For one night on Firnew Farm, just over the border into Madison County, no one was staying away from poisonous plants. Instead, community members gathered for a unique program of horticulture and art—featuring artwork and an educational program on poisonous plants in Virginia.

The idea for the partnership first came to life just under a year ago when Firnew Farm Artists Circle Founder Trish Crowe attended a presentation by Old Rag Master Naturalist Alfred Goossens at the Madison County Library. Goossens’ presentation, titled “The Socrates Project — Poisonous Plants in Virginia,” featured photographs of the various plants that Crowe said both her and her granddaughter were inspired by.

“My granddaughter took photographs of the master naturalists’ photographs,” said Crowe. “They were interesting, but I thought the artists could do something so much more fun with them that would inspire a 7 year old even more. It was really her response to it and looking at those images that made me want to go back to our artists and pose it as a project.”

Crowe turned to Goossens with the idea, who says he was immediately on board for the horticulture and art collaboration.

“I had known Trish for a couple of years as a very creative individual and immediately realized this could be interesting. As master naturalists, we want to do things that are educational. When she came with the idea, I said ‘This is fantastic,’” Goossens said.

On May 17, the Blue Ridge Foothills Conservancy, Virginia Master Naturalists and the Firnew Farm Artists Circle unveiled the art exhibit, featuring 25 poisonous plants depicted by 25 different artists, and an accompanying presentation on the plants. Crowe said the night was everything she hoped it would be and more.

“Initially they had no idea what I was going to do with it, but every single one of the artists did an incredible interpretation,” she said. “It’s amazing that they all learned something about the plant. Alfred’s been a great patron of our artists, and he totally got that I wanted to do something a little more edgy. In the 16 years that we’ve been together as a group, it’s really been wonderful to see the growth and where the art is going into the community.”

Both Crowe and Goossens hope to see the combination of educational programming and unique art focused on poisonous plants travel in the future.

“There is a need. There are people who need things like this to turn a light bulb on,” Gossens said. “This is so beautiful and valuable. To pack it up and put it in a box would be a shame. It’s high quality with not only the information, but the artistic additions.”

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Logan Bogert is a reporter for the Greene County Record in Stanardsville, Virginia. She can be reached at or (434) 985-2315. Follow Logan on Twitter at @Logan_Bogert.

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