Native plant species highlighted in the Ironton library’s new gardens

Volunteers Linda Bennett, Jim Hemphill and Mariah Fabry do some weeding.

Thanks to the hard work of local volunteers, two installations at the Ozark Regional Library in Ironton tell a different kind of story.

In a general way, it is the story of native plants of the area and the other flora and fauna that interact with them. And it all came about with a little bit of discussion and a lot of volunteer elbow grease.

Last year, Linda Bennett hosted a “Native Plant Workshop” at The Academy in Arcadia. She and her husband, Bill, have an interest in native plants and have spent years with other volunteers in St. Louis planting native gardens around the city.

“We were at the workshop,” said Mariah Fabry and her husband, Jim Hemphill, “and (Library Director) Holly (Martin Huffman) sat down at a table with me and a couple of my friends.”

During the conversation, Fabry made the comment that she thought it would be neat if some of the public areas in The Valley had native  species planted.  The idea germinated.

Both the Fabrys and the Bennetts talked to Holly and Holly talked to the library board and now there are two new gardens at the library for the public to enjoy.

The Wild 4 Bees Garden designed and planted by Mariah and family in front of the library focuses on the 4 Bees—Butterflies, Birds, Bees and Books. Wild Missouri flowers, shrubs, ferns and trees are featured as well as a rustic bench under a trellis of native red cedar, both built by Jim Hemphill. The trellis hosts native Red Honeysuckle-Lonicera sempervirens, and Purple hya

cinth beans. 

All of the Wild for Bees Garden plants were transplanted from Mariah’s and Jim’s rural property.

“We’ve been conditioned to choose exotic plants for our gardens,” said Mariah, “but they’re simply statues in our yards - most of those flowers and shrubs from Japan and China don’t host Monarch caterpillars or provide nectar for native bees. I watched a flowering Almond for two springs, and never saw an insect visit it. We removed it and planted several Amorpha canescens - Leadplants - from the Missouri Conservation Department, which are loudly abuzz with honeybees and native bees all thru their bloom season.”

Technically the plants are either native or “naturalized” varieties.

“Some of them are what is called “naturalized plants,” Mariah explained. “They came from Europe and became naturalized here. Plants like Queen Anne’s Lace that were not part of our American Heritage until European settlers arrived.”

The Native Missouri Landscape plants or all native plants produced at Missouri Wildflowers Nursery near Jefferson City.

The plants were purchased through a grant from “Wild Ones,” and organization that encourages native plants in the landscape.

“Bill and I have been members of Wild Ones for a long, long time in St. Louis and we have planted countless native gardens,” Linda said. “Normally the organization doesn’t give grants outside the St. Louis area, but since Bill and I had been on the board and they knew us, they knew we would maintain it and gave us the grant.”

Linda said she chose plants for their color and size and nutrient needs and with an idea that something would be blooming in the garden from spring through fall. (A list of the plants is in a box on this page.)

Bennett will stage another native plant workshop in September. and the volunteers hope to encourage more volunteers to help with the planting, weeding and general maintenance the gardens require.

“We would love to have (plant) donations from other people,” Mariah said. “I think it would be wonderful if families or groups wanted to adopt a section, because it is a big expanse out there and it is sloped so it will take some doing to plant the whole thing like we would like to eventually do.”

Huffman commended the gardeners: “It is entirely volunteer and I think it is looking beautiful.”

If things go as planned, the gardens will be incorporated into the educational experiences at the library.  Offerings might include such things as Spider Sniffing, Butterfly and Caterpillar Identification, Nature Journals and Photography, Starting Wildflowers from Seed, Rain Gardens, and Herbs for Bees and Humans.

In the fall, Huffman said they intend to plant a memorial dogwood tree in honor of Cal Dothage, a former librarian who was in charge of genealogy and circulation.