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INTERVIEW: Community Horticulture Specialist Roxanne Zimmer On CCE Suffolk’s Upcoming Virtual Gardening School

T.J. Clemente

The CCE Suffolk Gardening School will take place on the first day of spring. (Courtesy Photo)

Talking with Roxanne Zimmer, who is the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County (CCE Suffolk) Community Horticulture Specialist, becomes dazzling because of the passion she has for her job. Zimmer, who was raised on Long Island, has that homegrown love for the Island and her position at CCE Suffolk allows her to successfully help preserve and even enhance the beauty of Long Island. In an interview with Hamptons.com, she talked about this year's virtual CCE Suffolk Gardening School to be held on Saturday, March 20, which happens to be the first day of spring.

Zimmer said, "One of the things we are really focusing on this year is all things native and all things that are good for the environment. While we generally do that every year, our keynote speaker this year gives us a great opportunity to do so. The work of Doug Tallamy is well known, he has two New York Times bestsellers, and he has been saying, 'Yes, many of us are homeowners and we think only of national parks as places where wonderful things happen with nature.' But then he makes the argument very forcefully that if we look at it individually, our backyards and our front yards are places to make homegrown national parks."

She expanded on this ideology when she said, "Tallamy believes by planting the right trees and getting rid of our invasive species that we have in our backyards, we can collectively then start to make our homes much more attuned to the ecosystem that we have here on Long Island. He actually makes the same argument for every part of the country, to be sensitive to its native plants."

Zimmer went on to explain what is meant by sensitive native plants. She shared, "The oak tree will support more butterflies, moths, flies, birds than just about any other of the trees we have in our yards. Too many people say, 'Hey, I don't have a yard big enough to put an oak tree on it.' However, if you can't do an oak tree, Tallamy says look at other species that are really good native. For us on the East End of Long Island, look at your scrub oaks. They are growing in everywhere. Look at something like the dwarf chinkapin oak, which is a handsome tree if you don't have enough footage. We just need to be mindful. Many of us must go out and buy trees and shrubs that when we plant them are going to support the ecosystem, because the trees will be supporting other things like the butterflies, the moths, and so on. Unfortunately, too often we get these Japanese trees that make pink flowers in the spring and that's fun, but that's not supporting our ecosystem in the same way."

Zimmer summarized that Tallamy says the homeowner has great "agency to think about very carefully choosing what is going to work in the front or backyard, that is supportive of our native plants, our native butterflies, birds and so on."

She noted that a number of other speakers were selected to also speak throughout the day to expand on Tallamy's teachings. "Anne Raver, the New York Times garden writer for years, who takes Doug Tallamy literally," Zimmer mentioned. "When she moved to Rhode Island, she took out the plants that were not natives!" She also praised speakers such as British landscape designer Ann-Marie Powell, who Zimmer relayed "has a new book coming out this spring." Also on hand will be botanical photographer Larry Lederman. The other speakers consist of Best Bees President and CEO Noah Wilson-Rich and Landcraft Environment's Dennis Schrader. Zimmer said all of these wonderful speakers will be joined by other "Master Gardener experts."

The 2021 Spring Gardening School will be held on Saturday, March 20, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Topics covered will range from gardening for birds to reduce the lawn to tomatomania to going native to ornamental woodies to backyard bees to edible landscapes to natives for tough places, and much more.

For more information, or to register, visit ccesuffolk.org.

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