Fat bumblebees explore tall purple baptisia flowers growing in a flowerbed at the Loyalhanna Watershed Association in Ligonier, forcing their way into the indigo blooms searching for food. This is one of the stops on the Saturday, June 15, “Pollinator Palooza” Garden Rally that spans much of Westmoreland County.
Susan Huba, Wilma Light and Patti Schildkamp stand around the plants smiling as the bees do their work. Huba is executive director of LWA, and Light and Schildkamp are Penn State Master Gardeners of Westmoreland County. All three are part of the team that created this free, fun and innovative tour.
In those planning stages the rally began with a modest six stops but has grown to 17 due to overwhelming interest in the inaugural year of this annual event.
“The idea is to encourage people to plant for pollinators and treat them the best they can. We felt that if they could see some gardens, that might give them the incentive to make a beginning in their own yard,” Light says.
The gardens around LWA’s office are filled with beautiful plants that attract the good bugs along with honey bee hives and many other environmentally friendly and sustainable practices such as permeable paving.
“The goal is to provide as many educational opportunities as possible to people of all ages,” Huba says of the LWA.
The LWA building is an example of what people could do at their own houses. She thought it would be fun to have a road rally so participants could learn from other places, too. If they visit six or more stops, they’ll get a free pollinator plant. When asked what would happen if someone might be able to get to all 17, Light replied “I think they deserve a T-shirt,” she says with a laugh, “and in a hybrid car,” adds Huba.
One prestigious stop is Penguin Court, the former family estate of Richard M. Scaife, now run by the Brandywine Conservancy. Others include Powdermill Nature Reserve, Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve, Penn State Extension at Donohoe Center, West Overton Museums, Mount Pleasant Library and many others.
Light has been spreading the word about pollinators for 15 years and is thrilled to see so much interest in the event. “One third of our food is dependent on pollinators,” she adds.
The idea is to encourage gardeners to add plants that pollinators depend on for nectar, pollen and host plants for caterpillars. Schildkamp is the caterpillar and insect expert of the group.
“For the eastern blacktail (butterfly), things like fennel or dill will attract them, she says. “Lots of trees attract the swallowtails like cherry and other deciduous trees.”
Light says it’s critical to stay away from insecticides and herbicides: “There is no safe chemical for pollinators,” she says.
She has some interesting plants to recommend for pollinator-friendly gardens. Mountain mint, rattlesnake master, purple coneflower, coreopsis, asters and goldenrod are some of the suggestions.
It’s all about teaching the significance of what pollinators do for us, Light adds.
“Without education you could be looking at less food, higher prices,” she says. “There are some places where they have to hand-pollinate fruit. This is not a minor thing we are talking about.”
For her, helping put together this event, which received funding and other help from The Ligonier Valley Education Trust and First Energy, has been very rewarding.
“It was a lot of fun; you see lots of people pitching in. This has been a group effort,” Light says. “I’m hoping that people will be inspired to help the pollinators.”
To register, visit www.eventbrite.com.
Here’s a complete list of stops on the event:
Loyalhanna Watershed Association
Ligonier Country Market
Ligonier Community Garden
Powdermill Nature Reserve
Penguin Court – Brandywine Conservancy
DCNR Forbes State Forest – Laughlintown
Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art – Ligonier
Ligonier Valley YMCA
Amos K. Hutchinson Elementary School (Greensburg Salem School District)
Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve
Penn State Extension at Donohoe Center
West Overton Museums
Mount Pleasant Library
Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College
Westmoreland Museum of American Art
Historic Hanna’s Town
Greensburg Garden and Civic Center
Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at (412) 965-3278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at EverybodyGardens.com.