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Curator’s Commentary: Designing Plants of the Pine Barrens

Jun 28, 2021 | Horticulture

Curator’s Commentary: Designing Plants of the Pine Barrens

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Meet Steph Lucas, Curator of the Plants of the Pine Barrens
Learn why this Horticulture exhibition means so much to her.

Hello I’m Gardener Steph and the curator of the most recent horticulture exhibition, Plants of the Pine Barrens. In the early 90’s my family purchased a house in South Jersey on a lake bordering the Pine Barrens. I spent a lot of my childhood fishing, bird watching, bug catching, and of course, enjoying the greenery. Our new home had a garden in the back filled with what my parents thought were weeds. They were just plants to me then, I didn’t yet know them by name. We had Onoclea sensibilis (the sensitive fern), Clethera alnifolia (sweet pepperbush), Nyssa sylvatica (the black gum tree), and lots of Scirpus cyperinus (wool grass). I’m sure there were others, too. I remember deer, rabbits, red wing black birds, turtles, river otters, and toads. There were of course mosquitos and ticks but there was a whole range of marvelous beetles, butterflies, and dragonflies that I watched dance around the water. I picked blueberries, juniper berries, and collected pine cones for the holidays.

Eventually the yard was redesigned and the “weeds” that had been growing there naturally were replaced with ornamentals like burning bush, barberry, rhododendron, and andromeda. As I grew older I noticed less and less wildlife. My family moved to be somewhere where it was quiet and away from the city where they could enjoy nature. What we didn’t realize was that by changing what grew on the land, we had created a sterile landscape.

I no longer heard red wing black birds and turtles no longer nested in our yard. I learned years later that we had removed all of the plants that insects, birds, and our other wild friends needed to survive. 

The fate of our wildlife hangs in the balance right now. 40% of insects are in decline and those insects feed on plants and are food for all other vertebrates. When I designed the Plants of the Pine Barrens, I wanted to bring awareness to just how easy our actions can disrupt or build spaces for other creatures.

Learn more about the importance of this exhibition in Curator’s Commentary Part 2: Designing Plants of the Pine Barrens and be sure to visit the exhibition, open through October 2021.

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