Alex Spangher, 18, right, and his brother, Lucas, 18, left,...

Alex Spangher, 18, right, and his brother, Lucas, 18, left, of St. James, discuss the design of two new gardens they helped create as part of an Eagle Scout project. (July 24, 2010) Credit: John Dunn

Since they were 7 years old, identical twins Alexander and Lucas Spangher, now 18, have spent their summers immersed in nature - first attending and then becoming counselors at the educational summer camp at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown.

So when it came time for the longtime Boy Scouts to complete their Eagle Scout projects, working with the environment was a no-brainer.

Saturday, the twins, of Saint James, unveiled the project that took a year of planning and almost 3,000 hours of labor - adding a sensory garden and a native garden to Sweetbriar.

Lucas, who will attend Duke University in the fall, designed the sensory garden, which appeals to the five senses - sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing - with the use of different plants. Visitors can gaze at the magnolias, smell the aroma of a mint plant, have a taste of tomato, rub the fuzzy plant known as Lamb's Ear, and listen to the bamboo and chasmanthium rustle in the breeze.

"It seems like over time, people have become disconnected with the environment," said Lucas. "The sensory garden is a great way to allow people to interact with nature and become more aware of their environment."

Alexander, who's heading to Columbia, designed the native garden, which has only plants that are indigenous to the area - like irises and bluebells - ensuring that wildlife will find it to be a suitable habitat.

"Some people like showy gardens, but that's not the way it works in nature," said Alexander. "The wildlife is supposed to be able to live and interact with the plants."

The twins, who graduated from Smithtown East High School in June, received a $3,000 grant from Renaissance Technologies, which was founded by the philanthropist James Simons. With help from younger scouts, they created the gardens in about three months.

Eagle Scouts have a long history with Sweetbriar.

"We've had about 50 Eagle Scout projects here over the past 13 years," said Eric Young, Sweetbriar's program director for 10 years. "They visit when they're young, and many stay involved and end up wanting to do their projects here."

Besides its many gardens, Sweetbriar Nature Center, which is a private not-for-profit organization and is situated on 54 acres of land, is home to a butterfly house with about 100 North American butterflies.

"We want people to fall in love with not only the animals, but with all of the nature," said Young.

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