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A Sense of Place: Kettle Pond

by Marnie Lacouture

This article first appeared in our publication WildfloraRI, Fall 2021

Dave Vissoe sharing his knowledge (photo PLacouture)

The native plant garden at the Kettle Pond Visitor Center in Charlestown had a serendipitous beginning. In 2016, Janis Nepshinsky, Visitor Services Manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex, received a $5,000 grant to establish a native plant garden for pollinators.

The center, built in 2005, offers information on all five of the state’s National Wildlife Refuges — Trustom Pond, Sachuest Point, Ninigret, John H. Chafee, and Block Island – and also serves as a central office for the complex. It is located on the forested upland of the Ninigret refuge, north of Route 1. The Rhode Island glacier, which created the Charlestown terminal moraine approximately 20,000 years ago, left many kettle holes and ponds as the ice retreated. The name Kettle Pond refers to them.

For years, Janis had imagined creating a “sense of place,” by transforming the grassy area outside the center into a demonstration garden full of native plants and their pollinators, to show how biodiversity is necessary for the earth and its inhabitants. It would embody ‘mosoquotaash,’ a Narragansett word meaning ‘we are all connected.’

One slow day at the center, she noticed that Dave Vissoe, who was volunteering at the front desk, was poring over notes and books spread out on the table. “He said he was studying for a Master Gardener class,” recalled Janis. “I had just gotten this grant, and I thought, ‘Boy, have I got the garden for you!’” That is how Janis’s dream gained a project leader and became a reality.

Dave, who grew up in the south end of Hartford, CT, remembers his French grandfather as a gentle soul who was a serious gardener. As a young boy, Dave helped water in his grandfather’s greenhouse where the damp, earthy smell drew him to love gardening. He admits that he was not an earnest student and calls himself a “late, late, late bloomer.” Entering college right after high school, he soon dropped out to join the army, then returned after completing his service. It was at North Adams State College, now Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, that he met Bev Mickey, his future wife. After graduating, Dave landed a job teaching high school biology and chemistry in Bennington, VT; Dave commuted to work while Bev finished her senior year. We can thank Bev for not liking the Vermont winters.

The couple moved to Rhode Island in 1970 where they both taught at Davisville Middle School in North Kingstown until 1977 when Dave was hired by Silver Burdett, a textbook publisher. There he used his science background and honed his management skills, living in Rhode Island as a national consultant until taking other positions that necessitated a move to New Jersey, where he and Bev raised their family. In 2013 Dave and a friend began to remodel the house that had belonged to his parents in Green Hill, a coastal community in South Kingstown. He and Bev moved back to the Ocean State and live there today.

Dave enjoys people and has a gift for bringing them together. He is quick to credit the accomplishments of others while modest about his own. Mary O’Connor, a Master Gardener as well as a Rhode Island Wild Plant Society board member, joined the Kettle Pond project shortly after it began and was instrumental in getting Dave to join the RIWPS board. She said his energy and passion are contagious, so he’s a pleasure to work with, a sentiment repeated by all the volunteers I spoke to. He is joyful and upbeat, and I always smile after a conversation with Dave, whether it is about his visiting grandson or a favorite plant.

In 2014 Dave’s appreciation of nature had drawn him to volunteer at both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Trustom Pond refuge and the Kettle Pond Visitor Center. He became a Master Gardener in 2017 and dove immediately into the native plant garden project at Kettle Pond with Sharon Bridge, a veteran Master Gardener, as his coleader. Melissa Hughes and Darlene Trott each served for a time as coleader until 2019 when Erin Beuka, a Master Gardener who had recently moved to Rhode Island from New Jersey, took over. Dave describes her as a “powerhouse”, and Erin calls Dave a “dynamo.’ Erin is now maintaining the data bases originally created by Melissa from plot maps drawn on graph paper to track plant inventories and information. According to Dave, having this data has taken the garden to a higher level.

Native species grace the parking lot (photo DVissoe)

Dave’s many accomplishments have earned him The 2021 Rosanne Sherry Distinguished Educator Award from Master Gardeners.

Graham Gardner, a landscape designer and longtime RIWPS member, created a master plan for the garden consisting of several plots in various shapes and sizes before moving to Colorado. The plan was ultimately implemented by landscape designer Tysh McGrail, who had worked on many projects with him, promoting the use of native plants.

Volunteers prepared the beds, first removing invasive plants as well as poison ivy and maple saplings, then suppressing weeds with six layers of newspaper. Since the gardens were being planted over a septic system, they brought in weed-free loam to build up the soil. They pruned several overgrown winterberry shrubs (Ilex verticillata) that were growing along the building. They studied the prevailing wind, soil pH, and sun exposure to help match specific plants to the best spot. They laid out the curved plots with garden hoses and dug the edges deeply for neatness and to keep grass from growing into the paths. They layered the plants according to their height and bloom times.

Dave assembled an enthusiastic team for the first planting, which occurred over three days in mid-June of 2017. Nick Ernst, the FWS wildlife biologist for the refuge complex was there along with Janis, Tysh, several volunteers from Master Gardeners, April Alix and her summer intern Michael Bonilla from the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, and members of the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society — twenty or so volunteers in all. Lorén Spears, a citizen of the Narragansett nation and executive director of the Tomaquag Museum, who had shared her knowledge of native plants and their uses by indigenous people, was also there on planting day. Although she was dressed for a later engagement, she couldn’t resist getting her hands dirty. Most of the plants, grown from locally sourced seeds, were obtained from Rhody Native, a RINHS project begun by botanist Hope Leeson. The rest came from a wholesale native plant nursery on Long Island.

A second planting was installed in October of 2017. The garden grew and the plants filled in as work continued in 2018 and 2019. In March of 2020, however, Covid restrictions meant that the garden would be tending itself until well into June, when volunteers returned to work practicing social distancing and wearing face masks. Dave continued to educate the public with video and Zoom presentations. Because he realized that the garden would be a source of comfort for many, he created safe guidelines for volunteers to work in small groups to keep the gardens weeded. The volunteers also installed a rain garden to the left of the visitor center entrance with a $2000 grant from RIWPS, although $750 was unused and returned.

An “adopt a plot” idea has been implemented recently in the hopes that maintenance will be manageable. Volunteers also can “adopt a plant,” learning all they can about it while tracking its growth in the garden. This information has been used to create a treasure hunt for school groups and as resource material for teachers, the general public, master and advanced gardeners, and garden clubs.

Butterfly milkweed seed pods (photo DVissoe)

In September, on one of the last days of summer, I visited the garden and was greeted by a tall clump of Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), the seed heads glowing in the afternoon sun. Goldenrods and asters were in their glory, abuzz with pollinators, and the fuel needed by the monarch butterflies for their long migratory trip was plentiful. The goldenrods included seaside (Solidago sempervirens), gray (S. nemoralis), wreath (S. caesia) and licorice (S. odora). There was an array of asters: wavy-leaved aster (Symphyotrichum undulatum), calico (S. lateriflorum) heart-leaved (S. cordifolium), New England (S. novae-angliae), and white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata). The pods of the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) were beginning to open, showing the white fluff of seeds inside, and the seed heads of the towering ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) were ripening. Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), a warm-season grass, was maturing to a lovely amber color. Several native vines, including trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), common ground nut (Apios americana), and summer grape (Vitis aestivalis) were climbing the posts of a handsome curved arbor built by Rudi’s Rangers, a local volunteer group. Nearby, tree stumps were positioned in a semi-circle, as seating for an outdoor classroom.

As I wandered the paths, the dedication and work of so many was evident. Although the garden is still evolving, it had grown into one that demonstrates the importance of native plants to pollinators and other wildlife, as well as their beauty.

The Plight of the Bumblebee

How many of us were out in the garden last fall, watching the bumblebees nuzzling the aster and the goldenrod. “Other pollinators may be in trouble, we thought, but the bumblebees are doing just fine.” Well, they’re not.

Keep Our Native Plants Humming – Video Recording and Plant List

What you can do to support native bee pollinators in your landscape. Video recording of the October 2019 Lisa Loftland Gould Lecture by Dr. Gegear. Native Plant list by bee tongue length.

Native Bee Research at URI. You can help!

Thanks to Dr. Steve Alm, Professor, Department of Plant Sciences and Entomology, students are conducting important research on native bees. Most recently is the work to survey bumble bees in Rhode Island. They are looking for citizens scientists to help collect data. Please see the flyer.

Welcome to the Native Jungle, Where Local Birds and Bees Thrive

In her recent article in EcoRI, Welcome to the Native Jungle, Where Local Birds and Bees Thrive, RIWPS member Anne Raver, writes about why she chooses to plant natives.  Anne, a Warren, R.I., resident and longtime gardener, has written about landscape and the environment for more than 30 years.

May 26

When you stop thinking about plants as pretty outdoor furniture on a green rug, and see them as complex organisms that feed thousands of beneficial insects, birds and mammals, your garden becomes another universe.

My husband and I moved up from an old farm property in Maryland to a sunny corner lot in the middle of Warren, R.I., a few years ago, and decided to devote most of the space to a large kitchen garden, surrounded by plants that would feed and shelter wildlife.

We kept some of the old plants that were here: a gnarled cedar tree, purple lilacs, a magnolia, and two purple smoke trees that edged the yard, as well as the horse chestnut and craggy catalpa near the house.

But we took out almost everything else: a couple of Japanese maples and peonies, German irises, hybrid tea roses, burning bushes, and a severely clipped row of yews alongside the house.

We dug up a good part of the lawn for our vegetable garden, another swath for prairie flowers such as Joe Pye-weed, ironweed and rudbeckias, and another for what must look like a collection of weeds — goldenrods, little bluestem, river oats, milkweed — and sticks — native viburnums, birch, beach plum, staghorn fern, high bush blueberry — to our neighbors, because they are still too young to look like anything else.

They can’t see what we see in our mind’s eye: these plants as they develop and fill in over the years, providing a lush and beautiful habitat for insects, birds and animals.

It’s easy to get inured to the grim statistics: 95 percent of the wilderness that once lay across the continental United States is now covered with cities and suburbs, 30 million acres of lawn, highways and malls, industrial parks, landfills, and many forms of agriculture.

That leaves just 5 percent for wildlife. No wonder half the bird species of 40 years ago have disappeared. Or that more than one-third of North American birds, 432 species, are at risk of extinction.    Read more….

Events

Beechwood Lecture: Residential Landscape Design Basics

Join Kevin Alverson, owner and principal of Kevin M. Alverson Landscape Architecture, (Wickford, RI.) to learn the basics of residential landscape design — from identifying your goals, to conceptualizing solutions and implementation. Kevin will focus on ways to integrate beneficial and attractive native plantings and how to use low impact techniques to create a beautiful and functional space that will also be a bird and pollinator friendly habitat.

Kevin, a licensed Landscape Architect and URI Master Gardener, also serves as the assistant Project Leader for the Beechwood Gardens Community Master Gardener Project.  Although his work spans from residential landscape design to the creation and rehabilitation of various public parks throughout the State of Rhode Island, all of his projects reflect his philosophy that beautiful designs must first be functional and respectful to the environment.  This same philosophy was what drew Kevin to the RI Wild Plant Society where he served as Co-Designer of the Award Winning RIWPS RI Spring Garden and Flower Show Exhibits from 2012-2016.

The Beechwood Lecture series is a joint effort of the URI Master Gardener Program and the RI Wild Plant Society. These series is  open to the public public and free of charge. Master Gardeners receive education credits for attending.

If interested in attending, please contact the Volunteer/Program Coordinator’s Office at The Beechwood Center for Life Enrichment at 401-268-1594; or email  mdubois@northkingstown.org.  Space is limited.


We are also excited to announce the final installment of our 2022 Lecture Series!  We have had another great group of speakers over this past year who were dynamic and educational.  We thank you all for attending and hope that you will join us again for our last speaker of the year.  We also hope to see you then!

8/17/22    Residential Landscape Design Basics, Kevin M. Alverson,10/19/22   Chestnut Orchard Research Project, Rudi Hempe, URI Master Gardener Program

 

How Native Plant Cultivars Affect Pollinators – Lisa Lofland Gould Lecture

How Native Plant Cultivars Affect Pollinators

This lecture was originally scheduled in November.  It has been rescheduled for Sunday, January 23, 2022 at 3:00pm. The webinar will now be via a Zoom Webinar platform. If you registered for the original session you need to reregister.  New registrations are also welcome.

Click here to REGISTER

Native plant species are often recommended to provide optimal foraging and nesting habitats for pollinators and other wildlife. The growing demand for native plants, coupled with the horticulture industry’s desire for plants with unique characteristics, has led to the increased breeding and availability of native cultivars or “nativars”. But do native cultivars provide the same valuable habitat as the straight native species? Annie White will share her field research on this topic and discuss the complex benefits and challenges of using both native species and native cultivars in landscape design.

Annie White is an Ecological Landscape Designer and the owner of Nectar Landscape Design Studio in Stowe, Vermont. She is also a full-time Lecturer of Sustainable Landscape Horticulture + Design at the University of Vermont.  Annie earned an MS in Landscape Architecture from the University of Wisconsin—Madison in 2005 and a PhD in Plant & Soil Science from The University of Vermont in 2016. She is passionate about designing cutting-edge and science-based ecological landscapes at all scales—from urban backyards to rural agricultural landscapes.

This lecture is underwritten by the Lisa Lofland Gould Native Plant Program Fund and sponsored Rhode Island Wild Plant Society, Rhode Island Natural History Survey and University of Rhode Island, Master Gardener Program. 

 

 

Workshop: Become a Citizen Scientist for the Bumblebees

Join Dr. Robert J. Gegear from UMASS Dartmouth for a workshop on what you can do to maximize biodiversity conservation in your own backyard by creating and sustaining pollination systems at risk of local extinction.

Dr. Gegear, who spoke at the Lisa Lofland Gould Lecture in the fall of 2019 about his research on the decline of bumblebees, and how citizen scientists can contribute to his Beecology Project, will lead this four-hour workshop on how to collect data on these species, take photos and/or videos of them, as they gather pollen from native plants, learn to identify them and note their behavior.

Participants will also learn how to assess the ecological value of pollinator and plant assemblages at different spatial scales, select native flowering plant species that maximize biodiversity, and hone their skills for contributing to the Beecology citizen science project.

The workshop will be in the meadow of long-time RIWPS member, Susan Marcus. Bring your lunch. We will provide iced tea, lemonade and water.

Rain Date. September 26, 2021 at the same time, 10 am to 2 pm.

Suggested resource: The Plight of the Bumblebee, article by Anne Raver about Dr. Gegear’s Lecture

Fee $25.00 RIWPS members, $33.00 for non members.  Not yet a member? JOIN NOW
Limit of 15 participants

Registration required.

 

 

A CONVERSATION WITH DOUG TALLAMY (Program for RIWPS Members)

Watch on Recording of Previous Programs/Events

Join a conversation with ecologist Doug Tallamy, as he discusses his latest research and most recent book, Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard. RIWPS member Anne Raver will lead off with some key questions about Tallamy’s work over the past 20 years, including his vision for a Homegrown National Park, which could grow to millions of acres, if individuals exchanged at least part of their lawns and many of their nonnative ornamentals, for native trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses and groundcovers. These native plantings provide crucial habitat for many endangered species, including pollinators and birds.

But that’s only part of Tallamy’s vision: imagine connecting your yard with your neighbor’s, and on down the street, planting natives in the green verges along the sidewalks, on the edges of public playgrounds, in parks and countless other spaces now occupied by privet, yews, Japanese maples and all the other nonnatives that native insects can’t eat.

RIWPS members will have a chance to submit their own questions to Tallamy, a tireless speaker and educator, and longtime professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware.

Anne has followed Tallamy’s work, since she interviewed him about his first book, Bringing Nature Home, in 2008, during a visit to his 10-acre property in Oxford, PA, where he and his wife, Cindy were then battling invasive species and planting their first natives. (see interview)

Tallamy’s new website, www.homegrownnationalpark.com, summarizes much of his research, lists the most important native species to plant for wildlife, offers a collection of essays and videos, and includes an interactive map, in which you can register your own native habitat.

Register below to join A Conversation with Doug Tallamy. We ask that participants prepare for this conversation by  familiarizing themselves with Doug Tallamy’s work, his books, especially Nature’s Best Hope, and watching one or several of his videos, available on Homegrown National Park ,which bring

to life the fascinating relationships between particular insects and the plants they evolved with through the millennia. (Tallamy loves photographing these weird and wonderful caterpillars, moths and butterflies, and his love for them is contagious.) He also recounts gardeners around the country, who report astounding rebounds in insect and bird life, as they transform their yards for native species. (One woman, observed 103 species of birds, including a woodcock, on her one-tenth acre, adjacent to O’Hare Airport, in Chicago.) A recent webinar for Penn State, not on the website.

Sumbit your questions in advance to communications@RIWPS.org

• Not a member?  Join now
• Not sure if your membership is current. Contact office@RIWPS.org

IT IS NO LONGER POSSIBLE TO REGISTER FOR THIS PROGRAM