Native Seed Gardeners

Rare Native Plants: Free to good homes!

Rare native plants will be given to volunteers willing to care for them in their own home gardens, according to a new initiative presented to potential volunteers at the Council of Barrington Garden Clubs on January 14th. All that's asked for in return is that home gardeners commit to nurturing these rare local plants and return the seeds their plants produce to the Native Seed Gardeners for use in restoring local conservation lands.

The Native Seed Gardeners (NSG) is a pilot program developed by Friends of Spring Creek Forest Preserves and Citizens for Conservation (CFC) with support from Audubon-Chicago Region, according to Sam Oliver, who made the presentation on behalf of both groups. Starter plants for the project are being grown this winter by the Chicago Botanic Garden. This program's purpose is to increase the amount of seed that is available to restore ecological health and diversity to the area's woodlands and prairies. Read more in the Chicago Tribune: Nurturing Plant Legacies: Two Groups Lend Seeds and Plants to Gardeners

"We've been working for five years to restore hundreds of acres of beautiful forest preserve," said Friends' president Dave Cook of Barrington Hills. "We're making great progress. But it's clear that the main bottleneck is not having remotely enough seed from rare local plants."

"There is a severe shortage," a CFC volunteer explains. "Over the years we've learned that we cannot harvest from the wild enough seed from certain species crucial to the restoration projects." The native plants this project will supply to volunteers are essential to the successful restoration of our prairies, savannas, woodlands and wetlands.

This spring, plants grown from local seed will be ready for distribution and the Native Seed Gardeners are now enrolling recruits to become home growers of beautiful and important woodland and prairie plants. Any interested person can find out more about the program by completing the enrollment form.

Gardening with rare native plants may be easier than you imagine. After the first year these plants typically need limited watering, no fertilizer, and just a little weeding.

Anyone willing to devote even a few square feet of lawn or garden can grow these rare wild flowers and grasses. "You can put a small corner of any yard to work for nature. One plant can provide hundreds or thousands of seeds," said Kim Keper, a volunteer coordinator for NSG.

"This is a relaxing thing that people can do in ten minutes of spare time every few days, and it's rewarding to have something like this at your house, that you can show to people and have sort of a personal relationship with. And it fits into my schedule," said John Dalen, a volunteer steward in the Spring Creek forest preserves.

Katherine Grover, an NSG volunteer coordinator said, "I see the gardeners as having varying degrees of skills, so we'll be sensitive to that. I want gardeners to have every opportunity to succeed." In fact, the NSG coordinators will help people determine which species and how many plants will grow best in their yards.

"That's the program - start with a seed and the desire to help," said Meredith Tucker, of Citizens for Conservation. Whether you have a passion for gardening, the desire to help nurture wildlife, or you simply like to grow beautiful rare wild flowers, the result will be a network of growers that will have a far-reaching impact on local conservation lands. Enroll.

Reprinted NSG Articles: