Celebrating Earth Day Around the Area

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Master Gardener Erin Sterner helps first grader Eliza Franz and second grader Sankalpal Silwal replant pollinator plants at Crozet Elementary. Submitted photo.

Pollinator Plants Rescued from Bulldozer, Replanted at Crozet Elementary

The hard work of several years was due to be demolished by construction crews at Crozet Elementary School, but thanks to an intergenerational team, all was not lost.

For a year or so, the Piedmont Master Gardeners have been working with second grade teacher Barbara Huneycutt and some helpful second graders to rescue plants from gardens scheduled to be removed in early June. It has taken a number of years to build the front beds at the school, so when the gardeners, helped by school parents and APO service fraternity, showed up to replant, they found no fewer than 280 plants to sink into the new pollinator bed in the back of the school. 

By the end of the day, everyone was tired, but all the plants were in the ground, mulched and watered.

Herbal Knowledge Takes a Community

A happy crowd followed master herbalist and best-selling author Kat Maier on a walk from Waynesboro’s Stone Soup Books to the South River. The walk followed a short meeting in the book store to introduce Maier, whose book Energetic Herbalism had sold out its first printing. The walk was for Maier to show her companions what herbs they might discover along the riverbank near the eastern boundary of the city.

They didn’t have to walk far. Although the spring had been cold and windy, Maier spotted some lush burdock leaves right away, along with a generous sprinkling of dandelions under an apple tree. 

Kathleen Maier of Sacred Plant Traditions led an herbal walk from Waynesboro’s Stone Soup Books to the South River. Photo: Theresa Curry.

The dandelions are important, she said, so important that people headed for the new world imported them. “The colonists were appalled,” she said, “when they didn’t find them here.” They were used to having dandelions around (they’ve been around for about three million years) and they depended on them for medicine, food and wine. The common plant is a good source of many minerals, serves as a diuretic (“Don’t eat them at night,” she cautioned) and the flowers can be fermented into wine, one of the few anesthetics available in the 16th century.

A few steps away were several giant burdock plants, also prized by our ancestors. Their large, flat leaves served as poultices because they were thought to draw blood to body parts in need of healing. They also served as an outer bandage, useful for keeping other topical ointments or salves on the skin. And those pesky burrs that plague dogs and humans? They aroused the curiosity of a Swiss engineer, who used them as an inspiration for inventing Velcro. 

Burdock roots, as well as the roots of dandelions and many other plants, are cleansing agents, soothing and healing for a variety of liver diseases. Maier had some cautions for her audience: “Don’t just pick things randomly,” she said. “Some wild plants can be quite poisonous.” She recommends identifying each plant very carefully, especially when it’s a member of the mushroom family, several of which can be fatal. 

Burdock and dandelions have ancient medical uses and are found everywhere. Photo: Theresa Curry.

Before Google, the Internet, before even books, herbal knowledge was really storytelling, she said. Joyce Colemon, who was born in Crozet and one of 12 children, agreed, “My mother really knew what to do. She used dandelions, sassafras, blackberries, blueberries and all kinds of greens, and we rarely went to a doctor.”

“That’s what I mean,” Maier said. “This kind of knowledge is preserved by your family, your elders, your community.”

Kathleen Maier is the founder and owner of Sacred Plant Traditions in Charlottesville, a center for herbal studies. Her book, Energetic Herbalism, is available at Stone Soup Books, at her website, sacredplanttraditions.com, and from a bookseller near you.

Bats Find a Friend, a House, a Garden

On Earth Day, a small band of students and master gardeners headed towards the “New Roots” gardens in Charlottesville to dig up a plot of land, replacing the hard pack and weeds with wild columbine, Virginia mountain mint, false sunflowers and other native, humble plants sought out by moths. The final beneficiaries were not the moths but ultimately the bats who would swoop down and feed on them, while also gulping down lots of local mosquitos. 

Albert Connette installs a bat box at the plot planned by Marja Barrett, far right. Max Leonard, center, along with several other WAHS students, helped plant a bat garden. Submitted photo.

The project is the brainchild of Marja Barrett, a Western Albemarle High School senior who has spent her last couple of years deeply immersed in environmental studies. Barrett attends the Environmental Science Academy; is a member of the James River Leadership Expeditions (a group devoted to the future of the James River) and founded, with fellow student Amanda Bilchick, the Environmental Warriors group at the high school. Barrett was looking for a capstone project to reflect her interest in nature and sustainability and decided on bats. 

The more she learned, the more she wanted to do something to protect the flagging bat population. “I found out how valuable they are for mosquito control and pollination,” she said. “I also learned that several types are endangered.”

Marja Barrett designed a sign for her bat garden so other gardeners would not harm the bats. Submitted.

She wanted to stop short of any hands-on scientific study of bats, so sought out master gardener Fern Campbell, and together they designed the garden. Also on board was Albert Connette, who builds bat houses and installed one at the site, so bats could shelter near their food source. 

It was a long day of digging and planting, Barrett said, and she wanted to thank everyone who helped, and especially Campbell. “I also got some help from other students,” she said. Those who hung in with her all morning and well into the afternoon were Max Leonard, Ellie Boitnott, Matthew Burch, Zachary Moreno and Amanda Bilchick. 

A Day of Fun at the River

After two years’ absence, Waynesboro’s Riverfest finally took place, continuing its mission of promoting environmental conservation and watershed stewardship. 

On Saturday, April 30, an enthusiastic crowd gathered at Constitution Park, enjoyed events in and out of the South River in downtown Waynesboro and learned about the importance of environmental sustainability from several long-time residents of the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Assisting the mammals and birds from the Center were some denizens of Reptile World, and some humans in the form of the Mad Scientist and representatives of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.

Waynesboro’s Riverfest, back after two years of of pandemic shuttering, included some expeditions into the South River. Photo: Amanda Nicholson.Earth 

The Riverfest was a big success, said Amanda Nicholson, president of the Riverfest Board of Directors. “All in all, it was a great day.” She said the Monarch Butterfly was the totem for this year’s festival, and several winners of the butterfly poster contest were honored.  

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