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Margaret: Welcome, Kim. I think we all need a pollinator victory garden, don’t we? Especially after the winter. I tell you, I’d like to see some of the guys buzzing around.
Kim: Very, very soon.
Margaret: Yes. So, I should say before we get started that we’ll have a book giveaway on A Way to Garden with the transcript of this show, so people can come and get all the details and more links and pictures and enter the book giveaway.
So, I guess the place to start is the basics, like why, to your mind, native is important and in your work, how do you define what native means? Because over the years I’ve heard many, many definitions, and it’s evolved, and I’m just interested to see where you are on that to start.
Kim: Sure. Yes, It can be very confusing to people that are trying to make the transition to native, to figure out what the heck that means. So I always default to the federal executive order, as scintillating as that sounds.
Kim: And they define native species as plants and animals that occur naturally, either presently or historically in any ecosystem in the U.S.
So how do I use that? Well, I try to apply this to regional ecosystems, to use a geographic qualifier with the word “native.” So our best practice would be to garden with plants that are native to our particular county or area. And again, they would have to be properly adapted to our site, because not all sites are the same. And then we might have a broader definition, “native to the Northeast,” or so on and so on.
So why is this important? It comes down to one simple word: “evolution.” The evolutionary interconnections between plants and animals and sometimes between plants themselves are really, really important. And I think the poster child for this over the last decade is the monarch butterfly and its obligate larval host plant milkweeds [below], the hundred-plus species of milkweeds in the Americas. But there’s so many other connections that sometimes we just don’t even know about that make native plants particularly important. But my book covers, I don’t know, probably 10 points of why natives are important.
plant lists and so forth…. we can come to the website and find access to databases of plants, no matter where we live.
Kim: Right. I have a lot of regional lists in addition to what you see in the book. There are a lot of regional lists of pollinator plants that cover North America.
But I really encourage folks to do a little research. Just don’t blindly look at a list. So get a reference, and understand kind of where that’s taking you. And then, please, investigate and join your local native plant society. Where you are, it would be the Native Plant Trust. Where I am, it’s the Native Plant Center of New York.
And there are so many great native plant organizations that have regional plant lists on our website. New Jersey is a case in point. California has a fantastic website with native plants. So do a little digging, is my answer. There’s no one-size-fits-all here.
Margaret: And since I have readers and listeners all over the place, I have done a little digging and I have a list. And what I’ll do is, that it involves some of the ones like Calflora and the New York state, the flora of New York State, the plant atlas, and some other ones, comparable ones, around the country.
Margaret: So what I’ll do is, since we’re talking about it with the link with the transcript of this show, I’ll give a link to that. Obviously I haven’t done every single one. [More on how to find plants that are native to your area.]
But I love your suggestion. Just like with birders, people say, “Well, how can I learn about this? How can I learn about that?” And I’m like, “Go to your local bird club’s website. Go to a meeting.” You know what I mean? It’s the best way to find out, from other people who are into it in your area, right?
Kim: And I have a lot of resource websites and books on “The Pollinator Victory Garden” part of my website to help readers kind of get to the right resource.
Margaret: Good. So we’ll give all those good links. O.K., so now we sort of set the stage; that’s what we’re talking about. So we’re talking about local. And even though many plants are native to the United States, to other regions, something that’s a prairie plant, that’s not native to the Northeast, so it’s not native for me and so forth. So matching to your …
So, now that we’ve kind of established that, as we walk around our yards this spring, we gardeners—and as you do with clients, prospective clients or established clients you’re visiting again—where are some of the spots in the landscape, as you’re walking around doing a consult or whatever, that you are looking to find, to sort of transform into more native-heavy areas? Are there places you’re on the lookout for because you have this expertise?
native plant society. Go to volunteer events, for example, plant sales in the spring. We’re just getting into that season. There are so many native plants sales where knowledgeable people help you choose the right plants and get you a little bit further down the road with this. [Find yours: a list of state and Canadian native plant societies.]
Margaret: Yes. So it’s not all about adding plants. The book, your approach, it’s not all about just adding more plants. It’s also about other sort of ecosystem-supporting cultural tactics, like, for example, not using chemicals. Very important.
Margaret: So, some of us are starting our spring cleanup, or maybe in warmer zones than you and I are in, they’ve already started. You have, toward the end of the book, of page with some eco-beneficial cultural tips for each season. And I just thought we could kind of go over some of the spring ones to get us off to a smart eco-beneficial kind of start.
Margaret: So let’s talk about some of the ways that you would approach cleanup that might be a little different from the old days.
mourning cloak butterfly that can overwinter as an adult in leaf litter. It has a chemical in its body that’s like antifreeze and it can actually survive that way.
Margaret: Yes, or under a little bark, even. Sometimes under a little bark. It might hide under some bark on the tree. Yes.
Kim: Yes, that too. But that that leaf litter, there are lots of critters in an immature stage or sometimes in a mature stage that are really crucial for healthy ecosystems.
And then think in the spring, when migrating birds are coming back and they are looking for food, and for all of us who know and love Doug Tallamy’s work and his book “Bringing Nature Home,” we’ve learned that like 96 percent of land birds feed insects to their young.
Doug Tallamy’s new book, a lot of it is about that, about how we can kind of create this “Homegrown National Park” by all contributing our small piece.
So, I know that you do a podcast, and one of your interviews, I think it was in December 2019, was with the founder of Bee City USA. [More about the Bee City USA initiative on the Xerces Society website.]
Kim: Yes. Phyllis Stiles.
Xerces Society is a fantastic resource for one of those. That’s a nonprofit organization that’s akin to … I’ve heard it described as the counterpart to Audubon, but for invertebrates.
But get signage in your landscape where people can see it, and get that message out that you’re gardening differently, you’re gardening with a purpose.
And then of course, sharing your garden. Have garden parties, provide opportunities for people to kind of see how this works. And find some volunteer opportunities, at your local church or school, etc., that maybe has some vacant area that you could help turn into a pollinator garden.
And then we can take it even further, like is going on now in the Northeast with the Pollinator Pathway movement, where throughout Westchester County and a good part of Fairfield County, Connecticut, different municipalities are joining the Pollinator Pathways, and you can get your particular landscape on the map. And there’s a big push to educate, inform, and assist folks in doing that.
Margaret: We’re short on time, but there’s a great appendix at the back of the book, which is kind of a short course, “10 Tips for a Thriving Pollinator Victory Garden.” We’ve covered most of them, and here they all are in detail.
But thank you so much, Kim. I think it’s such an important message. I’ll also give links, by the way, to Bee City USA, which I want to learn more about. Thanks for the tip on that, and thank you for making the time today.
Kim: Well, thank you so much for having me, Margaret. It’s been my pleasure.
(Photo credit: All photos from “The Pollinator Victory Garden” courtesy of Kim Eierman, used with permission.)
enter to win ‘the pollinator victory garden’
Kim Eierman’s “The Pollinator Victory Garden” for one lucky reader. All you have to do to enter is answer this question in the comments box below:
Do you know your local (or county, or state) native plant society? Have you ever visited its website, or better yet, gone to a plat sale or program there?
No answer or feeling shy? Just say something like “count me in” and I will, but an answer is even better. I’ll pick a random winner after entries close at midnight Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Good luck to all.
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