SAVING THE WORLD, ONE GARDEN AT A TIME
Mary Bellis Williams
Have you ever heard of the Green Bridges Initiative? Many people have not, so it might surprise you that there are gardens in southeast Wisconsin (and all over the country) that are certified as Green Bridges gardens. Green Bridges gardens are those that purposefully create safe havens for pollinators and native plants. My own little garden in Fox Point is a Green Bridges garden.
We understand that there will never again be swaths of hundreds of miles of unpoisoned land where pollinators and native plants are safe to survive and thrive, but we also understand that we can create safe spaces in our own yards where we practice gentle gardening and learn how to create peaceful habitats for pollinators like bees and monarch butterflies and tiny native bees and hummingbirds. How can this happen? We plant more pollinator-friendly plants like milkweed, dill, fennel, pineapple sage and other salvias, anise hyssop, mints, cilantro, comfrey, echinacea (cone-flower, a native plant), chamomile, catmint (nepeta), feverfew, borage, oregano, tarragon, roses, rosemary, dianthus, lavender, thyme, lemon balm, and other attractive herbs and flowers. If we have room, we plant real fruit trees; we know bees love apple, pear, peach, plum, and cherry blossoms, and there are dwarf and productive fruit trees that fit well into even tiny yards and give us delicious fruit, too.
We do our best to eliminate dangerous pesticides and look to find natural pest controls. We stop spraying herbicides and we grow useful and beautiful plants, including native plants. We rejoice to find monarch caterpillars on the tall stalks of milkweed (aesclepias) munching their way up the plant and preparing for their journey to becoming butterflies and being part of the unbelievably long migrations of their species. We learn companion planting, and which plants thrive when near each other, and how they discourage insect pests just by their presence. We become interested in the health of the soil in which we plant things. We play in the dirt a lot, and watch life and growth happen. We know the well-documented health benefits of gardening for everyone, from young to old, like less stress, stronger immune systems, better health, better memory, more fun, more satisfaction.
We plant more perennials, so you’re more likely to find something blooming most of the year, but not all blooming at the same time. More of our plants are fragrant and more are useful than seasonal bedding plants: you can cook with them, or make tea out of them, or just pet them and enjoy them.
Why do we do this? We want nature to survive and we want to be part of that survival. We know that if the current rate of bee deaths continues (40% loss in the USA over this past winter!), we’ll be paying $10 or more for one avocado in a few years, and since most of our fruits and vegetables are pollinated by insects, prices of all food will skyrocket and some plants will not get pollinated at all, thus becoming unproductive, then extinct.
If you are interested in making your garden a safe haven for pollinators and native plants, check out the website of the Herb Society of America (www.herbsociety.org) and learn about Green Bridges and how to apply to certify your garden. I’ve found that because I have posted in my front yard the Green Bridges sign that’s awarded when you’re certified, people walking by, with kids or dogs, or alone, will stop to read it and if I am out in the yard, will ask about Green Bridges. Everybody who reads it becomes a little bit aware. Everybody who asks about it becomes more aware. And many who ask will stop by in a few weeks to talk about what they are now doing in their own yards to support pollinators and native plants.
The Wisconsin Unit of the Herb Society of America has members with certified Green Bridges gardens and we’ll be glad to answer questions and help you apply. Our website is www.herb-society-wisconsin.org.