UMass Amherst Campus Pollinator Garden Nurtures Bees, Butterflies, Bats and Birds (with Video)

AMHERST, Mass. – Four Stockbridge School of Agriculture students, with campus landscape management staff, teamed up this past summer to create a new pollinator garden on campus, part of President Obama’s national effort to offer bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and even bats a nearly year-round source of food, water and shelter. Many pollinator species, which are essential to agricultural sustainability, have suffered population declines and are at risk around the world.

The new garden, located on the north side of Governors Drive near the North Pleasant Street rotary on campus, is registered with the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, a national campaign enlisting national, regional, conservation and gardening groups to support the President’s “executive strategy to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators.”

The national goal is to “increase nectar and pollen providing landscapes of every size in order to address one of the significant threats to pollinator health, the dearth and degradation of forage for pollinators,” and to count 1 million such locations across the United States.

The students are Amanda Tessier, a Stockbridge School senior in sustainable horticulture with a focus on business from Vernon, Vt., Tierney Bocsi, a graduate student in environmental conservation from Methuen, Sandy Olesin, a senior in sustainable horticulture from Princeton and Evan Lunetta, a senior in urban forestry from Francestown, N.H. They worked with Pam Monn, assistant director of building and grounds and supervisor of landscape management, and horticulture technical assistant Kathy Dion on the project.

Non-native plant species harm pollinators by choking out native host plants on which they rely, so the students used mostly native perennial plants in the garden. The students planted the garden in early summer and were able to establish about 36 different perennial flowering plants and shrubs before the town’s water ban took effect. It needs no watering, but includes something that should bloom almost every month of the growing season, they say.

Garden placement was carefully planned to allow people with bee-sting allergies to avoid it, while keeping it close enough to campus so people on their lunch breaks can reach it in a few minutes to enjoy the shade and beautiful blooms.

In their garden proposal to landscape management, the students point out that pollinators such as solitary and colonial bees, bats, butterflies and hummingbirds play an important role in agriculture and in the health of the environment, but many face a severe lack of food and shelter.

Associate professor of horticulture Susan Han of the Stockbridge School, an advisor to the students, says, “It is delightful to see Sandy and Amanda applying the knowledge they learned from the Global Issues in Applied Biology class when designing this pollinator garden on campus. The garden is not only beautifully designed, the selection of native perennials will allow the garden to thrive for many years to come. Congratulations on a job well done!”

Landscape management staff used New England bluestone reclaimed from another campus project to make an ADA-accessible walkway through the pollinator garden, and created a rock-lined watering area where bees and butterflies can safely get a drink without the risk of falling into a deep pool.

Monn says the campus’ landscape management department, a part of Physical Plant, has been creating and caring for an increasing variety of garden beds, planters and trees across campus. “We are in our sixth year of working with the Stockbridge School to have students complete their internship on campus with landscape management. We have worked with students from turf management, arboriculture and horticulture in the past. This newest garden will support numerous plant species at the same time as it will help the bees and butterflies and create yet another beautiful space on campus for people to visit.” 

Grad student Bocsi, who is also a communication contact liaison for landscape management, says she and her fellow students plan to coordinate with staff from the state Department of Energy Resources so UMass Amherst can serve as a resource for other groups who want to start pollinator gardens in the area.

She adds that anumber of clubs including the UMass Amherst Beekeeping Club, student-run Gardenshare garden and Permaculture Initiative are also expected to contribute further to the new garden and may help in adding more pollinator gardens on campus in the future.

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