Go Native for Earth Day 2016!

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The Official TNCS Weeping Willow!

Earth Day is always an important occasion at The New Century School, and this year is no different. In honor of Earth Day 2016, the theme of which is Trees for the Earth, all TNCS classes gathered on the playground to witness the planting of a native Weeping Willow. Poetry and singing rounded out the tree dedication ceremony. Trees are basically the lungs of our planet, filtering out harmful gases and leaving the good stuff for us to breathe. Click here for more on Why trees?

But now let’s zoom in and focus some good Earth Day vibes a little closer to home. Trees aren’t the only environmentally beneficial plantings we can make. Indigenous plants—plants that occur naturally in the region in which they evolved—also make huge contributions to keeping the local environment healthy and thriving. The Patterson Park Audubon Center urges Baltimore City and surrounding residents to “Take Climate Action” and to preserve biodiversity by using native plants in your garden, be it potted or full-scale.

One of the primary reasons this is particularly important for our area is because Baltimore (a.k.a. Birdtown), as part of the Atlantic Flyway, is a vital stopover point for many species of migrating birds. Yet, over time, the number of green spots in the city where these birds can refuel during their long journeys has dwindled. PPAC is working to change that: “Audubon has observed over 200 species of birds in Patterson Park, with over 40 of those species using the park to breed and raise their young. Our habitat gardens in the park are filled with a diversity of native plants from Maryland which serve as hosts for insects—birds’ favorite food—as well as provide essential seeds, berries, nectar, shelter, water, and places to raise their young.”

PPAC can also help you create your own wildlife sanctuary (or, garden, patch, or windowbox) through workshops, resources, and more. But first, let’s explore why native plants are so vital.

Benefits of Native Plants

According to the Audubon.org website, native plants are great for:

  • Wildlife: In addition to providing vital habitat for birds, many other species of wildlife benefits as well. The colorful array of butterflies and moths, including the iconic monarch, the swallowtails, tortoiseshells, and beautiful blues, are all dependent on very specific native plant species. Native plants provide nectar for pollinators including hummingbirds, native bees, butterflies, moths, and bats. They provide protective shelter for many mammals. The native nuts, seeds, and fruits produced by these plants offer essential foods for all forms of wildlife.
  • Low maintenance: Once established, native plants generally require little maintenance.
  • Beauty: Many native plants offer beautiful showy flowers, produce abundant colorful fruits and seeds, and brilliant seasonal changes in colors from the pale, thin greens of early spring, to the vibrant yellows and reds of autumn.
  • Healthy places for people: Lawns and the ubiquitous bark-mulched landscapes are notorious for requiring profuse amounts of artificial fertilizers and synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides. The traditional suburban lawn, on average, has 10x more chemical pesticides per acre than farmland. By choosing native plants for your landscaping, you are not only helping wildlife, but you are creating a healthier place for yourself, your family, and your community.
  • Helping the climate: Landscaping with native plants can combat climate change. In addition to the reduced noise and carbon pollution from lawn mower exhaust, many native plants, especially long-living trees like oaks and maples, are effective at storing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
  • Conserving water: Because native plants are adapted to local environmental conditions, they require far less water, saving time, money, and perhaps the most valuable natural resource, water.

Gardening with Native Plants

Unfortunately, most of the plants available in the larger, nationally known nurseries are not native to the region where they are being sold. These alien species can degrade the local habitat, the ecological basis for insects, birds, and, by extension, humans. By using native plants in our urban gardens (such as they are), however, we preserve the natural symbiosis of our area.

Using any number of native plants is going to help the environment, but if you really want to go the extra mile (as the crow flies) toward making your green space a sanctuary for wildlife, follow the scheme from PPAC shown below.

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And now, you ask, where do I avail myself of these native plants? Partnering with PPAC, Blue Water Baltimore’s Herring Run Nursery has all the native wonder you could ask for—over 250 varieties of trees, shrubs, vines, and flowers that support butterflies, pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. Can’t make it out to Herring Run? No problem–PPAC  will once again be hosting a Native Plant Sale in Patterson Park during the Butchers Hill Flea Market on Saturday, May 14th.

So, in honor of Earth Day, let your garden grow for the environment this year!

Hack the Trash: Community Art Project

Hack the trashOn Sunday, August 11th, an exciting new public art project began in Patterson Park of particular interest to The New Century School community. Merging social activism and environmental awareness with art, “Hack the Trash” is part of a city-wide venture to improve our parks. Hack the Trash, a trash drum painting project, targets three main goals simultaneously: 1) adding more trash cans in public areas to deter littering, 2) beautifying the drums to promote increased use, and 3) raising awareness about a social issue—the art delivers a message on a chosen theme. The first session centered on Chesapeake Bay consciousness; the next, to be held Sunday, August 18th, also in Patterson Park, will focus on the park itself.

Led by artist Ben Peterson, Session 1 began with an explanation of “the importance of the Harris Creek Watershed and its connection to Patterson Park,” said the project’s main organizer, photographer Brian Schneider. Harris Creek runs below Canton, with its watershed covering a geographic area from Clifton Park down to the harbor at Harris Creek (north/south boundary) and from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Patterson Park (west/east boundary). In urban watersheds, stormwater management becomes highly important insofar as stormwater runoff transports bacteria, nutrients, sediments, toxins, and trash through storm drains into tributaries and ultimately into the Chesapeake Bay. So, about 15 people gathered to paint the eight cans raising public awareness about the watershed (photos courtesy of Brian Schneider Photography shown below).

Mr. Schneider says that Hack the Trash is actually part of a bigger venture called “Hack the Parks,” a partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology (MOIT) and Baltimore’s Department of Recreation and Parks, which challenged Baltimoreans to improve our urban green spaces. A series of grants was awarded in June to the cream of the project proposals. Hack the Trash was one of six pilot projects receiving this seed money in addition to park space and Rec and Parks resources. Though MOIT underwrites the project, technology is not necessarily a prerequisite for getting funded. The Hack the Park website states: “By hacking, we mean [that] citizens develop their own applications (whether they be technology-based or not) which create simple, tangible benefits for the community.” Now the name “Hack the Trash” begins to make a lot of sense—but with “paint application” rather than something we can run on our smartphones!

Altogether, Hack the Trash plans to hold 5–10 sessions, depending on the number of artists and participants, to paint a total of 30 cans purchased with their $1,200 grant. Mr. Schneider told the Baltimore Guide that he and his neighbors “applied for the grant because they got sick of seeing trash blowing all over Patterson Park.” Comparing Baltimore to larger cities that have less litter, they felt that part of the problem was simply not enough trash receptacles, and Hack the Trash was born. The project will also make sure that the receptacles are immediately visible but in an aesthetically pleasing way, rather than blending in with the background and getting missed, as sometimes might be the case.

So Patterson Park lovers, be sure to look for the new cans during your next visit—as well as consider joining Leanna Wetmore from Banner Neighborhoods at the Friends of Patterson Park House for Session 2 on August 18th at 4 p.m.  All ages can participate, and the kids would get a chance to have some fun, beautify their surroundings, and learn, all at the same time! Isn’t “technology” wonderful?