Mickey Rathbun: Calling all pollinator-friendly gardeners

  • honey bee and dandelion flower in spring,image of a Altay Suleyman—Getty Images/iStockphoto

Published: 6/14/2018 8:49:12 PM

There has been increasing attention over the past several years to the plight of pollinators in our landscape. Pollinators — including bees, butterflies, hummingbirds — are critically important to maintaining the balance of the ecosystem and ensuring our food supply. Not only has land development reduced their natural habitat, but widespread use of herbicides and pesticides kills large numbers of pollinators and the plants that sustain them.

Two years ago, in 2016, Peggy MacLeod and Amy Pulley founded the Western Massachusetts Pollinators Network, an all-volunteer organization to address the threats to pollinators such as native bees and butterflies. MacLeod was inspired to create the organization after vacationing in Asheville, North Carolina, where she saw a beautiful pollinator garden at the town’s tourist center. “Right at that moment I knew I was going to start some kind of program when I returned,” said MacLeod.

She retired in December 2017 to have more time for the Network’s projects.

The WMPN has been busy on a number of fronts. Its representatives give public lectures and appear at local farmers markets and other venues to provide information about the problem and promote pollinator friendly practices. Its popular list-serve has about 250 recipients. Thanks to its efforts, five local towns — Plainfield, Cummington, Great Barrington, North Adams and Williamstown — have adopted resolutions making commitments to use pollinator-friendly land care practices that will help re-build and create new pollinator habitats.

This month, the WMPN is launching an exciting new initiative called 1001 Pollinator Gardens, a two-year project that aims to expand the number of pollinator-friendly gardens and open spaces in western Massachusetts. 1001 Pollinator Gardens invites people to create 1,001 certified pollinator habitats — gardens, yards and meadows. These will feature mostly native plants suitable for three seasons of pollinator foraging, a water source of some kind and no plants and seeds that have been treated with systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids. Participants will complete a questionnaire to demonstrate their compliance with pollinator-friendly principles.

Some participants also will pay attention to adopting lawn-maintenance practices, getting away from the perfect lawn, leaving some foraging plants like clover, violets and dandelions, and mowing less often, which allows those plants to have blossoms for foraging between mowings. (If you feel the same way I do about your lawn, this aspect of the program will have enormous appeal. You can finally justify your lapses in lawn care.)

The 1001 project is the brainchild of Pulley, who lives in Cummington and has an organic pollinator plant nursery called A Wing and a Prayer. Pulley said she started her own pollinator-friendly garden five years ago. “It was so much fun, and it worked. Butterflies and bees come — you never know who’s going to show up. A few days ago I had a great swallowtail butterfly.”

Soon after, she came up with the idea for the 1001 Pollinator Gardens project. But it took several years for her to get it up and running.

“The WMPN encouraged me to just do it,” she said. “So I did. It’s not just beautiful and a joy, it’s a necessity. We need to learn how human actions affect other creatures. The project is about plants and insects that live here and need each other to survive.”

Pulley decided to focus locally, educating people about the why of pollinator gardens, what they are, and how to create them. She describes the process, fully explained on the website: Make the garden; certify it; and talk to your friends and neighbors about it. “If we do this right in western Massachusetts, then we will have connectivity.” That means having a critical mass of pollinator gardens to create a network in the area.

The project seeks participation of community and institutional gardens, too. Pulley and her supporters at WMPN are reaching out to condo associations and senior-housing complexes, where groups of residents can work on designing pollinator habitats for their property. Businesses and public buildings also are welcome to join the effort. Pulley is pleased that the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls has recently signed on.

1001 Pollinator Gardens launches this week, to coincide with National Pollinator Week, June 18 to 24. For more information about this project, go to: 1001pollinatorgardens.org.

Father’s Day

Don’t forget to buy an appropriate Father’s Day present for the father(s) in your life. A hand rake, a pair of pruners or loppers if the recipient likes to garden, or an outdoor chair or bench for the more sedentary dads we love. Or perhaps a fruit tree or berry bush? Or a butterfly bush or some other pollinator-friendly plant for the garden. Or a pair of heavy-duty gloves and a bottle of Tech-Nu poison ivy scrub? (That might not go over so well with some dads, but…) Shop at one of the wonderful local garden centers in the Pioneer Valley and meanwhile pick up something nice for yourself.

Wild foods at Berkshire Botanical Garden

Explore the culinary treasures hidden in local wild foods. Learn to identify, harvest and prepare these ancient foods so you can easily incorporate them into your daily meals. On June 23, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dina Falconi, author of “Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook” will guide you through the garden, identifying wild foods and herbs, and then prepare a few of the delicious, nutrient-dense recipes from her book. Signed copies of “Foraging & Feasting” will be available at this presentation.

Dina Falconi is a clinical herbalist with a strong focus on food activism and nutritional healing. An avid gardener, wildcrafter and permaculturist, she has been teaching classes about the use of herbs for food, medicine and personal care, including wild food foraging and cooking, for more than 20 years. She is a founding member of the Northeast Herbal Association and author of “Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair: Natural and Healthy Personal Care for Everybody” (available at: www.botanicalartspress.com).

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at mickey.rathbun@gmail.com.

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