Creating a Community Pollinator Garden

This week’s Pastors’ Column is by lifelong BMPC member M. Courtenay Willcox who now serves as transitional pastor at Tree of Life Presbyterian Church in Springfield. 

Plant Native/Native Plant: Restoring Creation is an ongoing initiative of the Environmental Justice Committee at BMPC, supporting and drawing attention to the planting of native species on our church campus, in church members’ gardens, and in our communities. The importance of native species is echoed not just in garden clubs and botanical gardens, but by homeowners who can increase the number of native plants in their gardens while reducing the size of their lawn.

This can also happen on church, business, and corporate campuses. Native species are central to sustaining biodiversity, and I’ve taken this BMPC Plant Native/Native Plant show on the road by creating a community pollinating garden. I reached out to neighborhood families with young children and gauged their interest in a community garden, which now sits between properties and faces the sidewalk and gives anyone who walks by the opportunity to witness the efforts of the neighborhood’s youngest residents.

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” ~ Henry David Thoreau from notes written 1856-1861

Thoreau’s quote was read before the planting began, mostly for the benefit of the parents who were in attendance. Then the neighborhood children, ages 1-12, started digging into the dirt to plant 18 native plants: Penstemon digitalis, foxglove beardtongue; Carex stricta, tussock sedge; Aster divaricatus, white wood aster; Allium cernuum, nodding onion; Penstemon hirsutus, hairy beardtongue; Solidago rugosa, wrinkleleaf goldenrod.

Before planting, the families received a children’s rewrite of Doug Tallamy’s Nature’s Best Hope: (Young Readers’ Edition) How You Can Save the World in Your Own Yard which, among other things, explains the importance of planting native plants to attract and feed native insects and how this type of nature conservation can happen right outside your backdoor. Planting a native plant is such an easy thing to do. We demonstrated that anyone at any age can plant a native plant.

This was an easy project that we accomplished with a small investment of time and money. The payoffs were huge! Pre-education happened with Tallamy’s book. We then purchased an inexpensive 8’x4’ cedar framed raised bed and collected fill-dirt from Upper Merion’s leaf compost (which is amazing)! We ordered Bloom Box’s native plant fill-a-flat consisting of 18 beautiful plants that were delivered to us. We also planted mountain mint, milkweed, and cone flower seeds which are sprouting.

Through text messages, we arranged to come together and plant at 5:00 p.m. on a May afternoon. My granddaughters were with me as I stood on the sidewalk and looked hopefully down the street. It was empty. And then, just like in the Field of Dreams movie (if you build it, they will come), the sidewalks filled with children, trowels in hand, along with their parents who joined them for the planting festivities.

All the participants have helped water the plants through dry times this summer, and after a deer nibbling, I covered the bed with some netting which has deterred bunny and deer munching. The plants and seeds are flourishing!

This was such a gratifying project that produced a beautiful result and raised neighborhood awareness around the importance of native planting. My heart is full. Anyone can use this model to start a native garden in their own neighborhood. 

Let’s keep the ribbon of green – which will support native pollinators - unfurling throughout our neighborhoods and communities. And remember, Plant Native/Native Plant.

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