Unused public spaces can be turned into habitats

As you drive to work or run your kids to school, take a moment to notice all the unused spaces around your town or city. Most likely, you'll see wasted expansions of turf grass surrounding parking lots, schools, churches, and businesses. Think how often these grassy spaces need to be mowed, fertilized and sprayed with pesticides and the amount of money wasted by tax payers and land owners for these maintenance services. For what? A tidy looking patch of lawn that truly benefits nothing or no one? Now imagine these same patches of lawn filled with beautiful, native plants and alive with chirping birds, fluttering butterflies and buzzing bees.

Most of us rarely go on our social media accounts without seeing some post or tweet about the plight of our native pollinators. While we may stop and like or even share these posts, besides spreading awareness, it does very little to change the decline of pollinators and the desolate path our planet is headed down. Simply put, when our pollinators go extinct, so do we.

Fortunately, there are many earth conscious gardeners who fill their own gardens with nectar rich blooms and host plants, install bee hotels and other pollinator nesting structures and avoid the use of chemicals on their own properties. Every garden like this, does truly make a difference by providing safe havens and food sources for native pollinators. We could make an even greater impact, however, if we took this on as a community, not just an individual crusade. Many communities across the country are doing just that, turning unused plots of land into native prairies or pollinator gardens, which can be enjoyed by the public and used for education. If your community does not have anything like this, you can be the spark that inspires it.

Starting from scratch

Though your first step should be to gather kindred spirits and like minded individuals, you can't exactly just meet up and start planting pollinator plants on privately owned land. There are certain channels you must go through. Together make a list of underused plots at local schools, churches or other organizations that are frequented by members of the community. Then outline a very clear proposal to present to these organizations.

This proposal should be well organized and very detailed, as a flimsy proposal may just be disregarded. You may also need this proposal to get funding for the project once it is approved by the property owners. Begin by explaining the importance of the project, for example why pollinator and host plants are important, as well as statistics about pollinator populations. Avoid over-dramatizing, over-exaggerating or over-personalizing the situation, stick with the facts.

List the benefits and purpose of the proposed gardens

Next, clearly outline what you foresee as the purpose of this prairie or pollinator garden. For example, besides increasing pollinator populations, how will this project benefit the community? Will it be used for educational programs? If so, for whom and how often? Also detail how it can be used for public enjoyment. For example, will it have strolling paths, or benches? It may be beneficial to include a sketch or plan of the proposed pollinator garden, including these paths, seating areas or educational resources, such as plaques, signage or even pavilions for educational workshops.

Who will maintain the gardens?

Perhaps most importantly, your proposal should include a plan for maintenance and upkeep of the gardens. Many organizations will be hesitant to allow a messy bed of unkempt "weeds" on their property. Outline who will be doing the maintenance and how often. If this maintenance is volunteer based, include how many people have volunteered to help already and how you plan to involve more of the community. If you plan to employ landscape services, explain exactly how you intend to get the funding for that.

honeybee hovering by flowers

Paying for the pollinator gardens

As you may have noticed by reading this, thus far, funding is going to be a major factor of turning your dream of a community pollinator garden into a reality. If you already have an organization, such as a church or school, willing to host a pollinator garden on their property, they may also help you raise funds with car washes, bake sales, rummage sales or other fund raising events. You may also want to set up a donation box, with signage explaining the cause at the organization, and/or other local businesses. You may also want to reach out to related local businesses, such as hardware stores, landscape supply companies, landscapers and garden centers to ask them if they are willing to donate their time, money or materials to the project. Other local businesses may also be willing to help support or promote the cause, as well.

Depending on the magnitude of the projected garden design, you may need to look outside the community for donations and funding. Many non-profit organizations offer grants for different types of community gardens. Again, a clearly defined proposal for your project will be necessary in order to be considered for these grants. Before applying, do your homework on the organization to insure that it is the right one to support your cause, and thoroughly read the guidelines for each grant you are applying for. Websites such as, www.publicgardens.org, have lists of different organizations and the grants they offer.

Once approval is granted and funds are secured, you will need to spread the word about your project and organize volunteer workdays to get the project under way. Local newspapers and radio stations may be willing to help you put out a press release and never underestimate the power of social media.

While all of these steps may seem like a huge undertaking, it will be worth it in the end to see a barren plot of land in your community, transformed into a beautiful garden swarming with pollinators.