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Native Buzz at NEWFS

Sometimes in the summer we are annoyed by the bugs buzzing around our heads. We swat. We worry about the bees bumbling in the flowers and move children away. We get out spray cans of insecticide. What we need to do is think about the importance of bugs, often vital pollinators, without whom we would not have beautiful gardens, delicious fruits and vegetables, and a healthy life.

Ever since honey bees have gotten so much publicity because of Colony Collapse Disorder which alarmed farmers as well as beekeepers, the general public has become more aware of the vital part pollinators play in gardens and on farms. The New England Wildflower Society has always appreciated the importance of pollinators so this year it decided to mount an exhibit at its Garden in the Woods in Framingham focusing on pollinators called Native Buzz. For the first time they invited community partners, garden clubs, Scout groups, and professionals to submit plans for three by three foot planters that would provide shelter, nectar and larval food for the pollinators in our area – along with a written paper describing their exhibit.

The most local group to respond to this challenge was the Garden Club of Amherst. Susan Sheldon and Anne Williamson set to researching local native plants as well as their pollinators in the Fort River Basin which includes Groff Park where the Garden Club has already done work. The name of their project is Fort River Love Song.

Sheldon, a landscape designer and Master Gardener who lives on Mill Lane near Groff Park, said “I love to challenge myself and learn new things. I have a tendency towards overkill, but I love research and it was a labor of love.”

Sheldon explained that the Fort River is the longest unobstructed (no dams) tributary of the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. “The river acts as a corridor for birds and pollinators,” she said.

Williamson is a retired reference librarian and brought her expert skills to the project which she said was “. . . an immense amount of fun. I learned so much.”

The result of their research was a planter arranged around a pebble ‘stream’ to stand in for the Fort River and planted with a sourwood (Oxydendrom arboreum) tree, Rhoddendron viscosum.  Leucothoe fontanesiana, Lonicera semperviens ‘Alabama Crimson,’ Carex pensylvanica, bee balm, asters, goldenrod, Iris versicolor, and Heuchera Americana. Remember, this planter has very limited space, but as the sign accompanying the exhibit says, “Our project provides: a small nest site; water; dead branches; bare, moist earth; and stones – all important elements for nesting and shelter. All of these elements mimic the pattern of the river.” Sheldon assured me that their aim was to make an arrangement that was beautiful and in bloom for most of the summer as well as one that would attract pollinators.

Williamson said she took particular pleasure in creating a ‘bee box’ made of bamboo pieces held together and covered with birch bark that would provide shelter for native bees including bumblebees and the small sweat bees that nest in the ground.  According to Sheldon these bees are even more efficient pollinators than honeybees.

There was a youth category as well. I was particularly impressed by third grade Girl Scout Troop 72498 of Sudbury that created two of the three youth exhibits. Troop leader Dawn Dentzer said, “When you have 12 smart girls they have a lot of good ideas.  It was hard to narrow it  down to one, so we got permission to enter two.”

The first was titled Sign Me Up. All recycled materials are used for this container, including a file cabinet from the metal bin at the transfer station, street signs donated by the Town of Sudbury from their pile of old signs, a used measuring stick to measure how much the plants grow, and a sign post for a climbing vine. The exhibit shows ways to reduce our footprint on the earth. This container will be installed at their school, Peter Noyes Elementary of Sudbury.

The Scouts’ second entry was named Fire and Water, making use of a fire hydrant and grasses mimicking water. White flowers, the red hydrant and blue water gave this a patriotic theme that is most appropriate as this container will be placed in front of the Sudbury Fire Headquarters.

All the plants were free and provided to the exhibitors from the Society’s nursery, Nasami Farm in Whately. It is good to know that those plants will continue to support pollinators in their new locations.

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On Saturday, August 27  I will be signing my book at the World Eye between 11 am and 1 pm. People are beginning to sigh and say “Summer’s over,” but I am ready to continuing enjoying summer until the frost is on the pumpkin. And that will be way after the Sunflower Contest at the Energy Park on September 17. Lots of summer left.

August 20, 2011

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