Horticulturist to dig up local dirt: Dorset's Andrea Luchini will lecture at Hildene on the soils of the Battenkill valley


MANCHESTER — Andrea Luchini came to work at Hildene, the Lincoln Family Home, at just the right time. The highly trained horticulturist signed on four years ago after a stint at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, and her presence on the 412 acre estate has had immediate effects.

As such, this Saturday, April 16, Luchini will be the final presenter in Hildene's popular lecture series on the natural makeup of the surrounding region. Her talk is entitled, "The Battenkill Valley: Reading the Natural Landscape – the Soil."

With a master's degree in plant and soil science from the University of Vermont, Luchini said her professional experience has grown on her return home to the Green Mountain State.

"In the past four years, I've been lucky to be able to work on some passions of mine, beyond the day to day gardening, which I truly love," Luchini said. "I spent time getting a deeper understanding of the composting process and how to do it on a larger scale. We now have a property-wide composting system that is partially underway and will be fully up and running soon."

Luchini added that she had researched greenhouses for several years and this past summer Hildene built a new, state of the art greenhouse. This was a key development, she said, because Hildene now has even more control over what is grown on the property.

"With this greenhouse, we will be able to start the majority of our flowers from seed, as well as all our vegetables," Luchini said. "This is especially important when thinking about pollinator health and ensuring that our plants are free of the pesticides that harm the bees and other insect pollinators."

Luchini also coordinates with Hildene's consulting foresters on the estate forest management plan, which has changed in recent years to focus on sustainable forestry and the health of the forest ecosystem.

Stephanie Moffett-Hynds, Hildene's programming director, said that Luchini has been an excellent addition at the right time, and that having her conclude the lecture series is in line with the estate's spotlight on its "Values into Action" mission focus.

"With Hildene's robust emphasis on sustainability, we want to be the best stewards possible of this land," Moffett-Hynds said. "Because of this, our commitment to organic agriculture, larger-scale composting, and forest habitat improvement puts Andrea in a unique position to relay vital information in her lecture from all of these areas."

To this end, on Saturday Luchini will speak about local soil as a whole, yet diverse ecosystem. She will use visual aids, and cover a number of topics, including: where soils came from, soil as a living organism, why the Taconics are different and what grows better on those soils, historical erosion, the impact of earthworms, acid rain, and things humans can do to preserve the soil.

Luchini said her talk will demonstrate how soil is an interface between air, water, plants, animals, and rocks.

Among the several factors involved in soil formation, she explained, is the "parent material." In the Battenkill valley that means bedrock, glacial deposits, and alluvial deposits. All give rise to the composition of soil.

"We have 3 distinct physiographic regions in this area," Luchini said. "Those would be the Taconic and southern Green mountains, and the Vermont valley. The soils are a bit different in each. The limestone-influenced soils have a great range of nutrients and allow for richer plant community. I tend to be focused on flowering plants, so to me that means the great range of spring ephemerals that can be found, especially on the lower, eastern slopes of Mt. Equinox."

Soil also has a living component, Luchini noted, in addition to the mineral component, and this is what makes it so much more than dirt. The organic component is made up of living organisms and different stages of decomposing plant matter.

These subjects, and many others, will be part of the presentation, whose ultimate thrust will be the importance of soil and awareness of the need for its proper care.

"A healthy soil is one in which all these parts of the ecosystem are in balance with each other and there is ample organic matter providing energy to the system," Luchini said. "The soil ecosystem is fragile, as all our ecosystems are, and needs to be cared for. Our lives really do depend on it."

"The Battenkill Valley: Reading the Natural Landscape - The Soil" will take place at 10 a.m on Sat., April 16 in the Center Beckwith Room at Hildene, the Lincoln Family Home, in Manchester. $5 admission for non-members. Free for members. Info: 802-362-1788, or visit www.hildene.org . GNAT-TV will eventually broadcast all the series lectures. Info: www.gnat-tv.org

— Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist


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