By Maureen Werther
Like many entrepreneurs, Jesse Elwert Peters’ path to start Jessecology and become Saratoga County’s only grower of all native plants and designer of all native gardens has been a circuitous one. But, like most winding paths, it has taught her a great deal about who and what she wanted to be.
She grew up surrounded by family members who were avid gardeners, farmers and proponents of ecologically-friendly forestation and sustainability. One aunt has a master’s degree in ecological forestry, and another has a working farm in Vermont. But the aunt who made the greatest impact on Elwert Peters growing up lives in Brooklyn and has had an elaborate roof garden for years. It was there, ironically, on a rooftop in the world’s busiest city, that she first became interested in gardening.
“She helped me plant my first garden and we also went to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens together. It was there that I got my creative inspiration,” she said.
After high school, she wasn’t ready to go on to four years of study. Instead, she travelled west, ultimately landing in Yosemite, where worked for four years in the Yosemite National Park.
When Elwert Peters made the decision to return home, she earned an undergraduate degree in horticulture, ecology and botany She has spent the past 11 years cultivating her greenhouse of indigenous plants and educating consumers on the benefits of using all-native plants in residential as well as commercial gardens and landscapes.
Starting out doing landscape design and installation on a part-time basis while paying off her school loans, she was able to turn her business into a full-time career six years ago and, by the end of that first year, her business was self-sustaining.
Initially referred to customers by other landscapers and horticultural specialists who embrace her philosophy of using indigenous plants and employing "green" practices, Elwert Peters cultivated her own reputation. These days, all of her clients come to her through word of mouth. She is proud of her ongoing efforts to create ecologically sustainable and beneficial natural environments for both residential and commercial customers.
Her path has not always been a "walk in the park." Creating a business and educating consumers in new methods and "green" philosophies in a traditionally male-dominated industry has not been without its challenges.
"I have always tried to be respectful and honor other people's opinions and decisions," she said. "Of course, there have been times when I've been called a hippie."
Her style is not to force her philosophies or methods on others. Instead, she believes it's important to inform people of the many benefits to be reaped in turning away from non-native and often invasive species.
"In addition to their aesthetic appeal and beauty, native plants are lower maintenance and require no fertilization and no dedicated irrigation methods," said Elwert Peters. Her methods foster habitat restoration that is "kind to the earth" and free of chemicals and other substances harmful to the environment.
In addition to growing her own plants and doing all of the installations, she is doing a lot of design work for clients. She finds that many people are interested in planting their own habitats, but they need guidance with the planning and design.
Increasingly, Elwert Peters is seeing more people who want to purchase her plants directly from her, and she sees her company expanding in that direction. One of her big passions is working with commercial properties and creating public environments that are eco-friendly and sustainable.
Elwert Peters credits much of her success to working in and being part of a community that has supported Jessecology and shown a willingness to embrace a return to more natural, sustainable and environmentally sound horticultural practices.