The early bird gets the worm — or the caterpillar, as the case may be.
Plants play a crucial rule in the latter scenario, especially the native ones that were spread across several tables during Saturday’s Centre County Master Gardener Garden Fair and Plant Sale.
Featuring a variety of green plants, vegetables-in-waiting and a bevy of begonias, dahlias and perennials, the sale started at 9 a.m. and by midafternoon empty tables were already being collapsed and carted back to storage.
“We had a lot of plants here today, we sold a lot of plants here today. That’s for sure,” said Molly Sturniolo, master gardener coordinator with Penn State Extension Centre County.
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It’s not bad for an event that began years ago with two tables at the Nittany Mall.
Saturday’s event was held at the Ag Progress Days grounds and featured a significantly broader selection of green things. The event has grown so large that the master gardeners have been divided into committees for basic needs like purchasing inventory, parking, and cashier duties.
“We’ve been doing this for so long we just keep getting better at it every year,” Sturniolo said.
Selma King, of Pennsylvania Furnace, attended the sale with family visiting from Lebanon. She opted to begin her shopping a little later in the day to avoid the crowds she’s noticed on recent trips.
King is in the process of starting a rock garden and was looking for corresponding green life.
“We’ve come for the last couple of years. It’s fun. It gives you lots of ideas,” King said.
Native plants were an especially popular suggestion among the event’s staff.
Martha Moss, a master gardener and event volunteer, has noticed a distinct lack of native flowers in her own very well-manicured neighborhood — and it has her concerned.
“The native insects evolved with the native plants and without those insects ... well, we would all starve to death, basically,” Moss said.
She described a delicate life cycle that begins with native plants, which are pollinated by insects, which are in turn eaten by birds.
Now, Moss said, some of those very same bees, birds and insects are starting to disappear.
“A bird cannot live on berries alone,” Moss said.
It also needs caterpillars. Milkweed was popular purchase at the sale and also has the distinction of being a suitable place for the monarch butterfly to lay its eggs.
Moss said that milkweed appealed to customers looking to draw butterflies to their garden.
“Some of them have children and want to introduce them to the native life cycle,” Moss said.