In 2010 the Southeastern Research Station (SRS) of the US Forest Service contacted the Buncombe County Master Gardener office for help in creating a landscape project to comply with a new US Secretary of Agriculture mandate and be part of the People’s Gardens initiative. At the time, there was no budget of dollars or hours, and a tour of the property revealed several extremely challenging sites. Thanks to the dedication and passion of a hard-working crew of Master Gardeners and employees of the SRS, the garden took shape. Individuals, nurseries and the Botanical Gardens of Asheville (just across the street) donated plants which went into the ground in June.
During that record-breaking hot, dry summer it was a struggle just to keep the plants alive, and we wondered if we had attempted the impossible. When a small work crew gathered one blistering hot day, we could not believe our eyes: a monarch caterpillar had eaten the foliage on the five small butterfly weeds (asclepias tuberosa) we had planted. How had the mother butterfly found this minuscule patch of host plants for her eggs!? Fast forward five years to a thriving habitat teeming with life and sporting signage donated and installed by a local scout troop. The garden is a reflection of what a small, dedicated team can accomplish, especially when they plant the right plants in the right place. Remember the adage about perennials and many wood shrubs. First year they sleep, second year they creep and third year they leap. Most plants, even tough natives best suited to the area, do best with some TLC the first year. The biggest problem with new plants is drying them out. The second is drowning them, especially if they were planted too deeply. The return on the investment of time, energy, and resources during that first year establishing the pollinator garden continues to boom. A dead zone that supported no wildlife now buzzes with activity almost year round.
Please visit the People’s Garden Mondays-Fridays, 8:30 to 5, for a self-guided tour. While you’re in the area, be sure to visit the Pollinator Habitat established throughout the UNCA campus, details of which can be found at https://facilities.unca.edu/pollinator-gardens-unc-asheville .
Master Gardeners also work with many area school gardens. Several of these are pollinator specific or pollinator-friendly including the expansion of the Vance Peace Garden. Even though the ideal pollinator habitat is round rather than linear, the L-shaped border of the garden works beautifully. Once again, success is due in large part to a hardworking, dedicated team. In the case of Vance Peace Garden that team included an active parent group, teachers, Master Gardeners, Bee City USA and even the funding and hard work of local hummus producer, ROOTS.
In June 2012, Asheville became the first certified Bee City USA. Since then nearly 20 other cities from Wilmington, North Carolina to Seattle, Washington have joined the movement, and a sister organization, Bee Campus USA was launched. For plenty of good information and stories, along with excellent resources, be sure to visit http://www.beecityusa.org .
This is the final post in our pollinator series written by Diane Almond, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer and Master Beekeper.