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Volunteers needed: Help NNGI get 500 native plants in Northport Village ground

People by: Chrissy Ruggeri and Joanne Kountourakis, September 23, 2022

Northport Native Garden Initiative founders and volunteers onsite of a new project on the corner of Woodbine and Scudder Avenues.

This past Monday, a group of Northport Native Garden Initiative (NNGI) founders and volunteers could be seen working on the grounds right beside the LILCO building in Northport Village before, during and after an early evening rainstorm changed the sky from cloudy, to ominous, to pink and blue with a double rainbow.

The group left 35 bags of topsoil on the ground, their garden tools leaning against a picnic table, and took cover in their cars for the downpour. When the rain returned to a drizzle, the volunteers got back to prepping for a major beautification project on the southeast corner of Scudder and Woodbine Avenues, via the addition of 500 native plants to the area.

The local nonprofit is currently looking for volunteers to help get those plants in the ground this coming Sunday, September 25.

The plants will trace the perimeter of the municipal parking lot on Scudder Avenue, from part of the Scudder Avenue sidewalk, past the edge of Brew Cheese’s outdoor dining area and along the back of the LILCO building.

The building’s owner, Joe Schmitz, first approached NNGI in July about beautifying the area. A Huntington resident with many natives in his home garden, Mr. Schmitz thought that incorporating the plants into the fairly drab corner and along the lot would not only be beautiful, but beneficial.

Mr. Schmitz and NNGI are sharing the costs of the project, and the cofounders and volunteers are providing free labor. Because the garden is located on Northport Village property, it had to be approved by Mayor Donna Koch and the Village Board of Trustees. Mayor Koch assessed the area with Mr. Schmitz, and agreed to the improvements; Trustee Meghan Dolan, the Commissioner of Parks, was assigned as the point person and served as the communicator between the Village and NNGI to move the project forward.

On Tuesday, September 20, members of the Village board accepted donations from Mr. Schmitz and NNGI for the garden preparation and installation.

To prepare for the project, an invasive Norway maple tree was removed by the Village highway department, at the request of NNGI. “This is not a naturally occurring maple species in North America and it doesn’t serve as a host plant for any wildlife, meaning that it doesn't provide a food source,” said NNGI cofounder Nicole Tamaro. “It’s also difficult to plant under a Norway maple because it has a very shallow, dense room system, which means that it absorbs the water and nutrients, making it nearly impossible for nearby plants to survive.”

The goal of the LILCO project is to beautify the area, educate people on the benefits of biodiversity, and provide a habitat for pollinators. Additionally, NNGI recognized that the area is prone to flooding, as rain water runs down Scudder Avenue, so the garden was designed to aid in water absorption.

The project also serves as an example to the community of how easy it can be to incorporate natives into their own back (and front) yards, which is why the group chose a number of smaller shrub cultivators that can be added to any existing residential garden.

“As most people learn best through hands-on experience, the organization wanted this project to be an opportunity for members of the community to be involved in the installation of the garden, thus boosting their confidence for adding natives to their own properties,” said Barbara Bolen, an NNGI volunteer whose office in the LILCO building happens to overlook the area. She is, understandably, overjoyed at what will soon be her new view and will be one of the volunteers there this Sunday getting those plants in the ground for both their beauty, and their benefits.

“It’s not just planting flowers, but what these flowers and plants really mean,” said Ms. Tamaro. “Most homeowners choose plants for their visual effect, which is wonderful. But generally, we don’t think beyond just the beauty of the plant. What natives do is bring so much more than just the visual appeal. When you choose a native plant, you’re getting added benefits because they are providing a food source for pollinators, improving the soil content and creating a habitat for wildlife.”

Volunteers are needed this Sunday, September 25, at 8:30am, to help dig and place each plant in its designated spot. Register at www.northportngi.org.

NNGI co-founder Sara Mairead created and donated the plans for the project, which will bring 500 native plants to the area.