Creating a Pollinator Garden at the Dawes Arboretum
Nestled in the rolling hills of Licking County, Ohio is an environmental treasure – the Dawes Arboretum. Within this historic landmark site, seven Licking County Master Gardener Volunteers planned and developed a Pollinator Garden featuring native plants to serve the declining population of pollinators. They also set a goal to provide educational programs about pollinator needs for the 250,000 youth and adults who annually visit The Arboretum.
Dismayed by the alarming decline in the monarch and bee populations along with the loss of pollinator habitat, a small group of Licking County Master Gardener Volunteers (MGVs ) decided to create a certified model pollinator habitat. The habitat was designed to raise community awareness of this environmental concern and to inspire home gardeners to become part of the solution.
The work began in earnest with two directives:
- Talk to staff at the Arboretum about this shared vision
- Engage in serious study about ways to meet the needs of pollinators.
The administrators at the Arboretum were enthusiastic. They gave the volunteers the freedom to plan, create, and manage this new pollinator habitat. The MGVs met weekly to share their research of authoritative books as well as web resources including The Pollinator Partnership,The Xerces Society, and The Ohio State University Bee Lab. The group also attended lectures, seminars, and conferences regarding pollinators and habitat design. A wealth of information was gathered on how to attract pollinators, the varieties of pollinators, the importance of a diverse habitat design, the significance of native plants, bloom succession, maintenance, host plants and nesting sites.
Armed with their new knowledge, the MGVs set the goals of the project:
- Create a model pollinator garden featuring native plants that meets the criteria to be a certified Pollinator Habitat
- Provide educational opportunities for adults and children to learn about the importance of pollinators and ways to welcome pollinators into their own landscapes
The Arboretum personnel and the MGVs met to review expectations for this collaborative partnership. The Arboretum staff determined that the volunteers could have a prime site near the Visitor Center. An MGV work plan was created that included clearing the space, purchasing pollinator plants, planting, weeding, and enhancing the habitat. The Arboretum plan included supplying funds for plants (initially $800), providing mulch, composting weeds, assisting with watering, creating signage, printing educational pamphlets, and promoting this MGV project in their publications.
The 300 square foot space was planted with more than thirty native species. The native plants were chosen based on the favorite bloom colors of bees and other pollinators, bloom time successions, and host plants that support egg-laying and larval growth. The shape of plant blossoms was also considered. Several non-natives and annuals were included to provide additional nectar and pollen. The plants were carefully arranged in clusters to attract pollinators of various sizes and different flight patterns – all to make nectar and pollen gathering more accessible. Rocks, weathered logs, and bunch grasses were added to meet the needs of pollinators for shelter, nesting, and overwintering. Wide, shallow dishes were placed in the garden for water. No pesticides or fertilizers were used. Paths and garden seating were added to draw visitors in to observe the pollinators at work. Hundreds of hours were spent planning, planting, and tending the garden. Records were kept to note the success of some plants and the need to add or replace others.
This new garden at The Arboretum meets The Xerces Society criteria and is an official Pollinator Habitat. It also meets the criteria to be a Monarch Way Station. MGVs work in the garden weekly and share information with the many visitors, young and old, who meander through the garden. Visitors enjoy the beauty of the native plants and watching the pollinators at work. Their interests spark opportunities for MGVs to share anecdotes and information about pollinators including how to add native plants into their own landscapes to support pollinators. MGVs have conducted garden tours and programs for all ages on topics such as Using Native Plants to Attract Pollinators, Gardening for Pollinators across the Seasons, and Welcoming Bees and Butterflies to Garden. The garden provides a venue for The Arboretum staff to offer educational programs and Monarch Butterfly Tagging and Releasing, a favorite of the public. As part of their training, MGV interns visit the garden to learn about native plants and pollinator conservation.
Thanks to support from The Dawes Arboretum and the ongoing commitment of the Licking County, Ohio MGVs, the garden will be a permanent attraction for visitors to The Arboretum. New plantings, signage and educational materials will be added over time to enhance the beauty and effectiveness of this model pollinator garden.
Luke Messinger, Executive Director of The Dawes Arboretum stated, “The garden provides education opportunities to over 250,000 visitors to the Arboretum each year. The potential of this garden truly would not have been realized without the vision, leadership and hard work of Master Gardener Volunteers who created and care for this unique garden. We are truly thankful for their efforts and ongoing support.