Georgia Native Plant Society’s New Intown Atlanta Chapter Hosts Tour and Encourages Rethinking Relationships with Plants and Lawns
By guest columnist Amelia Aidman, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Film and Media at Emory University and a member of the Intown Atlanta Chapter of the Georgia Native Plant Society.
Something beautiful is happening in Atlanta. Atlanta residents are increasingly embracing a new view of gardening that encourages food plants native to the local environment. Ideas are spreading like wild flowers, and among other groups and initiatives, the new Intown Atlanta Chapter of the Georgia Native Plant Society (GNPS) is helping this growing trend bloom.
On April 2, the chapter held its first public event with a first annual Native Plant Tour. Six sites in the Druid Hills and Decatur areas were included – two nature centers and four homes on private land. Over 300 people participated.
Laura Markson, a naturalist, native plant advocate and co-chair of the committee, along with Grace Manning, a botanist who works with Trees Atlanta, organized the tour. Founded in the mid-1990s, GNPS is a state-level nonprofit organization that promotes the use and preservation of Georgia’s native plants and their habitats.
In keeping with the state organization’s mission, Markson said the newly founded local chapter aims to “conserve and protect native Georgia plants and promote their use in residential and commercial landscapes.”
Barefoot in her garden – as she often is – Virginia Dupre, one of the owners and accomplished gardener, described the mood as “curiosity, appreciation, admiration and wonder”.
Visitors were grateful for the beauty of his garden, his knowledge and his work over the decades. The dead leaves on his property are used in his garden – gently raked into the flowerbeds. Since beneficial pollinating insects overwinter in the leaves, she is careful not to chop them or disturb what lives and reproduces there. If she doesn’t have enough of her own leaves, she will use the leaves of neighbors who otherwise leave them for county curbside pickup.
Leaving the leaves is a common practice among those who garden with the natives. Instead of a manicured lawn, they create native habitats with mostly – or all – native plants. Those who go in this direction have little need for the noisy and toxic landscaping practices used by much of the lawn care industry.
Walking through the Decatur neighborhood from Wylde Woods to Oakhurst Garden to the nearby Pardue residence and looking at the courtyards along the way, one felt that many of the neighborhood’s residents had been influenced by the presence of this center, which educates about plants and environmental issues.
Many homes had kept fallen leaves, using them in place of commercial mulch, and had plants native to the region growing in their yards. They weren’t all centered on the pitch. It’s as if the philosophy of Wylde Woods at Oakhurst Garden radiates out into the neighborhood to raise awareness of these issues.
Alex Dileo, 28, chairman of the board of GNPS’ new Intown chapter, said event organizers are driven by a shifting paradigm that resists and eschews green lawn hegemony in favor of a planting model that nurtures pollinators, soil and people.
She herself was inspired to switch from a lawn to native plants after participating in GNPS native plant rescue events and says that after just two years “I see bees buzzing, fireflies and birds nesting in my trees”. She even encourages those who only have access to limited spaces like a balcony or window boxes to grow native plants, saying they will notice changes.
For those of us trying to support a cleaner, healthier local environment, the tour was exciting, empowering and hopeful. We know the stakes are high if current lawn care patterns remain dominant. We also recognize that we cannot assume that government entities and related companies will adopt the necessary changes without a grassroots movement created by people who care deeply about these issues.
Visiting the native plant habitat gave us a day of “positivity” according to organizing committee member Leslie Inman. It was a day to learn, a day to teach, a day to be inspired and to feel that we are part of something bigger – to know that we are adding a piece to the puzzle to move from unsustainable practices to those that nurture the earth and ourselves. The nature centers and local gardens in this first annual Native Garden Habitat Tour are paying off through years of loving care.
Future visits to native garden habitats in the Atlanta area are on the group’s agenda. The plan is to showcase gardens in different seasons, as well as diverse ecosystems and habitats. The new GNPS Atlanta Chapter aims to engage and connect with both seasoned native plant gardeners, those newly interested and just beginning in their regeneration quests, as well as those elsewhere on the way.
The Intown Chapter seeks to expand membership to neighborhoods not currently represented in the group. Events in the works include a panel discussion titled “Adding Native Plants to Your Urban Landscape,” coordinated with Trees Atlanta on June 26 from 3-5 p.m.; a Native Plant Pollinator Picnic on August 19 and/or 20 with exact locations and dates to be determined that will tie into the Greater Georgia Pollinator Count; a native plant exchange on September 18; and a winter sowing in early January.