Local group aims to connect residents with nature, others

Gloucester County Certified Gardeners teach about gardening, insect conservation

Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.” While it’s easy to marvel at one’s harvest at the end of the season, the Gloucester County Certified Gardeners are more interested in planting seeds in both the figurative and literal sense.

The Gloucester County Certified Gardeners work on educational and beautification projects around the county. For example, the gardeners maintain public areas like the Olde Stone House village in Washington Township, the Veterans Cemetery in Williamstown, the Whitall House in National Park, Camp Salute in Clayton and the training garden at the Mullica Hill library.

The group receives training on everything from basic plant biology and pest control to gardening for pollinators and general garden care. They also run a helpline residents can call if they have questions about bugs or plants. Volunteers are available on Wednesday mornings, but residents are permitted to call and leave a voicemail at (856) 307-6464 at any time. A volunteer will return their call.

The certified gardeners also have booths at county events where they can plant seeds of knowledge to those interested in learning. They do horticultural therapy with St. John of God school along with demonstrations at libraries. They even have a donation garden where they grow fruits and vegetables to donate to local food pantries.

At the end of the day, the group loves gardening and all things horticulture.

“I’m a gardener at heart, I love gardening,” former president and certified gardener Heather MacGregor said. “I like teaching people and helping them figure out how to do it.”

One of the big issues the gardeners focus on is the endangerment of butterflies and bees. They have a butterfly house at the Whitall house that MacGregor is in charge of.

“We raise certain species of butterflies and try to encourage people to plant for butterflies and bees in their yards by planting host plants or local plants,” she said.

In the butterfly house are monarch butterflies, black swallowtails, red admirals and painted ladies, in addition to one rare white monarch butterfly, a trait which one in millions of monarchs have. Visitors can witness butterflies lay eggs and fly around the enclosed area.

“It’s very educational,” MacGregor added. “Working with monarchs is nationwide, there’s programs like you wouldn’t believe. There was a 144 percent increase from the previous year.”

With this in mind, the certified gardeners have their second annual butterfly festival scheduled for July 13 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Red Bank Battlefield in National Park. The event boasts free gardening seminars, information about pollinators like bees and butterflies, crafters and free kids activities. The highlight of the day is the butterfly parade where children dress as butterflies and march around the park.

“It’s aimed at bringing people together and running tours through the butterfly house,” MacGregor said. “Last year was the first year. We had a great response, it was amazing.”

One of the sub-events at the festival is the photography contest that is open to amateur photographers of all ages. There are two age groups: youth, 17 and younger, and adult. All prints must be 5″ x 7″ or 8″ x 10″, mounted, framed and ready for installation, including a wire hanger or something of the like. There are three categories to enter: flowers; mixed plants and insects or butterflies and insects or butterflies. Entries are due between 10 and 11 a.m. on the day of the festival. Ribbons or awards will be announced at 1 p.m. and entries must be picked up between 4 and 5 p.m. or they will become property of the certified gardeners. For more information on all things butterfly festival, call the certified gardeners at (856) 307-6456.

MacGregor is passionate when it comes to the butterflies and ensuring they leave their endangered state in the past.

“People need to step up. If people want their grandkids to be able to see butterflies, we need to step in and step up,” she said. “Nobody is going to do it for us, we have to do it for ourselves.”

The gardeners are a grass roots, boots on the ground effort to spread seeds of knowledge about all things horticulture and environment. The Gloucester County Certified Gardeners are always looking for new members. Applications can be found online at gloucestercountynj.gov or by phone arrangement at (856) 307-6456. The class to become certified runs from January to May but applications can be turned in at any time.