A New Garden on the Old Lester Farm

A young man’s concern for bees creates a legacy
Matthew helped plant a pollinator garden at Town Hall in collaboration with the East Hampton Garden Club in 2014. Durell Godfrey

A garden going in this spring at the East Hampton Historical Farm Museum, at the old Lester family homestead on North Main Street, will be the legacy of Matthew Lester, a young man who cared so much about bees that he planned a “pollinator garden” where they could find blooms through three seasons of the year.

Matthew Lester, who was a member of the family for whom the property and farmhouse were once home, conceived of the pollinator garden as his Eagle Scout project before he died early this year. Now, his Scout troop will carry it out, creating the Matthew Lester Memorial Garden on the land, which was preserved by East Hampton Town.

Her son had “always been conservation-minded,” Dana Miller Lester said this week. He served as a Long Island ambassador for the Earth Hour, a worldwide initiative in 2010 to call attention to the need for action on climate change, and he wrote letters to The Star over the years to express his ideas. Ordained as a deacon at the East Hampton Presbyterian Church when he was 12, he visited Cuba with a church group in 2015. “He was always very thirsty for knowledge. When something interested him he always went all the way,” she said.

Matthew’s interest in bees was ignited when he met Mary Woltz, a local beekeeper, at the Sag Harbor Farmers Market, and tasted honey. “He got us all into bees.” Now, as a family, “we’re beekeepers,” she said.

Prudence Carabine, who founded and oversees the farm museum, said she was thrilled when Matthew brought up the idea of a pollinator garden. “That’s part of what we see is our mission, to work with people.”

Historically, “North Main Street would have had bees, because sugar was too expensive” for the families living in the area, Ms. Carabine said.

There is already a fenced-in garden patch on the museum grounds, with garlic and a few other plants growing, and Deb Klughers, another local beekeeper, has had a couple of hives there.

“A lot of it was still in his head, but he knew that he wanted to plant plants so that they would be blooming all three of the seasons,” Ms. Lester said. She explained that Matthew thought the plants should be those “native in the area in the time period” the farm museum depicts — the early 1900s — and that would have been popular among East Hampton farming families. He especially wanted to include berry bushes, “because bumblebees like to live in brushy areas,” she said. 

According to an outline that Matthew prepared, he envisioned a stone walkway in the garden that would divide it into four sections, so that “people can admire the plants from a closer perspective.” He intended to plant perennials “geared toward honeybees,” he wrote, “but also beneficial to pollinators as a whole.”

He went on: “Flowers are essential to the life of honeybees as a species. Flowers provide the bees with the nectar and pollen that the bees need to survive, and in exchange (although by accident on the bees’ part) the bee pollinates the plants by carrying some excess pollen on its legs as it flies from flower to flower.”

He also wrote about the massive decrease of honeybees through what is called colony-collapse disorder. He described how bees “communicate the location of food sources to each other by dancing. Yes, that’s right, dancing.” His interest in and knowledge of bees and their lives, and needs, comes through in just a few paragraphs of the scientific material he included in his proposal.

Matthew had submitted the proposal for his Eagle Scout project and it had been approved before his death, in January at the age of 17, Joanne Schaefer, an assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 298, said this week. All the troop leaders, “immediately had decided we would do his project,” both in Matthew’s honor and “to help the troop heal. And, she said, “the first thing his dad said to me was, ‘I want to do his project.’ ”

Matthew had worked at a Baiting Hollow scout camp, and been selected by other Scouts as a member of the Order of the Arrow Campers Society, whose members are recognized for their service to scouting. Scouts from that group have offered to come to East Hampton to help with the garden, Ms. Schaefer said. The troop also will be seeking help with the work involved as well as donations of plants. 

“We definitely wanted to continue with it,” Matthew’s mother said this week, about how she and Matthew’s father, Jeffrey T. Lester, felt about seeing Matthew’s garden grow.

“My hope is that it will become a source of nutrition for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, and in turn, us as well. Without these essential pollinators, humanity would not be able to survive,” Matthew had written. “The local honeybee hives are the stars of the show. Once the garden is complete and the flowers start the bloom, the bees will know exactly what to do.

Matthew wore the Eagle Scout uniform with pride.