Plentiful Pollinators


A few years ago I designed the Pollinator Garden Beds at our local community garden. The spot used to be a baseball field for a grade school. The soil was sand over compacted clay soil.  In other words, a hot mess.  My family and a few volunteers from the Master Gardener program at the University of Illinois Extension helped layout the design, amend the soil and put in perennials.  Half of the perennials were transplants from the gardens of fellow gardeners.

BEFORE . . . 

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There is a saying for new gardens, “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap.”  This is the third summer for our pollinator beds, and oh how they’ve leaped.  They have filled in so nicely that there is nearly no for mulch.

AND AFTER . . . 


There is a saying about newly planted garden beds. The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they Leap. ” This is actually the third summer for our Butterfly shaped Pollinator Beds. This is their Leap Year and they did not disappoint.

Leap Year in our Pollinator Flower Garden

The perennials are all natives so they’re accustomed to our weather, if not the soil. We added mushroom compost along with peat moss at the start, which binds sandy soil and loosens clay soil for proper water retention and drainage. We gave the new plants some organic fertilizer to help them until their roots were deep enough to make the best of the funky soil. Now, two years on, the beds no longer need any help from us humans. They’re nearly care free. The weeding is minimal because the plants have filled in so well. We only cut back the perennials in the spring to make way for new growth and dead head spent blooms when we feel like. In return, they attract every type of pollinator, which is just what the veggies in our little community garden need to


Every size bee and wasp filled the Joe Pye Weed, Coneflowers and Phlox. The Monarchs were every where, flitting from flower to flower. Three White Moths danced around each other competing for space on a single flower. The plants were noisy and alive with movement not coming from the breeze. It was a very happy place.

Simple DIY Butterfly Garden Ideas

You don’t have to go large scale to create a lively, colorful Butterfly (aka Pollinator) Garden. It can be as easy as adding one of your favorite Perennials to an existing bed in your yard, such as a purple Coneflower. You can add planters with annuals that pollinators love, such as dwarf Zinnias and Sweet Alyssum. When choosing the spot and the plant, choose a space where the plants will get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day and choose the sun loving plants. Planting flowers for pollinators is feeding the little buggers that will provide us with food. Bees pollinate our fruit trees and bushes, our squash and cucumbers, strawberries and tomatoes, and oh so much more. Give them a few flowers, and your garden will thank you.


So Many Plants, So Little Time

Like most gardeners in the Midwest I have been waiting, and waiting and waiting for the cold damp rainy, even freezy, Spring to give way to a more mild mannered, happy to be here, Spring. Finally we have it! So it’s been a mad dash to get the goods in the gardens.  That doesn’t mean the weather has been completely cooperative, but we’re a hardy group with visions of tomatoes and peppers in our heads.


Last year was the first year at the Oak Lawn Community Garden. As one of the Master Gardener’s, I was recruited to design and help install the pollinator beds. Both are shaped like butterflies, the suggestion of a 13 year old young lady helping us on our big build out day.

Here are photos of the progression of the beds last year.

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These beds were at one time a little league baseball field behind a middle school, making it an unfriendly compacted mix of clay and sand.  Nothing a ton of peat moss and compost couldn’t fix.
Last week we picked the hottest day in May in Illinois since records have been kept to weed the beds and put in some Zinnias (pollinators love these easy to grow annuals). Why did we pick the hottest day? Plainly we did not think it would be 90 degrees at 9:00 am. Here are the photos.

I was pleasantly surprised. The garden is full and on it’s way to lush.  The cascading planter display in the middle is new.  Parsley has been planted in the pots because caterpillars like the fragrant, bitter herb. The planters were put in just two weeks ago and caterpillars have already nestled in the parsley.
The perennial Salvia is the tall purple plant. The bees, moths and flies treat this plant like a busy high rise apartment building. It is loaded with life.

The perennial in this photo is Chamomile. It is self-sowing, meaning if you let it go to seed it will plant itself for you. It acts like a wild flower in that it doesn’t show up in the same place every time. It goes where the breeze, or the birds, take it. This chamomile came from our herb bed at the other side of the garden. Chamomile is used as a medicinal calming herb, mostly as a tea.
( I take my straight, but most people I know need some honey with their chamomile.

The plethera of pollinators (say that 3 times fast after a cup of chamomile) will insure our vegetable garden will be prolific. If you want your cucumbers, corn, and watermelon, to name just a few, to produce their fruit, then you need to welcome the pollinators.
butterfly on milkweed
Monarch on Milkweed – a tasty fav for butterflies

Our goal for the Pollinator Garden this year is for it to be as colorful in August as it is in this Spring.
comm garden pollinator bed june 2017