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Gardening around town

Jed Fox’s garden.


One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, Canandaigua botanists began meeting in their homes to discuss and appreciate the native plant life around the Finger Lakes region. They read poetry, collected specimens for analysis, and went on field trips to explore neighboring biomes. In 2024, they are the second oldest botanical society in the US and are still going strong. They celebrated the group’s sesquicentennial anniversary the first weekend of June. 

The group is now made up of gardeners, birders, people interested in the medicinal value of plants, and many others who share the joy of nature. Embarking on frequent trail walks led by knowledgeable members, they often make lists of wildflower species observed. Sometimes their walks are focused on specifics like ferns or fungi, but the conversations always go above and beyond the topic. 

Working closely with the Finger Lakes Herbarium, pressings from early in the club’s history have been catalogued in the Finger Lakes Community College plant library. Samples collected as early as 1890 are preserved. Nearly all the unidentified plants have been accurately named and digitized to safeguard the information for generations to come. 

This is just one of their conservation interests. Protection of native species is an essential component to their creed, which all starts with education. The vast base of knowledge held by the group makes for a community of plant-lovers always seeking to learn something.

Laura Ouimette, coordinator and member since 1999, says: “come along and learn one thing.” Although the amount of information may be overwhelming, there is no test, so anybody interested should attend for the “pure enhancement of knowledge and enjoyment of plants.” They are extremely welcoming and eager to bring new members along for the simple pleasure of appreciating the natural environment. 

In a typical year ten to twelve programs are hosted, but this year there will be thirty-six running through November, including nursery tours, wildflower and geology walks, and an invasive species identification workshop.


Melanie Macdonald and Melissa Kleehammer are two local yoga instructors who want to advise gardeners and yogis alike on how to keep their muscles in tip-top shape to do what they love with ease. While some of their instruction seems complicated, fear not, these stretches are simple and beneficial to all who are willing to try. 

Gardening entails a lot of repetition, bending, and reaching which can lead to soreness and stiffness. Macdonald recommends focusing on relieving tension in the back and knees. 

Supta padangusthasana starts with lying on the back. Use a towel, strap, necktie (anything that will help you reach your foot) to elevate your straightened leg to stretch the hamstrings. This can be modified with a bent knee pulled toward your chest held for a few breaths. 

Downward dog with palms on a chair can be helpful for both a leg stretch and back stretch. Stand with feet shoulder width apart about a foot and a half from a chair. Bend at the hips and with a straight, angled back, support yourself with palms on the chair. This should be felt in the hamstrings and upper back area. 

To close out a post-gardening practice, Macdonald likes to Savasana, which is the “corpse pose” intended for relaxation with awareness. Lay on the back (regular savasana) and modify with calves on a chair in front of you to help drain lactic acid and straighten the spine’s natural curves. 

Kleehammer agrees that stretches lying on the back are most beneficial to soothe it after reaching and bending. 

For the side and lower back, banana pose is a slow and low-impact stretch. Laying down, walk your legs and upper body to one side, in the position of a banana or crescent moon. Tension should be felt in the armpit down the side, hold and breathe into it. Repeat on the other side.

Reclined pigeon focuses on the outer hips. On your back with knees bent, bring the right ankle over the left knee, making the shape of a four with the bend. With your hands, hold behind the left thigh or the right ankle, pulling away from the knee if raising the left leg toward your upper half is painful. 

Kleehammer says a foam roller can work wonders to roll all stiff areas at once. Remember to engage both sides of the body for an even stretch. As much as you shouldn’t be afraid to step a little outside your comfort zone yoga-wise, don’t be afraid to back off if something doesn’t feel right.


Garden tours will take you to a lot of pretty outdoor spaces but there aren’t many like Jed Fox’s. “I don’t know how much I’m allowed to brag,” he says, “or not.” But in recent years, many different garden tours have featured his Pittsford garden. He’s received comments like “Finest private garden I’ve ever seen,” and “I’ve gone to public arboretums, and you put them to shame.” 

Fox, a dentist, has created, expanded, and maintained the garden himself since moving into the house in 1982. He and his wife, Peggy, chose the home because it was the only one available in Pittsford that was zoned for a home office. The home happened to have an acre and a half of land, and he set to work turning all that space into a one-of-a-kind garden with ponds, a Zen garden, and a children’s garden. He dug the ponds himself, with a backhoe, and built berms around the house. Fox loves daylilies and started breeding his own varieties, simply because he found it to be an easy and fun thing to do. Now he has a stunning 800 varieties. 

This year’s Kiwanis Club Garden Tour (July 27) will be the last tour that Fox invites to his garden, as he retired in May and he and Peggy plan to relocate to South Carolina. As much as he’d like to keep both houses, “you can’t fight deer in two places,” he says. He plans to take cuttings with him and start a smaller garden at their new home. As for the fate of the Pittsford house and garden? He hopes to sell it to someone who is “into it.”

Anu Scofield is is a lifelong reader and writer studying English and Communications & Media at Nazareth University.

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