Passion for Gardening Drives Volunteers at Nursery

by Tim Kitslaar,
Communications & Marketing

On a recent workday at the District’s native plant nursery at Blackwell Forest Preserve, volunteers gathered to lend their hands to Natural Resource technician Kathy Pulte. The nursery is a designated area where plants, trees and shrubs native to Illinois are grown to either harvest seeds or transplant to other areas. Conservationists repopulate a variety of DuPage forest preserves with these native plants to not only replenish habitat health but also deter nonnative and invasive species from taking nutrients and subsequently killing off more desirable plants in woodlands, prairies and wetlands.

Pulte leads volunteers — both one-day helpers and long-time nature enthusiasts — at the nursery. On most workdays Pulte sets the volunteers to work on a task, which can vary based upon the numbers of volunteers that show for the day. One volunteer may show for one workday while as many as 16 individuals show for another.

Pulte cares for the great variety of trees and plants grown at the nursery saying, “Essentially, I am a gardener just for native plants.” Pulte joined the District after working for many years as a landscaper, deciding to change up her career towards a more fulfilling and impactful job. “I feel I am making a difference now in the local community and ecosystems rather than just improving landscaping in clients’ yards,” she says. Her primary duties include watching for nonnative and invasive plants that may harm the native plants, looking for signs of harmful rodents like voles and harvesting mature plants’ seeds to reintroduce as local species to nearby areas.

The volunteers who work with Pulte are also equally passionate about gardening and the outdoors. Lona Sweet has been volunteering with the District for the past year after finding out about the opportunity through The Conservationist. As someone who gardens on her own time, she is happy to offer her help to Pulte and the nursery crew. “I just enjoy it. I love being outside and being part of nature,” Sweet says.

Volunteer Quinton Jensen also has a passion for gardening and conservation. Jensen works as a seasonal landscaper at the District’s Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook and has been volunteering at the nursery for the past year. At home he maintains a garden with an assortment of different vegetables, such as kale and lettuce. While his job entails landscaping for the District he volunteers his spare time, because he really enjoys working in the garden and serving in a conservation role. “I really enjoy how hands-on it is and just being outside,” Jensen says.

Pulte, Sweet and Jensen are just three of the many people who work to keep our natural spaces preserved and resources stocked in the DuPage forest preserves. You, too, can help weed, water, or collect and clean seed at one of the upcoming volunteer workdays at the nursery.     

July 1, 6, 18, 22, 31 8 – 11 a.m.Blackwell Nursery
Aug 9, 10, 15, 24 8 – 11 a.m. 
Sep 2,14, 18, 268 – 11 a.m. 

For more information on the District’s volunteer opportunities, visit   

Natural Resource technician Kathy Pulte talks about the day's planned work activity with volunteer Lona Sweet.
Quinton Jensen not only works to care for the English gardens at Mayslake Peabody Estate but also volunteers his time at the nursery. 
Volunteer Lona Sweet surveys the area before she gets down to work at the nursery. 
Plants native to DuPage forest preserves are grown at the nursery and harvested or transplanted.
Saplings mature before reintroduction to DuPage forest preserves.
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