About Us

The Mountain Laurel (Connecticut) Chapter of Wild Ones, based in New London, CT, is sponsored by the Connecticut College Arboretum. It was founded in 2006 by Nancy Livensparger, a Wild Ones member from Ohio, after she moved to Connecticut, together with Kathy Dame, who was at that time the Assistant Director, Connecticut College Arboretum.* The chapter name “mountain laurel” refers to Connecticut’s state flower Kalmia latifolia, a beautiful native species, but we champion all of our native plants! As the oldest Wild Ones chapter in New England, we currently serve the entire state of CT as well as neighboring communities in NY, MA and RI.
Our chapter provides mentorship and learning opportunities for those new to gardening with native plants through educational programming, volunteer opportunities and our human community of native plant enthusiasts. To receive announcements of our public programs, subscribe to our mailing list by emailing [email protected]
Monthly meetings are held on the third Saturday of the month beginning at 10:00 AM. During the winter and spring, we usually meet in New London Hall, Connecticut College, in New London, Connecticut. Social networking is followed by an educational program at 11:00 AM. When campus access is restricted, meetings may be conducted virtually via Zoom. During warm weather, field trips and outdoor programs are offered.
Most of our programs are free and open to the public although capacity is sometimes limited. Occasionally, dates or venues may change, so subscribe to our listserv or check our Facebook page for the latest information.

*SALT meets Wild Ones – a story about the founding of the Mtn Laurel Chapter (published in Wild Ones Journal in Sep/Oct 2008) https://www.conncoll.edu/media/website-media/green/arbo/arbodocs/article_for_Wild_Ones_Journal_final.pdf

President /Program Co-chair: Lydia Pan
Lydia is a retired pharmaceutical industry scientist turned environmental steward with a focus on sustaining biodiversity. She holds a B.S.in Biology (Yale) and a PhD in Biological Sciences (UC San Diego). Her professional career included more than 20 years in research on musculoskeletal diseases and 7 years in science and public health policy. She became a convert to gardening with native plants after learning about Wild Ones and reading Doug Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home,” adding a variety of native forbs, grasses and shrubs to her small suburban lot, many grown from seed. For the past three years, she has led volunteers to help replace invasive plants with native species and improve wildlife habitat at Coogan Farm. Lydia joined Wild Ones in 2014, began assisting with programming in 2017 and has served as President of the Mountain Laurel Chapter since 2019. Lydia is also a docent at the Connecticut College Arboretum, a Plant Conservation Volunteer with the Native Plant Trust and a member of the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group. She joined the Board of the Eastern Connecticut Conservation District as an Alternate Director in 2020.

Lydia lives in Mystic where she enjoys walking, tai chi, and exploring natural areas. In addition to native plants, she grows vegetables and orchids and keeps a small menagerie of snakes. She feels fortunate to share many interests with her husband Mark, also a retired scientist.

Vice President: Fatima Matos
Fatima Matos is a scientist retired from Pfizer with a B.S. in Pharmacy, MS in Physiology & Pharmacology (Brazil), and PhD and postdoctoral training (UC San Francisco) in pharmacology and neuroscience that informs her understanding of the chemical interactions between insects and their host plants. She loves birds and butterflies, and after she noticed that only a few butterflies visited her ornamental, mostly non-native garden, she was inspired to learn how to attract more insects by adding native plants to her garden. She does not consider herself a plant or insect expert, but a nature lover who discovered the joys of gardening with native plants for pollinators and now considers her yard to be her own natural laboratory where she observes and catalogs the diversity of insects visiting the plants and flowers.

A passionate nature educator, she enjoys giving educational talks based on her personal experience creating habitat and observing monarchs, other butterflies, pollinators and many insects as well as any other wildlife. She has been a volunteer docent at the Mystic Aquarium since 2012 where she enjoys educating the public on marine animal research and conservation. She currently serves on Mystic Aquarium’s Councils as Chair and/or member, and on the Board of Trustees for the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. She has been a Wild Ones member since 2019.

Secretary: Christopher Dustin
An avid gardener and naturalist, Chris received both his B.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. He enjoyed a lengthy career as a college professor, teaching philosophy and environmental ethics, and serving (less enjoyably) as an academic program director, department chair, and dean.

Retired from academia, Chris earned his UConn Master Gardener certification in 2020 and his Advanced Master Gardener certification in 2022. Until recently, he served as the Master Gardener Program’s New London County Coordinator. It was in that role that he was first introduced to Wild Ones and embraced its mission as integral to that of the Master Gardener program, becoming a member in 2022. Without leaving philosophy behind, Chris has enthusiastically pursued his long standing interests and continuing education in plant science and ecology. A member of the Connecticut Botanical Society, he currently serves on Thompson’s Inland Wetlands Commission. Chris has lectured and published extensively on the work of Henry David Thoreau.

Chris is deeply engaged in the philosophical, aesthetic, and scientific debates surrounding sustainability, biodiversity, and the conservation or restoration of native ecosystems. He and his family have resided for many years in the “quiet corner” of Connecticut and have enjoyed exploring its natural treasures. An irrepressible hiker and ornithologist, Chris has a special fondness for alpine plant communities (which the quiet corner sadly lacks).

Treasurer: Arline Culp
Arline is a graduate of Purdue University with a BS in Agricultural science and a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. Her interest in gardening began at Purdue where she and her husband Jeff lived in married student housing that came with its own garden plot. She has maintained an organic vegetable garden in their homes ever since. After moving to CT (2 miles from Connecticut College) her interest expanded to native landscaping after she discovered the S.A.L.T. program. Six years later, she attended CT’s very first 2006 Wild Ones meeting and joined the young chapter in 2007.

She and Jeff have now lived over 20 years in Quaker Hill and have maintained organic and native gardens where they are continually adding more and more native plants and gaining plant knowledge. Arline’s experience in the finance area include serving as treasurer and fundraising chairs for PTA’s in both PA and CT, all throughout her 2 children’s K-12 school years.
In addition, she has completed the basic course at HR BLOCK, basic EXCEL course at NL adult ed, and volunteered as Finance Secretary for 6 years at a local church. Arline has been a substitute teacher at Quaker Hill school, and currently serves as Head docent and Member of the Learning and Engagement committee and a member of the Board of Trustees at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum.

Membership Chair: Allen Gauthier
Allen’s interest in gardening started with becoming a CT Master Gardener (MG) in 1992 and remains an active Master Gardener today. His background is in Chemistry, but after becoming a MG, he attended Connecticut College and took four semesters of Botany. Shortly after finishing that, the Arboretum started a docent program which he joined to give tours of the plant collections. Over the years Allen has worked with Arboretum staff on various programs and helped with the yearly evaluations of the plants in their collections. He was one of a small group of plant lovers that started the Mountain Laurel chapter of Wild Ones in 2006. Allen has been Membership Chair from the start and also served as President for three years and Vice President for two.

Finally, Allen’s passion for plants and gardening is expressed through his own gardens of shrubs, trees and perennials which serve as his own learning experiment and he also helps other friends with ideas for their own gardens.

Director: Susan Kinsman
Susan has more than 30 years’ experience as a professional writer and editor and is a (semi-retired) attorney licensed to practice in Connecticut. She has worked in journalism, government communications and policy, academia and non-profit leadership and management, including grant writing and development. She holds a BA degree in political science from the University of Connecticut and a JD from the University of Connecticut School of Law.

A resident of East Haddam, she has a lifelong interest in animals, marine life and the natural world. She became a certified Master Gardener in the online Covid Class of 2020 and was awarded Advanced Master Gardener and Coastal Certificate Program certification in 2021. She has been a member of Wild Ones and the Wild Seed Project since 2020. She also serves as a member of the East Haddam Land Trust, Open Space Commission, the East Haddam Planning & Zoning Commission and as the long-time chairman of the Board of Trustees at First Church of Christ Congregational in East Haddam.

Susan and husband, Alan Ponanski, both descend from Vermont farming families. She planted her first bean seeds for an elementary school science project and has been enthralled by growing plants since. She has committed to rewild her acre-plus lot in East Haddam and is busy nurturing oak trees and native plants and clearing invasives with Alan’s help and when available, their two adult sons. The lawn mower is getting lots of rest.

Director: Sue Stark
Sue Stark is a self-employed horticulturist based in Madison, CT. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Lafayette College, a Master of Liberal Arts in Environmental Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and a certificate in Arboretum Studies from the Barnes Foundation in Merion, PA. She is also an Accredited Organic Land Care Professional through CT NOFA since 2014. After working for years as a researcher in immunology and endocrinology, she discovered that her true passion was horticulture. Since then, she has worked at Anderson’s La Costa Nursery in Encinitas, CA and J. Franklin Styer Nurseries in Concordville, PA. In 1999, Sue joined the staff of the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College where she worked as a gardener and volunteer coordinator until relocating to Connecticut with her family in 2011.

Sue has been active in Wild Ones since 2007, when she joined the Philadelphia area chapter, Habitat Resource Network of Southeast PA. This was a dual mission chapter, also promoting the National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat program. Soon after taking their intensive homeowner certification class to plan a wildlife friendly backyard for her new home, Sue joined the board of HRN and was active there until leaving for Connecticut. She has been a member of the CT Mountain Laurel Wild Ones chapter since then. When not gardening, Sue enjoys spending time with her family and two dogs hiking, kayaking and watching wildlife in their own backyard. She also volunteers with Urbanscapes Native Plant Nursery in New Haven, CT helping to grow, maintain and sell ecotypic plants for Ecoregion 59. Working with Madison’s Pollinator Pathway group, Sue also enjoys helping to promote native plantings in public spaces around Madison.

Director: Donna Kaffenberger
Donna is a retired Data Scientist. Donna’s love of gardening was inspired by her mother and her grandmother. Both women were avid gardeners and very knowledgeable about flowers and wildflowers in particular. Donna’s garden aesthetic was somewhat undefined until the Christmas of 2012 when her friend Alice gifted her the book, “Bringing Nature Home” by Doug Tallamy. Tallamy’s book inspired Donna to learn more about ecological gardening and the relationship of plants and wildlife. Moving to a new house in 2015 provided the opportunity to transition her 1.5 acre lawn to a native habitat. After retiring from the corporate world in 2020, she became a Master Gardener in 2021 and an Advanced Master Gardener in 2022. Donna takes a lot of pleasure in watching her garden come alive with wildlife and making more plants through planting seeds and tissue propagation methods.
Donna is Chairperson of the Manchester Conservation Commission, Vice President of the Manchester Garden Club and a member of the Manchester Pollinator Pathway, Connecticut Botanical Society, Connecticut Horticultural Society, and the Manchester Land Conservation Trust.

Director: Robin Parsons
Originally from New York, Robin is a relative newcomer to Connecticut, having done hands-on landscaping and gardening for many years in several states. In 2014, she made a permanent move from Raleigh, NC (7b) to the Connecticut shoreline (7a) and she finds comparing plant life in two adjacent zones that are geographically so widely separated fascinating.

After moving to Connecticut, Robin spearheaded the Sustainable CT initiative for West Haven, achieved Bronze certification, and branched off into developing a Native Plant Initiative (NPI) whose principal goal is to increase the biomass of native plant species in her community. She and her co-leader of NPI have designed, prepped, and planted nearly a dozen separate native plant installations in public open space since 2020. She is currently involved in planning an ecological restoration of a public shoreline parcel under a conservation easement held by the West Haven Land Trust, of which she is also a member and former Board member.

Robin joined CT-NOFA in 2013. Shortly thereafter, she joined the Ecological Landscape Alliance and, in 2021, the Society for Ecological Restoration. She’s a mad fan of Kate Orff’s approach to urban ecology and her own approach to gardening, is as Larry Weaner describes in his book, Garden Revolution.

In 2022, she joined Wild Ones. Like others on the Board, she is working to transform her weedy turf yard to a shrub and perennial haven with Doug Tallamy’s recommended 70% native species. Her husband, a retired architect, is an amateur entomologist, and enjoys cruising through their yard to see what creatures come to the plants that grow there.