October Community Member Spotlight: Kris Snowman-Shelley
Updated: Nov 16, 2022
Throughout the fall, thousands of monarch butterflies migrate to central Mexico to hibernate for the winter. In spring and summer, a portion call New England home. According to the Center of Biological Diversity, monarch populations have declined 85% in two decades due to development, a changing climate, herbicide use, and lack of habitat.
To support the species and other native pollinators that are also on the decline, Kris Snowman-Shelley of Walpole, decided to transform a section of her yard into a thriving pollinator garden.
Kris moved to the area at the age of five, when her father took a job as a doctor at Cheshire Medical Center (at the time the Elliott Community Hospital). Prior to retiring several years ago, she was an elementary school teacher for over 25 years. She taught kindergarten, first, and second grade students at Fuller, Symonds, and Marlborough Schools.
Kris looks back on her teacher career fondly and admits to coming in and out of retirement before the pandemic to go back to teaching.
Her husband Lew also grew up in the area, with generations of his family calling the Monadnock Region home. Lew worked for the Student Conservation Association for 20 years, and founded SnowHawk LLC, a trail design and construction company.
Kris first learned about the Cheshire County Conservation District (CCCD)’s Conservation Opportunity Fund in 2020, the first year of the grant opportunity. The Conservation Opportunity Fund provides funding for owners of small tracts of land who are interested in improving the wildlife habitat on their property. This program is an annual opportunity to support environmental stewardship and the ecological integrity of Cheshire County, NH.
She decided to wait until 2021 to apply and took time to think through a plan for developing a small pollinator garden. On making the decision to apply, Kris noted, “We’ve been involved with being very supportive of conservation and conservation organizations for decades, at the local, regional, and national level. It’s become more important for us to support local efforts because we’ve seen changes in growth and development for this area, so we have really wanted to increase our involvement in conservation”.
The time she took to create a plan paid off, and Kris’s proposal received funding in late Winter 2021. She and Lew began site preparation for the garden in Spring 2021. During the site preparation process, CCCD conducted a site visit to the property offering ideas and support.
Utilizing an excavator, the couple dug out a layer of grass which was replanted in another section of their yard. Kris and Lew designed the garden to be an 8x8 foot circle with four garden beds in each corner.
Kris kneels on excavated garden site. Image Credit: Kris Snowman-Shelley
They built up the beds with composted soil and spread pea stone down for a pathway to run in between the beds. To create a low maintenance garden, they laid down garden fabric to keep weeds out. The site preparation took 2-3 days.
The most time-consuming aspect of the project was choosing plants for the garden and planting, which took Kris about 2 weeks. She reflected on the process noting, “It was amazing to learn so much about the different plants”. She purchased her native plants at Walker Farm in Putney, VT, as well as a native plant kit through Northeast Pollinator Plants (NEPP) online.
Garden with soil in beds. Image Credit: Kris Snowman-Shelley
Kris was careful to choose plants native to New England and diverse plants which would bloom at different times throughout the seasons. This would ensure supporting as many pollinators as possible and would also ensure a gorgeous bloom throughout the year. Following planting, the CCCD team recommended using straw as mulch, as it would help the plants retain moisture and would stay in place during rain events.
First plantings with mulch down in garden. Image Credit: Kris Snowman-Shelley
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Blazing Star (Leatris)
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
Aster in bloom. Image Credit: Kris Snowman-Shelley
Kris notes that despite this year’s drought, the garden is thriving with minimal weeds, and some plants have grown to be taller than her! On the success of the garden she shared, ‘We’ve had some great success… it did really well in the very beginning. We had so many bees and butterflies almost immediately once the plants bloomed”. She notes that the garden requires little maintenance, other than removing new native plant seedlings which are beginning to multiply from the original plantings.
Blazing star in bloom with bee. Image Credit: Kris Snowman-Shelley
Monarch in garden. Image Credit: Kris Snowman-Shelley
In conversation, Kris reflected, “The pollinators were just in heaven, with all of the flowers that were blooming”. From her pollinator garden, Kris has seen bees, fritillary butterflies, monarchs, foxes, wild turkeys, and more! On one occasion, she saw 5 monarch caterpillars on a single butterfly weed! Kris enjoys observing and notes that the garden is a peaceful spot. In reflecting on the project, she said, “All in all, it has been a great experience”.
Monarch on Butterfly Weed. Image Credit: Kris Snowman-Shelley
Kris encourages community members to apply, “If they have any interest in creating an area for pollinators, definitely apply for the grant. Build something for them, it’s just so important to have these pollinators”. She added, “Lew and I are also very glad to have people contact us and come and visit the garden and talk about our process that we went through and to see how successful and easy it was to start small and have those great results. We are still learning and that is always a good thing” (Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch with Kris Snowman-Shelley).
Garden in bloom. Image Credit: Kris Snowman-Shelley
Kris explains that the Conservation Opportunity Fund is unique in that you do not need a background in gardening or conservation to apply, and it is so important to support local conservation. She stated, “Anything we can do to support conservation and encouraging people to do something like this on their property, to encourage pollinators to come to the area more frequently. There are so many benefits to having that type of a garden anywhere, but especially to support the pollinators right there in their own front yard. It’s the best thing ever”.
She adds, “At this point, in our world and life, it’s really important to have the ability to create something like that for the benefit of conservation and supporting organizations that really promote that”.
Kris stands in front of her garden in bloom. Image Credit: Kris Snowman-Shelley
Applications for the 2023 Conservation Opportunity Fund will be available on November 1st, Learn more about CCCD’s Conservation Opportunity Fund, here: https://www.cheshireconservation.org/conservation-opportunity-fund