FI Conservancy’s Demonstration Garden

by Jane Ahrens

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. 

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

Evergreen Trees

Botanical NameCommon Name# Lepidoptera Species Supported**
Juniperus virginianaEastern Red Cedar42
Ilex opacaAmerican Holly39

Ornamental Trees

Botanical NameCommon Name# Lepidoptera Species Supported**
Amelanchier canadensisShad124
Betula nigraBlack Birch413
Cercis canadensisEastern Redbud19
Cornus floridaFlowering Dogwood118
Prunus serotina (Existing)Black Cherry456


Botanical NameCommon Name# Lepidoptera Species Supported**
Clethra alnifoliaSummersweet10
Ilex glabraInkberry39
Ilex verticillataWinterberry39
Myrica pensylvanicaBayberry106
Rhododendron viscosumSwamp Azalea51
Salix melanostachysBlack Pussy Willow456
Vaccinium corymbosumHigh Bush Blueberry294
Viburnum dentatumArrowwood104

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

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay . Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

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