7/27/2015 Peter Durantine

A Garden for Pollinators and Research

Where grass once grew adjacent to Franklin & Marshall College's epicenter of sustainability, a pollination garden six years in the making has emerged.

"Grass is pretty unsustainable because it has to have a lot of necessary inputs — you have to water it, you have to fertilize it, you have to mow it – so it's not a really sustainable landscaping choice," said Sarah Dawson, director of the Wohlsen Center for the Sustainable Environment.

With the aid of a grant from PP&L and the F&M Sustainability Fund, staff from the center and Facilities & Operations removed the grass around part of the north and east sides of the building to make way for the garden. Twelve varieties of more than 2,000 plants, along with two trees — red maple and eastern redbud — were planted over the course of two weeks in July. A new walkway was added, too.

"What we've done is put in native plants, grown locally and organically, that draw native pollinators," Dawson said. "They are well adapted to this climate and have evolved to work well with the pollinating plants that already exist on campus."

  • Sarah Dawson inspects the Golden Ragwort and other new plantings for a garden that is designed to attract pollinators as well as provide a laboratory for student research. Sarah Dawson inspects the Golden Ragwort and other new plantings for a garden that is designed to attract pollinators as well as provide a laboratory for student research. Image Credit: Melissa Hess

Most of the plants were especially grown for the center at Sugarbush Nursery, a local grower that specializes in native and organic plants. Plants in the garden include red twig dogwood, pinxterbloom azalea, threadleaf coreopsis, trumpet honeysuckle, golden ragwort, blue woodland phlox, lady fern, alumroot, Appalachian sedge, rosebay rhododendron, common witch hazel, and mountain laurel.

Nine Facilities & Operations staffers managed the planting, at times an arduous task, said Sustainability Coordinator Nic Auwaerter '11. They had to determine which plants needed more sun and which needed more shade, and then plant accordingly. To get through the hard clay-infused soil, workers used an auger to bore holes.

"I'm really excited to see the results and how it all grows together," Auwaerter said.

Signs in the garden will identify the plants, explain why they are ideal for landscapes, and list the pollinating insects they attract. While the garden will draw some bees, its primary purpose is to draw native pollinators — butterflies, dragonflies and hummingbirds. Unlike the smaller native bees, the honeybee is European, an invasive species brought to North America about 200 years ago for its prolific pollination abilities. 

The garden also will help address growing concerns about the diminishing populations of pollinators nationwide and serve as a research "lab" for academic projects next year.

"We've had this incredible decline of pollinators around the world, so this should be beneficial for that and it should help the school become even more sustainable," Dawson said. "It should lead to some good research by students."

Reasons for the population decline are complex and many, but Dawson said certain pesticides applied to plants appear to be the primary contributor.

"These pesticides are derivatives of nicotine," she said. "They seem to be the No. 1 cause of the decline. Certain countries outlaw them. We do not."

  • From left to right, F&M Sustainability Coordinators for Facilities and Operations Tom Simpson and Nic Auwaerter, and F&M summer worker Jackie Coccia plant along the east side of the Wohlsen Center. From left to right, F&M Sustainability Coordinators for Facilities and Operations Tom Simpson and Nic Auwaerter, and F&M summer worker Jackie Coccia plant along the east side of the Wohlsen Center. Image Credit: Melissa Hess
Story 3/5/2021

Oxford Scientist Says Fusion Just a Few Years Away

At Common Hour, British physicist Colin Windsor discussed nuclear fusionfusion – an abundant...

Read More
Story 3/4/2021

Professor’s New Book Examines Black Politics Prior to 1860

In “The First Reconstruction: Black Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War,”...

Read More
Story 3/3/2021

Diplomats Abroad Overcome Pandemic Challenges

Despite the waxing and waning of the pandemic’s intensity last fall and early winter, four  F&M...

Read More