BTG’s annual Native Plant Sale returns to Bestor Plaza


Mariia Novoselia
Staff writer

Among cheese, fruit and vegetable stands spread out across Bestor Plaza every Tuesday, this week, there will be one more set up selling Native plants to Chautauquans. 

The annual Native Plant Sale, organized by the Bird, Tree & Garden Club, will welcome its first customers at 8 a.m. this morning on the plaza.

Jennifer Francois, BTG vice president and program chair, said they usually sell out of plants quickly — within two or three hours, but the sale will be open until noon. 

Native plants are extremely beneficial to the environment, Francois said. 

Some birds, she said, might eat berries of non-Native species. However, while delicious, those berries are not as nutritious.

Opting for Native plants can also prevent birds from losing their natural habitat. On the grounds of Chautauqua, there are some trees of non-Native species — like the Elm trees or the Ash trees — that are dying off because of certain diseases, Francois said. That reduces the resources available not only to the birds, but also the insects that rely on them. 

Birds and insects are not the only part of the environment that benefit from Native plants. The health of the lake, Francois said, also depends on Native plants.

“Humans are doing things that compromise the health of the lake, such as adding fertilizers on their own property that then get into the lake,” Francois said. 

Lakeshore species and rain gardens filled with Native plants installed by the Institution or on private grounds, she said, slow the process of fertilizers getting into the lake and utilize those nutrients.   

Every year, BTG chooses a new vendor for their plant sale. Royal Fern Nursery, located in Fredonia, New York, will be selling over a dozen species of native plants this year. 

Francois said that one of the advantages that Royal Fern Nursery has is its proximity to Chautauqua. 

When it comes to Native plants, she said, the seeds of plants that grow locally will be better adapted to the conditions of the environment than the seeds of the same species that grow farther away. 

“It is like sisters,” she said. “Cut from the same cloth, but different.”

Jonathan Townsend, co-owner of Royal Fern Nursery, said he is very excited for the occasion. 

Francois described him as “extremely knowledgeable,” and said that purchasing plants at the sale directly from the vendor is great because “you can find out anything about the plants you are buying.”

Jessica Townsend, the other co-owner of Royal Fern, said while the nursery has only been open for a couple of years, she and her team “have always had a passion” for Native plants and described their interest in them as lifelong. 

“The more I learn, the more I am fascinated,” Jessica Townsend said. 

Jonathan Townsend said both he and Jessica Townsend grew up in rural areas and spent a lot of time outdoors, which is how their affinity for native plants was born. 

Jessica Townsend said when she was around 7 years old, she and her sister stepped on an underground hornet nest while exploring the woods of their parents’ property in Cuba, New York. Within moments, she said, they were covered in stings “head to toe.” 

Upon their return home, their mother gently boiled jewelweed until the water turned orange, strained it and poured the water into ice-cube trays. The cubes helped get rid of the stings within a day, Jessica Townsend said. 

Among all the plants that the nursery will be supplying for the sale, Jonathan Townsend’s favorite is bloodroot. He said it easily adapts to growing in the shade and can be used medicinally. 

Jessica Townsend’s favorite is a plant called Black cohosh. She said it is “very pleasant to come across in the wild.”

Francois said she likes all Native plants, but her favorite is the White Turtlehead flower. Bumblebees, she said, being heavier than other insects, have the ability to open the “mouth” of the flower and get inside it. The flowers, Francois said, have evolved to take the shape of a bumblebee. 

All the Native plants sold at Bestor Plaza will be beginner-friendly, Jessica Townsend said. 

“It takes a lot to mess them up,” she said.

What the right plant for an individual gardener is depends on the goals that individual has for their garden, Jessica Townsend said. Factors that contribute to the decision-making process, she said, include how much shade the garden has, how much the gardener wants the plant to spread out and so on.

Francois said this year’s selection of plants is “a good collection” suitable for “many different pollinators and other species that utilize these plants” and adapted to “a broad range of growing conditions.”

“There’s something for everyone,” she said.

Jessica Townsend encouraged to reach out to the nursery for any queries or concerns about the plants. 

Francois said they will also be distributing pamphlets about pollinators published by the U.S. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a planting guide for a native pollinator garden. 

A myth that Jonathan Townsend wants to see forever debunked is that Native plants “aren’t fit for traditional gardens,” or that they are always “wild and messy.”

Sometimes Native plants are underappreciated, Francois said, “because there are plenty that are more showy and that have been cultivated to be really colorful.” They’re still pretty, and can sometimes be hard to find for purchase.

Jessica Townsend said she wishes more people knew that “it’s OK to see things eat your plant.” She said when people see holes in their plants, they turn to pesticides, but sometimes, she said, it is important to “take a step back.”

Francois said that Native plants are able to handle such attacks. She said they are adapted to a variety of environmental conditions. 

“Theoretically, you shouldn’t need to water them, you shouldn’t need to put fertilizers on them, you shouldn’t have to use pesticides,” she said.

“A garden should be more than a lawn with statues,” Jessica Townsend said — it should help the environment.


The author Mariia Novoselia

Mariia Novoselia is a senior at Western Kentucky University studying journalism with a minor in political science. Born and raised in Odesa, Ukraine, she previously attended Odesa I. I. Mechnikov National University. She has experience writing for student publications and interning at a local newspaper in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Summer 2023 will be her first season on the grounds of Chautauqua, where she will be covering environmental issues. Mariia is also a music enthusiast, and when not writing, she enjoys singing and playing the guitar.