By Devin Reese
During the weekend of Aug. 21-22, ARMN volunteers staffed an information table at the Arlington County Fair. Adjacent to the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) and 4-H Youth Development tables, we were in a great spot for collaboration and outreach with the Fair’s visitors.
The ARMN table offered a variety of visual materials, including an ARMN poster on Stewardship and Citizen Science, enticing people to plant natives and get involved in bioblitzes and other wildlife inventories. The “Being a Good Neighbor” brochure explained how to adopt practices on your property, such as providing habitat for wildlife to enhance the ecological well-being of neighboring parks. A “Deer Management” handout alerted people to the negative environmental consequences of unmanaged deer populations. Audubon materials were also on display, including “Plants for Birds” and “Making Your Windows Safer for Birds.” The PlantNovaNatives brochure on “Native Perennials for Your Garden” included free seed packets for several native pollinator favorites: Cardinal flower, Milkweed, and New England aster. And a suggested donation of five dollars had visitors taking a copy of the thick, colorful booklet on “Native Plants for Northern Virginia.”
A steady stream of visitors trickled by the table. Some steered right over at the sight of the wildlife materials, while others were lured with a friendly “Hello.” The variety of interests and intentions visitors brought underscored the broad appeal of connecting with our natural environment.
Arlington resident, “Ace,” was excited to discuss the diversity of plants she was growing in her apartment balcony garden, which included an eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) she had been given by Arlington County’s Adopt-a-Tree program. A young couple from Southwest D.C. has no land around their apartment building but dreamed of a future garden. Inspired by the Fair’s agricultural competition, the woman hoped one day to grow a prizewinning gourd, while her husband fantasized about putting Cardinal flowers in his future flower garden. Recognizing the lack of planting opportunities for apartment dwellers, a building superintendent for an 8-unit apartment complex discussed what tenants could plant on their balconies.
Also from Arlington, David came over to ask about how and when to cut back his roses. The Arlington Master Gardener at the adjacent VCE table was able to give him some guidance about pruning them in late fall or early winter after they’ve bloomed.
Two passersby noticed the American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on the Audubon at Home brochure, and it sparked a conversation about which plants could attract goldfinches to yards. An elementary school girl proudly described the garden she was cultivating by herself and that it was so chock full of plants that she couldn’t add any more.
Some Westover neighborhood residents lamented that they had planted butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii) but couldn’t seem to keep them alive. This is just as well; Butterfly bush is an invasive, nonnative plant in this region. They took seed packets of the New England aster (Aster novae-angliae) to make a fresh attempt at attracting butterflies with a native plant. Another couple newly-moved to the area were curious about where to buy native plants. Master Naturalist Colt Gregory directed them to Earth Sangha, Nature by Design and the Nova Natives sales at Green Spring Gardens.
Editor’s note: see the related piece “Fall 2021 Native Plant Sales” on the ARMN homepage sidebar that lists a number of local native plant sales in September and October.
There were also visitors stopping to discuss specific environmental concerns. A Maywood neighborhood resident had noticed the die-off of white oaks (Quercus alba). We talked about how oaks in this region are suffering Sudden Oak Death because of a fungal pathogen that infects the living tissue under the bark. (Editor note: Sudden oak death has not yet been detected in the area.) He had also noticed that many trees were colliding with power and phone lines and advocated for moving utility lines underground to make more canopy space for trees. Another resident shared that, while she loved using her compost as rich soil, the unfortunate outcome was lots of stray seeds germinating and shading out the butterfly flower she had intended to grow.
Overall, the combined attraction of the side-by-side tables and lots of visual material related to wildlife and natural resources management seemed like an effective way to ignite conversations at the Arlington County Fair. We even got a visit from the former County Board Chair, the Honorable J. Walter Tejeda! The Fair highlighted just a few of the benefits that ARMN and VCE provide. Plan to contact us with questions you may have about and ways you can support our local natural environment while enjoying its beauty.