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trustee rebecca kassay

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Photo by Julianne Mosher

Butterflies, bees and little birds.

Those are the creatures that have been living throughout some of Port Jefferson village’s pollinator gardens and helping out the local environment. 

Earlier this summer, the village began receiving some complaints that certain gardens were overgrown — the most common one was a small garden outside of the Port Jefferson Village Center that is home to a pollinator and butterfly garden, with a large anchor front and center.

Village gardener, Caran Markson, said she was injured and unfortunately was put on a medical leave. That’s when the village parks department decided to step in and help clean up the garden that some residents were saying was “getting out of hand.”

When Markson found out, she was devastated.

“I take it very personal,” she said. “We should be educating anyone who lives in the village or who visits the village about what the gardens can do.”

A pollinator garden is a garden that is planted predominately with flowers that provide nectar or pollen for a range of pollinating insects. A pollinator garden can be any size and the village is home to many different ones.

These gardens are full of plants that naturally attract, feed and provide habitat for different wildlife, and help the local ecosystem — and ultimately the environment. 

“I had it on a national list through the Pollinator Partnership,” Markson said. “I leave signs about what they do.”

Pollinator Partnership’s is a national nonprofit with the mission to promote the health of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education and research.

While Markson was gone, many of the plants were torn out.

“I’m blown away,” she added. “I’m so upset.”

When trustee Rebecca Kassay heard that the garden was cleaned up, she decided to create a task force of volunteers to take care of the pollinator gardens while Markson was away.

An environmentalist herself, Kassay knows the importance of the flowers that line the roads of Port Jefferson. 

On Friday, Sept. 10, she and several other volunteers gathered behind the anchor garden at Harborfront Park to clean up the weeds but keep the specific flowers that are home to monarch butterflies and bees.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

“That’s part of the reason why it’s here, but it’s also here because it’s beautiful,” she said. “With our village gardener out on medical leave, she specializes in the maintenance of these types of gardens on our park staff. So, as someone who worked with these types of gardens for a decade in my career, I’m very happy to step up and lead local enthusiasts.”

Part of the volunteer program is to not only clean things up, but to also educate people who are interested in learning about the benefits of these plants. 

“This is a great opportunity for them to come down and learn about pollinator gardens, while making their village more beautiful at the same time,” Kassay said.

The trustee added that the next several volunteer meetups will continue to “edit” other gardens.

“The plants sort of grow as they want to, and our goal and responsibility as gardeners of a pollinator garden is to edit and make sure it’s aesthetically pleasing for folks who may or may not know the ecological value of the garden,” she said. 

While Markson appreciates the help while she’s absent, she’s still upset that the anchor garden at the center of the roundabout has been changed.

“It was a wonderful garden,” she said. “It’s a little too late.”

Trustee Kathianne Snaden, who spearheads the village’s beautification efforts, said there will be other initiatives to spruce up the village.

“Our end goal is to clean up and plant more colorful flowers, especially uptown,” she said.

Snaden added that Upper Port has been neglected “for too long,” and “a lot can be done in the short term.”

As development begins with the new apartments there, she decided to add stone or cement planters to overfill with flowers. During the holidays, they will add more Christmas decorations as well. 

“There’s no better way to help businesses and have developers come in than to make it look more beautiful now with color,” she said. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Snaden added another initiative is to create a children’s garden soon, filled with flowers that were purchased this week from the elementary school PTA’s flower bulb sale. Both the children’s garden and uptown planters are expected to start up soon.

Interested pollinator gardeners can email Kassay at [email protected] to RSVP for the next cleanup opportunities on Sunday, Sept. 26, at Harborfront Park from 2-5 p.m., and on Oct. 17 at the triangle garden at High Street and Spring Street.