By Dr. Judy Stout, Mobile County Master Gardener, CoastalAlabamaGardening@gmail.com
You may be familiar with the cry, “Save the bees!” It echoes growing concern about the loss of pollinators and its possible significant impacts on agricultural crops. About 75 percent of crops (including broccoli, apples, almonds, cucumbers and others) are dependent on animal pollinators, loss of which may mean an estimated $212 billion loss in annual global economic value. Much has been published about diseases and pesticides causing near catastrophic declines in domesticated honeybees, not a native pollinator species. As dependent on them as we may have become, there are many more equally important native pollinators working for us. These include other bee species (more than 20,000 species worldwide!), butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, bats, flies and wasps. Changing climates and loss of habitat by changes in land use have seriously challenged these species, wiping out many of them in some areas.
Recognizing the importance of habitat to local pollinator species, Mobile Master Gardeners continue to improve habitat availability and educate others in ways to also restore habitat on private property. In 2017, a Habitat Restoration grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Gulf of Mexico Program, allowed Master Gardeners to add and maintain pollinator host plants at the Dream Garden of the Jon Archer Agricultural Center on Schillinger Road (described in a previous Ask a Master Gardener article), and to initiate a restoration project at the Dauphin Island Elementary School teaching garden.
At the Dream Garden, pollinator host plants have been added in various garden settings with native species, including a shade garden, an herb garden, a typical Southern “cottage garden” and even in the food garden. The garden is maintained by Master Gardener volunteers and is always open to the public. Occasional open houses further emphasize suitable species for Mobile yards and gardens.
The teaching garden at Dauphin Island Elementary was initially designed and constructed in 2013 as a Master Gardener certification project by a teacher at the school. However, construction of three modernization and expansion projects on the school grounds destroyed most of the garden and its utilization for teaching. Final relocation of the “Little Red School House” ended land disturbance on the site and allowed for rehabilitation and additions to the garden.
The school project has succeeded because of EPA financial support and tremendous efforts by numerous volunteers. Master Gardeners have provided the core of volunteers, but significant contributions have been made by others. The Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS), of course, makes the grounds available and MCPSS staff helped to remove overgrown trees and shrubs, deliver topsoil, expand plumbing for irrigation and maintain the grassy areas of the garden on a routine basis.
The town of Dauphin Island also provided soils, crews and equipment to help prepare the ground for planting and pathways. Alabama Power volunteers helped with the heavy lifting of removing landscape timbers, preparing flower beds, plantings and installing over 100 feet of fencing to protect the garden and students using the garden.
Volunteers from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Garden Ladies have assisted since the beginning and continue, alongside Master Gardeners, to maintain the garden and establish seasonal plantings.
At the school, six raised beds are used each semester for each grade to plant a fall food garden and a spring/summer flower garden of annuals. Food plants are left through the winter to flower, providing critical pollinator food and habitat when not much else is available. Who knew that cabbages and carrots make flowers!
Students and faculty enjoyed samples of food such as salad, collard greens, carrots and Brussels sprouts from their own gardens. Most students and many teachers did not know where the sprouts they eat come from until growing their own!
The garden’s annual flowers are crazy with abundant numbers and types of pollinators when students return to school in the fall. Classes often walk through the garden, and students bring parents and grandparents to see their work and explain the plants and pollinators.
During the fourth-grade unit on plant and animal interactions, the garden and class exercises on pollination provide excellent examples. About one-fifth of the students participate in a monthly student Garden Club. All of these activities are facilitated by Master Gardeners and Sea Lab volunteers.
During Dauphin Island’s seasonal plant sales and giveaways, Master Gardeners distribute information on appropriate pollinator support plants, native species and salt-tolerant plants suitable for the island. Visitors can see many of the plants at the school garden or at the Dream Garden in Mobile.
Mobile Botanical Gardens’ volunteer staff and equipment were also used to produce professional signage located in both gardens. These signs offer details of each plant’s scientific and common name and are carefully coded with icons to indicate the pollinator types that make use of the plant. Visitors use this information to create shopping lists of plants to purchase.
Many of the pollinators’ favorite plants are then available at the fall and spring plant sales at the Botanical Gardens where Master Gardeners can assist with plant selection.
Other helpful references: blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2018/08/03/honeybees-pollinator-really-going-extinct/#.XWuWoCjYrDc
ANR-2419 Protecting Pollinators in Urban Areas: Use of Flowering Plants: store.aces.edu/ItemDetail.aspx?ProductID=19331
ANR-1290 Butterfly Gardens: store.aces.edu/ItemDetail.aspx?ProductID=14180
Gardening Events for Your Calendar:
What: Dr. Stephen Bridge, Executive Director of the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem
When: Saturday, Sept. 14 (10 a.m. – noon)
Where: Cornerstone Gardens, 1066 Government St.; parking available, children welcome
For information: Call 251-377-2577
What: Mobile Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Sale
When: Oct. 18 – 20
Where: Mobile Botanical Gardens, 51 Museum Drive
Contact: Email email@example.com or call 251-342-0555, ext. 2
What: Alabama Master Gardener State Conference|
When: March 30 – April 1, 2020
Current activity: Inviting sponsors and donors to participate
Contact: Email AMGA2020Mobile@gmail.com for information about sponsorships and donations for the conference.
Master Gardener Helpline: 877-252-4769, or send your gardening questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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