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Earth Sangha is Re-Opening the Wild Plant Nursery for Volunteers

Earth Sangha is reopening the Wild Plant Nursery for plant-shopping appointments and volunteers! (Our contactless “curbside” pickup service will continue to be available.) Volunteer opportunities will begin on July 19, and plant-shopping appointments on August 2.

The safety of volunteers, customers, and staff is the priority. Volunteers MUST pre-register for nursery workdays (workdays will be limited to 10 volunteers), and customers MUST book a plant-sale appointment to ensure everyone can practice social-distancing. They are still closed to walk-ins.

How to Sign-Up to Volunteer

1. Visit the volunteer page at www.earthsangha.org/volunteer

2. Click on the “Sign-up Genius” link to view the calendar and open volunteer slots.

3. Sign-up for the day and volunteer slot you’re interested in. (Please only sign-up for days you know you can attend.)

How to Make an In-Person Plant Sale Appointment

1. Visit the Book Online Page at www.earthsangha.org/book-online

2. Click the green “Request to Book” button

3. Click on the day and time slot you’d like to book and then click the grey “Next” button. The calendar gives the option to view by week or by month. (30 min appointments are available from 9am to Noon on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays.)

4. Enter your name, email and phone number

5. Click the grey “Request to Book” button

6. You will receive an email when your appointment is confirmed.

This is their first time offering booking online, so please email Katherine at kisaacson@earthsangha.org if you have any questions about booking an appointment.

How to order for curbside pick-up

1. Check out inventory at www.earthsangha.org/wpnlist

2. Email Earth Sangha at orders@earthsangha.org with species and quantities you’d like to purchase. Let them know if you’re a member to receive the member discount! If you need help choosing plants for your site, they’re happy to help! Feel free to send photos of areas you have in mind.

3. They’ll place your order in an assigned bay outside the nursery fence, notify you that it’s ready to go, and you can pick up at your leisure.

4. They’ll email you an invoice you can pay online. Feel free to pick up first, so you can see what you’re getting.

All visitors must abide by the following rules

* All volunteers and customers must be pre-confirmed either through the online volunteer sign-up or online appointment systems.

* No more than 10 people can volunteer for an event at one time.

* Volunteers/customers should not visit the Wild Plant Nursery if they have any COVID symptoms, or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days.

* Volunteers/customers must wear a face mask while at the Wild Plant Nursery.

* Volunteers/customers must practice social-distancing while at the Wild Plant Nursery.

* Volunteers are encouraged to bring their own work gloves and water bottles.

What we can be Optimistic about in 2020

Article by Matt Bright, Conservation Manager for Earth Sangha, mbright@earthsangha.com

As the Earth Sangha’s resident optimist, it can sometimes be difficult to keep my usual cheery disposition. A new study came out in France (Wintermantel et al. 2019) showing that even after an EU-wide moratorium in 2013 and an outright ban in 2018, agricultural fields still have levels of neonicotinoids that can be fatal to bees. Research continues to pile up showing declines in birds and insects in North America and beyond. UN reports on climate change sound more dire. Amidst all this depressing news, I was contacted by the Piedmont Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society and they asked me if I could give a talk, but that they wanted it to be optimistic – to focus on what is possible rather than what is broken.
I haven’t yet decided what exactly I will talk about during my January 26th talk, but the challenge and the recent holidays have forced me to reflect broadly on what we’re all doing right, and how we can all collectively keep making progress. This isn’t meant to be Pollyannaish. There is much to be distraught about it. But, with hard work there are issues we can address and begin to create some real change. Here’s what I came up with:

Our understanding of native plants role in ecosystems continues to increase. Scientific literacy about plant ecology is the best tool we have for engaging more people and making the case for conservation and restoration work here and abroad. Thanks to the efforts of scientists like Doug Tallamy, Karin Burghardt, Desiree Narango, and countless others, we now have a much clearer understanding about the interaction between native plant communities and the wildlife they support, and the damage invasive species can do to our natural areas. In summary, native plants support a wider variety and quantity of insect life; these insects support a greater variety of bird life; the flowers attract more insect pollinators and nourish these better than non-natives; and the fruits tend to be better suited to supporting native wildlife too. The more we can put native plants back into areas where they belong, the better off we will all be.

Thanks to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Natural Communities of Virginia, we now have an excellent data set detailing how native plants assemble themselves in the wild. We know that native plants do not occur willy-nilly at random, but in predictable plant communities, and we can use the information, along with historical data and reference sites, to guide restoration.

We now have data on how cultivars of native species function ecologically compared to wild type stock. Annie White’s data show that most cultivars see significantly lower visitation than wild type flowers, and new research on cultivar by Andrea Kramer in Ecological Restoration found that “nearly 25% of cultivars had floral or leaf traits that differed from wild plants in ways that may compromise their ability to support pollinators and other wildlife” and that “only 3% of cultivars received high suitability scores for use in large, undisturbed sites near remnant populations [of native plants].”

All of this research helps us to be more prepared to address future conservation and restoration challenges and informs our work. Even if the conclusions they come to aren’t emotionally gratifying to hear, they point a path forward. In this case, the conclusion is clear: careful restoration of degraded areas with local ecotype stock, replanted into reasonable facsimiles of natural or successional plant communities is a low-risk, high-reward method to improve ecological function. Which brings me to my next point.

We know that we can make a difference. A study looking at fragmentary habitat (Damschen et al., 2019) found that species diversity increased 14% over 18 years in corridors where restoration reconnected disparate parcels compared to ones that remained isolated. This sort of patchwork of parks, natural areas, and undeveloped land separated by swaths of built up areas is mirrored in our own region. By working to improve the ecological value of lands on both public and private areas we can begin the work of reconnecting these fragments into larger corridors.
This work is already happening thanks to homeowners and landscape designers using native plants. Including native plants into landscape designs for larger developments, green roofs, and roadsides will be part of the solution. Advocating and educating people about the advantages of using native plants and how to begin with them is happening right now thanks to Plant NoVA Natives, Audubon at Home and other groups. And of course, our own Wild Plant Nursery supplies homeowners as well as landscape designers, and restoration projects with local ecotype native plants grown without pesticides.

It looks like we will have set yet another record for distributing more plants from our nursery with a whopping 49,734 plants distributed. These plants are hopefully by now all in the ground and will be contributing towards reconnecting some of these fragmented areas and creating better habitat.

We are working with a community of thoughtful engaged professionals and volunteers. This year, our plants reached 29 schools and over 40 parks across Northern Virginia. Inspired by how well our efforts to restore rare plant species (Pycnanthemum torreyi and Solidago rigida) to wild areas with Fairfax County Park Authority went this year, we’re already looking other sites where we will conduct volunteer restoration plantings using our own plants, in areas where larger scale restoration seeding has already taken place. We think this can be a good model that allows land managers to tackle large areas economically with seed sowing, while protecting local genetics and adding appropriate diversity to sites through replanting with local ecotype stock. Keep an eye out this spring when we’ll need a hand with planting!

Across the region, thoughtful restoration work is taking place. City of Alexandria targeted a steep mowed slope in Montgomery Park where we replanted dry meadow species. This planting not only helped to establish a diverse meadow where there was only lawn before, but removed a difficult and potentially dangerous bit of mowing along a steep slope. Fairfax County, Falls Church City and Arlington County have also completed a number of restoration events this year, in part with our stock.

And, of course, many volunteers work tirelessly to see these projects through, to advocate for better policies, educate and engage people who would otherwise not be aware of local environmental issues, and help to inform our own understanding of natural areas by volunteering their expertise with citizen science projects or leading their own restoration projects.

We would’ve never been in the position we’re in today, to support so much great work, if it wasn’t for all the support of our colleagues, our donors, and our volunteers.

And for all that, I am very grateful.

Earth Sangha seed cleaning events

Earth Sangha office
5101-I Backlick Road, Annandale VA
Sunday, 15 December and Monday, 16 December 2019, 10 am – 1 pm
Sunday, 5 January and Monday, 6 January 2020, 10 am – 1 pm
Sunday, 12 January and Monday, 13 January 2020 , 10 am – 1 pm
Continuing until all seeds are cleaned

Ever wonder how Earth Sangha grows the plants in its nursery? It all starts with the seeds! Come volunteer and learn how the process works. The size of the office conference room dictates a maximum of 15 people participating at a time. If you want to join these activities, please register by sending an email to Lisa Bright at lbright@earthsangha.org. Regrettably, volunteers may have to be turned away if they show up without communicating to Lisa.

Earth Sangha seeks part-time office manager

Want to put your office skills to work protecting forests and meadows? The Earth Sangha seeks a part-time Office Manager to support their office. The Office Manager will be responsible for the various day-to-day tasks that make a small nonprofit run. These tasks include, but aren’t limited to: database management (Filemaker), data entry (Excel), mailings (stuffing envelopes and labeling), basic accounting (Quickbooks), invoicing, updating their email list, event preparation, and answering phones. The Office Manager will be based at the Earth Sangha office (5101 Backlick Road, Suite I, Annandale VA 22003) with occasional work at the Wild Plant Nursery (6100 Cloud Drive, Springfield VA  22150).
No relevant degree/certification necessary, but candidates should have a strong interest in conservation, public service, and have experience in office administration. Candidates must be highly-organized, self-directed, and have good communication and interpersonal skills. $15 per hour to start. For more details see www.earthsangha.org/staff.

Earth Sangha fall open house and native plant sale

Wild Plant Nursery
6100 Cloud Drive, Springfield VA
Sunday, 22 September 2019
10am – 2pm
Click here for the Wild Plant Nursery Species List.

The Fall is really the best time to visit the Earth Sangha nursery. In the Spring, plants are still emerging from winter dormancy, and so they cannot offer as many species. The Fall, as experienced gardeners know, is also the best time to plant! Trees, shrubs, and perennials like the cooler weather and greater rainfall lets them establish robust roots. Late blooming annuals can make great additions to your garden, and many will “volunteer” from seed next year.

All plant sale proceeds go toward local parkland restoration. Last fall, customers helped them raise over $15,600 for local parkland restoration!
Choose from over 275 local-ecotype native species and help them fund the restoration of our area’s native flora.

If you’re interested in volunteering at the sale please email Katherine Isaacson at kisaacson@earthsangha.org. There will be a morning shift (9:45 to Noon) and an afternoon shift (Noon to 2:30).

Earth Sangha workdays all summer

Join Earth Sangha on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays for regular nursery workdays. Volunteers can help with weeding, preparing pots, sowing seeds, and transplanting. Please wear shoes that can get muddy and bring your own water.

Contact Matt Bright if you have questions about the schedule: For safety reasons, we may have to cancel volunteer workdays and nursery hours on short notice because of inclement weather. If you have any questions about scheduling at the nursery call or text Matt Bright at 703 859 2951.

Where: The Nursery is in Springfield, Virginia, in Franconia Park, which lies just south of the Beltway, and just east of the Beltway’s intersection with Routes 95 and 395. The address to our entrance is 6100 Cloud Drive. Access is from Franconia Road (644). From Franconia, turn north on Thomas Drive, less than half a mile east of the 395/95 intersection. There is a traffic light at Thomas. From Thomas, turn right onto Meriwether Lane. Turn left onto Cloud Drive. Please park in the parking lot at the bottom of the entrance road, then walk down the dirt road along the community gardens. Our nursery lies beyond the community gardens.

Contact: Matt Bright (mbright@earthsangha.org or 703-859-2951)

If we work together, we can be a true force for nature

Cathy Ledec

If variety really is the spice of life, my work with Fairfax Master Naturalists is a tasty dish indeed. I engage with many projects throughout the year: as the president of the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park, the chair of the Fairfax County Tree Commission, as an Invasive Management Area site leader and Resource Management Volunteer for the Fairfax County Park Authority, Audubon-at-Home Ambassador, and as President of the Pavilions at Huntington Metro Community Association.

Mt. Vernon Government Center before our project

One of the most rewarding projects has been establishing a Natural Landscaping Demonstration project at the Mount Vernon Governmental Center, in Alexandria, Virginia. I attend meetings at this Fairfax County building frequently, and observed that the landscaping around the building had no variety, included mostly turf grass, and lacked blooming plants. The center needed some TLC! When I mentioned my observations and thoughts to Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, he was enthusiastic. So I marshaled resources and my network and went to work.

Next steps towards implementation included preparing a planting plan, with drawings of the landscaping beds; and researching and preparing plant lists. I consulted with fellow Fairfax Master Naturalist (FMN) Betsy Martin, who is also an Audubon-at-Home Ambassador and very knowledgeable about native plants. Betsy provided great guidance on low-impact ways to establish the mulched planting beds. These methods included covering the large areas of turf grass with cardboard or newspaper and covering with 3-4 inches of mulch. 

Betsy Martin and George Ledec deep in the mulch

We established the first planting bed in November 2017, with one of Betsy’s friends donating of a huge load of mulch. Consulting with technical experts from the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District and Earth Sangha was especially important to the research and writing that resulted in our receiving two grants from these organizations for this project. (The grant writing process was fast, only taking a few months).  

Someone said to me once, “If you don’t plan, plan to fail.” So plan I did! The first planting event was in early April 2018. At the same time that I was planning for the planting, I started pursuing the needed permissions from the Fairfax County Facilities Management Division (FMD). This process was more challenging than I expected, but I kept the end goal in mind and eventually signed off on the needed Memorandum of Understanding with FMD. I knew that once this was signed, it would pave the way for future projects of this type for my fellow FMNers.

The goals of this project were to restore and improve environmental conditions. Converting turf grass areas to mulched planting beds would result in:

  1. Improved stormwater management
  2. Reduced urban heat island effect
  3. Restoration of wildlife habitat
  4. Improved visual appearance of the building
  5. Trees planted to shade the building, reduce summer cooling costs, provide natural privacy screen for staff working inside, and improve the view to the outside for staff working inside

Anticipating questions from the visiting public, I also prepared outreach materials on the project that could be shared with interested visitors.   

Concurrently, I was also contacted during the planning phase by a scout leader looking for an outdoor project for his scouts—what great luck!—and an excellent project for this scout troop and their families. This serendipity brought in more than 90 volunteers to establish the planting beds and the spring planting. The scouts dug holes, planted trees, moved mulch, and completed their work in one weekend. Volunteers rock! Thanks to FMNer Patti Swain for her help guiding the scouts.  

FMNers Maryann Fox and Chris Straub

We did a second planting in the fall of 2018, with thanks to FMNers Christine Straub and Maryann Fox, who helped with weeding and the fall planting. Special thanks to Supervisor Storck and his wife Deb for their help with the planting. Supervisor Storck’s support for this project was key to our success. 

We planted over a dozen tree seedlings and more than 100 native plants. There will be continuing need for maintenance, so you’ve not heard the last on this project. You, too, can join with us on our next maintenance day (I’ll send out a note and put it on the calendar), and record service hours to Stewardship project S256.

Blooming New England Aster with bumble bee in Summer 2018

This past April, I was honored for my work improving our environment with the 2018 Fairfax County Citizen of the Year award, both a humbling and thrilling recognition.

It remains very rewarding to watch the landscape our little team built fill in, bloom, and attract the birds and the bees. Every time I go by, there is a new flower blooming, with bees in attendance.

 

Earth Sangha spring open house & native plant sale

When: Sunday May 5, 9:45 am – 2 pm

What: Earth Sangha is hosting their Spring Open House & Native Plant Sale on Sunday, May 5th from 10AM to 2 PM. They need student volunteers to help customers carry plants and move wheelbarrows, and experienced adult volunteers to tally orders and direct customers. Please email Katherine at kisaacson@earthsangha.org if you’re interested in volunteering.

Where: The Nursery is in Springfield, Virginia, in Franconia Park, which lies just south of the Beltway, and just east of the Beltway’s intersection with Routes 95 and 395.  Access is from Franconia Road (644). From Franconia, turn north on Thomas Drive, less than half a mile east of the 395/95 intersection. There is a traffic light at Thomas. From Thomas, turn right onto Meriwether Lane. Turn left onto Cloud Drive. Please park in the parking lot at the bottom of the entrance road, then walk down the dirt road along the community gardens. Our nursery lies beyond the community gardens. View the nursery’s location on Google Maps. (The Google pointer is set to Cloud Drive, not directly on our nursery, which has no street address. From Cloud Drive, follow the directions above.)

Contact: Katherine Isaacson (kisaacson@earthsangha.org)

Earth Day: Marie Butler Leven Preserve Workday

When: Saturday, April 20, 10 am-1 pm

What: Join Earth Sangha for an Earth Day planting at the Marie Butler Leven Preserve! We’ll be planting almost 1,000 native grasses and wildflowers in the front meadow. We’ll meet at the parking lot and walk into the park from there.  For MBLP events, sturdy shoes and long pants are recommended. We will provide gloves and all necessary tools. Please bring your own water. If you arrive late, call or text Matt on his cell at 703 859 2951.

Where: View the Preserve’s location on Google Maps. The Marie Butler Leven Preserve is in McLean, Virginia. The street address is 1501 Kirby Road. If you’re coming from the Beltway, exit on Route 66 East; from 66, take the first exit, to Leesburg Pike (Route 7); turn left on Leesburg Pike, then almost immediately after the underpass, turn right onto Idylwood Road. Just stay on Idylwood, which becomes Kirby Road after the intersection with Great Falls Street. Stay on Kirby; once you have passed the stop sign at Chesterbrook Road, the Preserve is about half a mile up on the right.

Contact: Matt Bright (mbright@earthsangha.org or 703-859-2951)

Earth Sangha spring Plant Grants, deadline Feb. 28th

The Earth Sangha Plant Grant application period for Spring 2019 is now open. Find the application here: www.earthsangha.org/plant-grant. Please have applications in by February 28 so Earth Sangha can respond to applicants before the planting season begins. In previous Plant Grants, the organization helped out Eagle Scouts working in Fairfax County parks, public and independent schools, and community groups working on public lands. They’re eager to help out again this spring!

The Plant Grant works like a buy-one, get-one program. For every plant purchase made towards an approved project, Earth Sangha donates an additional plant (up to the maximum allocated in your acceptance letter). They can also help with site visits, answer questions about what species might be most appropriate, and highlight your volunteer workdays on their Field Schedule.

Their preference is for projects within Fairfax County, but they are open to proposals in other areas in Northern Virginia. In addition to the completed application (see link above), you will need a letter of support from a staff member from a relevant agency (an email is fine), and a few “before” photos of the site in question.

If you’d like to take advantage of this program, go to their website which fully describes the program and its requirements. Completed applications and questions can be sent to Matt Bright: mbright@earthsangha.org.