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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Friends of bees and birds, pollinator pathways are a passion project

    Lydia Pan, a volunteer docent, talks about a variety of birch trees with visitors as she leads a tour of the Native Plant Collection at the Connecticut College Arboretum on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021. File photo. (Sarah Gordon /The Day)
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    The greenery surrounding Caroline Driscoll’s coastal Victorian home on Pequot Avenue in New London is a safe habitat for pollinators ― bees, birds, butterflies and other insects.

    Her expansive hillside lawn looks like it already has lush, green grass in early March, but is really 60% creeping thyme that blooms purple in the spring or summer and attracts honey and wild bees. In her backyard are select shrubs, trees and flowers.

    The plants on her property provide food and rest for pollinators, which help move pollen from one plant to another, allowing for the reproduction of a new plant. Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35% of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce.

    The Pollinator Pathway project started in Wilton in 2017, and has become a network of natural corridors for pollinators on public and private properties across Connecticut and several other states.

    Multiple pollinator pathway groups have sprouted in the region. Each is organized differently, made up either of individuals, organizations and/or local governments.

    Anyone with native plants that attract pollinators to their yard are on the pathway whether they are apart of a group or not.

    A group of volunteers in Pollinator Pathway East Lyme has a partnership with The Giving Garden to grow a 2 acre meadow at 4 Church Lane for pollinators. For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day three years ago, Stonington made a town-wide effort to raise awareness of pollinator friendly gardens, encouraging residents to register their gardens and installing model gardens at Town Hall and other town-owned properties.

    Regardless of its makeup, pollinator pathway groups stress the importance of pollinators and their declining population.

    “People are not the center of the ecosystem,” Driscoll said. “We all have to live together. If one (species) falls, another is lacking something.”

    Driscoll sits on New London’s Beautification Committee and volunteers at Connecticut College’s arboretum. Having raised eight kids, Driscoll was a busy mother and gardening was her refuge for alone time.

    Many homeowners strive for a Kentucky bluegrass lawn, maintained with pesticides, but not Driscoll. She said people often think having a natural garden or lawn is messy, but it is possible to have a pesticide-free yard that is structured and appealing to the eye. She suggests limiting the number of plant species, starting with a small garden and not planting invasive ones, such as Japanese knot weed, that grows quickly and overpopulates.

    Driscoll said people living in apartments also can participate in feeding pollinators by growing plants in window boxes.

    New London’s Pollinator-Pathway group is loosely organized and consists mostly of independent organizations, including the arboretum at Connecticut College, Hodges Square Association, St. James Episcopal Church and F.R.E.S.H. New London.

    Ellen Adams is the administrator of the New London pollinator pathway Facebook page, not associated with the organizations. Adams said she’s not much of a gardener, but is a passionate advocate for pollinator pathways.

    A deacon at St. James Episcopal Church, Adams said she heard about pollinator pathways from another deacon at a workshop and wanted to form a group in New London.

    “There is so much about climate change and environmental issues that you can’t do much about but pollinator pathways are something that people can do other than signing petitions,” she said.

    Adams said the two main commitments to starting a pollinator-friendly habitat is not using pesticides and planting native plants.

    What are native plants?

    Maggie Redfern, the interim director at the Connecticut College Arboretum, said native plants have co-evolved with native wildlife over 10,000 years and were here before colonists arrived and brought species from Europe and elsewhere.

    She added plants can be native to certain regions.

    The arboretum has a collection of more than 2,000 plant species native to eastern North America and hardy in southeastern Connecticut. Guided tours on the collection are provided May through October.

    Redfern said every year Connecticut College hosts the Small American Lawns Conference Today (SALT) in November which aims to inspire homeowners to reduce the size of their lawns and grow more pollinator friendly grounds.

    Adams said prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers planted native plants and flowers around the fountain at Hodges Square and in front of Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.

    A pollinator garden grows around St. Francis House on Broad Street.

    Adams said the pandemic stalled her efforts to mobilize the group further in New London. She received a grant prior to the pandemic to work with youth on pollinator pathways, but ultimately had to return it.

    Shermaine Gregor, working with FRESH New London, said she and Adams are writing a resolution to present to the City Council so the city commits to planting pollinator- friendly plants at city parks and properties.

    Gregor said they also plan to sending out postcards to city residents to ask them if they are on the pollinator pathway. She said anyone can be apart of the pathway and some homeowners may be on the pathway but are unaware they have native plants in their yard.

    To learn more about pollinator pathway efforts in different Connecticut towns and how to start a pollinator friendly garden, go to www.pollinator-pathway.org.

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