Garden Club, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. The club regularly hosts speakers and takes field trips. This summer, they’re planning one to the Enfield Shaker Museum to look at the Shaker Herb Garden, President Terri Munson said. Volunteers are working on starting a seed saver program — which serves as a repository where people can find seeds to plant in gardens year after year — at Grantham’s Dunbar Free Library and hope to gain inspiration from the Shakers.

“People are always taking notes and doing what they see in other people’s gardens,” Munson said in a phone interview.

Volunteers maintain civic container gardens at various public buildings, including Town Hall and Dunbar Free Library, where they plant annual flowers.

They also work on a perennial garden located at the intersection of Routes 10 and 114.

“We do take into consideration what the pollinators like,” Munson said. Members also are working on putting in a garden at the fire station. “A big consideration was pollinators.”

In recent years, members have been using apps like iNaturalist to track the pollinators that visit their personal gardens and the civic gardens.

Some will participate in an upcoming butterfly count and during Grantham’s Old Home Days parade, garden club members plan on passing out wildflower seeds for the first time.

Garden clubs have always been cognizant of pollinators, Munson said, but those discussions are becoming more common.

Smith, of the UNH Cooperative Extension, emphasized that garden clubs and the way they talk about public spaces help continue those conversations.

“Having these gardens and providing education around these gardens can help people learn about that and understand it,” she said. “I think that’s the key. If we start making these shifts without telling people why it’s not as valuable.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.