When we began the process of enhancing the Pollinator Preserve in 2021, we knew it was going to be a journey of discovery. One year later, we can see what we accomplished, celebrate the successes and apply what we learned when it comes to design. We have focused on solutions for the challenges we faced. Whether the issue is lighting, insect pests or hungry rabbits, we are making a few changes this year.
Starting with some successes, we must begin with the gardens in the Pollinator Preserve outside of the netting. The perennial plants returned larger and healthier this spring; some already needing to be divided one year later. Some of the plants visited most often by the pollinators seeking nectar were mountain mint, cardinal flower, joe-pye weed, beard tongue, phlox ‘Jeana’ and salvia ‘black and blue.’ The host plants needed for the caterpillars, such as milkweed and fennel, did their job of enticing the butterflies to lay eggs.
Our Pop-up Explainer Stations were well attended, and we offered something for everyone, from the youngest children to the experienced gardeners. The butterflies, bees and hummingbirds were in abundance, fascinating our visitors and volunteers.
We also face some challenges. Our biggest issues are caused by the netting over the Butterfly House. First, 50% of the light is blocked by the netting, and most nectar plants require full sun for optimal flowering. We recently invested in some large pots which we can rotate in and out of the Butterfly House every week or two, allowing these plants to soak in the sunshine and strengthen periodically. Secondly, the netting prevents natural predators from entering the Butterfly House to control insect pests such as aphids. This leads to plant disease and other issues. Over the winter, the sassafras was removed, allowing additional sunlight and airflow to one dark corner. We will also carefully monitor the plants for insects, mildew and other issues and control these early by handpicking insects and replacing plants when needed.
Let’s not forget the rabbits who favor the asters, crocus, pentas and zinnias. We consider these especially important nectar sources and will provide additional protection for these plants in 2022.
Additional design changes include vertical fencing on which native honeysuckle vines (Lonicera sempervirens) are growing. Inside the Butterfly House, the new viewing stands will allow easier observation and a more natural setting for the caterpillars.
In summary, we strive to take a very artificial environment created by the netting and make it as natural and safe as possible for plants and insects. Everyone enjoys fluttering butterflies and munching caterpillars, and owe them a healthy home through planning, balancing the number of inhabitants, and actively monitoring the issues and needs daily.
We continue to spend time talking with our volunteers and experts in the field. We read through scientific articles and visit websites for both inspiration and information. What you see today is the culmination of many months of work on lists and processes. To read more about our journey, visit our Blogs and Videos. You can find the most current list of plants that we installed or salvaged from the previous landscape by downloading our Pollinator Preserve Plant List. Gardens are an ever-evolving space; that’s part of what makes them so exciting! We will continue to update this pdf, adding and refining information. We hope that you will find something interesting to plant in your garden, whether through the plant list or by visiting in person.