Want your garden to create a local buzz? Brooke Beebe of Westchester’s Native Plant Center advocates incorporating some of the county’s bounty with native flowers and plants.
By Laura Joseph Mogil
If Brooke Beebe had her way,
every garden in Westchester would be blooming with Eastern columbine, fragrant white sweet-pepper bush, and purple New England aster. The director of the nonprofit Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College in Valhalla makes a pretty compelling argument for incorporating in your own yard these and scores of other wildflowers and plants native to the Northeast. After all, some of them, like the mauve flowered Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) and pink swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), may have blossomed right there on your property “way before the European settlers arrived,” she says with a laugh.
Since joining the Center at its founding in 1998 (it is the first national affiliate of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas), Beebe, who’s often found trowel in hand in her own Briarcliff Manor garden, has been a woman on a mission. Her philosophy is of the “think global, buy local” variety, and she takes her responsibility to share information on the benefits of indigenous flora as seriously as Al Gore does to help us save the planet. “The whole point with natives is that there are many communities of birds, butterflies, and bees that are beneficial pollinators of our plants, and they’ve all evolved together,” she says.
Why go native? For starters, indigenous wildflowers tend to be easier to grow and maintain. “Like any plant, you have to care for it initially and water it until it roots well,” she says, “but after the first year, a native will usually thrive because it’s already adapted to this climate. “They’re used to what we have here—droughty summers, wet springs, usually wet falls, and cold winters.”
And, if you’ve been giving lip service to the green movement, native plants make invaluable contributions to the local environment. Pests rarely bother them, so they don’t need to be sprayed with pesticide as, say, a hybrid tea rose might have to be. They’re also surprisingly helpful in cleaning the groundwater; their roots reach deep into the earth, filtering the water and taking out undesirable minerals and chemicals.
Not sure what buds in your own Westchester patch are native? Visit the Native Plant Center’s Lady Bird Johnson Demonstration Garden, which features islands of indigenous shrubs, trees, and perennials, as well as two meadows chock full of wildflowers grown from seeds. The neighboring Stone Cottage Garden, which opened just last summer, comprises four native plant demonstration areas to provide inspiration for your own yard: “Fall and Winter Interest,” “Foundation Plantings,” “Groundcovers for Sun/Lawn Substitutes,” and “Plants for Bees, Birds and Butterflies.” In addition to the demonstration gardens, the 400-member Center also sponsors conferences and offers lectures, field trips, and hands-on workshops for green thumbs looking for local resources.
“One native plant in one garden can make a difference,” Beebe says. “I figure if people get entranced with one flowering plant and grow it in their garden, they’ll come back for more.” If everybody joined in, then we’d certainly please Lady Bird Johnson, who once said, “Wherever I go in America, I like it when the land speaks its own language in its own regional accent.”