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Maryland church protecting the Earth with native plants

Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church plantings include more than 175 trees

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church has planted numerous native trees and shrubs to protect the local waterways from stormwater runoff. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — For nearly three years, Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church near Annapolis, Maryland, has been transforming its grounds and nearby woods with native plants to help protect local waterways and attract butterflies and other wildlife.

Since the summer of 2018, members and supporters have planted more than 500 plants on church property and put in numerous trees as well.

The project includes many flowers, such as the native purple coneflowers, and native groundcover, such as Erigeron “Lynnhaven Carpet,” which beautifies the property and provides erosion control.

“Every season, we’ve planted more things,” said Karen Royer, volunteer co-chair of the Woods Gardening Committee with fellow co-chair Peggy Newman. “It’s been a fun, really wonderful project.”

The plantings include many flowers, such as these native purple coneflowers, Echinacea purpurea. (Contributed photo)

The work is a joint effort between the Gardening Committee and the Property Management Ministry to protect Cypress Creek from stormwater runoff and to have at least 70% native plants on the property of the Severna Park church, which is part of the Presbytery of Baltimore.

“This has been an effort with many sub-projects that all focused on restoring our property with native plants and trees to provide the habitat and stormwater management that was so needed,” Royer noted in an email.

On one Saturday alone, they planted 175 trees, including native oak and maple, and various shrubs in a wooded area behind the church. Various community groups assisted with the fall 2019 project, which was led by Woods member Frank Goetschius to complete his Master Watershed Steward certification.

“We really wanted to soak up all the stormwater that comes off the roof, and the one parking lot kind of dumps into that wooded area,” Royer said. When footage taken after the plantings showed no water from the woods going into a nearby storm drain, volunteers felt like “Yay! We did it,” she said.

Since then, another 20 trees have been planted on church property, with support from a Watershed Stewards program.

Trees were planted last fall by volunteers who were socially distanced and wearing masks, Royer said. The trees included a hackberry, and “we planted, of course, the Cornus florida, the native Dogwood.”

Also, “we just converted the office garden, which was kind of a wet, semi-shaded area,” Royer said. “We’ve converted that to almost all natives.”

The church’s efforts are beneficial for wildlife in the area, such as butterflies, she said.

Native plants like this Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) support Monarch butterflies with nectar and are host plants for monarch caterpillars. (Contributed photo)

“Butterflies can only lay their eggs on their host plants, and if you don’t have the host plant, you don’t have the life cycle. So here you have this creature that is as valuable a part of God’s Creation as any other creature and you’ve eliminated its ability to reproduce,” Royer explained.

The Earth Care Congregation (ECC) also is motivated by a desire to protect local waterways by following environmentally friendly practices, such as avoiding unhealthy weed killers.

“The church wanted to be a leader,” Royer said. “You can’t poison your way to a better future.”

The Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) is impressed with the church’s efforts.

PHP “is so thankful that we can count Woods Memorial as one of the 276 ECCs that are living out a call to revitalize their communities through their commitment to care for Creation,” said Jessica Maudlin Phelps, PHP Associate for Sustainable Living and Earth Care Concerns. “Particularly in a year when so many churches had to rethink most everything they had planned, their passion to embrace our call to environmental stewardship is a true inspiration and gift to the world.”

The native groundcover Erigeron “Lynnhaven Carpet,” which is also known as Robin’s Plantain, beautifies the property and provides erosion control. (Contributed photo)

The effort has attracted the attention of members wanting to follow the Gardening Committee’s lead at home, Royer said. A local scout troop that noticed garden signage recently asked for a tour.

Along with signs identifying certain plants, “we have a sign that says, ‘What is a native plant garden?’” Royer said.

The overall effort has received special funding support from various sources over the years.

“We received two $1,000 grants from Unity Gardens and one $2,500 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust,” Royer said. “The Anne Arundel County Watershed Stewards Academy provided support through their Master Watershed Stewards program.”

Churches that would like to emulate Woods Memorial’s gardening efforts (or get involved in other Earth-friendly projects) should try to cultivate connections in the community, Royer said.

For example, “they can find student groups like the ecology club at the high school or the environmental class that would come and plant or help them weed or something like that,” she said. “Between community service hours and scouts that need Eagle Scout projects and things, there’s ways of tying in groups, and it’s always good for the church. Even if it’s a really elderly small congregation, if they can have groups come in and help them. The groups feel good, and then the outcome is good. Instead of just putting in a bench or whatever, they’ve put in something that supports living things, which is great.”

But it doesn’t have to stop there. Woods Memorial’s Property Management Ministry has been making a host of indoor changes such as replacing leaky windows and replacing an older heating and air conditioning system and lighting to be more Earth-friendly.

“It’s amazing the changes that are possible when the focus is on how can we be the stewards of our outside property and our inside property in the best way?” Royer said.

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