Virginia Cooperative Extension volunteer on a mission to boost native plants in gardens
For ecosystem benefits, a Henry County volunteer helps Virginians add native plants to their home gardens.
Kathy Fell, a Virginia Master Naturalist and Extension Master Gardener, is dedicated to expanding the availability of Virginia native plants throughout her Henry County community and across the commonwealth.
When Kathy Fell moved to Henry County, she wanted to make likeminded friends. She turned to Virginia Cooperative Extension, becoming both an Extension Master Gardener and a Virginia Master Naturalist, where she discovered not only a community of peers, but a new passion for native plants.
“After I attended my first talk about native plants, I learned to propagate milkweed, then I started looking for more ways to get involved,” Fell said.
Through her participation in regional seminars and connecting with other native plant advocates, Fell became the coordinator of the southern piedmont region of the Plant Virginia Natives Campaign.
Fell has logged more than 6,000 volunteer hours toward the effort by promoting native plants at public events, educating nursery managers about stocking natives, contributing plant location data to the Flora of Virginia project, and creating the forthcoming “Plant Southern Piedmont Natives” guide.
“Extension volunteers like Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners make such important differences in communities across Virginia,” said Michelle Prysby, a Virginia Cooperative Extension faculty member in the College of Natural Resources and Environment and the director of the Virginia Master Naturalist program. “Volunteers such as Kathy help so many Virginians understand how to adopt more environmental behaviors, such as choosing native plants for their landscaping projects and managing invasive species on their properties. I’m so impressed every day with the creative, impactful service by our volunteers.”
Fell transformed her own property into a wildlife habitat planted with native species.
“It’s just delightful to walk through this kind of a landscape because there is so much going on. In summer, I have all kinds of animals and insects buzzing around. All winter there are birds in the pond, hawks come through to snag a bird, and a bear comes by. I have a habitat now," she said.
“It’s important to have at least 70 percent native plants. Then you’re really able to provide the ecosystem resources species of butterflies and other native creatures need to raise their babies,” said Fell. “When I go to a nursery, I look for the plants with holes chewed in the leaves because those are the ones attracting wildlife.”
As a Virginia Cooperative Extension volunteer, Fell’s impact is felt far beyond her back window. Her work touches and improves lives — human, animal, and insect — throughout the commonwealth.
Plant Virginia Natives is a collaborative marketing campaign managed by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality that promotes the use of Virginia native plants in home landscapes.
Extension Master Gardeners are trained volunteer educators who bring the resources of Virginia’s land-grant universities to the people of the commonwealth. Visit the Extension Master Gardener Program website for more information or to become an Extension Master Gardener.
-Written by Devon Johnson