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FOCUS 2018: Martha Bishop Ferguson spreading the love of indigenous species with her Riverview Native Nursery

Carpenter bees and bumble bees are attracted to hairy beardtongue, a native perennial with long tubular blossoms, that's sold by Riverview Native Nursery. The flowers and other natives were sold at the Mother's Day Plant Sale at McMillen Community Center. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Riverview Native Nursery supplied a number of plants sold at the Mother's Day Plant Sale at McMillen Community Center. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Martha Bishop Ferguson (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Martha Bishop Ferguson helps a customer at a recent open house for her Riverview Native Nursery. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Martha Bishop Ferguson helps a customer at a recent open house for her Riverview Native Nursery. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Ragwort's yellow blossoms stand out at the open house sale at Riverview Native Nursery, Spencerville. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)

Purples, reds, blues and yellows fill tables in Martha Bishop Ferguson’s yard in Spencerville. Ragwort is blossoming while photo cards show what many of the other green plants nearby will look like during their bloom time.

Ferguson is holding an open house this bright sunny Saturday at her house, also home to her Riverview Native Nursery, a source for milkweed, stiff goldenrod and other native perennials, grasses, trees and shrubs to attract monarch butterflies, bees and hummingbirds since 2012.

“A lot of advantages of growing local natives is because the bloom time coincides with pollinators’ habits,” she said. The plants are also used to the climate and the clay soil. About 85 percent of the plants are from seeds collected locally, but not from the wild. The only one that’s not native of the area is prairie smoke, which originates in Michigan, but is also from the Great Lakes area.

Most plants cost $4; some are $5. Each is marked with the type of soil it prefers and Ferguson will ask customers why they want something, such as for a pollinator, a color preference and make sure they think about plants that will bloom in the fall.

Green thumbs seem genetic in Ferguson’s family.

“I grew up in the country and Mom had a big garden,” Ferguson said. “Mom’s mom had a huge garden. Dad was a flower grower.”

She followed suit, but it wasn’t until a plant with bright orange flowers – butterfly milkweed – came up in her yard that she got familiar with native plants.

Wherever an environmental event happens, it seems that Ferguson and her Riverview Native Nursery plants are there to explain the benefits of landscaping with native plants. However, before she started her business in Spencerville, she spent 31 years at Lincoln National Corp. in corporate marketing and sales. Those skills fit right in with her own business, she said.

After getting her Master Gardener certification about 15 years ago she was asked to help restore the garden at nature author and conservationist Gene Stratton-Porter’s home at Sylvan Lake.

It was the volunteer hours for her Master Gardener certification that she spent with St. Joseph River Watershed that sparked her interest in native plants.

“From that I got a passion in water quality, and native plants are involved in that,” she said.

She was asked to serve as a consultant for the city of Fort Wayne’s rain garden program, designed to encourage residents to add native plants in areas where the plants will soak up water and filter it before it goes into the rivers. As a consultant, Ferguson will visit the client’s site to help them.

Heartland Restoration Services, which provides landscaping services, asked if she would like to create a retail business for the plants they grew.

“My jaw dropped,” she said. “…That’s an easy way to lose a lot of money,” she said she thought of the idea.

However, the gamble paid off and she left her office job at Lincoln to work in the outdoors. From about April to mid-June she brings her native plants each weekend to environmental-focused events, including Earth Day Fort Wayne at Eagle Marsh, the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory Mother’s Day Plant Sale, Allen County Master Gardener Plant Sale. She also sells by appointment. None of her plants have been sprayed with neonics, pesticides that can show up in the plant for years, she said.

Customers’ tastes change. A few years ago they wanted butterfly garden. This year they’re interested in plants that attract bees.

Her husband, Steve, helps her at events, but it’s her father-in-law, Ferg, who at 84 is her “money man.” He’ll tally up the customers’ orders and take the money.

She’s available to give talks and plans to speak June 29 during the Gardeners of America’s conference to be held in Fort Wayne and has been invited to speak Aug. 21 to the Fort Wayne Fruit Growers.

For more, contact her at 260-704-5092 or go to www.riverviewnativenursery.com.

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