Lifetime Service Awards

 Marty Fisher

Some people have the joie de vivre to live several lifetimes in just one.

Marty Fisher, who moved here with her husband, Dick from Steamboat Springs, Colo., in 2008, called up Dorothy Swift soon after they landed and has been sharing her seeds and expertise in propagating ever since.

She is one of two recipients of the RIWPS Lifetime Achievement Award this year, after only 14 years of residing in Little Compton, where the former nursery-owner and English professor found it natural to lead seed-starting workshops and give talks in her community on the joys of native plants.

Marty had started a native plant nursery in the 1990’s, on their property in Steamboat Springs, Colorado named Ramshorn Native Plants. (The name was a nod to a former life raising sheep.) It was an organically certified wholesale and retail business. At an elevation of 7500 feet, she collected most of the seeds on their land and produced about 10,000 pots of second year old wildflowers for sale yearly. Growing the plants at high altitude in an unheated greenhouse when temperatures dropped to -20 degrees often in winter made them stronger than those grown in lower nurseries.

The Fishers moved to Little Compton “for the grandkids,” she said after 40 years in Colorado. She joined a garden club and found that many of its programs were on flower arranging and ornamental plants, so she gave one on native plants, “which was not warmly received.” A bit later, she set up a special corner at the club’s annual plant sale, filled with her newly propagated native perennials.“They realized that there was great community interest in natives,” she said. “People started noticing the Joe Pyeweed growing in open areas around town.” Over the years, “they have taken out their burning bushes.”

After Marty had joined Seed Starters East, she taught the team how to scarify the seeds of sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis) and to propagate many other wildflowers for the plant sale.

The Fishers built a house on two weedy overgrown acres and began to fill them with native species.They planted tulip trees and white pines and many perennials which were grown from seed. They bought native species from the Garden in the Woods in Framingham and propagated many more from the mother plants. Several serious gardeners in the community donated seeds for propagation. “Dick and I collect seeds when we hike,” said Marty. “We found bluestem and switchgrass growing wild nearby,” Marty said.

“As our yard matures we enjoy watching the hummingbirds come to the cardinal flowers.” The yellow-rumped warblers sweep in on their way south to gorge on the bayberry. The robins can strip the winterberry in a day.

“Propagating plants is a year-round process. I usually produce about 20 or 30 flats for the RIWPS sale and Dick takes over a hundred shrubs,” said Marty, who says she is slowing down.

We’ll believe it when we see it.

 Garry Plunkett

It comes as no surprise that RIWPS is also honoring Garry Plunkett this year with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

A much-loved walk leader, lecturer, teacher and writer. Garry’s knowledge of native plants, and his stories of their ecology, geology, and the history of his favorite landscapes have entertained and educated countless RIWPS members over the years — be it on a walk in Weetamoo Woods in Tiverton, along the Palmer River at the Haile Farm Preserve in Warren, or from reading one of his articles, such as a recent exploration of Gibbs Swamp, a near-primeval place hidden in a wild section of Tiverton. (“Don’t even try it,” the former owner tells him. “People have lost horses in there.”)

A self-proclaimed tree hugger, Garry will point out spiny tips of a lobed red oak leaf, or spy a fuzzy cotton wad on a trail – then look up an 80-foot cottonwood he knows has just shed its seeds. One of his favorite haunts is Glocester’s 1,000-acre Sprague Farm, a varied landscape of chestnut oaks and Atlantic white cedar swamp. Just prepare for a long hike, rock climbing and bramble scrambling if you sign on for his walks.

A longtime proponent of what he calls “backyard biodiversity,” Garry has hosted countless tours through the meadow, old field, pond, marsh and woodland of his “back acre” sanctuary.

Garry also has cochaired the Tiverton Open Space Commission for 12 years and been on the board of advisors for the Tiverton Land Trust for 16 years.

Garry earned an Advanced Certificate in Native Plant Studies in 2003 at the New England Wild Flower Society (NEWFS), and went on to teach classes and help create a collaborative certificate program with NEWFS.

RIWPS named Garry Volunteer of the Year in 2005; the Native Plant Trust gave him its Rhode Island State Award in 2007, the RI Land Trust Council gave him its Peter Merritt Award for land Conservation in 2014.

Garry grew up in Oklahoma and was enchanted as a youngster by a magnificent floodplain forest where his dad often took him hunting. He claims he was a lousy hunter because of his distraction from gazing at tall trees. He also read about primeval forests described in James Fennimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, and dreamed of exploring them someday. He got the chance when he joined the U.S. Navy (just like J.F. Cooper) and was assigned to submarine duty in Groton, CT, accompanied by his new wife Virginia, who taught grade school there.

Submarine duty was challenging but the forests of New England were glorious, he says, and many years later Garry’s last assignment was at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, which led them to choose beautifully forested Rhode Island as their permanent home.

Garry remembers going on his first RIWPS walk soon after settling in Tiverton. It was at Goosewing Beach in Little Compton and was led by Kathy Barton. From that day he was hooked.

Volunteer of the Year Award

Liz Bardo

Liz Bardo has been a devoted, dependable and hardworking volunteer at Seed Starters East (SSE) for the last five years.  She came to RIWPS through her Master Gardener work and has volunteered at their vegetable greenhouse since 2010.  She knew other MG’s who belonged to RIWPS, so joining was a natural fit.

Liz is always willing to help out no matter how large or small the task, whether it be hoisting a heavy bag of potting medium onto a pull cart, or teasing out small seeds from a dried flower.  Her versatility and native plant knowledge proved critical during these last two years of pandemic on-line sales.  Liz was able to work quickly, independently and accurately to box orders and move them out to alphabetized tables for pickup, often in unpleasant weather, and always with a smile.  (Which could be seen in her eyes, not through her mask!)

In addition to her tireless work at SSE, she also works at Carolyn Curtis’ home potting up plants for the sales.   In Liz’s words, “I love being there.  I have no trees in my yard, while Carolyn lives on a beautiful wooded property that is great for growing ferns.  I am such a hands on person and Carolyn has so much knowledge to share.  She is so generous with her plants.”

Liz’s quiet, easy going demeanor is evident when she says, “It’s really a team effort and I feel funny about being singled out.”  Even though she has been in this country for over forty years, her New Zealand lilt is still evident when she says, “never met a gardener I did not like!”

See previous award winners