Garden 9969

White Snakeroot blooms in Carol Sommerfield’s garden.

The Ardsley Garden Club is offering a new, free service to homeowners seeking landscape advice. Those in need can visit the club’s Facebook page and send a direct message, or call president Linda Keil at 914-661-0334, to make an appointment for an hour-long house call. 

However, the expert won’t be consulting about which color roses would look best alongside the paint color of a house, or what patterns could be mowed across an infield-sized lawn.

The garden club is focusing on native plants, pollinator gardens, and invasive species. While walking with the homeowner to explore a property, a garden, or plans for a garden, a club member will develop a list of what should and shouldn’t be done, where and when. 

Transplanted urbanites may be most in need of the garden club’s guidance, Keil told the Enterprise on Oct. 5. “Most of these people who come up from the city don’t know a twig from a leaf,” she stated. “They don’t know a weed from a native plant. This is where they really need help.”

Nowadays the club is on “invasive patrol.” Though porcelain berry vines with blue and purple berries can carpet trees with lush greenery, and Asian bittersweet laden with golden orange berries may intertwine with tall brush and trees — and play a prominent role in house decorations such as handmade autumn wreaths — both are imported species that grow out of control, develop tough, woody stems, and choke trees. The longer they’re allowed to stay, the harder they are to excise. 

Clearing invasives is the first step in creating aesthetically pleasing, functional gardens. Location, location, location might be the second.

Not every species will grow where a homeowner wants it to; sunlight, soil acidity or alkalinity, water access, chemical runoff from neighboring land, room for root systems, what’s growing or sitting nearby, and local animal behavior all factor into what a garden will or won’t look like. There are plenty of practical considerations. 

“You may have to move something,” Keil says. “A garden is a work in progress. I’ve been here 46 years; it’s not something you do overnight.”

Educating people on the benefits of choosing native plants and grasses over golf course-type lawns that use extravagant amounts of water and are useless in preventing erosion is part of the garden club’s mission. 

In its September “Going Green in Ardsley” newsletter, the Village Conservation and Environment Advisory Committee explained why: “Native plants have much deeper root structures that act as elevator shafts for water to prevent runoff. Grass has a very shallow root structure so it is not very helpful for absorbing water. Native plants also clean water, reduce stormwater runoff into our sewers and waterways, and sequester carbon from the air… planting them is essential to any climate adaptation strategy.”

Creating pollinator gardens is a newer area for the club. The idea of planting for gardens that attract butterflies, bees, and birds is an easy sell in springtime, when purple coneflowers, yellow black-eyed Susans, lipstick-red zinnias, and a vibrant palette of other flora are magnetizing black-and-orange monarch butterflies, yellow-and-black-striped bees, and hummingbirds darting almost too quickly for their colors to be identified.

Nevertheless, the garden club also recommends planting pollinator gardens when cooler weather arrives and plants drop their petals. Bees, moths, and butterflies are still visiting goldenrod, asters, blue mistflower, and white snakeroot. 

“This is a good time to plant, even though it’s the fall,” Keil insists. “We can give people a list of plants, explain where to get them, and how to get started. There are different places to get ‘plugs’ of little native plants: Rosedale Nurseries in Hawthorne, Carlson’s in White Plains. And you can grow zinnias from seeds.” 

It’s not easy to encourage people to eschew the habits of a lifetime and refrain from raking leaves, deadheading formerly flowering plants, and removing fungi and fallen branches during fall and winter, but those components provide food and shelter for some pollinators, helping them survive cold and wet weather, reproduce, and show up in the spring.

A gardener, novice or expert, may have further, detailed questions after the garden club’s visit, but Keil will remind them, “It’s one hour — it’s not an all-day event.” For in-depth analysis, particularly for potential pollinator gardens, she’ll refer them to club member Carol Sommerfield, who is also the organizer for Ardsley Pollinator Pathway (Ardsleypollinatorpathway.org). 

Since March, Sommerfield has made 36, sometimes lengthy, house calls. What began as a labor of love — she planted two different pollinator gardens on her own property and advised friends on theirs — is now a passionate crusade on behalf of the environment. 

She delves into a garden’s details with gusto, researching for hours, then creating a how-to guide customized for a homeowner’s situation, providing a bounty of native plant choices for their specific site requirements and design wishes. Sommerfield points out invasive plant issues and helps the homeowner identify the plants so they can manage them.

“I love going to people's properties, meeting the owners, and discovering how they would like to welcome nature back into their yard,” she declared. “Some people want to see and support birds, others want to help endangered butterflies, and yet others want to add natural beauty and build a healthy ecosystem. It is really rewarding to be invited back by the homeowner to see the transformation.”

Sommerfield also provides follow-up.

“Following the consult, I’m available for support and encouragement,” she noted, “and my hope is that the garden, no matter how small, becomes our latest location on the growing Ardsley Pollinator Pathway.”

For an appointment, she can be reached through the Ardsley Pollinator Pathway website or at ardsleypollinatorpathway@gmail.com.  

“Working in conjunction with each other, this is going to be great, and a win/win/win for the village, club, and homeowner,” Keil added. “I am thrilled about this. Between Carol and me, we’re going to save the world.” 

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