Dobbs Ferry joined the Pollinator Pathway movement with a kickoff celebration on May 11 in Fellowship Hall of South Presbyterian Church.
The free event was co-sponsored by Sustainable Dobbs and Roots & Wings, the church’s sustainability initiative. Experts and local residents with pollinator garden experience addressed the crowd, and Sustainable Dobbs members Susan Gilbert and Janet Roseff were available to answer questions about creating pollinator gardens, recycling, “No Mow May,” and composting. Healthy Yards, Sustainable Dobbs, and Roots & Wings provided literature.
The evening opened with a welcome from Lenore Lelah Person on behalf of Roots & Wings, which has a “kitchen garden” behind South Church and a labyrinth featuring native plants out front. Person told the Enterprise, “The Kitchen Garden is distinct in that it combines plants for pollinators and plants for people [vegetables], as it grows produce for the Dobbs Ferry Food Pantry.”
Iris Arno, a member of the Hastings Pollinator Pathway Committee, spoke of the garden’s vegetables and herbs, and the pollinator section outside the fence, atop the wall on Oak Street. She showed photos illustrating the garden’s appeal to pollinators: bees inside a bright yellow cucumber flower and on a pink coneflower (echinacea); a caterpillar, destined to be a black swallowtail butterfly, on a dill plant; and a monarch butterfly visiting flowering broccoli.
Filippine DeHaan Hoogland, co-founder of the Bedford-based Healthy Yards and an administrator of the Westchester Pollinators group of Facebook, spoke about the growth of pollinator pathways in Westchester. DeHaan welcomed Dobbs Ferry to the growing list of municipalities, declaring it the 37th in Westchester.
“If I wanted to make something clear, it is that while the pollinators have great charisma, in the end it is about our whole ecosystem,” she said on May 16. “Without the pollinators, no healthy world, and that is true for almost all insects and critters. I hope the pollinators and Pollinator Pathway are the doorway that leads people to this realization.”
Roubi Eliopoulos, who co-chairs the Dobbs Ferry Pollinator Pathway with Tess McDade, began her gardening work in 2021 when she attended church and asked who took care of the labyrinth. “At the time, it looked like it could use some love,” she related. Others in the congregation connected her with Roots & Wings, and she became a kitchen gardener. Eliopoulos brought to the attention of Roots & Wings that Dobbs Ferry was the only Rivertown not part of the Pollinator Pathway movement.
McDade, a British transplant, said that she’s always loved “wild English cottage-style gardens over manicured gardens.” During the first summer of Covid, she watched a hummingbird enjoying plants on the deck of her house, which sparked her interest in pollinator gardens. “I have a lot of shade, and the deer have always enjoyed anything I’ve planted,” she elaborated, “but this year I’m planting native plants in a patch behind my house, and I’m hoping that the deer will leave them alone and the birds, bees, and butterflies will come visit.”
She emphasized, “We want everyone to know that it doesn’t have to be a big garden, but that every window box, deck planter, and patch of earth that is planted with plants native to this area and grown without pesticides, whether in sun or shade, will help the pollinators.” She added that native plants require less maintenance and water than non-natives.
The Dobbs Pollinator Pathway project plans to host a native plant swap this fall, and McDade wants its Facebook page to become the “Buy Nothing” of pollinator plants, with people sharing cuttings and other items.
The kickoff also introduced Nancy Delmerico and Kathryn Slocum, members of the Friends of Dobbs Ferry Waterfront Park, which has created a landscape of native plants along the Hudson River; and Joanna Rock, a homeowner who uses the “no mow’ approach to gardening, and incorporates more native wildflowers and flowering perennials each season. Rock lives in the Little Red House on Broadway, between Cedar Street and South Church.
Mickey Mossaidis of Zoe's Native Plants told how he started rewilding his yard, buying “flats” of plants, which are less expensive, but resulted in a plethora of each species. Thanks to word of mouth, he was soon in the native plant business as a sideline, while working full-time at Columbia University. So far, Mossaidis has sold thousands of plant “plugs” throughout the Rivertowns and beyond.
Keynote speaker Carol Sommerfield, who chairs Ardsley’s Pollinator Pathway, focuses less on the “how” of creating pollinator gardens and more on the “why.”
“I was happy for once to be able to tell people about the absolute joy of having a rewilded yard and how that connects me to the seasons, all the animals and plants, and the beautiful cycle of life,” she wrote to the Enterprise. “We forget about the 'why' — how it keeps you sane, provides awe outside your door, and becomes your personal sanctuary.”
At the event, Sommerfield, said, “I am here to appeal to your heart.” She spoke of the human need for “peace, renewal, beauty, and awe,” and shared seasonal photos of her rewilded backyard.
However, “peace is interrupted both by the noise and smell of gas leaf-blowers,” she continued. “Vast quantities of leaves are captured by landscapers and carted away in trucks, along with all the fireflies, butterflies, and moth cocoons, as well as other small critters who thought they could safely settle in the leaves for a long winter. I am saddened by the elimination of renewal, and the death of these gentle, beneficial creatures who only asked us for shelter.”
Sommerfield concluded with an exhortation to listeners: “This magical year can be yours too, no matter how small your garden. You just have to take the first step.”
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