For the second year, the Wilton High School Organic Garden is selling native wildflower plants as part of a unique project that aims to restore truly native ecology in Connecticut.
This sale continues the collaborative work between the WHS Organic Garden and Planters’ Choice Nursery of Newtown in the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut’s (CT NOFA) Ecotype Project.
In 2019 the WHS Organic Garden became the first high school in CT and New England to participate in the initiative that hopes to address the lack of sources of truly native wildflowers in CT.
Currently, most wildflower seeds available originate from the Midwest. Scientists have recently discovered that planting seeds from one ecoregion into a different ecoregion weakens the overall genetics of the wildflower population, even if the species is native to both areas.
To maintain healthy wild plant genetics, CT NOFA has created a network of land trusts, organic farmers, scientists, landscapers, homeowners, and nurseries to sustainably collect wildflower seeds locally and grow them for restoration projects and for commercial sale.
This year’s WHS Organic Garden sale continues that partnership by offering these wildflowers for sale to the greater Wilton community.
Why Truly Genetically Native Wildflowers are Important
Native wildflowers primarily support two essential ecosystem services. First, native wildflowers offer floral resources to a variety of insect pollinators, which have been devastated by habitat destruction, pesticide use, and invasive species.
Widespread environmental degradation has caused an “insect apocalypse” that threatens the survival of farms that rely on pollinators to produce food. Native wildflowers grown from seed that originates in the region in which they will be planted will have a greater positive impact on native pollinator populations.
Second, these native wildflower species are larval hosts for myriad species of caterpillars. Providing habitat for caterpillars is important as they are the foremost food source for young birds, which ecologists say are indicators of healthy ecosystems. A high diversity of native plant species supports hundreds of species of caterpillars and the birds that rely on them. This ultimately culminates in the creation of high-functioning biodiverse ecosystems.
The WHS Brothers Behind the Biodiversity Push
Behind the WHS Organic Garden’s involvement in the Ecotype Project is a story of two brothers and a shared passion. Back in 2019, then WHS senior Brett Gilman ‘20 met with CT NOFA leaders to see how the WHS Organic Garden could partner with the initiative and become a force for legitimate change.
In the spring of 2020, the WHS Organic Garden hosted its first plant sale with seven species. It was an immense success, with homeowners coming from all over Connecticut, from Niantic to Hartford to Greenwich to Middletown.
This year, WHS junior Ryan Gilman ‘22 stepped up to take the reins now that his brother is off at college.
Now the vice president of the WHS Organic Garden, Ryan is excited to continue what his brother started.
“Native plants have offered me such a welcome respite from all of the craziness in the world right now. During the pandemic, sharing in the exploration of native plants was a great way to connect with family and friends, while reintroducing biodiversity to our native ecosystems. Now I look forward to sharing in the mission of restoring Connecticut’s native plant life with my community through this plant sale,” he said.
For the Gilmans, the magic of the Ecotype Project lies in its connection to family spirit. They see the idea of ‘the right plant in the right place,’ the Ecotype Project’s guiding adage, originating from that same spirit of family and a connection to roots.
“What’s so powerful about the Ecotype Project as an environmental movement is its focus on hyper-localization–bringing together local land trusts, farmers, and nursery [owners], and connecting them with high school students and home gardeners. It truly puts at the center the fundamental fact that communities have the power within themselves to make significant and real environmental change,” the brothers explain. “Addressing the fragmentation that’s leading to the demise of native biodiversity is just like helping out a neighbor, and all it takes is planting a few native wildflowers right in your backyard.”
The WHS Organic Garden is selling plants through online presale ordering only. Orders must be placed by Saturday, May 1. Plant pickup will be held on Saturday, May 15, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at Wilton High School (395 Danbury Rd.).
Over the past year, the initiative’s momentum has continued to build, with Planters’ Choice adding more and more species to its selection of hyperlocal native wildflowers.
This spring’s much-expanded selection features 24 species of native wildflowers grown from seed collected in the local coastal New England region – the largest selection of hyperlocal native wildflowers offered through the Ecotype Project to date.
The new species available this spring include Coastal Joe Pye Weed, Eastern Swamp Milkweed, and the enchanting Blue Vervain. Of course, all the popular favorites, from New England Aster to Sweet Goldenrod to Short-Toothed Mountain Mint, will be available too.
In addition to supporting local ecosystems, a portion of every plant sold will benefit the WHS Organic Garden Club and its educational initiatives.
To learn more about the WHS Organic Garden’s native wildflower initiative and to place an order, visit the WHS Organic Garden website.