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By Lyn Chimera

This is the time of year to reflect on all the positive things in our lives for which we are thankful. Since this is a gardening column, I’m going to skip things like family, friends and good health (all of which I’m extremely thankful for) and concentrate on gardening and nature-related topics.

First of all, I’m so very thankful to be able to garden. Being able to get outdoors and work in the garden is not only good exercise, it’s good for my mental health. If I have a bad day or lots on my mind, an hour or so in the garden helps bring life into perspective. Nature is a great healer. You don’t have to have a large garden to experience this; a few pots on a patio can be just as satisfying.

Being close to nature is very important to me and I’m thankful to live near some beautiful parks where I can walk. This is a good way to get exercise if you don’t have a garden to work in and even if you do, a walk after gardening helps loosen up those sore muscles. We are very lucky to have so many parks and beautiful places in WNY. If you can’t walk, there are those with handicap accessible trails, picnic areas, roads to drive around, or even places to park where you can appreciate the beauty of nature around you. I had a 102-year-old aunt who took great pleasure in drives through Emery and Chestnut Ridge Parks. They always perked her up.

I’m extremely thankful that people are becoming more aware of the consequences of their garden and lawn activities on nature. Being an ecologically thoughtful gardener is becoming mainstream. People are using far fewer chemicals on their lawns and gardens, which in turn helps create a healthier environment for plants and animals AND people. Instead of what can I spray, people are asking what can I do to prevent pests and diseases that doesn’t involve chemicals? This is reflected in products available. There are now organic sections in garden centers and many environmentally friendly lawn services.

The increased awareness of the importance of using native plants is something I’m very thankful for. When I began gardening, people thought native plants were just weeds! It was extremely hard to find true natives in local nurseries. Some nurseries had trillium and a few other natives but often they weren’t even labeled as native. Now you can go into many nurseries that have whole sections of native plants, plants for pollinators etc. We even have a few nurseries who specialize in natives. One of the best examples of how this is helping nature is the increase in monarch butterflies. People are planting milkweed family plants to attract breeding monarchs. Monarchs can get nectar from many plants but their larva can only live on milkweed family plants. Every time I saw a monarch this summer I was thankful. For a while there, you rarely saw them. It’s a good example of what a difference each of us can make.

Preservation of pollinators, including honeybees, is another changing attitude about nature to be thankful for. As a Master Gardener, I work the Gardening Hotline and we now get more calls on how to collect honeybee swarms and nests rather than, “What can I spray to get rid of them?” I am also thankful that people are realizing honeybees make up a small part of total pollinators and now have more awareness of the importance of bumblebees and other native pollinators. Also, I’m grateful people are learning that you don’t have to be afraid of the strong majority of insects buzzing around your plants. I take great delight in watching them and have NEVER been bit. If you leave them alone, they won’t bother you.

Thinking of the Hotline, I’m so very thankful to be able to volunteer. First of all, selfishly, it’s a great learning experience. People are always asking things I don’t know the answer to so I have to find out. It’s also a wonderful and free service to the public from the Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners. You can call 652-5400, ext. 137, to talk to a Master Gardener and get your gardening questions answered. From October to March, a Master Gardener is there on Monday and Thursday from 9am–12pm. From April through September, Master Gardeners are there Monday through Friday from 9am–12pm. You can also e-mail questions to mgerie@cornell.edu. The Hotline office also has diagnostic and soil testing services. Guess this is one you can be thankful for too!

Last, but not least, I’m thankful for the opportunity to help people learn “Lessons from Nature” through presentations, consultations, and writing columns like this!