Talking Tour July 20 will explain museum garden plants

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Photo courtesy Salem Museum
Members of the Salem Garden Club prune and clean up plantings in the formal herb garden at the entrance of the Salem Garden Club in May.

Have you admired the plants and trees around the entrance and sides of the Salem Museum and wondered what all of them are? You can find out on free Walking-Talking Tours of the museum gardens the morning of Saturday, July 20.

There’s the formal herb garden formal herb garden along the front walk, succulents on the green roof, a certified Monarch butterfly waystation visible from Main Street and plantings in the back honoring veterans. And the newest wildlife attraction toward Longwood Park, the Bluebird Trail.

Tours will be every 30 minutes from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., with Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners on hand to answer questions.

Elizabeth Bailie, chairman of the Museum’s Landscape Committee, is spearheading the project and explain the museum’s goal to become Certified Native Wildlife Habitat. She will point out some of the common, non-native, invasive plants that the Museum’s gardening team is working to eradicate from the gardens and the work the committee is doing to support native plants and pollinators.

Bailie got interested in the museum and what was growing at the museum a few years after the now-retired nurse and her husband, Art, moved to Salem in 2006. This January she took over as Landscape Committee Chairman. Bailie researched the original 2007 design and development plan of the Salem Historical Society for the museum. They show “what our forefathers and foremothers had as their goals,” she explained in an interview this week.

Much of the landscaping was planted by members of the Salem Garden Club. Now the museum’s Landscape Committee and other volunteers maintain it, with a yearly cleanup and pruning by the garden club members.

Bailie’s on-going goal is to have the museum’s grounds spotlight mainly native plants and she has titled it “Salem Museum- Native and Adapted Plant and Restoration project.”

Although the herb garden is much admired, the plants are not native, she points out, “They’re Mediterranean, but we’re not going to remove them,” she said. “Similar herbs were brought over by the Virginia colonists.”

The goal Bailie is working toward more immediately is to have the Salem Museum ground certified as a Native Wildlife Habitat by National Wildlife Federation. She’s close. Three out of the four requirements are in place. “What we need now is a water source,” she explained.

What’s required are:

  • Places to raise young (trees and now, bluebird houses);
  • Food – native plants that provide seeds and berries;
  • Cover, shelter – In addition to multiple birds that visit the garden, “There’s at least one, maybe two bunnies, which live in the herb garden,” she said; and
  • Water.

“What we need now is a permanent water source,” she explained. Water from the museum’s green roof waters the garden by automatic sprinkler for 30 minutes every morning.” Bailie is thinking about ways also to fill a birdbath or some type of a water feature, she said.

The Bluebird Trail was put in this March. Frank Sellers, a Virginia Master Naturalist, supplied the boxes and installed them. He does most of the monitoring to check on who’s living inside. So far, at least three families of bluebirds have raised young, as well as swallows, chickadees and wrens, Bailie said.

The Landscaping Committee dreams of fundraising enough to hire someone part-time to take care of the gardens over the years.

“I hope the tours will help generate interest within the community,” Bailie said. “One thing board members, including Cynthia Miller, have been working on this year is raise and allocate money for on-going maintenance. It would be absolutely wonderful if we could hire somebody a couple of times a week to do some of the gardening work, around 9 months a year. The estimated cost would be about $1,000,” she said. There will be a donation box inside the museum’s door during the tours on July 20.

Meanwhile, the committee is looking for more volunteers.  Interested people can leave their names at the reception desk, or email them to Bailie at egbailie@comcast.net

Reservations are not required for the Walking-Talking Tours on July 20. The museum is located on East Main Street, across from East Hill Cemetery. Parking and admission are free.