HARMONY TOWNSHIP — Natives in Harmony owner Gail Martin came to her business of growing native plants by a winding road that had many side tracks.
Martin grew up on a farm and graduated from Highland High School and The Ohio State University. Her love of native plants grew as she worked as a naturalist for Mount Gilead State Park and was Watershed Coordinator for Olentangy Watershed Alliance.
Marilyn Weiler works with the Headwaters Outdoor Education Center (HOEC) and has known Martin for many years.
“Gail helped at the Mount Gilead State Park when we opened the Nature Center.” Weiler said. “As her business has grown she has continued to provide plants and sessions for the second grade Earth Days, do programs for Wild Days and native plant and pollinator programs at Headwaters.
After working as naturalist at the Mount Gilead State Park she served as Director of the Marion Historical Society for 13 years and monitored the remnants of prairie plants in Marion County for them.
“I saw prairie plants disappearing,” said Martin. “Some plants were losing their habitat due to the spread of housing and building. Some are crowded out by invasive plants.”
Martin said that plants that are native to Ohio had a home for many years on land by the railroad tracks. With the use of herbicides, many of those habitats were also dwindling.
“I wanted to save the genetic conditions of native plants,” Martin said. “Some of the natives are very specific to certain state regions.”
Martin began collecting plant seeds as she was around the county until her husband, Dan Grau, built her a potting shed on their Harmony Township property and encouraged her to begin a business with native plants in 2009.
Natives in Harmony has grown from that first building to add several hoop greenhouses and an additional building for potting, planting and office area.
Martin is very definite that to specify as “native” at her business, the seed source must come from Ohio. There only a few exceptions due to requests from clients. People from all around the state give her seeds and plantings and she has a refrigerator full of seed packets.
Another vital piece of the puzzle for Martin is the importance of the native plants for bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
“People need to know and understand how important these native plants are to insects, bees and pollinators,” Martin said. “So many insects depend on them.”
One success story in Martin’s backyard is the coming of Giant Swallowtail butterflies.
The host plant of the Giant Swallowtail is the Wafer Ash and Prickly Ash. She received some of the Ash seeds from Guy Denny who has acres of prairie in Knox County. She now sees both the caterpillars and Giant Swallowtail butterflies in the fields behind her home.
“If you plant them, they will come,” said Martin with a smile.
”Growing native plants is a great way to increase wildlife biodiversity on one’s property, from insects right up the food chain to birds, amphibians and mammals,” Denny said. “Gail’s native plants nursery is a wonderful benefit to the citizens of Morrow County as well as all Ohio.”
Recently she was delivering 10 flats of native plants to Lancaster where she is working with the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP,) which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services.
Another day she delivered flats of plants to Shelby County’s Soil and Water office. Delaware Parks and recreation will also be planting some of her native plants this spring. She is working on a special project with Anne Hurst Garden Club in Westerville on growing to prevent cross breeding of natives. Martin speaks and participates in many conservation and natural resources events throughout the year and they are listed on her website.
“It’s important to pay attention to how plants developed and evolved in their environment,” Martin added.
Martin encourages anyone who is interested in creating a habitat with native plants for native pollinators, birds and other wildlife. She hopes that many will know the success and thrill she had in bringing back the Giant Swallowtail butterflies.
Hundreds of species
There are usually 200-300 species of native Ohio plants on hand at Natives in Harmony that are grown from seeds and settings. Some examples are Maidenhair fern, great white trillium, numerous asters, milkweed and grasses. There is a full listing on their website www.nativesinharmony.com.
Customers can get a flyer with a photo of the plant they purchase, it’s scientific and common name along with information on best growing conditions for the plant.
“Gail is so knowledgeable, passionate and giving and I’m so glad her business is thriving,” Weiler said. “She did an outstanding job at the Marion Historical Society, but the plants are her calling and Natives in Harmony is just amazing,”
Natives in Harmony is located at 4652 Penlan Pike, (also known as TR 179.) Hours are Sunday and Monday noon – 6 p.m. and other times by appointment.