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April 2024 Newsletter

April 9, 2024. The first hand-pollinated zinnia to bloom in the "greenhouse" at the Garden Shop in the new Maintenance Shed. Photo by Betsy Burgeson.

The Zinnia Breeding Project

Some of you may remember an article in this newsletter back in August about the start of a Zinnia Breeding Project Betsy Burgeson and her Garden Team cooked up last summer.  

What follows is a photo essay of the evolution of that project over the last couple of years. (Some people wonder what Betsy and her slim little winter team do during the long, cold Chautauqua winter...the answer is: A LOT!)

Most of the photos and all the quotes are from Betsy. Enjoy!

Leslie Renjilian

BTG President and Card-Carrying Member of the Betsy B. Fan Club

Our Zinnia Story starts in the fall of 2021:

Well, actually, you need a little backgound so I'll back it up further:

The "normal" way to create a garden wonderland in large public spaces is to attend a fall wholesale Trade Shows or Expos and pre-purchase annuals from growers that will be shipped in the spring in pots. This was how the magic happened for many years in Chautauqua, but it is expensive and not very ecological.

So in the fall of 2021, Betsy made the shift from ordering plastic pots to ordering much smaller "plugs."  The plugs require a lot more TLC and lead to a slower start to the seasonal display because they are so much smaller, but they fill in beautifully as the summer progresses (better than the plastic pots, in fact), and they save a lot of money and create very little trash.

In the fall of 2022,

Betsy and her team decided to take it to the next level of horticultural cool and budget-stretching smarts by collecting seeds from the 250+  State Fair Zinnias and using them to start the 2023 annuals.

Summer 2023:

The results were stunning! So many more flowers for the same amount of money....

"As the 2023 blooms started exploding we noticed a few blooms with amazing & mesmerizing color combinations & characteristics we hadn't seen before in Zinnias."  Like children of any species, the offspring of the zinnia parents were showing new traits

Late August 2023:

So, in late August, the Garden Team moved through the beds placing bags over selected zinnias. 

Betsy said at the time: "We isolated buds on the plants that produced the characteristics we wanted with a mesh bag before they opened up.  The covers prevent "accidental" pollination by bees, butterflies etc., which allows us to control which traits (flowers) are crossed through hand pollination."

Once the flowers opened, a paint brush was used to collect pollen from the flower & brush it against the pistils (the female parts of a flower) throughout the blossom, lifting up petals to reach as many as possible.  The process was repeated every few days for a couple of weeks.

"We let the flower wilt completely in the bag in the gardens and then collected the spent blooms—baggie and all—and brought them to the old gardens shop to finish drying."

Fall 2023

Then in late September, Betsy and the team moved into the amazing new maintenance building in October. They brought with them all their paper bags and glass jars and kitty litter containers full of seeds. Like new homeowners, they got busy right away building shelves and hanging plants and making their space into a proper Garden Shop.

The garden team was over the moon to be in the new space. It has modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and HVAC—such luxury! It's also quite spacious, with room for staff meetings and desks and plenty of room for the seed collections and gardening equipment.

As soon as they took possession, Betsy and her team noticed a huge loft space with no designated purpose and they got to dreaming. Because as wonderful as the new space is, the little hitch for this team with a giant collection of seeds was that the new building is a proper building with a proper roof...meaning it's not a greenhouse. But fortunately there's a cure for that—grow lights! They had had room for a few grow lights in the old garden shed, but now they had lots of room.

Enter the BTG! (Stands for: Bring on The Grow-lights!) The Board of the BTG voted to purchase supplies to transform the roomy shed into a nursery. We bought ten sets of grow lights, warming pads, potting trays and dog crate trays (cleverly used to keep wet pots from leaking all over the Garden Shop)

Note: If you are a BTG Life Member, thank you for the contribution you made when you joined the BTG. And thank you for trusting the Board to spend your contribution wisely. A full board vote is required to disburse funds from the Life Member Fund.

If you're feeling left out and wish you had contributed to a cool project like this, don't worry—you can! Just click the button below and join the Club. The money pot could use replenishing and we have many worthy projects on our radar!

October: Back to the Zinnias!

I (Leslie) visited the Garden Shop at the end of October and took the photo below of the zinnias bagged and drying. (Note: I know it looks like I put a sepia filter on this photo, but I did not! There's just a real big difference between zinnias in their outdoor summer glory and in their late fall dried-up life inside a shed!)

January brought the moment of truth...

"Did our hand pollinating work?  It was time to shake the bags and see whether there would there be any seeds.  YES, there were!!!"

February and March: 

"Although there were seeds, we weren't sure if they would be viable, so we started 4 just to see....all 4 came up!  One died within a few days but the other 3 were strong. We kept the 2 best looking and let them continue to grow to see whether they would bloom and what color they would be.  And on April 9, one started opening." (Scroll back up to see the top photo again!)

"We don't know whether the color will change as it opens more. It's not the exact coloring we are hoping for BUT the first round of genetic crossing usually only produces a percentage of what you aim for...."


"In mid-April we planted over 100 of our "experimental" zinnia seeds and 400 mixed State Fair zinnia seeds that we collected last fall under the grow lights. They are all beginning to sprout and eagerly awaiting their new homes for the 2024 season!"

So What's Next?

"We will make a 2nd cross this year of all that bloom with characteristics we want so we will get a higher percentage next year.  Within 5 years we should have a pretty good seed that is true to the form we want!!!" 

In the meantime, look for Zinnia Beds by the Welcome Center and around the Amp. You will also find zinnias in the Main Parking Lot beds along 394, in the Sculpture Garden, in the Campbell Garden, at Smith Wilkes Hall, in the Butterfly Garden and around the Athenaeum Hotel this summer. Please send us your photos and words of encouragement!

Words of thanks from Betsy:

"A HUGE THANK YOU to the BTG for donating funds/equipment that empower the Gardens Department to become more and more sustainable.  The ongoing support and promotion of the gardens & landscapes of Chautauqua Institution help us BLOOM not only with beauty but with inquiry, wonder and EDUCATION!"


The Osprey Platforms are UP!!

by Jeanne Wiebenga

It’s been a long time coming, but the wait is finally over and we have our own Chautauqua Osprey platforms!

This past Friday, April 26, everything fell into place: the only sunny day in several weeks and the soil had finally dried out enough to use the heavy equipment needed to put the poles into the ground. 

The platform at University Beach was the last of three that were placed that day: the first two were at Camp Onyahsa, across the lake, and the Chautauqua Golf Course, about 20 yards from the road between the 15th and 16th hole on the Lake Course. The platform at University Beach is away from trees but very close to the lake: a truly ideal location! 

Our crew, Brian and Eric, owners of Gunn ’n Early Tree Service, and Mike, arborist and owner of ArborWild Environmental and his assistant Brian, were all hired by Twan Leenders, and often contracted by him for CWC projects. They worked very efficiently in getting the projects done.

They first transported the 30-45 ft. poles, donated by the BPU, to the sites, then maneuvered them into place. After attaching the nesting platforms (built by Mike), they raised the poles into the holes drilled by an amazingly strong and versatile CAT, up to 6 ft. deep into the ground. Since the drilled hole at University Beach immediately filled up with water, that pole will need some stabilization until it has settled. 

Twan calls these new platforms the "Cadillac of all Man-made Osprey Nests," with tall perches for the birds to scan their surroundings! Since we placed branches and twigs on the platforms, they should be quite effective in attracting Osprey pairs soon, although no promises for this spring. 

Twan Leenders and Bethany O'Hagan at the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy (CWC) coordinated the effort to get the platforms installed. The new platforms represent a wonderful collaboration among the BTG, the CWC, Chautauqua Institution, the Chautauqua Golf Club, and Jamestown Board of Public Utilities (BPU), who sourced and donated the poles.

The projects were funded by the BTG and the Chautauqua Golf Club, most notably from generous donations from BTG Life Members Jane Stirniman and Melinda Wolcott, and Chautauqua Golf Club President Dan McEvoy. 

The timing could not have been better, since we are experiencing an influx of young Ospreys, returning to their place of birth, and all looking for a home to start there own families! This is the 5th year since our first pair arrived at Loomis Goose Creek. They produced six offspring so far, and more on the way, as we can deduce from the three eggs already produced this spring (see photo below from the Nest Cam).

Once we have osprey living in Chautauqua, we will take on the project of installing cameras on our platforms so that we can monitor (and enjoy watching!) the birds. If you would like to donate to the camera fund, or perhaps even more importantly, if you are technologically savvy and can help us research, purchase, install and maintain the cameras, please email the BTG

Jeanne Wiebenga,

Chautauqua, April 28, 2024

Back in October 2022, we selected the sites for the new platforms. In the photo above, Twan Leenders is standing on University Beach pretending to be an Osprey Platform so that we could note the location and obtain permission from the Institution. 

The 35-40 ft. poles require flat bed transport to the sites.

The Cat Auger made quick work of the hole digging job!

After months of planning, Twan smiles as the platform is attached to the pole. We are so close!

The platorm about to go up at University Beach. In the photo, you can see that the nest is "pre-loaded" with some sticks to make it even more attractive to the house-hunting osprey pair. Like a model home in a new subdivision—Picture Your Eggs Here!

Raising the platform on the Chautauqua Golf Course

Not a job for short people! Twan attaches the buttresses which will stabilize the platfrom at University Beach until the ground settles and dries beneath the central pole. 

The crew: Brian, Eric, Mike & Brian with Jeanne in the middle

The view from the ground. Hopefully we will be watching osprey come in carrying fish to their young within a year or two!

Meanwhile, over at Loomis Goose Creek, our old friends Hauke and Femke are back for the fifth summer and have three eggs in the nest! The youngsters they raise this summer will return to Chautauqua Lake in two years looking for homes of their own. We now have two to offer!


Next Up:

Spring Wildflowers

Sharp-lobed Hepatica with their hairy stems making them look as though they're shading a baby mouse!  - photo by Becky Nystrom

Woodland Awakenings

by Becky Nystrom

Springtime in the woodlands of Western New York is a treasured time of rebirth, resilience, and revelation, progressing reliably amidst the late season snows, dreary gray days, and chilly rains as winter inevitably loses its frosty grip. There is faithfulness in this springtime story, offering a reassuring reminder of the power of light and warmth, and Earth’s ancient certain spin around the Sun. Our region’s botanical awakening critically depends upon changes in photoperiod, as our world unfailingly swings around our star. Beginning with the winter solstice and cued by the incremental shortening of nighttime hours (rather than increasing daylength) and hastened by rising temperatures and abundant rains, the vernal awakening of the green ones is assured. As soils warm and showers come, microscopic bacteria, fungi, and other tiny creatures become active, working rapidly to decompose the remains of last year’s autumn leaves and leftovers. Nutrients made available by these essential little recyclers, in turn, are readily absorbed by plant roots and their mycorrhizal helpers, and incorporated into buds, blooms, and tender green bursts and bundles of new life. 

Among the earliest to flower is the familiar skunk cabbage, whose emerging purply-green hooded flower clusters and unfurling bright-green leaves melt their way through frozen wetland soils and snow to create a most welcome “warming hut” (up to 70º F!) for early spring pollinators including tiny wild bees, beetles, and flies, along with spiders, ants, and other little creatures. Vibrant dandelion-like yellow blossoms of coltsfoot and early violets splash color along sunnier trailsides and clearings. Within deeper rich woodlands, fragrant trailing arbutus (photo below) might rarely be found, along with the luminous white blossoms and scallop-ruffled leaves of bloodroot, and the exquisite, shimmery whites, violets, and pale pinks of sweet hairy-stemmed hepatica (photo above). More commonly encountered are pink-striped and petite spring-beauties (photo below), which bloom in abundance in sun-speckled clearings from early April on. Soon to follow in wet meadows and marshes are bright yellow marsh-marigolds, or cowslips, one of the larger native members of the buttercup family. Speckle-leaved trout lilies and trillium (photos below), wild ginger and goldthread, Solomon’s seal and starflowers, May-apple (photo below) and foamflower…all reveal themselves in an unfolding woodland pageantry of ephemeral beauty and hue, each in its appointed, but fleeting, time. 

And time is short, for these earth-hugging native wildflowers must mature and reproduce quickly before the trees fully leaf out and block the sun’s life-sustaining and growth-fueling solar power. Bloom time must also be in synchrony with early-emerging pollinator-partners such as honeybees, bumblebees, beetles, syrphid flies, gnats, and thrips, crucial little go-betweens enticed by floral rewards such as nectar, pollen, oils, waxes, and warmth. 

High overhead but often unnoticed, the trees of the forest are also abloom with fleeting spring blossoms. Maple, beech, birch, aspen, oak, willow, and many other trees are in reality big, woody, wind-pollinated wildflowers! Bearing thousands of tiny, inconspicuous flowers in pastels of pinks, greens, creams, and yellows, many trees in our area produce massive amounts of dust-sized, life-giving pollen in late March, April, and early May. They, too, must set their pollen aloft before leaves unfurl and block the breeze, ensuring that pollination is unencumbered and efficient. 

For floral reproduction to be successful, both in the woody canopy and in the fragile spring ephemerals below, the pollen, which will deliver sperm, must find its way onto its species’ sticky female flower parts, so that waiting eggs may be fertilized, and diminutive seed-borne embryonic plants may develop within the berries, nuts, samaras, capsules, and other fruits of the forest. Intricate in design and breathtakingly beautiful, whether high above or dwelling upon the good earth, each woodland bloom is fully functional, and holds a special hope and promise for us all... for if pollination and fertilization succeed, seed and fruit development will follow, ensuring new life in the forest for generations of spring-times to come! 

Becky Nystrom is Professor of Biology, SUNY Jamestown Community College (Retired), Co-Founder and Board Chair of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, Life Member of the Bird, Tree, and Garden Club, and lover of everything botanical

Trailing arbutus

Carolina Spring Beauty

Purple/Red Trillium

Yellow Trout Lily




For those who wish to explore our region’s spring ephemerals, consider wandering one of our lovely Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy preserves (check the map or scroll down through our webpage CWC’s Bentley Nature Preserve, Chautauqua Creek Oxbow Preserve, Dobbins Woods Preserve, Brown’s Creek Tributary Forest Preserve, the David and Margaret Naetzker Preserve, and others offer many wonderful wildflowers to behold. Likewise, spring ephemerals may be found along the Westside Overland Trail in the North Harmony State Forest and in many other woodland locations.

Special note: Local naturalist Jack Gulvin will be leading our annual CWC Mother’s Day Wildflower Walk at Bentley Nature Preserve on Sunday, May 12, 2024, at 2 pm - registration for this popular event is limited to 20 people, so if interested please sign up on our website asap! Happy flower-finding!


Thank you for your input!

Dear Friends,

A HUGE thanks to the almost 100 of you who took the time to answer our survey questions. Your input is so helpful as we plan for this season and beyond.

We'll figure out a cool way to publish the results in next month's newsletter.

If you didn't have a chance to respond last month, you still have time. Click on the green button below.

With gratitude, 

Leslie Renjilian and the 2024 BTG Board of Directors



Tickets on Sale Now

for the

2024 House & Garden Tour

July 11, 2024

Thank you to those of you who have already purchased your tickets! You are supporting two years of programming.

Ticket sales are brisk - be sure to get yours before they sell out!

Reminder that if you order before June 1st, your ticket booklet will be mailed to you.  If you order after June 1st, the ticket booklets will be held for you to pick up the morning of the tour.

If you would like to volunteer to work a 2.5 hour shift, please email Liz Keogh.   As our thanks for your help, you will be given a free ticket that you may use to tour the houses during the remaining 2.5 hours of the open houses. 


Happy Celery Green Day!

I was walking with a young friend last week and she mentioned that she thought the green of spring seems greener than at other times of year.

It IS! I exclaimed and then started to nerd out on her, using words like chlorophyll and chloroplast. I could see her eyes glazing over and realized that someone out there on the world wide web had probably already explained this phenomenon better than I could, so we did some searching. Below is a link to what we found.

My friend Kate Gearhart eschews traditional winter holiday cards and instead ends out what she calls Celery Green Day cards. Above is my favorite of her photos. 

Leslie Renjilian, ineloquent but enthusiastic naturalist


Selected News from Around the Lake

Please click below to read Twan Leender's 3/30/24 OpEd in the Jamestown Post-Journal and about the new exhibition at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute (RTPI).


Corrections Section...oops!

Who noticed the sentence fragment in last month's newsletter? Sorry about that! It wasn't intended to be a cliff hanger to make you tune in to this month's newletter.

Here that cliffhanger again, this time with the ending:

One last purple martin pic by Jeanne. This one showing "insectivore behavior."  Translation: even the babies eat dragonflies! Jack says the parents just "stuff them down their little throats!" BTG Staff Entomologist Dennis McNair says the insect about to be devoured is a...Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella), so named because, as an adult, it has three dark spots on each of its 4 wings.  Probably a female.  Males have cloudy-white spots between the dark ones.

And a second correction:

In the same article about the Purple Martin houses, SpellCheck thought that the Rolls Royce of Purple Martin houses should have been designed by a man named Andy Trotter, but in fact his name is Andy Troyer. 

And speaking of Rolls Royces, did you know that the dash boards of the old Rolls Royces feature wood from the Tuliptree? Tuliptree wood was also used to create the housing structure for the Massey Organ in the Amp. Read more about Tuliptrees here and remember: don't call them Tulip Poplars—they aren't poplars and life is confusing enough without tossing trees into the wrong families.


The Eclipse at Chautauqua

3:18pm April 8, 2024

Thanks to Jeanne Wiebenga for this wonderful photo!

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