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Native Buzz!

Zebra Longwing Butterfly

Butterfly gardening is becoming very popular. Schools are having their students plant butterfly gardens, and adults can find more than a dozen books devoted to gardening in a way that will attract butterflies to their landscape.

Butterfly gardening could just as well go by another name, pollinator gardening.  Everyone knows that bees are pollinators, but butterflies along with many other creatures like wasps and bats are important pollinators. Planting a butterfly garden helps support pollinators.

Most of us do not give much thought to pollination, except possibly in the spring when we see honey bee hives being moved into local fruit orchards to insure good fruit set. Yet the reality is that every third bite of food we take is due to the work of a pollinator. Wheat, corn and rice depend on the wind for pollination but most other food crops depend on animal pollinators, bees, wasps and other insects, bats, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds to produce fruit and seeds.

One of the threats to pollinators are the insecticides and herbicides that are routinely used in agriculture.  When we grow our gardens, including lawns and flower gardens without these poisons we are protecting pollinators and our food supply that is dependent on them.

The New England Wildflower Society, which has its headquarters in Framingham and operates both The Garden in the Woods, and the Nasami Farm nursery in Whately, is drawing attention to the importance of pollinators with a competition – Native Buzz: Creative Container Gardening for Pollinators.

This competition has three categories: for youth up to age 17; for amateurs including groups like a garden club; and professionals. Application forms and a separate document with full guidelines are available online at www.newfs.org/visit/events.

“The intent of this exhibit is to explore the many and varied ways a container gardener can attract pollinators using native plants in unique and creative containers. Containers can be large (no larger than 3’ x 3’), small, whimsical, colorful . . . as long as they serve the needs of our native pollinators well.”

This is the first time the Wildflower Society has offered the public the opportunity to create an exhibit. Get ready to do some research and creative planting because applications are due on April 15.

The application requires a description of the container or group of containers (taking up no more than 3’ x3’ of space), and a list of the pollinators to be attracted and fed. The forms asks, “How will you accomplish that goal? What steps will you take to attract pollinators over the 11 week period of the Native Buzz exhibit.”  If you are going to list the pollinators you want to attract, you need to have a list of  the native plants that attract them. That means research, especially since it  sounds like you need to keep attracting pollinators for 11 weeks.

Applicants will have to think about what kind of site the container will require, sun, shade, or part shade, as well as arrange with a park or other public site to accept the container once the exhibit at The Garden in the Woods ends on August 31. I’ll bet the Energy Park would love such a container planting.

On May 1 the Society will announce 15 winners, five in each of the three categories. At that point, the winners will be able to refine their design because on May 1 a full list of  plants will be available from Nasami.  All plants must come from Nasami, and the winner can choose plants for their container with a retail value of up to $300 at no cost.

This exhibit requires some real skull-work and creativity. Whether or not a applicant is chosen as a final exhibitor, I think applicants will have a whole new appreciation for the process of pollination. There is a lot of information about pollinators on the Internet about which pollinators pollinate which plants on Wikipedia and from the U.S. Department of Agriculture at http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=1279.

For those who like turning to books, The Pollinator Conservation Handbook: A Guide to Understanding, Protecting and Providing Habitat for Native Pollinator Insects by Shepard, Buchmann, Vaughan and Black may give you the information you will need.

Another book that might be useful is The Forgotten Pollinators by Buchmann and Nabhan. Don’t forget to check your library for these books. Both are intended for a general audience.

Even if we are not interested in making a pollinator container we can encourage pollinators in our gardens. I have bee balm planted in the Herb Garden in front of the house. From our windows we can watch bees, hummingbirds and those funny little hummingbird hawk moths sipping at the blossoms and carrying away pollen. Actually, from a distance we can’t see the pollen work, but we know they are doing it.

Other plants for the pollinator garden include asters, foxglove, Echinacea, helenium, joe pye weed, sumac, salvia, elderberry and serviceberry. It is very easy to invite and sustain pollinators in our garden, while creating beauty, and fruitfulness in our vegetable gardens.

Between the Rows  March 19, 2011

4 comments to Native Buzz!

  • Lisa at Greenbow

    Love seeing those pollinators floating around the garden.

  • What a great idea! It doesn’t take much to provide habitat for pollinators.

  • Pat

    Lisa – that particular pollinator was fluttering around the Butterfly House with many other beauties.
    Mary – I have a lot of nectar plants. I don’t know if I have a lot of larval plants.

  • A great post, Pat! When I planted my butterfly garden, I was trying to attract butterflies and hummingbirds just because I liked them. Only later, as I learned more and more about native plants, did I realize that I was actually planting for the pollinators. The grandchildren enjoy the butterflies flitting about and hope for a peek at a hummingbird, and I am happy as well, knowing that we’re providing a food source for other pollinators, too.

    Enjoyed reading about your visit with Cindy–those poppies must be a glorious sight this time of year!

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