Land trust promotes benefits of native plants

To stimulate environmental stewardship, the Pennsbury Land Trust on Thursday, April 9, hosted a program designed to encourage homeowners to use native plants in their landscapes.

The trust chose staffers from the esteemed Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, De., to make the case that environmentally sound choices benefit everyone. Leslie Hubbard, the public engagement coordinator for the center, led the program. She received support from colleague Karen Travers, a Mt. Cuba instructor and one of the Pennsbury Land Trust directors.

Like Longwood Gardens and Winterthur, the Mt. Cuba Center benefited from the largesse and horticultural passion of du Pont heirs. Lammot du Pont Copeland, a great-great-grandson of the chemical company's founder, bought the Mt. Cuba estate in 1935 with his wife, Pamela du Pont Copeland, both of whom were gardening enthusiasts.

“I want this to be a place where people will learn to appreciate our native plants and to see how these plants can enrich their lives so that they, in turn, will become conservators of our natural habitats," Pamela du Pont Copeland once said.

Hubbard said Mt. Cuba Center strives to fulfill its mission to inspire an appreciation for the beauty and value of native plants and a commitment to protect the habitats that sustain them. She said that not everyone has the resources to make dramatic changes in their yards but even small ones help and “save money, time, and the environment.”

Advocating “conservation by addition,” she said, “When it’s time to replace a plant, think about the entire ecosystem” and add a native variety. She stressed that it’s important to read the nursery tags so that the right plant goes into the right location. Doing that will translate into a reduction of water, fertilizer, and diseases, she said.

Hubbard said native plants are available at several annual sales, including the one at the Brandywine Conservancy the second weekend in May, and at the Delaware Nature Society the first weekend in May. In addition, she said the Gateway Nursery in Hockessin, De., and the Redbud Native Plant Nursery in Media stock native species.

Choosing native plants, such as milkweed for Monarch butterflies or winterberry holly for birds, helps support insects and animals that keep pests in check, she said. She pointed out that one bat can eat 600 to 1,000 mosquitos an hour.

Hubbard also extolled the virtues of composting, mulching, and turning part of a thirsty lawn into a drought-tolerant garden. She said grass is the biggest cash crop in the country and requires 30 percent of the nation’s water use, about half of which is wasted by runoff.

Barbara O’Connell said the program inspired her. “I do a lot of gardening,” the Pennsbury Township resident said. O’Connell added that she particularly appreciated the concept of incorporating native plants gradually. Until she retires, she won’t have time to do a complete overhaul, she said.

Naomi Maloney said she hoped more people would start paying attention to the importance of gardening ecologically. “We’ve got way too many chemicals pouring into our water system,” she said.

Hubbard said anyone interested in pursuing any of the topics she covered should consider taking one of the many classes the Mt. Cuba Center offers. The center is open for visitation April through November.

General admission costs $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 5 to 15 and is available on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Public tours are offered at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays from April through October.

For more information, including instructions for planting and suggestions for plants, visit www.mtcubacenter.org.

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