If you've ever bought plants for your garden and watched them fail, you know that not all plants like our northeastern climate.
Darrin Duling is a man who can steer you to the right plants. He's executive director of The Native Plant Center, an educational facility based at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, N.Y. "We focus on northeast flora," he says. Duling, a Greenwich, CT resident, explains that plants native to the northeast have developed survival strategies over millions of years. This means they can survive our hot and humid summers, need less watering and maintenance, are often less interesting to deer and help restore natural food and nectar sources for butterflies, humming birds and birds.
The Native Plant Center, an affiliate of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX, runs lectures and workshops, including off-site field trips, and provides members with advice on native species. Native plants grow in a demonstration garden on the college campus, and the center holds a spring sale of native plants.
Duling's love affair with the world of plants goes back a long way. While training to be a landscape architect, he took a year off to study in England at Wisley Gardens, headquarters of the Royal Horticultural Society. While there, he was invited to apply to Kew Gardens to take the three-year diploma in horticulture, an elite program with only 12 students each year. "It was a magic carpet ride," he says enthusiastically. "Like being at Hogwarts for plants." A master's degree in taxonomic botany followed, and then Duling traveled all over the world studying plant conservation. He even discovered a new tree species in Oman while writing his thesis.
During a spell in Thailand at the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden, Duling became interested in orchids. His next stop was in Florida where he worked at The Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach and then at The American Orchid Society. From there he moved to the New York Botanical Garden where he established the annual Orchid Show, which takes place in March and April every year.
As a plant conservationist, Duling is always on the front line. He is currently working on a project to transform the 218-acre college campus into an arboretum using local tree specimens. But it's a battle. "We're trying to remove as many of the invasive species as possible," he says. "Right now we're trying to get rid of all the bittersweet."
Did you know that native northeastern plants will grow better in your garden?