It takes a little extra effort, but it is becoming a bit easier to find and consult with a native plant specialist and vendor. Such a vendor is Joe Russell of Summersweet Native Plants.
At Summersweet, Russell uses organic growing practices without chemical fertilizers, neonicotinoids or other synthetic pesticides, to grow plants native to the mid-Atlantic and northeastern regions. The plants are known as straight species, as they would naturally occur in the wild, and are grown from local eco-type seeds, when available. The plants are grown outdoors so they are adapted to the weather conditions of the region, responding naturally to seasonal progressions here in New Jersey.
Russell started Summersweet Native Plants after noticing a significant lack of the straight species native plants available to the retail customer. Native plants are the keystone to ecological diversity and the creation of new or interlinked habitat for a healthy, balanced ecosystem. Whether you are looking for native plants for conservation efforts, formal or casual gardens, meadows for wildlife or pollinators, or low-maintenance home landscapes, Russell can help identify the right selections for your site or project. He holds degrees in marine biology and natural resources, and has training in landscape design, plant propagation, plant identification, as well as control and eradication measures for invasive plants. Russell has studied at the renowned Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware and served as an intern at Wild Ridge Plants. He has worked on restoration projects throughout the state and also in private home landscape design.
While living in Collingswood, Russell found it difficult to source native plants, often driving several hours to Pennsylvania to find certain native plants or scouring the internet for native plant sales hosted by environmental nonprofit organizations, native plant botanical gardens and nurseries that typically only sell wholesale to the trade except for a few retail sale days during specific seasons. If you missed them, or if they quickly sold out of the plants you wanted, you were out of luck until the following year. As a result, Russell began growing native plants from seed at home for personal use. After relocating to the Mizpah section of Hamilton Township in the summer of 2017, Summersweet Native Plants was established in the same month. Seeds were sown during the first winter and the first sale was made in 2018. Since beginning this adventure, Russell has met lots of new friends and has partnered with local nonprofits, schools and businesses to help get more native plants into the ground.
Russell is available by appointment for consultation and sales. He is at 6863 Harding Highway in Mays Landing. You can call Summersweet Native Plants at 609-287-0596 or email Russell at email@example.com. The Summersweet website is summersweetnativeplants.com, its Facebook page is facebook.com/SummersweetNativePlants and it is on Instagram at instagram.com/summersweetnativeplants.
Russell is growing his business, as are other folks in the area, and they need our support. This effort is dwarfed by the major retailers of plants that are non-native, invasive, strictly ornamental, chemically infused, confusingly hybridized or sometimes useless or harmful to a healthy ecosystem. We will continue to highlight businesses like Summersweet Native Plants that are helping restore basic native ecological functions in our area, combatting climate change, maintaining crucial soil health, providing green infrastructure and helping to keep toxic chemicals out of our water, air and grounds.