Bee boulevard: An urban corridor becomes a haven for native pollinators

By Claire Thompson   Thanks to www.Grist.org

Photo by Abigail Joy.

Sarah Bergmann does not see herself as a political artist. Promoting social causes, raising awareness — that stuff doesn’t appeal to her. But she likes asking questions. Doing so, she says, “allows me to learn about the world and respond to it, and do something physical based on what I learn.”

Several years ago, Bergmann, a painter by training, started asking questions about the fate of the world’s pollinators. And while she’s not an environmentalist per se, Bergmann’s art and graphic design work never stray far from the environmental sphere. To her, the complex and shifting relationships between pollinators and plants have always begged further investigation. Bergmann’s response to what she learned is a work-in-progress called the Pollinator Pathway, a mile-long corridor of pollinator-friendly, mostly native plants stretching between two green spaces in the heart of Seattle.

Bergmann chose the pathway’s two endpoints — the Seattle University campus and a lot-sized forest called Nora’s Woods — for their diverse plant life and lack of pesticides. Since building the first test garden in 2008 with the help of a small city grant, she and hundreds of volunteers have installed 16 more gardens in parking strips along the way. “It’s not just a random line of plants; it’s meant to find two existing green spaces within the city and draw a line between them,” she says.

A garden on the Pollinator Pathway.

Gardens are built with the cooperation and enthusiasm of homeowners on the corridor, who have also agreed to maintain them. They must be drought-tolerant, pesticide free, and, ideally, contain at least 70 percent native plants — though Bergmann says the project hasn’t quite hit that target yet. And of course, the plants must be appealing to bees and other pollinators. These requirements, combined with city height restrictions for parking-strip vegetation, led to a list of about 50 plants that can be part of the pathway.

Parking strips are technically city property, but homeowners take responsibility for maintaining them. For most people, that means little more than picking up trash, pulling weeds now and then, and maybe planting a few decorative bulbs. Now Bergmann’s project reinvents these spaces as both functional and beautiful — which benefits not just birds and insects, but neighborhood residents, too.

“It’s not about flipping the land and turning it into a park,” Bergmann says. “It’s about finding what’s here and working with it. How can we work human systems and natural systems together in a really coherent way?”

Photo by the Pollinator Pathway.

As Bergmann points out, the fact that some 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in urban areas represents “a real shift in the planet’s composition,” which in turn requires a shift in the way we approach landscape. Call it another aspect of the Anthropocene — we’re learning that wilderness and humanity can coexist in surprising ways. Projects like the Pollinator Pathway reimagine this relationship by showing how nature can thrive in the nooks and crannies of the city. That’s why, Bergmann explains, the pathway “doesn’t use more space than is already existing; it respects that the reason a city is sustainable is its compactness, and inserts something that makes sense into that pattern.” She likes to describe it as a “renegade park.”

Despite their critical role in keeping ecosystems functioning, pollinators in urban areas have not been the subject of much research beyond studies of small, specific areas, like individual gardens. To begin to fill the gap, the U.K.’s University of Bristol is running a three-year study investigating how city landscapes can support pollinators. Bergmann hopes the Pollinator Pathway can contribute to this small-but-growing body of knowledge: Before the gardens were planted, local high school and college students surveyed the number of pollinators already present in the neighborhood, and found virtually none. Now an entomologist from the Woodland Park Zoo monitors the gardens every week, tracking the range of pollinators that visit and which plants they prefer.

A template for a pollinator-friendly garden. Click to embiggen.

Bergmann and her network of volunteers plan to install several more gardens along the corridor this fall, but the project is far from finished. Eventually, she wants the Pollinator Pathway to be a model for other neighborhoods and cities. In the meantime, Bergmann emphasizes that you don’t have to live on the pathway to advance the larger goal of helping pollinators thrive. Anyone can follow the templates on the pathway’s website to make their own garden pollinator-friendly (although they are designed for the Pacific Northwest).

Ten Pollinator Pathways in each city in the U.S. won’t guarantee the salvation of our birds and bees and the labyrinth of life that depends on them. But it’s an approach to an ecological crisis that works with, rather than against, the human landscape — and that makes Bergmann cautiously hopeful. “I’m an optimist,” she says. “I don’t really have a lot of patience for anything else.”

Claire Thompson is an editorial assistant at Grist.

 

 

Plants in the Pollinator Pathway

Here are some of the plants you’ll find in the Pollinator Pathway. We’ve chosen a higher percentage of native plants, since they are best suited to native pollinators, but have also included non-native garden plants that many pollinators like to visit. We’ve also listed, where found, the pollinators that like them. All of these plants are well suited to planting strips and fit within Department of Transportation guidelines. (If you are planting in a strip, please take a look at their requirements before you begin).

Native Plants for a Full Sun Garden

Harvest Brodiaea

Brodiaea coronaria

Harvest Brodiaea

Attracts: butterflies

Idaho Fescue

Festuca idahoensis

Idaho Fescue

Attracts: birds, butterflies; is a host plant for Western Branded Skipper, Clouded Sulphur, and possibly the Sonora Skipper

Nodding Onion

Allium cernuum

Nodding Onion

Attracts: Hummingbirds, butterflies

Nootka Lupine

Lupinus nootkatensis

Nootka Lupine

One of several kinds of native NW lupine. They attract birds, bees and butterflies– such as larva of Silvery Blue and Persius Duskywing butterflie

Thrift

Armeria maritima

Thrift

Hands down, the cutest plant on the Pollinator Pathway. Attracts hummingbirds, bees, moths and butterflies

Tiger Lily

Lilium columbianum

Tiger Lily

Attracts: birds (including the Rufous hummingbird), bees, butterflies (specifically, the Pale Swallowtail butterfly)

Woolly Sunflower

Eriophyllum lanatum

Woolly Sunflower

Attracts: butterflies

Yarrow

Achillea millefolium

Yarrow

Attracts: Birds, bees and butterflies (is a known host plant for the Painted Lady butterfly)

Deltoid Balsamroot

Balsamorhiza deltoidea

Deltoid Balsamroot

This plant is a little more sensitive than most plants we’ve listed, but a beauty once established. Attracts: bees, butterflies

Davidson’s Penstemon

Penstemon davidsonii

Davidson’s Penstemon

Attracts: birds (specifically hummingbirds), butterflies (red admiral, common wood nymph) & bees.

Common Camas

Camas leichtlinii

Common Camas

Attracts: Butterflies & bees, including the Yellow Faced Bumblebee (Bombus vosnesenskii).

Columbia Lewisia

Lewisia columbiana

Columbia Lewisia

Attracts: Butterflies & bees.

Coastal Strawberry

Fragaria chiloensis

Coastal Strawberry

Attracts: Butterflies (including Sara Orangetips), birds

Broadleaf Stonecrop

Sedum Spathifolium

Broadleaf Stonecrop

Attracts: birds, bees and butterflies. Is a larval plant for the Brown Elfin butterfly.

Blue–eyed Grass

Sisyrinchium idahoense

Blue–eyed Grass

Songbirds eat the seeds.

Native Plants for a Mixed Sun/Shade Garden

Red Columbine

Aquilegia formosa

Red Columbine

Attracts: Attracts bees, hummingbirds and Swallowtail butterflies (such as Anise, Western Tiger and Pale Swallowtails)

Kinnikinnick

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Kinnikinnick

Attracts birds (hummingbirds to nectar, other birds to berries), bees, and butterflies (is a larval host to Brown Elfin and Hoary Elfin butterflies)

Early Blue Violet

Viola adunca

Early Blue Violet

Is a host plant to threatened Oregon Silverspot butterfly. Also host to Mormon Fritillary, Great Spangled Fritillary and Hydaspe Fritillary

Thrift

Armeria maritima

Thrift

Hands down, the cutest plant on the Pollinator Pathway. Attracts hummingbirds, bees, moths and butterflies

Yarrow

Achillea millefolium

Yarrow

Attracts: Birds, bees and butterflies (is a known host plant for the Painted Lady butterfly)

Sword Fern

Polystichum munitum

Sword Fern

Provides nest materials for birds and small mammals.

Trillium

Trillium ovatum

Trillium

Attracts bees, especially bumblebees.

Wood Sorrel

Oxalis oregana

Wood Sorrel

Oxalis oregana’s tiny white flowers attract native bees and butterflies.

Coastal Strawberry

Fragaria chiloensis

Coastal Strawberry

Attracts: Butterflies (including Sara Orangetips), birds

Low Oregon Grape

Mahonia nervosa

Low Oregon Grape

Attracts birds (such as robins, juncos, and waxwings), many bees (including Orchard Mason bees and bumblebees) and butterflies (such as Painted Lady and Brown Elfin).

Native Plants for a Shade Garden

Sword Fern

Polystichum munitum

Sword Fern

Provides nest materials for birds and small mammals.

Trillium

Trillium ovatum

Trillium

Attracts bees, especially bumblebees.

Wood Sorrel

Oxalis oregana

Wood Sorrel

Oxalis oregana’s tiny white flowers attract native bees and butterflies.

Low Oregon Grape

Mahonia nervosa

Low Oregon Grape

Attracts birds (such as robins, juncos, and waxwings), many bees (including Orchard Mason bees and bumblebees) and butterflies (such as Painted Lady and Brown Elfin).

Deer Fern

Blechum Spicant

Deer Fern

Deer fern are pollinated by the wind, not insects, but are great for wildlife-birds and small mammals use them in their nests.

Non-Native Plants for a Mixed Sun/Shade Garden

‘Wick war flame’ Heather

Calluna vulgaris ‘Wick war flame’

‘Wick war flame’ Heather

Attracts bees.

‘Firefly’ Heather

Calluna vulgaris ‘Firefly’

‘Firefly’ Heather

Attracts: bees.

English Lavender

Lavandula angustifolia

English Lavender

Attracts: bees, butterflies (including Western Tiger Swallowtail)

Blue Columbine

Aquilegia alpina

Blue Columbine

Attracts bees, hummingbirds and many Swallowtail butterflies

‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum

Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’

‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum

Attracts bees and butterflies.

Non-Native Plants for a Shade Garden

Hellebore

Helleborus

Hellebore

Attracts: bees

Non-Native Plants for a Sun Garden

Sage

Salvia nemerosa

Sage

Attracts bees

Purple Coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

Purple Coneflower

Attracts bees

‘Wick war flame’ Heather

Calluna vulgaris ‘Wick war flame’

‘Wick war flame’ Heather

Attracts bees.

‘Firefly’ Heather

Calluna vulgaris ‘Firefly’

‘Firefly’ Heather

Attracts: bees.

English Lavender

Lavandula angustifolia

English Lavender

Attracts: bees, butterflies (including Western Tiger Swallowtail)

Blue Columbine

Aquilegia alpina

Blue Columbine

Attracts bees, hummingbirds and many Swallowtail butterflies

‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum

Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’

‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum

Attracts bees and butterflies.