Paying it Forward

A Restful Retreat in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

A Restful Retreat (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

As a passionate gardener and nature lover, I can tell you firsthand how important it is to share and inspire others to be responsible caretakers of the land.  And you don’t have to go far to find ways to encourage and stimulate interest in our environment.  We can inspire others by the actions of tending and beautifying our own property.  We can invite friends and neighbors to visit our gardens and share ideas and encouragement.  We can join a garden club and help to create a community garden, or offer educational events with hands-on classes.  No matter the enormity of what we do; rather that we do something with the desire to improve upon the present situation in some way. 

Donna Ellis & Kathleen Nelson in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Donna Ellis & Kathleen Nelson (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Last week, I attended an educational event sponsored by Mad Gardeners, Inc. (, held for students at an agricultural high school, Housatonic Valley Regional, in Falls Village, Connecticut.  These are the next generation; a group of environmentally conscious youth that will carry on some of our traditions, while augmenting and revising others for the greater good.  Being in a room surrounded by these wonderful young adults gave me cause to feel very enthusiastic about our future, and I learned a lot in the process.

Architect Larry J. Wente's Home in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Architect Larry J. Wente’s Home in New York (photo courtesy of Larry Wente)

Our first speaker was Larry J. Wente, architect and founding partner of the N.Y. based firm Gertler & Wente ( and avid gardener, who shared his thoughts on sustainable architecture and landscaping.  He started by introducing some scary statistics: that 4.5% of the world’s population uses 24% of its resources, produces 30% of its garbage, and uses 25% of its oil.  (Yup, it’s the good old U.S).  Larry knew by the young age of twelve that he wanted to be an architect, but he wasn’t sure of the approach; deconstructivism (abstract), post modernism (using history, translating to modern) or critical regionalism (relating to area and landscape) until early adulthood.  Once he settled on critical regionalism, he delved into sustainability; pursuing ways to make the homes he designed more energy efficient, finding more opportunities to use recycled materials and incorporating these practices to the landscape as well.  Larry presented several homes with green roofs, solar panels, passive cooling systems, radiant heat and grey water processing, along with suggestions for building materials and low VOC refinishing products.

Insect Damaged Wood Samples in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Insect Damaged Wood Samples (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Donna Ellis, Co-Chair of the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group ( and Senior Extension Educator at the University of Connecticut, stepped up to the plate with a dish of bad news: we’ve got some bad bugs and diseases coming to town. From the crispy critter category, runner up number one was a creepy (and huge 1 1/2″ long) Asian Longhorned Beetle, Anoplophora glabripennis, with a black body mottled in white spots.  Not yet in Connecticut, these beetles bore into our native trees (maple, chestnut, willow, elm & more) from July through November.  The Emerald Ash Borer, Agrilus planipennis, although much smaller (1/4″ long) than the Asian Longhorned, is in Connecticut and causing quite a ruckus.  This shiny green beetle gets under the bark of ash trees and creates a series of serpentine tunnels that ultimately kill the tree.

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Accidently introduced in Pennsylvania, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys, has been in Connecticut since 2009, wreaking havoc on ornamental and fruit trees by sucking the fluid from  the leaves, as well as from fruits and vegetables, resulting in crop devastation.  And the last nasty pest is the tiny Spotted Wing Drosophila, Drosophila suzukii.  Although miniscule, this fruit fly is causing a lot of damage to all soft fruit crops, such as peaches, plums, blueberries, grapes, strawberries and raspberries.  Donna also mentioned two new diseases: boxwood blight, which attacks boxwood and pachysandra with a fungus that defoliates and kills the plants.  Impatiens downy mildew has demolished extensive plantings of annual impatiens and also affects our native impatiens, impatiens capensis, otherwise known as jewelweed.  The only bright spot is that it doesn’t affect New Guinea impatiens, or the new hybrid SunPatiens.

American Alligator Darth Gator in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

American Alligator ‘Darth Gator’ (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

On to a cheerier (and a few scary) cast of characters, Jim Knox, Curator of Education, and Jackie Westlein, educator, of The Beardsley Zoo ( brought an entourage of critters to display to the group.  Both expressing a sincere concern and dedication to preserving all species worldwide, they shared personal experiences with animals such as lions and rhinos to sharks and salmon.  Illustrating this point, they brought out a female tarantula named Rose, a scorpion (name unknown), an American alligator named Darth Gator, a thirty five year old parrot named Lorita, and a few slithering snakes, one a boa constrictor and the other . . . the name slipped by me.  In between animal demonstrations, the entertaining pair talked about the differences between hunter (eyes front) and prey animals (eyes on side) and explained the importance and beauty of the diverse species found across the globe.

Swallowtail Enjoying Ironweed and Buttonbush in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Swallowtail Enjoying Ironweed and Buttonbush (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Last to the podium was Peter Picone, Senior Wildlife Biologist with the Connecticut DEEP Wildlife Division at Session Woods Wildlife Management Area in Burlington, CT (  Peter provided fabulous “home” movies documenting the interaction of native plants and wildlife.  Wild turkeys strolling along, heads bobbing up and down as they strip seeds from blades of native little bluestem grass, Schizachyrium scoparium.  Robins gorging on berries from a native chokeberry, Aronia arbutifolia.  Chickadees imbibing on the seeds of native sunflowers, Helianthus divaricatus.  All compelling reasons to tear out the invasives (he provided an extensive list found at: ) and to plant some valuable natives to provide necessary seasonal food sources and habitat for our wildlife.

So, feel inspired to share your knowledge.  Talk about sustainability, monitor your property for unwanted pests, embrace the native fauna (even that which slithers) and add a few native plants to your back yard.  Pay it forward, you’ll get it back tenfold.

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