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Volume 39 Issue 12 • July 23-30, 2009
now in our 39th season
In This Issue

Sowing the Seeds

by Zoë Kirsch

The Nantucket Lighthouse School presents three days of plant-lover's delight.  From Thursday, July 23 to Saturday, July 25, they are hosting the island's first Garden Festival, a series of events for the whole family, focused on organic practices and sustainability in tough times.   Proceeds will benefit the Lighthouse School, an independent institution founded in 1999 that serves children ages 3½ to 12.

The Festival's slogan, “Sowing the Seeds,” has a clever double meaning.  The Garden Festival will fund environmental education for island youth, essentially sowing seeds of knowledge in an upcoming generation, as well as teach Festival attendees about caring for Nantucket's natural world.

The Lighthouse School recognizes the value of children developing a love  of nature and practicing sustainability.  An independent day school founded in 1999, it  provides a developmentally appropriate education that engages the whole child – head, heart, and hand.  The concept for the Nantucket Garden Festival was born out of the Lighthouse School’s own organic garden and unique curriculum, which provide an outdoor, hands-on classroom for acquiring skills in everything from language arts to science and mathematics.  Says Connie Umburgur, Event Chair and Lighthouse School co-President who (fun fact!) favors the Euphorbia plant genus:  “The School is interested in providing a well-rounded, rich education for our kids, many of whom will spend their entire lives here and become the islanders of the future.  We focus on the human potential of Nantucket: children who will grow up and impact the island's habitats.”

Festival-goers can engage in seminars, workshops, garden tours, a preview cocktail party and auction, a gala dinner, and special children's activities.  Offerings are abundant: there are five children's events and fourteen for adults.  Participants will learn about everything from garden trellises to organic gardens to beekeeping.

And those are just the activities.  Also featured is a Garden Marketplace, open on Friday from 9 am to 5 pm and Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm.  Described by Umburgur as “an assemblage of vendors – a few local people and a lot from off-island,” the Marketplace will be filled with everything prized and botanical.  There will be antique garden décor, specialist vendors of rare and unusual plants representing four different nurseries (“plants you would never find in one's usual garden center,” confides Umburgur), organic, sustainable, free-market products from around the world, gardening prints, and books on plants provided by Mitchell's.  Most of these merchants are truly upscale, having shown at the likes of the New York Botanical Garden Show and Trade Secrets.

The Festival boasts not only distinguished vendors, but also renowned speakers.  The 6 pm Thursday preview party presents keynote speaker Holly Shimizu, internationally recognized horticulturalist.  Shimizu has worked in public gardens in England, Germany, Belgium, France, and Holland and led plant tours in many parts of the world.  Her numerous awards, which she has accumulated between 1976 and 2008, include the American Horticultural Society Professional Award, The Architect of the Capitol Honor Award, and the Otto Richter Award for Outstanding Educator.  Shimizu has worked as the Managing Director of the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Virginia, a curator at the U.S. National Arboretum, and the Assistant Executive Director of the U.S. Botanic Garden.  Today, she is Executive Director of the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington D.C. and a host on “The Victory Garden,” can be heard on National Public Radio, serves on several boards and committees, and writes and lectures extensively in her field.  With Shimizu's leadership, the U.S. Botanic Garden has gained national recognition for hosting the American Public Gardens Association exhibits and national meeting, work in sustainability and plant conservation, and partnerships with botanical institutions.

Just one day after Shimizu's talk will come dinner with cognoscente David Wheeler.  Out of all the events featured, Umburgur most looks forward to talking with Wheeler.  “We're so incredibly fortunate to have him here, an Englishman come all the way over here from England with no charge.  He is a very important person.”  The originator of HORTUS, a scholarly gardening journal, Wheeler has penned a slew of books, including Over the Hills from Broadway and Images of Cotswold Gardens.  He recently earned the Royal Horticultural Society's capital honor, the Veitch Memorial Medal.  The accolade is given annually to “persons who have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement and improvement of the science and practice of horticulture.”  Of the plant expert, RHS President Giles Coode-Adams says, “The work that David...[has] done over the years has produced a wonderful canon for new gardeners to learn from.  Just as the Society demonstrates the best in horticulture, whether through its gardens or shows, so [this] recipient [has] shown the way on an individual basis.  [He] has become [a] beacon for horticulture.”  Wheeler writes regularly for Horticulture, The Garden, and Country Life publications.

Above all, the Garden Festival's activities, merchandise, and speakers will provide Nantucketers, whether they be year rounders, summer residents, or visitors, with intelligence regarding how to be responsible island caretakers.   As Umburgur wisely remarks, “Each aspect of the Festival will provide valuable,” - here her voice seems to lean into the word - “information.  Valuable information in its own right.”

Most Garden Festival events are at 1 Rugged Road.  For a complete listing of events and their locations, visit

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