Julie Reiff, Skip Repetto and Lesley Rowse work in the Habitat for All Garden in Bethel. Photo courtesy of Mahoosuc Land Trust

The Mahoosuc Land Trust in Bethel has a broader mission than many land trusts. It is trying to protect property that is literally closer to home and lure more people to try gardening.

“Traditionally, land trusts protect property where people can hike on trails leading to views and mountaintops,” said Barbara Murphy, director of development and the trust’s Habitat for All program, an initiative to connect people to nature through their own backyards and public spaces.

While Mahoosuc does traditional land trust work, too, it puts more emphasis on local gardens and landscapes.

“We have to open things up, so people see themselves as conservationists and can actively participate in addressing the current environmental crisis,” she said.

Murphy’s entire career has involved gardening and getting more people to garden. She worked for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension for 23 years, teaching the Master Gardener course, leading the Extension’s Harvest for Hunger program and providing gardening guidance to the general public. She joined Mahoosuc Land Trust in 2017.

The Habitat for All Garden is one tool she is using in her quest. The garden at Valentine Farm, 162 North Road in Bethel, is not yet complete, but it is already being used in its unfinished state. Murphy expects it to be completed next year.


It includes a children’s garden to tempt younger people into the activity and to get their parents involved as well.

“One large segment that is underway is the Anna and Oliver Garden, specifically designed to enthrall children with interesting and unusual plants, puzzles to solve, and things to do for family,” she said.

She thinks many people are driven away from gardening by zealots who insist that people plant only natives and only seed-grown natives found in the immediate region. Planting a peony, a non-native violet or a patch of poppies is a violation, the most stringent say.

Yes, Murphy wants people to plant some natives, to attract beneficial insects, and feed the bees and the butterflies and provide places for them to lay their eggs. But that doesn’t have to be all they plant. They should plant what they like, to make a garden that is fun and enjoyable for them as well as a benefit to the environment.

Murphy is a supporter of the Homegrown National Park, co-f0unded by well-known garden writer Doug Tallamy. The idea behind the project is that if people around the country turn part of their yards into gardens that includes some plants that support bees, birds, butterflies and other wild creatures, it would be as beneficial to the environment as a major new national park.

“It is important for people to grow gardens because the skills and perspective of gardening leads to a love and respect of the environment in other ways,” she said.


To help push her goals, she’s arranged for Tallamy to give an online talk about the Homegrown National Park. People can register to listen at the Gem Theater at 43 Cross St. in Bethel, with a social hour beginning at 6 p.m Saturday, an introduction at 6:45 p.m., and Tallamy’s online talk at 7 p.m.

People also can sign up to join Tallamy’s presentation on their home computers.

Mahoosuc’s second event next weekend combines its annual meeting at 11 a.m. on Aug. 13 and a Monarch Festival from noon to 4 p.m. that day. All events will be at Valentine Farm.

The annual meeting will include opening remarks by Richard Blanco, the Bethel resident who served as the inaugural poet at President Obama’s second inauguration.

The Monarch Festival will include bird walks, workshops and demonstrations, monarch tagging, children’s activities, artisan vendors, a cookout, and more.

All events are free, but people are encouraged to register online at mahoosuc.org.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: tomatwell@me.com.

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