Mrs. Leah Genuario is a beloved ECHS journalism and yearbook teacher and editor, however, she is also one of the foremost gardening influencers in New Jersey. A number of years ago Mrs. Genuario created the NJ Plant & Garden Community, which has since grown exponentially to include over 10,000 members.
Mrs. Genuario has been an avid gardener for most of her adult life. She explained that the source of her passion for gardening came from when she was young. She explained that “both of my grandfathers grew vegetables and I remember as a little kid picking vegetables out of their gardens and I would actually trace my love of gardening to my two grandfathers.”
When Mrs. Genuario moved into her first house she decided she wanted to grow a vegetable garden of her own. In addition to the apple tree which grew in her yard, Mrs. Genuario planted broccoli and tomatoes. However, she explained, “We moved and the house that we moved to was kind of in the woods and it was much more shaded so my vegetables wouldn’t really grow anymore.” So instead of vegetables, Mrs. Genuario began planting flowers and, in particular, native plants. According to the National Wildlife Federation, a plant is considered native if “...it has occurred naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction.” Another benefit of native plants is that they have symbiotic relationships with native wildlife, as Mrs Genuario observed, “I love how much wildlife [native plants] brought to my yard. Now I am an avid native plant purchaser.” However, native plants are often difficult to find and more expensive than other non-native plants.
Because of the difficulty of finding and acquiring native plants, Mrs. Genuario turned to another source of plants, “I probably started [the NJ Plant & Garden Community] six or seven years ago…. It really started because I wanted more plants and I wanted a way to organize plant swaps.”
When COVID hit, NJPGC experienced drastic change. Mrs. Genuario explained “I thought ‘eh, not a big deal’ but then COVID hit and the group began to explode, dozens of people every day wanted to join. So in that deep COVID experience… I had an idea that we would all do a drive by plant swap, and I invited all these random people to drive by my house and drop off and swap plants.” The plant swap was well attended, with 50-60 people coming to swap plants from the curb of her house. Following the drive-through plant swap, the group experienced even greater growth towards its current size of 10,200 members.
Mrs. Genuario noted that she feels that God has used the group to bring people together, “At one point during COVID, I actually prayed about this little group, and I asked the Lord that He would use that little group for his glory, and I will say that that led me to do a plant swap with Hawthorne and I feel like I was able to minister to some people that didn’t have any community. So I think the Lord has used it to bring people together.” She also reflected on her personal relationship with gardening as a spiritual activity, “I think though for me personally, I absolutely connect with the Lord through nature. I’m often in my garden marveling at the God of detail, just from the stripes on insects and the patterns on flower petals. I often marvel at how the Lord cares about little details, and I often tie that to my own life that given how much he cares for a flower, how much more does he care for me.”
Managing the NJPGC has not always been a simple thing. Mrs. Genuario has now brought on two other people to help manage the group. Occasionally an argument between members sprouts up, such as one particularly heated debate over the proper method for tomato cultivation. She explained, “I probably have a love-hate relationship with this group right now. It was great during COVID when I had nothing else to do but sometimes it’s time consuming and I’m not sure why I’m putting effort into something that will never make me a penny but nonetheless, it’s too big now, and Facebook won’t let me delete it whether I want it or not.”