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Planting a Network of Connections

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

By Robyn Graygor

Kristen Pareti (on left), a junior, and Elsa Hata (on right), a sophomore, working together to pull a root system from a flowerbed

Gardeners know how to party! Well, at least how to work party.

The Native Flower Garden threw a work party on Thursday, Sept. 9 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. to celebrate the final planting of fall. Students and faculty alike united in the garden behind the Dance building to weed several overgrown flowerbeds and plant a variety of native species.

All the flowers were bought with research funding by Dr. Allyson Jackson, professor of environmental studies, general ecology, and wildlife toxicology at Purchase.

“In the future we want to do research on the plants,” said Jackson, “so we need to get them to grow.”

Ben, the garden dog, glances at the camera after sniffing at the overgrown mugwort in the flowerbeds

Twelve people of all ages (and one dog named Ben) showed up to offer a helping, green-thumbed hand.

Jackson explained today’s mission. “We need to do this,” said Jackson. “I want to get all of this stuff [invasive mugwort]out before it reseeds itself back in and becomes even more of a problem. We have plants that actually need to get in the ground.”

Before image of the overgrown mugwort which had smothered native plants

With work gloves on and bush trimmers in hand, the group began weeding eight different beds, digging, clipping, and fencing each one.

There were even encounters with two voles that went running over participants’ feet and through the beds. A few gardeners caught them in a bucket to return them to the woods.

Elsa Hata, a sophomore environmental studies major, was clipping the woody stems of invasive mugwort and digging out the remaining root systems.

With mud-crusted hands she said, “I’m pretty hopeful. I guess we’ll see how everything turns out, but I would be really happy to see everything survive the winter and bloom again in the spring.”

Seed packets for today's planting sprawled out on a picnic table while soil is being raked

Gardeners spent hours clipping swaths of overgrown mugwort, there from the COVID semesters. After the weeds and old roots were removed, hand rakes were pulled through the soil to prepare the beds for rose coreopsis, purple coneflower, spider milkweed, blue flag iris, mountain mint, pasture thistle, downy wood mint, and purple prairie clover seeds or seedlings.

By 6 p.m., all eight beds had been fully weeded and all of the planting complete. All that’s left to do now is to wait and keep up with weeding.

Kristen Pareti, a junior environmental studies major, has been working with Hata to weed mugwort. She said that if you have the privilege of having a yard, you should take the opportunity to plant natives.

“Native species provide habitat and resources for important species that live here such as pollinators and birds” Pareti said. “It’s vital for them to have these resources instead of ornamental plants which don’t offer the same.”

Dana Zargarova, a sophomore psychology major, believes even environmental corporations fall short when it comes to planting beneficial species, and that native plants are essential in any healthy ecosystem.

“A lot of greenwashed corporations are all about ‘oh you know, we plant six trees for every order,’ or whatever,” they said, “but they don’t pay attention to what plants are native to the area, so it destroys the ecosystem.”

While the garden maintenance is not a club, participants believe it offers the same social opportunities as one.

After image of beds cleared of mugwort and attendees Maverick Gazzillo, a sophomore, and Elsa Hata, a sophomore, starting on planting

Zargarova and friend Kaitlyn Murphy, a freshman art history major, stopped by after seeing a post on the Purchase Garden Instagram page. Neither had been to a meeting before, but both jumped right in with a pair of work gloves.

“It’s always nice to give back to the community,” said Murphy. “As small as a garden seems, I feel like it’s a nice thing to contribute and it's fun just to meet people.”

She isn’t the only student who thinks the garden brings people together. Pareti credits the work sessions with creating new connections between people.

“It’s important because it’s a way to be a part of a community on campus that has similar interests as me,” said Pareti. “I think it’s brought people together who otherwise wouldn’t have come together.”

Volunteers work together on two separate beds to kick off the last planting of the season

Even if gardening isn’t your forte, Hata says you could still benefit from the garden.

“When there’s flowers it can become a nice little place for people to sit and hang out.”

Next time you're taking a stroll behind the Dance building keep an eye out for buzzing bees, fluttering butterflies, and gardeners hard at work.

“Just come and join,” said Pareti. “If you have an interest in gardening, right then and there you’re already one of us.”



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