Environmental stewards teamed with town employees to dig in the dirt on a mild Tuesday morning with bright sunshine and refreshing breezes as part of a sprucing up project in the hardy pollinator garden of Yowell Meadow Park.
Planted last April along the walking path near the basketball courts, the small plot—intended to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators—withstood a deluge of rain and water in 2018. The historic rain occurred naturally, albeit more frequently than normal, while the other water came rushing in as part of the town of Culpeper’s ongoing dam project that required maintaining lower reservoir levels.
“I wouldn’t call it just one flood,” said Town Planner Salem Bush. “I would call it the flood that never left.”
He surmised the pollinator garden was under water at least three times in the past year, including one time when it disappeared under two feet of water. Another time, after water was released to lower the lake, the garden sat under more than two feet of water for several days.
“It took out a lot of plants,” Bush said.
Considering the well-known fact that Yowell Meadow is in a floodplain, the garden’s original plantings of about 30 different native varieties were all intentionally water-loving plants. But even water-loving plants can get too much, and about 10 of those varieties died in last year’s rainy season.
“All the plants that are left are good plants,” Bush said, noting it typically takes about three years for a pollinator garden to come into fruition.
At Tuesday’s work day, dead plants were removed and replaced, weeds were pulled and new mulch was applied to beds containing some 70 flowers and shrubs.
“This whole park flooded,” said Master Naturalist Barry Buschow. “It washed away lot of the plants and brought in more seeds, and caused grass to overwhelm this area.”
Among the hardiest plants in the garden are the sweet spire shrub and the New England aster flower, said Master Naturalist Phoebe Muenger, of Rixeyville. She noted many of the shrub types are doing well due to deeper roots. Muenger weighed in on the importance of the pollinator garden in the local park.
“It’s an example of what people can do with their own property and of how native plants are just as beautiful as non-native plants we buy from big box stores,” she said.
Pollinators are in trouble due to loss of habitat, Muenger added, referencing the book, “Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens,” by Douglas Tallamy. She said it’s a matter of great urgency that people plant native plants, which will then multiply because they attract native pollinators.
“Native bees are in big trouble,” Muenger said. “All insects are in trouble like they have not been before.”
If the insects are in trouble, then the birds that eat them are in trouble, as well as the amphibians, and ultimately, human beings as part of the circle of life.
Town Planner Emma Buchanan, actively scooping rich-looking mulch around the plants, imagined the spot a grown-up fairy garden with its shade and benches for visual enjoyment.
“The more people who know what it is, the more they help take care of it,” she said.
Master Naturalist Michael Ann Herbst, of Culpeper, said the pollinator garden in Yowell Meadow could potentially grow into so much more.
“Because of the number of people who walk by here, if they could see what can be done with a little bit of effort, they might do it, too,” she said.
Once the plants start to flower, the butterflies will follow and so will the birds, looking for native plant seeds to eat, Herbst said.
“And it’s just pretty,” she said.