Most towns I talk with are all excited about pollinators. So excited that they have jumped ahead and started planting. What could be wrong with that, you may be thinking. Well, I’ll tell you – the vast majority of your town hasn’t even heard of pollinators, and that can lead to a whole mess of problems for your town. That’s why the best place to start with your town pollinator gardens is always education.

Education can be done in parallel with planting but, if you skip the step entirely – or you don’t maintain it over the long haul – you are going to run into problems like these.

Neighbor Complaints

When people encounter pollinator habitat in a non-park setting for the first time, they aren’t always happy. They don’t understand why it looks different. They worry that people aren’t taking care of their property. They think the neighborhood is getting run down. A lot of times, that’s when they pick up their phone and let the town council know exactly what a mess they’ve got on their hands.

I know this because I made a mess of my first pollinator garden and I got complaints. Not the type where people call the city council – that would have been nice. Nope, I got the kind where they just cursed me as they walked by my open window and threw trash in my yard. To me, I had a lawn conversion in process. To them, I was destroying the neighborhood.

The whole episode was a nightmare until I made a handmade sign and posted it in the front yard. I explained what I was doing and why it had gotten out of control. In short, I gave context to the situation and asked for their understanding.

It worked. But life would have been a lot easier if I’d put the sign up at the start.

Maintenance Mishaps

But neighbors aren’t the only problem. Your town’s own landscaping crew is another big risk.

All too often, towns make a decision to launch a pollinator garden – but they forget to bring the public works and landscaping teams up to speed.

I’ve heard of landscaping crews mowing too widely along trails – and knocking out tons of native plants in the process – all the while thinking they were being super conscientious. I’ve also seen crews take the opposite approach and leave everything unmown instead of mowing around the new pollinator garden. This allowed a bunch of non-native plants to move in and go to seed. And it also meant that the beautiful new garden was overshadowed by a weedy, unplanned mass of vegetation. It made the whole garden look sloppy and certainly didn’t help people see that pollinator gardens could be beautiful.

Wasted Opportunities

The other big risk in a town is when new elected officials are voted in. If there has been no broad educational component to the pollinator gardens, these new officials may put the kibosh on the whole initiative.

One town had invested in native plants but not education. At the end of the first year, the plants still looked young and hadn’t all bloomed, so the new officials decided it was a failure and sodded over it. They didn’t know to give a three-year timeline for native plants to fill out. They also didn’t realize that native plants will not be in bloom all year like non-native annuals. That misunderstanding led to the pollinator habitat being destroyed, and undid years of planning and work.

Educate First

It takes a little understanding to train your eye to see beauty in wildness when all you’ve ever seen are traditional landscapes. By educating your community before, during, and long after you’ve planted your town pollinator gardens, you increase the likelihood that your native plants will be loved, accepted – and planted – by your community.

Photo by Nicholas Sorrenti on Unsplash