Wildlife Research, Monitoring & Mentoring

Being a Natural Neighbor: Collaborating with a Landscaper

Natural Neighbors participants are making great strides in increasing native plant diversity on their property and providing essential sources of water and cover in year two of the program. We have 180 individuals and neighbors enrolled in the program! They all have their own hurdles to overcome when implementing our suggestions and different for getting started. Some people are do-it-yourselfers, others may struggle with a lack of time and skills, have physical restrictions, or find it hard to source native plants. To increase native plant availability, we partnered with Polly Hill Arboretum last fall and again this spring to develop kits of native plants that are highly productive, in need of greater distribution, and aesthetically appealing. The benefit of working with small plant plugs is they are easy to plant and the plants themselves are quicker to establish their roots down into the soil, resulting in hardier and healthier plants. For this month’s blog post, we are sharing the story of how one Natural Neighbor utilized our native plant kits and collaborated with a landscape company to restore her gardens.

Firsthand Experiences from a Natural Neighbor

Gardens prior to new septic installation

Sharon Pearson, a Natural Neighbor participant and longtime supporter of BiodiversityWorks, had a blank canvas for planting after some recent construction. Prior to construction, she had flourishing gardens, and she was looking to return this space to a simiar condtion. She began working with Vineyard Gardens to develop a design that met her aesthetic vision and incorporated suggestions from our Natural Neighbors report. Working with a landscaping company can help alleviate some of the challenges homeowners may face, such as sourcing native plants and providing planting expertise.


Post construction work


To supplement the plants installed by Vineyard Gardens, Sharon purchased our native plant kit consisting of small plugs of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), and purple lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis) last fall. So far, these plugs are spending most of their energy developing an expansive root system, which means above the soil it can seem like not much is happening. It can be hard to practice patience in our gardens; people often shy away from smaller plants because they want the immediate “wow” effect of plants in full bloom. However, accommodating these small plants will pay off in the long run and result in greater resiliency to stressors, like drought. Methodically working with Vineyard Gardens allowed Sharon to mix larger statement plants with the smaller plugs from Polly Hill, creating a nice foundation for her gardens.


A Year of Progress

July follow up visit


Recently, we had the pleasure of a follow-up visit with Sharon to see her progress after one growing season. She has transformed the space from a bare patch of sand to a garden in progress. Sharon gave her gardens time to acclimate, reducing water and heat stress by planting in the fall and letting the small plant plugs establish their roots. She also let native seeds persisting in the soil germinate naturally, resulting in freebies like goldenrods and asters that will be eye-catching come fall. The patience she has practiced in the gardens has paid off! She is fostering a landscape that is self-sufficient, requires lower maintenance, and abounds with flowers and beneficial insects.

While meandering through the gardens, we noticed some activity on the pearly everlasting plants from Polly Hill. Upon investigation, we realized that she had a caterpillar of the American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) feeding on the leaves. The American Lady is a beautiful lepidopteran common on the Vineyard, and pearly everlasting is one of its most favored larval host species. This plant was still on the cusp of flowering, even with the hungry caterpillars chewing at its leaves.

American Lady Butterfly caterpillar and adult stage


Lacewing larva

On another plant, we noticed a small aphid infestation. My first reaction to aphids is still one of disproportionate concern followed by an urge to act swiftly. Those feelings were quickly fleeting as we saw a voracious lacewing larva consuming the aphids. Sharon’s gardens are a great example of how you can utilize native plants to create productive spaces and work with a landscaper to help execute a vision. Her gardens are not strictly native, but she melds native plants with introduced species in a manner that aligns with her aesthetic interests, fosters resilient and lower maintenance gardens, and provides essential food and cover for organisms that are integral to a healthy functioning ecosystem.



<a href="https://biodiversityworksmv.org/author/angela/" target="_self">Angela Luckey</a>

Angela Luckey


Angela was the Natural Neighbors program director from May 2021 to November 2022. She grew up on Martha’s Vineyard and lives in West Tisbury. Angela has a B.S. from UMass in Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences and an M.S. from American Public University in Environmental Management and Policy.

Get Notified for New Posts

Would you like to receive email notifications when we publish a new post?


Shopping cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping