By Susan Elise Campbell
She didn’t realize it at the time, but when Jesse Peters was invited to bid on a local airport habitat restoration project, her sustainable landscape business, Jessecology, would soon take off in a new direction.
Jessecology grows and sells thousands of native plants annually to civil engineers and construction companies for projects like roadside, highway median, post-construction and municipal landscaping.
“I didn’t win the bid on the plant piece of the project, but it was illuminating to me how great a need there is for propagating seeds of native plants for projects like these,” said Peters, an ecologist now in her 16th year of business.
Peters has been growing plants from seed for 10 years for wholesale use and do-it-yourself gardeners. But she said harvesting seeds for resale “was basically a hobby until that project for 90 acres shed light on the need.”
Any surplus she had in the past she typically donated to organic farms in the area to sow native plants around the fields.
“The wildflowers help bring in more pollinators to the farms and improve their crops,” she said.
At the same time, she is helping several species that are nearing extinction. Five types of seeds she plans to sell are currently on the endangered list, she said. One, the Cardinal Lobelia, she has planted around the Round Lake wetlands property owned by Quick Response.
When a contractor is charged with restoring a habitat with native plant species, the project manager’s goal is “sustainability and durability,” according to Peters.
“Within the parameters of that municipal project, there is a need to buy certain types of plants anyway,” she said. “So why buy seeds from out-of-state at a big box store when they can get the seeds locally from me.”
“Our seeds will have higher germination success and a longer life expectancy because these plants have already adapted to the local climate and soil conditions,” said Peters. “There is a big niche and we are excited to fill it. Native plants offer an alternative to the cookie-cutter landscapes seen at most new home developments.”
Now that it’s the down season, Peters said the Jessecology team is preparing space at her acreage in Saratoga County to package the seeds for online pre-orders starting this month. They are preparing 25 single plant species, five of which are endangered, as well as mixes “that honor the region.”
“Some people say they have a brown thumb when they just aren’t using the right plants,” she said. “They probably bought them at a national retail store and the plants were fed a diet of blue water. Or they say the soil is sandy and nothing grows, whereas many plants have co-evolved with those conditions.”
There is a butterfly mix for those concerned about the survival of Monarchs, she said. These plants include milkweed species for the caterpillar and others that provide nectar for the butterflies.
“If anyone wants to feed the deer, we have a mix of New England Aster and Goldenrod, which have co-evolved with the deer population to match their strong appetite,” she said.
Peters believes New York ironweed, swamp milkweed, and the many varieties of native asters will sell well. Prettier than they may sound, these wildflowers “have a higher germination rate and both gardeners and engineers are fans.”
“Native plants want to grow here and they support our ecosystem,” she said. “If you fill a garden with native plants they will grow and produce tons of success for our songbirds, butterflies and pollinators that we need to live.”
Learn more at www.jessecology.com.