The Maine Audubon Society will hold its annual Native Plant Festival and Sale on Saturday for the first time since 2019, but staff – including new Bringing Nature Home manager Andrew Tufts – hope people will show more interest in the festival than in the sale.
It’s not that Maine Audubon doesn’t want to sell you native plants for your property. It does. But during the COVID pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the organization found it easy for people to buy the plants online all summer long and pick them up curbside rather than limiting their sale. to a single day. Now they would like selling to be a secondary activity of the festival, and the main purpose of the festival to be education. The nonprofit hopes to teach festival-goers how to “bring nature home,” a phrase borrowed from professor, conservationist and writer Doug Tallamy.
The main event of the day is a multicultural program on conservation efforts for the brown ash tree, which is threatened by the emerald ash borer. This Asian insect pest first arrived in the United States in Michigan 20 years ago and has since destroyed tens of millions of ash trees. It was recently found in Maine, notably at Gilsland Farm, the Maine Audubon’s Falmouth estate.
The program, which will be offered multiple times between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, includes several University of Maine scholars who are Native American: forest recreation management professor John Daigle (Penobscot) and doctoral students Suzanne Greenlaw (Maliseet) and Tyler Everett (Mi’kmaq); Doctoral student Emily Francis is also participating. The famous passamaquoddy basket maker Gabriel Frey will demonstrate his art. Although the borer attacks all ash, native tribes in Maine use brown ash to weave traditional baskets. The group will talk about the cultural and ecological significance of the tree as well as its vulnerability to the emerald ash borer, climate change and poor forestry practices.
Maine Audubon director of education Eric Topper said the emerald ash borer at Gilsland Farm was discovered in a “trap tree”, a green ash tree that had its bark deliberately stripped off to weaken it, and therefore more attractive to pests. Only one larva was found, but that was enough to put Cumberland County on the list of places infested with emerald ash borer.
There will be other speakers throughout the day; information boards by groups such as the Wild Seed Project, Xerces Society and BirdSafe Maine; and artwork for sale by painter/gardener Vanessa Nesvig, who has painted a series of works on native plants and ecosystems.
Helping organize the festival is one of three parts of Tufts’ job, which began about a month ago. He grew up in Topsham and previously worked as a landscaper, land trustee, town planner and most recently landscaper with Sebago Technics. Her new work also involves community outreach and conservation and restoration landscaping.
As part of his work, Tufts will look for large plots of land that can be planted with a wide range of native species, because while individual backyards are good for insects and birds, large tracts of contiguous land with natives are essential.
By the way, Tufts mentioned their interest in designing landscapes to go along with the solar panels. Because my curiosity is aroused by such plantings every time I pass such a site, I immediately asked for examples of such designs. Tufts and Topper dampened my hopes a bit by saying that the first step is to research what might work. But I plan to harass them every year or so to see if they’ve made any progress. Topper was quick to say that it would never make sense to cut down a forest to create a solar farm. Two more suitable sites he mentioned are abandoned golf driving ranges and abandoned gravel pits.
While landscaping for solar farms is in the future, the Maine Audubon Native Plant Sale and Festival is approaching, offering many ways for gardeners to improve their own gardens now to make them useful for birds, bees and other creatures.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer who gardens in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]
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