New Garden at Pratt House Sets the Table for Pollinators
Two defunct plots for community gardening behind the Pratt House in Essex will soon be revitalized as a hotbed for native pollinators this spring.
When approached by the Essex Garden Club and Sustainable Essex Committee with the idea, Essex Historical Society Director Melissa Josefiak could only think of the benefits.
“[They] approached us to ask, ‘Could we be interested?’” said Josefiak. “We will be able to collaborate with so many different organizations and have the Pratt field be used, so it was an easy yes for us.”
The project, a joint effort of the Essex Garden Club, Sustainable Essex Committee, and Essex Historical Society, along with the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Government, will create a pesticide-free garden that provides a source of nourishment for native pollinators in each season.
Once established, the garden will be a stop for birds, bats, butterflies, bees, and thousands of species that transfer pollen, along a corridor of similar gardens, or pollinator pathways.
“This is one more area in town where we’re excited to be trying to help our native pollinators survive. Obviously, that’s a benefit to all of us, and who doesn’t love a pretty garden?” said Pamela Peters, first vice president of the Essex Garden Club.
A neighboring pollinator garden was created in 2016 at Cross Lots, an Essex Land Trust property. For migratory insects and small mammals, these gardens can be an ideal resting stop. For native pollinators, they provide the essential ingredients for life and procreation.
“The native pollinators have very small colonies that forage in a small, localized area,” said Adam Fuller, president of the Eastern Connecticut Beekeepers Association. “Some of these pollinators are single reproductive females that are making a colony in a stem of a weed. Her world is your backyard. Her world is that pollinator garden. Her world is very small and easily disrupted.”
Pesticide use is one example of how the habitat of a native pollinator is disturbed.
“If you have a colony of bees that is a few individuals, it’s very easy to wipe out that particular species of bee,” said Fuller. “In that case, pesticides can be far more damaging to native pollinators than to the honeybees.”
Habitat loss is another threat to native pollinators.
“Our landscape has become so fragmented, with industrial farming, urbanization and the use of pesticides, it’s disrupted the plant and pollinator interactions resulting in a decline of pollinators,” said Sustainable Essex Co-chair Susan Abbot. “It’s important to raise awareness and help [pollinators] have a connected landscape.”
The role of pollinators in helping to produce crops for human consumption is also an important one. Of the 1,400 crop plants grown around the world, 80 percent require pollination, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
With such dependency on their role in the food chain, the plight of pollinators has become an issue of national concern. Several actions have been taken on a federal level to protect pollinators and grass roots efforts on a local level are making a difference.
The concept of a pollinator pathway, on which the Pratt House garden will be based, originated with West Coast artist and designer Sarah Bergmann in 2008. Bergmann created the first pollinator pathway in Seattle, Washington, using grassy areas within the city for native plants that attract pollinators.
In 2016, the efforts of Donna Merrill, a Wilton resident, led to the establishment of pollinator pathways in several Connecticut towns. Her efforts continue to influence others, from individuals to municipal and statewide environmental groups.
Sustainable CT Community Outreach Manager Abe Hilding-Salorio said he’s seen an uptick in applications related to pollinator gardens through the organization’s community match fund, which provides monetary support for sustainability related projects.
Projects such as a pollinator garden can also be an asset for towns seeking to pursue points for certification as a sustainable community, he said.
Chester resident Felise Cressman, an avid gardener and environmentalist, is currently leading an effort to create a pollinator pathway from Old Saybrook to Haddam, named the Pollinator Pathway of the Lower Connecticut River Valley. Although it’s just getting started, Cressman is working to map pollinator friendly gardens, whether in a backyard or stewarded by town-run conservation groups, or those on town-owned property.
She’s also forging connections and starting conversations among different groups like garden clubs, land trusts, and conservation commissions across seven different towns with regular meetings.
Cressman’s private garden is a testament to the difference native plants can have for pollinators.
“When I moved here, there were no birds in my yard,” said Cressman. “Now, 10 years later, there are 27 different species of pollinators in my yard.”
She applauds the efforts to create a new pollinator garden in Essex.
“I think the project in Essex is fabulous. Essex is doing more because their one land trust property already has pollinator plants. They’ve got a large group of people that can help promote it. They’re doing a fabulous job,” she said.
Although the new coronavirus pandemic has altered the schedule for completing the garden at the Pratt House, prep work will begin in April with the landscaping firm BK Services donating its time to the undertaking.
“We were going to have a big installation day, but we’re actually going to stretch that over a couple of weeks in May, [with] only two people in the garden at a time,” said Peters.
When it’s complete, volunteers from various groups in town including the land trust, garden club and historical society, will have contributed to the installation of approximately 200 plants, from 40 different species.
The plants will include hyssop and mint for native bees, milkweed for butterflies and caterpillars, and coneflowers for birds, just to name a few.
Others will be native plants from the mid-17th century, when the Pratt House was used as a residence.
“How wonderful it will be in the coming months, once allowed back in the public, to really see the garden take shape,” said Josefiak.
The Essex Historical Society intends to incorporate the garden into its programming, highlighting it as part of the organization’s attractions.
“How grateful we are of the town organizations that are collaborating on this project. It’s a natural fit for the garden club, the land trust, Sustainable Essex, and now the historical society, because we are all about a sense of place,” adds Josefiak.
Anyone interested in getting involved with the installation of the pollinator garden at the Pratt House can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations, whether they are funds, in-kind, or volunteer time, are appreciated.