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Maynard Biodiversity Talks: Leslie Bryant

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

Biodiversity is an important measure of the health of an ecosystem. The greater the diversity of plants and animals, the healthier and more resilient the environment—and the better able it is to adjust to a changing climate.

So how do citizens of Maynard think about biodiversity, and what steps are they taking to foster it? What do people value about the wildlife in the gardens, woods, wetlands, and meadows in town? How and why do they cultivate biodiversity in their gardens? How do they protect and enhance biodiversity in the landscape? This blog attempts to answer these questions through conversations with a range of individuals with diverse viewpoints and approaches. We will look at efforts both small and large, from the cultivation of a single bee balm plant in a pot to town-wide initiatives.

First, a bit about me. I am interested in the biodiversity in my garden, and my efforts have been rewarded with a steadily increasing range of animals, insects, and plants. But I am neither an expert gardener nor botanist, so I am curious to learn from others. I bring my interest and my questions and a desire to understand how people think and respond to a changing world. — Sarah Measures

The Gardens of Leslie Bryant

Leslie Bryant, a longtime resident of Maynard, has been nurturing biodiversity in her garden for 34 years. Vibrant plant growth, 3 feet high, covers much of her back and front yard. Narrow stone paths lead one between banks of yellow and orange flowering perennials, through an archway of vines to sit beneath a large tree to the rear of her yard. A complex tapestry of interwoven different species abound. Yellow flowering Heliopsis lean over the tea table. A young Sassafras tree stands close. It is a welcoming and glorious place to sit and drink Earl Grey with scones on an early August day.

Leslie has been active in town wide environmental enterprises for many years as a member of Maynard Tree Corp and through involvement with Green Maynard. But today I was curious about her relationship to her own garden.

Interview with Leslie Bryant

SM: How were you impacted by nature while you were growing up?

LB: We grew up in the woods in Templeton, MA. You couldn’t see another house from our place. We spent our time absorbed by the nearby streams, ponds, Mayflowers, salamanders, and Trilliums in the woods around our house. We foraged on Checkerberries, Elderberries for wine, and Concord Grapes for jams and jellies. Our parents had us work hard in the garden, weeding and harvesting food for canning and the freezer, and as a reward we would go at the end of the day to the lake down the road to swim. Some of those woods are gone now, destroyed by logging, road building, and development.

SM: How has your yard changed since you bought it?

LB: When I bought it, it was chinch bug–infested brown grass surrounded by Bittersweet vines. Now there are nine different varieties of native trees: Butternut, Ironwood, Sassafras, Red bud, Pincherry, Broad-leaved Maple, Oaks, Crabapple, and Arborvitae. Many of these are planted to fill in the understory beneath mature trees. Because they are understory trees, they can exist under my neighbor's big pines without competing for space. Planting trees increases the amount of tree matter. All the understory trees I have planted are natives. The problem with non-natives and hybrids is that they aren't useful for a lot of native bees; they are really only useful for us to look at. The space they take up could be put to better use. That said, I have plenty of them in my garden and try to compensate by devoting more space to the natives.

[Leslie said that there are some plants in her yard she does not yet recognize, but she showed me a list of 28 species of native perennials that she has identified, including Virginia Rose, Concord Grape, Turtlehead, Blue Vervain, Fake Solomon’s Seal, Sunflower Everlasting, Virginia Spiderwort, Spirea Alba, Milkweed, Monarda, Echinacea, Golden Rod, Cimicifuga, Pearly Everlasting, Virginia Creeper, and Blood Root. Below is just a sampling of plants in her garden.]

[Click on each image above for the plant's common names. You can also find botanical and common names here. Top row, left to right: Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana); Black cohosh, bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa); False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides). Middle row, left to right: Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea); Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea); Bee balm, wild bergamot (Mondarda fistulosa). Bottom row, left to right: Fleabane (Erigeron annuus); coneflower and rudbeckia; can you identify the last plant?]

SM: Is there anything you would like to see change in Maynard that might help biodiversity?

LB: I’d like all new construction to be limited to motion detector lights at night. Insects are attracted to lights at nighttime, and they exhaust themselves flying around artificial lights. The majority of pollination takes place at night, so if insects are busy flapping around artificial lights, both the insects and the native plants they pollinate will not survive. It's part of the chain. Unnecessary lighting also disrupts bird migration. Progressive towns have mitigated this by switching to orange lighting, which is less disruptive. It took me two years of phone calls to have the streetlight outside my house reduced in brightness and sufficiently dimmed.

SM: What other changes would you like to see in Maynard?

LB: I’d like to see a tax incentive for people doing the right thing. I’d like to see people using only motion detector lights at night, a ban on pesticides, and a strong environmental curriculum at all school levels that includes hands-on field time for students.

SM: What are you most proud of in your garden?

LB: I am most proud of my raspberry patch. It attracts bumblebees and it fills my freezer. These are the same canes that my father had, so the stock is 50 years old at least.

SM: Thank you, Leslie, for showing me this fantastic wildlife habitat and thank you for the tea.

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