by Debbie Boutelier, Past President of Herb Society of America & GreenBridgesTM Chair
As people we connect with other people, places and things every day. We have powerful relationship connections that we don’t even think about. But, these essential connections nurture our emotional and physical health. We need our connections.
Nature is an important connection we may not think about – the sun coming up in the morning, the birds singing as you walk to work, the foods you eat, the mosquito buzzing around your head, the flowers that smell so nice in your yard, and so on. These connections, especially among people, plants and pollinators are crucial to our very existence. We must nurture them so they – and we — will flourish.
Until recently many people considered insects to be pests. But they are so much more: they are pollinators and without one-third of the world’s crop production would disappear. Bees and butterflies are the most commonly known pollinators but wasps, flies, moths, ants, beetles, hummingbirds and other birds and even bats are responsible for pollinating plants. Every time one of these creatures visits a flower to gather nectar, they also gather pollen which they move from plant to plant as they forage. Plants and pollinators need each other.
People need the plant-pollinator connection for food. And so, people must nurture plants and pollinators to perpetuate the cycle and help all members flourish. There are easy things each person can do to support this successful connection.
- Cultivate a native plant. The most widely accepted native plant definition classifies native plants as species growing in the United States before European settlement. HSA’s unique perspective is herbs, so we advocate incorporating native herbs in your gardens. Native herbs offer a multitude of uses and advantages. In addition to the nectar, many herbs also serve as a host plant to provide food for insect larva. Native herb plants come in all sizes: trees, shrubs, garden plants and even groundcovers. An abundant and diverse array of flowering plants is the most important element of a quality pollinator habitat. Native plants are considered the best choice because of their abundance of nectar and pollen in addition to being low-maintenance, generally pest-free, drought-tolerant, erosion-control, sources of food and shelter for wildlife and naturally beautiful.
- Choose plants that will bloom over a long period. Have some plants that bloom early, some mid-season and some late season to provide pollinators with a continuous food supply. Don’t be in a hurry to clean up your garden in the fall. Leave the seed heads to provide food over the winter.
- Provide watering stations. Fill a shallow container with fresh water for the birds and other pollinators year round.
- Shrink the size of your lawn. Plant native trees and shrubs in large beds to support pollinators and to reduce the workload of maintaining a large lawn.
- Reduce the chemical pesticides and herbicides used on your yard or consider going organic. Not only will the pollinators benefit, but so will the children and pets. A healthy garden with the appropriate plant species and an abundance of pollinators will support natural beneficial insects—reducing the need for pest control.
Consider getting your yard certified as a GreenBridgesTM garden. The Herb Society of America offers our GreenBridgesTM program to create opportunities for the safe passage of plants and pollinators. Visit the website at herbsociety.org for more information and an application. Once your garden is certified as a GreenBridgesTM garden, you will receive a plaque for your garden, a certificate, newsletters with information about native herbs, and have access to a member’s only Facebook page.
Together we can create a network of GreenBridgesTM gardens across the country that will nurture the people, plant and pollinator connections that we strive to protect. From the small garden of containers on a patio to the large home garden, every garden is important in the network and can offer respite, food and water to the pollinators and plants.