January 5, 2022
By Leslie Hunter Cario
Searching for native plants has been a constant theme in my life. It started in high school biology class with a scavenger hunt that involved locating certain plants native to southwestern Pennsylvania and either photographing details or collecting leaves or seeds. Throughout college and afterwards, there were various plant identification and ecology classes where native plants were sought to illustrate in detail, or to document as components of a plant community. A greenhouse assistant position with Ernst Conservation Seeds was not limited to growing plants in the greenhouses, but rather included many, many days in the field where permission had been granted to search for ripe seeds of native species, collect those seeds, and work on their cleaning and storage. Moving on to operate a native plant nursery led to nearly fifteen years of locating and collecting seed and seasons of trialing new species to broaden the offerings. For the past eight years working as a horticultural consultant, I’ve assisted a native public garden with locating seeds to collect and grow, mapping specimen plants throughout the grounds, and sourcing plants for both gardens and plant sales. Many other restoration, commercial, and residential projects have required the search for native plants and a broader base of native plant suppliers. The past few years have offered broader search opportunities while identifying high wildlife value species suitable for projects throughout the country, as well as locating growers who can supply these critical native species. Seeking out and learning about native plants has been and will continue to be a life-long interest.
This connection with native plants made involvement with the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council a natural fit. Of course, one of CCLC’s Eight Essential Elements promotes the use of native plants for landscaping, among other sustainable landscaping practices. Joining the steering committee and helping with the first conference led to various other committee and board officer roles over the past fifteen years, as well as assistance with developing the Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional certification. As the current secretary of CCLC’s board, member of the CBLP’s steering committee, and Level 2 certified CBLP, I am proud to be part of this non-profit organization that helps bring greater awareness of and implementation of ecological practices throughout the mid-Atlantic. I’ve been drawn to CCLC to be a part of learning, developing, and sharing these concepts to the broader landscape community and all who benefit from this type of work. At one point, I helped to develop and present a CBLP workshop about sourcing native plants, which was expanded and presented in virtual format this past year. To take this one step further, I wanted to mention, or remind those of you who have attended, of a super opportunity that is right around the corner.
Visiting the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade (MANTS) show at the Baltimore Convention Center is one of the best ways to meet growers and learn more about the plants and services they provide. With several hundred nurseries and greenhouses on display, some growing all native plants and others who include natives, you are sure to find some great options to work with. It’s not just about picking up the catalogs and seeing the displays, but more importantly about talking with the people representing these operations to really get a sense of how everyone can work together. Asking about future availability, order lead time, and contract growing will help to understand which places are a good fit with your needs and establish a relationship. If you are already working together, it is a good time to reconnect, particularly at a time when plants are in high demand and availability is tight. I hope that you will find all the native plants that you are seeking!
Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show (MANTS) – January 5-7, 2022, Baltimore, MD
As the principal of Chesapeake Horticultural Services, LLC, Leslie works as an independent horticultural consultant. She offers an ecological perspective by incorporating her training in environmental sciences into practice on both agricultural and landscape conservation initiatives. Previously she operated a native plant nursery with a focus on wetland species for conservation and restoration projects and worked for a major seed supplier. Leslie is a graduate of the LEAD Maryland Foundation fellowship, where she took part in extensive training in agricultural and natural resource leadership. Additionally, she serves as a Board Advisor to the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council and Steering Committee Member/Technical Advisor for the Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional certification initiative.