Six months in, Blandy is adapting to the pandemic
By Dave Carr
Director, Blandy Experimental Farm

We are now six months into our altered reality, but Blandy and the Arboretum have been open to the public since June 6 after a five-week shut down. Since June, visitors have been able to enjoy an experience that should be similar to a pre-Covid-19 visit, but we still have a few restrictions and constraints on activities in place. We do not know when we will be able to relax these restrictions, but I think it would be safe to assume that we are in it for the long haul.
Bathrooms - something on everyone’s mind. There are two ADA-compliant bathrooms at the Peetwood Pavilion, about 50 yards east of the main visitor parking lot. These are the only bathrooms available to the public at Blandy. The bathrooms in the Quarters building are locked. Since we have staff working in that building, we ask visitors to avoid the area altogether. The same is true for the maintenance and lab areas, and all residences. The Peetwood bathrooms are cleaned regularly, but we also have provided antiseptic wipes so that visitors can clean high-touch surfaces themselves.
We also ask visitors to avoid the picnic tables. Wood surfaces are difficult to sanitize, so we recommend that you bring a blanket and find your own shady spot to enjoy a picnic. Besides, that’s more romantic.
Other than that, visitors can access all of the gardens, Arboretum collections, and trails. The outdoors is a relatively low-risk environment, but for your own safety, be mindful of others and keep a safe distance.
Precautions necessary to reduce the risk of transmitting the Coronavirus have taken a toll on our ability to provide the kind of public programming we would like. Capacity reductions and the lack of adequate ventilation in most of our rooms have made it unsafe to host all but the smallest groups (and for the briefest of times). We are trying to take advantage of outdoor programming, however, so keep an eye open for these opportunities throughout the fall.
We are continuing to try to adapt to these difficult times, and we are working hard to design creative ways to serve you. We are fortunate that the things that have always made Blandy such a special place have not really changed at all and that we can be a little breath of fresh air for anyone to enjoy, seven days a week, from dawn until dusk. Stay safe, healthy, and look out for one another.



Nature Nurtures Goes Virtual October 24

Sharing practical tips – and a bit of philosophy – about nature


By Koy Mislowsky

Events and Volunteer Coordinator

Celebrate the goodness of nature with us! Join our virtual Nature Nurtures to hear three compelling presentations on how nature plays such an important role in our lives, from dining to gardening to wellness.


A live Q&A segment follows each session, so you can ask your burning questions about these nature topics – and more!


A Cooking Demonstration: Loving All of Nature's Culinary Gifts

Chef and owner of Field & Main Restaurant Neal Wavra will present two delicious dishes that showcase the good of the Earth through the glorious -- and often misunderstood -- beet. Located in Marshall, Virginia, Neal is an unofficial ambassador for Virginia vineyards and the farm-to-table movement. He will offer suggestions for how to use the whole beet, including the root, stem, and leaves, in the hopes that the beet may become the star ingredient of your next dinner. Sponsored in part by Nature Composed.


Beauty, Integrity, and Resilience: Can a Garden Have Everything?

Internationally known garden designer, author, and native plant advocate Colston Burrell will lead you on a wonderful tour of his personal garden. Cole promises to discuss native plants and ecology in “Can a Garden Have Everything?” A lecturer in the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Virginia, he teaches about plants and their ecological connections to natural systems and cultural landscapes. Cole is sponsored in part by the Virginia Native Plant Society, Piedmont Chapter.


Taking Care of Yourself in Autumn, Thanks to Nature

Corey McDonald is an herbalist and owner of Red Root & Co., a maker of small-batch culinary, beverage, health, and wellness products. Corey connects people to plants with nourishing and delicious herbal infusions. Join us to discover more about plant remedies growing around us this autumn and learn how to support the body with herbs and lifestyle as we transition into the cooler months. 

Nature Nurtures is sponsored by the Bank of Clarke County.


Tickets are on sale now through Eventbrite

Buy tickets for one or all three presentations.


11:00 - Cooking Demonstration with Neal Wavra - $10

1:00 - Can a Garden have Everything? with Cole Burrell- $10

3:00 - Resilience in Autumn, Thanks to Nature with Corey McDonald - $10

Book all three presentations-$25


All sessions will be recorded so you’re able to listen to them later if you’re unavailable on Oct. 24. 

(Or if you just want to listen again.)


Research in the time of Covid-19
In a year like no other, students find ways to cope

By David Carr
Director, Blandy Experimental Farm

The pandemic had a huge impact on research at Blandy this summer. We were forced to cancel our Research Experience for Undergraduates program (funded by the National Science Foundation), losing the opportunity to bring 10 talented students from all over the country to Blandy. For the most part, our regular visiting faculty, most of whom come to Blandy each summer to participate in that program, stayed at their home institutions. Our graduate students, however, tried to carry on as best as they could.

The University gave the green light to a “research ramp-up” in late May, and this created an opportunity for the Blandy faculty and UVA graduate students to resume some level of normal research activity. In the lab and greenhouse, we created stations that ensured social distancing (at least 250 square-feet per person), and we adopted protocols that minimized the risk of transmission. For the handful of graduate students who were staying at Blandy, we provided them single-occupancy housing in the cottages at the Research Village.

Kelsey Schoenemann checks one of her hives.

The two graduate students who spent the most time at Blandy this summer were Kelsey Schoenemann and Emily Spindler. Kelsey spent her first field season working with me, studying landscape effects on foraging patterns of the common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens). She deployed bumble bee hives in three different areas at Blandy - habitat dominated by agriculture (corn and pasture), habitats dominated by forest, and habitats dominated by open fields. She spent the summer measuring the rates that bees brought pollen (the essential protein and lipid sources for developing bee larvae) back to their hives, taking pollen samples to see what kinds of pollen were collected in the different habitats, and measuring the growth and performance of the hives. She also measured the abundance of flowers throughout the summer to understand the patterns of resource availability in each habitat.

Emily worked with her advisor, T’ai Roulston, on the effect of a new neonicotinoid pesticide (thiamethoxan, TMX) on the survival and performance of monarch butterfly larvae (Dana plexippus). The USDA has recommended that farmers plant buffer strips of native vegetation next to their fields in order to filter TMX from the water runoff, but this pesticide can be absorbed by the plants in the buffer strips and have impacts on non-target insects that feed on those plants. Despite delays in setting up her field plots, Emily was able to conduct much of her research this summer in our new research greenhouse.

Kelsey Huelsman uses a drone to identify invasive species at landscape scale.

Three graduate students mentored by Howie Epstein (UVA Professor and long-time Blandy researcher), Kelsey Huelsman, Zoe Bergman, and Allie Parisien, made a number of trips to Blandy this summer. Kelsey is experimenting with a drone that carries a camera that collects hyperspectral data (wavelengths beyond what the human eye can see) to identify invasive species at the landscape scale and estimate their density. At Blandy, Kelsey is targeting the spread of Dahurian buckthorn (Rhamnus davurica). Dahurian buckthorn is also the subject of Zoe’s Masters thesis, as she tries to understand its effects on vegetative transitions from field to forest at Blandy. Allie is studying areas at Blandy that differ in time since they were last disturbed to understand changes in ecosystem processes, especially pertaining to the carbon cycle.

Other graduate students had to get more creative in their approach to summer research. T’ai’s student, Kate LeCroy, set up a lab and office in her dining room in Madison, WI, where she worked on sorting through her bee collections from previous summers and writing manuscripts for publication. T’ai’s student, Amber Slatosky, set up experiments in her backyard in Charlottesville to look at the interactions between bumble bees and its deadly natural enemy, the conopid fly. Kyle Hayne’s graduate student, Clare Rodenberg, was supposed to travel to a field station in Minnesota to conduct an experiment on the effects of climate change on the interactions between the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) and a pathogenic fungus. That station shut down due to Covid-19, forcing Clare to work from her home in Delaplane. There she developed computer models to predict the effects of drought on gypsy moth population growth and spread.

So, it has been a memorable summer of research at Blandy, even if it is memorable mostly for the challenges Covid-19 created. I am happy to say that everyone made it through the summer in good health, and that is most important. I am also happy that despite the stress and difficulty, our graduate students made excellent progress toward the completion of their thesis and dissertation work. That is quite a tribute to their extraordinary effort. Like everyone, we look forward to the opportunity for a return to a more routine summer in 2021.


And the winner is...
Education Director wins Conservation Educator award

Blandy Director of Education Candace Lutzow-Felling received a surprise phone call recently: That's how she learned she had won a Conservation Educator Award from the Garden Club of Virginia. "I didn't even know I'd been nominated," she said, and “I am honored to have been selected as a recipient of this prestigious award.”

Jane Edwards, Conservation Awards Committee chair for GCV, explained that the award is relatively new for the 100-year-old club which is celebrating its centennial this year. First presented in 2016, it recognizes both educators and organizations whose work embodies the ideals of GCV, “... to celebrate the beauty of the land, to conserve the gifts of nature and to challenge future generations to build on this heritage."

Because of the number and high quality of nominees, the group chose to recognize three winners. In addition to Candace, they include the Virginia Institute for Marine Science and a first-grade teacher. Winners will be announced at the annual Conservation Forum on Oct. 27 (virtually) and is open to the public.

"Candace was a no-brainer, at least for me," Edwards said. "She epitomizes what we are trying to do."

Susan Wallace of the Loudoun-Fauquier Garden Club submitted the nomination, citing Candace’s “superlative leadership skills in developing conservation education outreach to not only the surrounding community, but the entire state and beyond. She is eminently qualified to receive the Garden Club of Virginia's Conservation Educator Award.”

Candace is a scientist, science outreach specialist, and an educator; she has served as Blandy’s Director of Education since 2006. As the Director of Education, she melds her science research and science education experiences to create and administer environmental science education programs for preK-12 teachers and students. Candace’s responsibilities include leading the Blandy education team, developing and leading professional development programs for preK-12 teachers and science communication programs for student and professional scientists, and forming and nurturing partnerships with other education institutions (such as local schools and school divisions; state, federal and national agencies; and colleges and universities).

Candace earned B.A. and M.S. degrees in botanical science from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and an ABD in Evolution, Ecology, and Conservation Biology from the University of Hawai`i-Manoa. Prior to joining the Blandy faculty, Candace researched botanical folklore and medicinal practices in the U.S. Virgin Islands, southern Illinois, and Hawai`i; and analyzed botanical materials from prehistoric and historic archaeological sites in the Midwest and Hawaiian Islands. While studying at the University of Hawai’i, Candace expanded her research focus to include conservation biology because she recognized that conservation was key to preserving Earth’s biological and human cultural diversity. Her knowledge of plants and the process of science, in general, have offered Candace the opportunity to work as:

  • a hydrologist examining groundwater capacity in the Virgin Islands,
  • a succession ecologist in southern Illinois exploring suitable trees to reclaim strip-mined lands,
  • a laboratory chemist testing the impacts of mining activity on freshwater resources,
  • a horticulturalist and landscape designer (because she loves to get dirty), and as
  • an archaeologist specializing in the identification of plant remains. 

During her doctoral studies, Candace received a fellowship from the National Science Foundation to participate in a program designed to train scientists to share their knowledge and expertise with the K-12 education community. This fellowship changed the trajectory of Candace’s career leading her to become the first Director of Education at Blandy Experimental Farm. Candace draws on her diverse experience to incorporate scientific research knowledge and skills into Blandy’s environmental science programs for preschool through 12th grade students and their teachers.

As Blandy’s Director of Education, Candace also is actively involved in environmental education leadership at the local, regional, and national levels. She has served on the board National Science Teachers’ Association (2012-2015), is the current Chair of the Virginia Resource-Used Education Council (2020-2022), and Vice-President of the Virginia Science Education Leaders’ Association (2020-2022).  In 2018, Candace was appointed to the Chesapeake Bay Program Education Workgroup; this group sets goals for all the jurisdictions in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (six states and Washington, D.C.) to advance the education outcomes that are part of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement signed by the state Governors and the Mayor of D.C.

Candace loves to explore and expand her perspective on our natural world by climbing trees (and sometimes reading while there), hiking and kayaking, and collecting and examining found natural items. Another passion of hers is learning about other cultures through their cuisines; she is an avid cook and enjoys sharing what she learns about international food culture.


Yes, We’re Having Holiday Workshops!

Get in the holiday spirit making wreaths at a local barn or by purchasing a wreath kit to take home

 Saturday, December 5 and Sunday, December 6
9:00 to 11:30 or 2:30 to 5:00

It’s time to get ready for FOSA’s magical Holiday Workshops! The good news is we will be hosting this popular event this year. Of course, due to COVID-19, we’ll be doing things a bit differently.

To allow more space for social distancing, we’re moving in-person classes to a large, heated barn in Clarke County, graciously offered by long-time FOSA supporter Tressa Rueling. It will be a wonderfully festive place to gather safely while kicking off the holiday season in our traditional way.

The classes will be smaller. The tables will be 6 feet apart, masks will be required, and we will not be offering our traditional holiday snacks as we are being especially careful. All tools and tables will be cleaned before and after the class. Instructors will be unable to provide hands-on individual instruction but will be available to answer questions and demonstrate techniques for the whole group.

If you have any virus symptoms (such as cough, congestion, loss of taste or smell, or fever), we ask that you not attend.
  If symptoms occur at the last minute prior to your workshop, please call to cancel.  We’ll arrange for you to pick up your supplies to make your wreath at home.

For those of you who are uncomfortable participating in the group setting, we offer a kit with everything you need to create your wreath at home, including access online to the instruction taking place at the in-person workshop. (It’s almost like being there.) The kit can be picked up on the morning of Saturday, December 5. Once you register, you’ll receive more information on the specific place and time for pick-up.

Create an original mixed evergreen wreath in either a 12-inch or 20-inch size:

12” wreath
FOSA Member   $33.00
Non-Member   $38.00

20” wreath
FOSA Member   $44.00
Non-Member  $49.00

Registration for classes and kits begins November 1.

Classes will fill quickly.

Register and pay online here or call Sue Ridley at 837-1758 ext. 224.

Note: We will maintain a waiting list. If we find we have enough registrants for an additional class, we’ll consider opening another workshop.


The butterflies will thank you 

How gardening with native plants builds the food web
By Jack Monsted
Assistant Curator, Native Plant Trail

By now, chances are good that most of us have heard something about the environmental benefits of gardening with native plants. Conservation groups like the National Audubon Society, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and hundreds of local native plant societies across the country have worked tirelessly to spread the word about their myriad benefits to pollinators and wildlife, and at some point in the last decade or so, this knowledge has begun to enter the mainstream consciousness. 

Garden magazines whose pages were once almost entirely filled with ornamental Asian cultivars now regularly feature lists of striking native trees and perennials, and even big box stores like Home Depot are careful to note that their selections of black eyed susans and cardinal flowers are “native.” Every seed company seems to have at least one “native pollinator seed mix” (often of dubious quality) available for the curious gardener, and even big public works and landscaping projects are starting to implement native plants into their designs.

A monarch butterfly emerges from its chrysalis.

Despite these recent inroads into the public eye, many people don’t really understand how or why native plants are beneficial. Whenever native plants come up in a gardening context, one of the main reasons native plant advocates give to encourage others to plant them is something like “they’ll feed birds and pollinators,” which often raises more questions than it answers. How will they feed wildlife? What parts do the birds eat? Which pollinators? Longtime readers of Arbor Vitae may already have a pretty good idea of how growing native plants creates habitat for our pollinators and wildlife, but here I’m hoping to illustrate a few key points about why they’re good for wildlife, and why non-native plants, though often beautiful, just don’t provide the same benefits.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll focus on how one type of animal - butterflies - interacts with our native plants. If you plant a patch of native goldenrod (Solidago spp.) - a supposed pollinator attractor - next to a non-native, invasive butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) and observe them in full bloom, the results may be unexpected. You would probably see a fair number of butterflies nectaring on the elegant arching flowers of the native goldenrod - however, on the invasive butterfly bush you would likely see twice or three times as many butterflies covering its thick, long clumps of pastel blooms, whose nectar seems irresistible to the flying insects. At first glance, this disparity may seem to poke holes in our theory that native plants provide better habitat for pollinators and wildlife, because the butterflies clearly prefer the invasive plant. But this image only tells half the story.

Before they become the beautiful winged pollinators that we all know and love, butterflies are humble caterpillars. And while butterflies feed mostly on nectar that is freely available from a wide variety of flowers, caterpillars feed exclusively on plant leaves. The problem with eating leaves is that plants, while happy to give away nectar in exchange for pollination services, don’t want their leaves to be eaten - they need them to photosynthesize. 

Swamp milkweed supports many pollinators, including monarch butterflies.

To prevent every critter that walks or crawls from stripping their branches bare, plants have developed a host of poisonous or bad-tasting chemicals in their leaves to discourage would-be leaf eaters. As a result, any caterpillar that wants to eat the leaf of a given plant must have evolved a specialized gut that can process the specific chemicals found in those leaves. This is why native plants are so important for butterflies. Because our native plants have co-evolved with our native caterpillars for millions of years, every species of caterpillar has developed unique stomachs that can process the chemical defenses of only specific co-evolved plants, which makes them very picky eaters.

Going back to our goldenrod vs. butterfly bush analogy, goldenrod leaves support over 100 species of native caterpillars while the butterfly bush leaves support a whopping zero. Lack of co-evolution means that our native caterpillars simply cannot eat the leaves of the butterfly bush, and if we replaced all the goldenrod in a landscape with butterfly bush, the butterflies and moths that goldenrod supports would disappear. And goldenrods are just one genus of native plants. Throw in the dozens of other types of native asters, legumes, milkweeds, and trees that are available for native landscaping, and you can just imagine the thousands of different species of pollinators and insects a diverse native garden planting can potentially support - not just caterpillars but native bees, beetles, and predator bugs too.

Increasing the insect community affects other wildlife populations as well. To build from our butterfly example, caterpillars also happen to be the favorite food for most of our native songbirds. The native Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) needs to collect thousands of caterpillars in just a few weeks in order to raise one nest of chicks. In a landscape dominated by native plants, this task is simple enough. But where inhospitable non-native ornamentals dominate, these birds simply cannot find enough food, and are seldom seen as a result.

These are just a few examples of how native plants are beneficial to wildlife, but from them it is easy to see how growing plenty of native plants creates a “butterfly effect” (pun intended) that can radiate throughout the entire local food web, increasing wildlife abundance and diversity, and stabilizing ecosystems. What’s more, these benefits do not only apply to forests and other large “wild” areas - even yard-sized landscapes rich in native plants support increased populations of native bumble bees, butterflies, and songbirds everywhere - from the heart of cities as dense as Chicago and New York to suburbs throughout the country.

I hope this leaves you with a clearer idea of why growing native plants in our gardens is so important, especially in this day and age where human development is rapidly chewing up the few truly ‘wild’ areas we have left. So the next time you or someone you know is looking for something to plant, consider making it a native species - the butterflies will thank you for it!


Blandy Embraces Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Social unrest leads UVA community to examine its past

By Kyle Haynes
Associate Director, Blandy Experimental Farm
The recent string of well-publicized killings of Black people by police has sparked many institutions around the country to wrangle with these important issues with greater urgency and transparency. Many institutional leaders at the University of Virginia and across the nation have spoken out about racial injustice more forcefully than before. But a process of self-examination for the presence of current or past injustices has also intensified.

The Blandy leadership team, composed of its faculty, and the Directors of the Foundation of the State Arboretum and Scientific Engagement, has posted on the Blandy website a statement  ( affirming our commitment to the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, as defined by UVA’s Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This means that we

  •          Value and respect people of all types, regardless of race, ethnicity, or any other attribute of their identity
  •          Strive for fairness and equal access, especially for historically disadvantaged groups
  •          Are engaged in a continuing effort to build a sense of belonging for all members of the community

A little over 60 years before the establishment of Blandy Experimental Farm in 1926, there were still enslaved Black peoples being forced to work on the very land where Blandy sits. There are physical remnants of slavery at Blandy, including an unmarked slave cemetery and a large barracks that housed enslaved peoples. The eastern wing of the building known as the Quarters, which is now Blandy’s iconic and photogenic central hub of administrative and public events, was housing for enslaved peoples prior to the end of the Civil War. We are currently developing a plan for providing interpretation of sites connected to this history of slavery.

Today, anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion are guiding principles in Blandy’s scientific-outreach programs and training of students. For example, dedicated readers of the Arbor Vitae know that the Blandy community is proud that Blandy has long been home to a Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. A major goal of the program is to provide students in groups that have been underrepresented in science professions experience conducting environmental research in order to foster a future with a more diverse and inclusive workforce in fields of science. We recognize that we must be fully transparent about the past, while also continuing to improve our educational and outreach programs to increase the diversity of people reached, provide equal access, and benefit the wellbeing of the entire community. 

Please Support Critical Research and Education
at Blandy and the State Arboretum