PEPPERELL – The loudest sounds you’ll hear at Deb Fountain’s house are actually quite soft: birds chipping, bugs buzzing and wind blowing through the trees. Fountain has made sure her environment is as natural as possible, both at home and in Pepperell, through a passion for native planting
“It’s sustainable gardening,” Fountain said. “So many of the gardens we see in home landscapes nowadays are plants that come from abroad and require a lot of care and water. They have no natural predators here so they can get loose in the wild. They don’t provide the nutrients that our native environment needs. They may look beautiful, it doesn’t make for a sustainable environment.”
That dedication has benefited two vital local buildings where Fountain planted native plant gardens. The first was at the Lawrence Library three years ago, helping improve the building’s back area after being asked by friend Diane Temple.
The second project took place this past June, as Fountain planted another garden of native plants at the Peter Fitzpatrick School building in June.
“I had been on the Peter Fitzpatrick Feasibility Committee and noticed there’s a long bed out in the front as you enter the building that was looking like it was in need of attention. It was quite overgrown with weeds,” Fountain said.
Not only did Fountain plant the garden at the former school and the library, she also created informational posters about the plants in the garden to post nearby for visitors to learn more. She wants visitors of the building, which could soon be reopened as a community center, to know how native plants don’t require pesticides or lots of water to stay beautiful.
“Every opportunity I see where I think I can provide an educational opportunity for people to come in and learn about native plants, I try to do that,” she said. “It’s easier to show people rather than to talk to people.”
Fountain originally grew up in Westford and Chelmsford, though she’s been living in Pepperell for nearly 50 years after first moving to town with her family at the age of 17. She said that she was born with a love for nature, remembering being six years old trying to identify the birds chirping in her backyard. Her gardening skills came from her grandmother, Beatrice Dapkus, who immigrated from Lithuania at age seven and grew vegetables to help feed her family.
“She taught me how to plant, how to weed, how to be not quite as delicate as I was being with the plants as they were pretty tough,” Fountain said. “She was a no-nonsense gardener. With her, gardening was more practical and out-of-need. But she always had a very small patch of flowers outside of her dining room window just for her to look at. She was very proud of those flowers.”
While she started her own herb garden in her parents’ yard as a teenager, Fountain admitted to not being into gardening for most of her adult life. Though when she had “a little more time” on her hands about 20 years ago, she decided to have herself a nice garden in her home. That first “nice garden” has now spread entirely around her home, from a front yard that blossomed sunflowers a week ago to a backyard with more native plants.
“What I get out of it is a sense of peace,” Fountain said. “Science has proven that when you put your hands in the soil, you disturb some of the fungus and the bacteria in the soil. When you inhale that odor, it kicks in those pheromones that give you that ‘feel-good’ feeling. That’s why you see a lot of people who are gardeners that seem at peace with themselves.”
Since her return to the soil, she’s served her community in other ways. As a former member of the town Garden Club, she maintained garden beds around town and helped with plant sales. She also volunteered at Garden in the Woods in Framingham for five years, doing nature walks with children through the woods.
She’s grown so much that she even gave away some plants to friends interested in starting their own gardens.
“I recently had a friend stop by and she stopped out on my front porch and said, ‘I can hear your meadow, because it’s just so full of life.’”