In a normal year, this would be Trillium Week at Garden in the Woods in Framingham, and hordes of visitors would be walking the trails admiring the site’s nationally accredited collection of wildflowers.
Due to the current shutdown of nonessential services, Garden in the Woods, headquarters of Native Plant Trust, can’t welcome its usual parade of visitors. But Uli Lorimer is quick to point out the mostly three-petaled trilliums are in bloom nonetheless, and people hiking in the woods of New England are likely to find them.
“This is an exciting time of year,” said Lorimer, Native Plant Trust’s director of horticulture. “Quite a lot is beginning to come into bloom. Walking in the woods, you can expect to see early flowering azaleas, viburnums, and spring ephemerals like Dutchman’s-breeches and trout lilies. Ferns are beginning to push their fronds out.”
Lorimer hopes that even without being able to visit Garden in the Woods, would-be botanists will use this verdant time of year to acquaint themselves with the native flowers and plants that his organization promotes — whether by getting out in nature, taking an online class, or buying a book.
Jean Halloran of Concord is doing just that, having recently signed up for Plants 101 online. She has been a member of Native Plant Trust for decades, and always hoped someday she’d take advantage of the many educational and instructional options offered at its Framingham headquarters.
But her career as a high-tech executive meant her days were consumed with constant travel between the two coasts and no spare time on either one. Even her recent retirement brought little free time.
Now, with bicoastal travel suspended and her cluttered schedule of board meetings suddenly cleared, Halloran is taking more walks in the woods.
“As the very first spring woodland wildflowers began presenting themselves, I realized that I wished I knew more about the individual species I was seeing,” she said. “I decided to go to the Native Plant Trust website and see if there were courses I could take.”
That’s exactly what Courtney Allen, director of public programs at Native Plant Trust, and her colleagues had in mind when they contemplated how to reposition their course lineup in light of the current pandemic.
“We were in an unusually strong position because for about five years we’ve been a leader in online botanical instruction,” Allen said. “We already had the infrastructure in place, and that made it possible for us to transition most of our onsite programs online when we realized we’d have to close our site.”
Allen envisions many current and future members like Halloran finding themselves with a renewed appreciation for nature and a accompanying curiosity about what it is they’re looking at.
“When people are not able to spend as much time with each other, they spend more time with nature, whether that’s in their own backyards or in the state forests,” Allen said. “With the increased awareness of their surroundings that comes from being outside, they want to get to know the native plants in their area better.”
Online classes and webinars currently offered include Designing with Native Plants, Gardening for Pollinators, Environmental Justice for Botanists, Native Plant Design for Human Health, and Writing in the Garden. Soon the organization’s basic certificate program will be available for completion online.
“Our audience is all over New England, and some people who can never attend in person will now be able to earn their native plant studies certificate,” Allen said. “We’re hoping this will create a model for botanical learning throughout the nation.”
For home botanists not sure where to begin, Lorimer offers some simple advice. “Look to Mother Nature,” he said. “View native plants in context for inspiration.”
Halloran is taking her time as she works her way through Plants 101 – interspersed with the walks in the woods that first motivated her to sign up for the online course and continue to be her greatest source of comfort.
“Like the loons on the lake and the doe that walked across the road in front of me, there is a whole world of life out in the woods that knows nothing about this current calamity,” she reflected. “I find that thought very centering and calming. Being outdoors is what is saving me.”
For more information on Native Plant Trust’s online programming, go to nativeplanttrust.org.
Nancy Shohet West can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.