FI Conservancy’s Demonstration Garden

Native Plants on Display

by Gerrit Goss
August 2015

The Fishers Island Conservancy’s Native Plant Demonstration Garden is flourishing in its second season! Thanks to the hard work of a number of volunteers, the garden has been weeded, mulched, and mowed, and it sits ready to fulfill its mission of highlighting native trees and shrubs and illustrating their use in a ‘garden’ setting. The natives selected- many seen growing wild on the island- are perfectly adaptable to a more formal garden setting, and are not only every bit as ‘ornamental’ as most of the exotic (and in many cases, invasive) trees and shrubs that are so often used in our island gardens today, but have the added bonus of supporting the island population of Lepidoptera- moths and butterflies. (Click on photos above to see larger images.)

Located between the movie theater and the New York State Trooper’s station, the +/- .5 acre Demonstration Garden can be explored on its own or in conjunction with an outing to the revitalized Parade Grounds; it serves as an informal ‘eastern gateway’ to the network of paths that canvas the native grasslands that have become, over the last several years, a popular recreation destination for everyone from ‘birders’ to dog walkers. The paths and beds of the Demonstration Garden are laid out to form a central space – an oval lawn – that is punctuated by an existing mature black cherry tree and a recently installed oak tree, planted to define the space for the next generation, as the cherry declines with age. The periphery of the oval space is defined by shad trees and shrub beds filled with swamp azaleas, summersweet, bayberry, winterberry, inkberry, and viburnum. Beyond the oval, moving further away from the street, high bush blueberry shrubs border the outside of the path; last season, these were prolific producers of delicious blueberries for anyone to enjoy! Beyond the blueberries, a large open space of the same native grasses seen in the Parade Grounds is becoming established, defined loosely on the edges by small ornamental trees including flowering dogwoods and eastern redbuds. Large canopy trees were also planted; look for the oaks and lindens to provide shade and large scale interest in the years to come. Near the trooper’s station, in addition to the remaining existing black cherries, a group of black tupelo were planted; large ‘groves’ of these wonderful trees can be seen growing throughout the island and they will provide a nice visual barrier to the building over time. On the movie theater side, young evergreen American holly was used to start to screen the mass of the theater building and some light and airy multi-stem black birch contribute to softening the edge. Throughout the garden, there is room for many more native species to be incorporated; look for the garden to evolve as future phases are implemented. A list of the plants currently in the garden is included below.

The Demonstration Garden is managed by the Fishers Island Conservancy and maintained through the generous effort of countless volunteers*. Island visitors and residents alike are encouraged to explore the site and view natives from a different perspective. While it currently showcases only a handful of the beautiful trees and shrubs that can be considered native to the region, there is plenty to inspire all gardening enthusiasts to incorporate more of these plants in our island landscape.

* Special thanks to Pat Schiestl, Donnie Beck, Jimmy Ski, Greg Thibodeau, Gordon Murphy, and the staff at the Fishers Island Club.

Shade Trees

Botanical Name Common Name # Lepidoptera Species Supported**
Nyssa sylvatica Black Tupelo 26
Quercus bicolor Swamp White Oak 534
Tilia cordata Little Leaf Linden 149

Evergreen Trees

Botanical Name Common Name # Lepidoptera Species Supported**
Juniperus virginiana Eastern Red Cedar 42
Ilex opaca American Holly 39

Ornamental Trees

Botanical Name Common Name # Lepidoptera Species Supported**
Amelanchier canadensis Shad 124
Betula nigra Black Birch 413
Cercis canadensis Eastern Redbud 19
Cornus florida Flowering Dogwood 118
Prunus serotina (Existing) Black Cherry 456


Botanical Name Common Name # Lepidoptera Species Supported**
Clethra alnifolia Summersweet 10
Ilex glabra Inkberry 39
Ilex verticillata Winterberry 39
Myrica pensylvanica Bayberry 106
Rhododendron viscosum Swamp Azalea 51
Salix melanostachys Black Pussy Willow 456
Vaccinium corymbosum High Bush Blueberry 294
Viburnum dentatum Arrowwood 104

** As noted by Doug Tallamy in Bringing Nature Home.

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