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Over the garden fence: Native plant festival moves to new location

To celebrate spring and get ready for Mother’s Day, the Central Pennsylvania Native Plant Festival and Sale will be held 10 a.m.-3 p.m. May 7, at a new location. Held this year at the Boalsburg Military Museum, the new space will allow more native plant vendors with a wider selection of native ferns, perennials, shrubs and trees than ever before. It will also provide more parking and easier access.

Hosted by Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center and the Pennsylvania Native Plant Society, the event will certainly help you celebrate the arrival of spring, the return of many wildflowers and the beginning of another gardening season. You can take a guided walk with Eric Burkhart, the plant science director at Shaver’s Creek, and learn about native and invasive plants. Another great walk is with ClearWater Conservancy Conservation Biologist Katie Ombalski, who will speak about stream restoration with native plants.

You can also talk to experts on native plants from the Pennsylvania Native Plant Society, The Department of Conservation & Natural Resources Wild Plant Program, ClearWater Conservancy, the Juniata Valley Audubon Society or the Penn State Master Gardeners. There will be a nice selection of vendors on hand that will have more than 300 species of native plants for sale as well as local organic food for sale to feed both the spirit and the body.

What is a native plant in your landscape? A native plant is one that occurs naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without direct or indirect human intervention. In the eastern United States, native species are usually considered to be flora present at the time Europeans arrived and began settling in North America. Native plants include all kinds of plants from mosses, mushrooms, lichen and ferns to wildflowers, vines, shrubs and trees. There’s also trilliums, bluebells, redbuds and hundreds more native beauties. At the festival you’ll meet them all, and after you’ve been wowed by their splendor and diversity, you’ll be blown away by their practicality and benefits to your yard, community and planet Earth. That leaves you with the delightful task of deciding which ones to take home with you.

Native plants are adapted to the growing conditions where you live, so they are often easier to grow and less susceptible to challenging conditions than non-native plants. Easier can mean less watering, less fertilizing, fewer pests and weeds (so less pesticides and herbicides) and — when you trade a spot of grass for a native ground cover — less mowing and leaf-blowing. All in all, natives can be less demanding of resources.

Native plants are essential links in the life cycle of many insects, birds and other animals. The more native plants in your community, the healthier your ecosystem, and the more likely you’ll attract birds and wildlife to your yard. Plus, many non-native species are invasive and can “jump ship” from landscapes to grow with abandon in field and forest, out-competing and threatening our native plant species.

I would encourage you to visit the PNPS website, panativeplantsociety.org, where you’ll find helpful links to national plant databases, native plant resources in Pennsylvania landscape help and information about the festival.

Bill Lamont is a professor and extension vegetable specialist in the department of plant science at Penn State and can be reached by email at wlamont@psu.edu.