Meet Laura and Cary: Pollinator Newbies Turned Enthusiasts!
Laura and Cary are two busy and active professional women who wanted to help restore a piece of the land they live on. The area had been a gravel, sand, pine forest and largely ignored since the 1990s when it was closed as an operating farm. Laura and Cary approached Peter Hansel, then President of Filtrine, the owner of the property about the company’s intentions for the parcel. He invited them to develop a proposal. Cary and Laura created a vision for the property that included regeneration of the land, sustainability principles, and climate responsibility. He agreed and a new project was born.
Laura loved gardening with British cottage perennial plants and Cary was a home vegetable and fruit gardener but neither knew anything about pollinator gardens. Both came from regions with pretty good soil so when they came to Keene and this soil-poor landscape, they discovered that the plants would not grow easily until the soil was restored
Several months before they applied for the grant, a friend and Antioch graduate introduced them to Hugelkultur- a German technique that involves placing logs, branches, leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost, or whatever other biomass you have available and topping with soil. Since there was abundant wood slash around from prior logging at the property, they identified some areas and using wood, manure, & straw created a few sites.
Cary spent some time listening to the land to try and learn what it was asking for and what it needed. Did it want to return to farming production or something else? Through quiet meditation and a timely landing of a monarch butterfly on her arm, she felt the land wanted hope. This inspired her and Laura on their journey towards pollinators. Additionally, Cary’s mom had been a volunteer with Monarch Watch and influenced her daughter.
They then heard about the Cheshire County Conservation District's Conservation Opportunity Fund. They applied and were awarded a grant to start a pollinator garden. The team from CCCD and NRCS visited them to see the area and discuss options. The site they chose did not have great soil but they add manure, wood chips and hay (that they learned from Hugelkultur) and left it over the winter.
The pre-meeting was critical to their success. They received a lot of material about plants, where to buy them and learned about the Smart Phone Ap “Seek” by iNaturalist to help identify plants. One goal of the project was to inventory existing pollinators and keep them wherever possible. They also learned how important good site preparation is to the long-term success.
The site lay over the winter and come early summer, they were ready to plant. Using plugs (small plants) from Nasami Farm in Massachusetts and larger plants from Allen Brothers in Vermont, they began the work of installing.
The plants thrived despite some invasion from the resident groundhog.
By August the plants were in full bloom, pollinators abound, and caterpillars were discovered.
Both Cary and Laura loved seeing monarch butterflies thriving on the plants. The milkweed, by the way, were volunteers, not planted.
When I visited in late Oct, the gardens were fading but pollinators were thriving on the New England aster and Rudbeckia. There was little doubt that this small plot of sand and gravel was now a thriving habitat for a variety of bees and other pollinators.
So what’s next? They are not stopping here. They have a site that was under plastic all winter (they are using only organic site prep techniques), prepared using Hugelkultur and they will be seeding it with a seed mix from Prairie Moon Nursery. This past summer they threw some seeds in an area they used to experiment with Hugelkultur and all the seeds thrived, so they are very optimistic for the new site. And they are in the process of clearing another site that will be prepped with plastic this winter.
Another lesson learned- when water runs off the roof, especially in the rain they had this summer, it can erode the site. Their response was to redirect water into another bed and inadvertently create a rain garden. Next year they will plant this area with wetland plants to help absorb the runoff and protect their pollinator garden.
I asked them what they’ve learned and here are their responses:
Have a site visit and listen; get resources
Prep, prep, prep site; don’t rush to planting until ready
Listen and observe, watch how the land changes and how the pollinator diversity grows
Be prepared to get hooked on planting, it is an amazing process!
Thank you, Cary and Laura. Amazing women and an amazing site now buzzing with pollinators and excitement!