EnvironmentGovernmentThe Examiner

Westchester Homeowners to Showcase Healthy Garden Tour

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By Mia Levine

On Sunday, July 24, Healthy Yards, groups, and organizations throughout Westchester County that promote healthier landscaping practices will have their third annual Healthy Garden Tour. About 50 homeowners throughout the county who use environmentally-friendly practices will open their gardens to the public.

The Examiner spoke to three Westchester homeowners, Barbara Lalicki of Briarcliff Manor, a longtime gardener who recently discovered the importance of native plants, and White Plains residents LeighAnn Ferrara, whose been gardening for about five years, and Amanda Bayley, who in 2018 started Plan it Wild, a group that plants native gardens for clients to create greater biodiversity in Westchester.

Part of Briarcliff Manor resident Barbara Lalicki’s with a property that features native plants will be one of more than 50 gardens that the public will be able to view this Sunday for the third annual Healthy Garden Tour.

Q: What made you participate?

Lalicki: A friend visited my garden after I’d taken the Wild Gardens “Lawn to Meadow” workshop. Impressed by how I was incorporating native plants into the landscape, she recommended me to Healthy Yards for the tour. I spent some time exploring their very informative website and thought it would be a great thing to be part of. Bringing native plants into the garden is a rewarding way to help the environment, and I hope seeing this in action will inspire more people to try it.

Ferrara: I belong to a bunch of local gardening Facebook groups and saw it (the Healthy Garden Tour) posted in one of the groups. In the first year, I signed myself up. I was looking to be a model for other people to be inspired. 

Bayley: I receive the Healthy Yards newsletters. I saw this year’s tour is a pollinator tour and signed up my yard to be involved. I wanted to help showcase how beautiful and immensely important native plant gardens are for the survival of our local pollinators and many other local species. Additionally, signing my garden up for the tour motivated me to really get my own garden into shape, something that I have kept putting off, as I have been working on other native gardens all the time with Plan it Wild.

Q: Talk about your garden. 

Lalicki: I learned that although birds enjoy bird food, they need caterpillars and other insects that only thrive with native plants to feed their young. So, I decided to concentrate on adding native plants to my garden this season. I found that many plants already in my garden, such as goldenrod, milkweed, asters and penstemon, are natives. While I had an affinity for them, I was not tuned into the enviornment’s need for native plants until recently. 

Ferrara: About five years ago, I started getting rid of some lawn since my front yard is on a busy road that is sloped. We debated getting a fence and decided rather than get a fence, the kids would not play on the lawn. I started creating big plant beds and planted two apple trees. Afterward, I started putting cardboard around the trees and made mulch around the beds. Soon the entire lawn became for plant beds and not for grass. Currently, we mow a grass path in between the beds. We have a couple of trees, shrubs and different flowering plants. We also have some blueberries and roses. I did not start learning about native plants (until) about three, four years ago. Thus, the items that were planted before are not native, but they are now. 

Bayley: In my garden, there are plants for shade and sun, wet and dry, and the entire landscape is built around a rock outcrop. In the front, near the busy road, we have a pollinator pathway garden, with a variety of native perennials flowering from March through November. There are also many native trees and shrubs that pollinators like to visit, including a pussy willow tree, which is one of the first plants to flower. In the rear, we have a series of garden levels built around the rock outcrop. We have a large diversity of natives and it’s such a joy to watch the plants change throughout the seasons. This includes white oak, chokecherry, magnolia, bush honeysuckle, buttonbush, wild columbine, flowering dogwood, mountain laurel, bee balm, mountain mint, blue stemmed goldenrod, wild geranium, blue and white wood asters, butterflyweed, Appalachian sedge, high bush blueberry and so much more.

Q: What makes your garden unique?

Lalicki: It’s a garden in transition, with an increasing number of plants to attract pollinators. While walking around the paths, you’ll see various garden areas in the sun and shade, with shrubs, annuals and perennials. There’s an interesting mix of native and more common garden plants and a small woodland area. At the Wild Gardens “Lawn to Meadow” workshop, participants were given many seedlings. I’m growing them in controlled places outdoors before incorporating them into my gardens. 

Ferrara: There is a uniqueness of edible and native in my garden. Also, my way of gardening is unique. I let things happen and I try to be minimal. For example, I have two compost bins and I use them when necessary. Overall, the way of gardening is lazy and minimalist, but we get the best results out of it. 

Bayley: We are working towards a landscape of 90 percent native plants. Right now, we are at about 70 percent or so. According to research by  Doug Tallamy and Desiree Narango of the University of Delaware, “if the yard has more than 70 percent native plants biomass, chickadees have a chance to reproduce and sustain their local population. As soon as the number of native drops under 70 percent, that probability of sustaining the species plummets to zero.” (LaPenta, Dante. “Biodiversity for the Birds.” www.Udel.edu, 2018.

I have been applying this 70 percent native metric to my own yard, as I want the yard to sustain as biodiverse of a foodweb as possible. 

Q: What advice you have for people who would like to participate?

Lalicki: Every little bit counts and you don’t need to start with expert knowledge. The Wild Gardens and Teatown Plant sales are two great opportunities to familiarize yourself with native plants.

Ferrara: Anyone with a yard can garden in an environmentally friendly year (two years ago was the first tour). You do not need a lot of money or expertise to have a big garden or a garden you want. Got some plants for free from the beautification market. Easy to get topsoil at the town recycling yard. It can be cheap and accessible.

Bayley: Start by planting one native tree. An oak tree is one of the best starter trees since it supports a large number of many different species, providing a huge benefit to the local ecosystem. If you are not able to plant a native tree, start by planting a native shrub or a few native perennials. Keep adding natives over time, little by little, and you will be rewarded by pollinator, bird, and insect friends that comes to visit. 

With some exceptions, gardens roughly south of I-287 will be open on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and those north of  I-287 will be accessible from 1 to 4 p.m. For those interested in obtaining more information, e-mail Fiona Mitchell at info@healthyyards.org or visit www.healthyyards.org. An interactive map for all the gardens can be found at www.HealthyYards.org/tour, which provides their location and descriptions. 


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