2012 President’s Report

Jane Sender, President

Conservators President Jane Sender and Professor Douglas W. Tallamy; photo by Henry Finch

Our Annual Meeting in May was truly memorable. The keynote speaker, Professor Douglas Tallamy, had a very important message, which affected many in the audience. His message was this: “Because we humans have disrupted natural ecosystems in so many ways and in so many places, the future of our nation’s biodiversity is dim unless we start to share our landscapes with the plants and animals that evolved there.” He asks us to take a look at our own yards and gardens and ask ourselves what the connection is between our own plants and the larger ecosystem. He tells us that the trees and plants that host our native caterpillars are most important because they are the most valuable food source for species of concern, like migratory birds. He has provided a list of plants and their relative value for hosting caterpillars to help us make choices.

I had been generally aware of the importance of native plants before Professor Tallamy’s talk, but I, like many in the audience, wasn’t fully aware of why native plants are so important. Not only are the hostas we love so much not supporting the caterpillars and insects our birds need, but other plants we use widely in our Newton gardens, like Japanese Spirea, do the additional damage of taking over and outcompeting native plants. These non-native plants are popular because they tend to look good throughout the growing season, unlike many natives, which often bloom in the spring leaving holes in the garden in the middle of summer. The lesson I took away was not to judge your garden by how good it always looks but by the extent to which it supports the surrounding natural environment. And if you want it to always look good, with a little more thought and planning, you can find native plants that have appeal all summer long.

After the speech I nearly did myself in taking out some particularly invasive non native plants and replanting natives. My hat goes off to Professor Tallamy-it’s not easy to get people to change their ways. I urge all our members to give thought to these issues and to try to educate others, including local landscapers, who often suggest showy non natives they believe will make their customers happy. For more information about plants that provide good food for birds and insects, read Beth Shroeder’s article in this edition of our newsletter.

At the meeting we also had fun honoring our awardees, the Charles River Watershed Association for their 46 years of successful work making the Charles the cleanest urban river in the nation; State Representative Kay Khan and The Bicycle Pedestrian Task Force for their restoration of the Newton Lower Falls bridge, and former President Eric Reenstierna for his years of work on the Conservators’ board. We in Newton have benefitted enormously from these efforts, and were very happy to be able to express our gratitude.

On a slightly less upbeat note, it is regrettable that the Newton Parks and Recreation Commission decided at its May meeting to allow the West Newton Little League to build a permanent building for a concession stand, toilet and storage area at Lyons Field in Auburndale Park. The City will own the building. Once again the City is allowing a permanent structure in a park that has no general park purpose and will be the City’s ultimate responsibility to maintain. The City owns at least two other buildings in other parks-Nahanton Park and Kennard Park-one used by the building department, the other used by a school-related nonprofit entity, which have no connection to those parks. This misuse brings City trucks and unnecessary trash into Nahanton Park and extra cars and inappropriate signage into Kennard Park. Although the City has agreed to try to find park-related uses for these buildings, that is a difficult thing to do. Moreover, the City cannot afford to maintain these buildings, and they are in horrible disrepair. Now the Parks and Recreation Commission is allowing the City to own yet another permanent structure that has no general park purpose and that ultimately it will likely be unable to maintain properly. We urged the Commission not to do this, and they chose to ignore our concerns entirely. Kids can play Little League without permanent buildings. This was a regrettable, short sighted decision.

I hope you all have a lovely summer, and we hope to see you at some of our events and activities.