Homeowners filling yards with plants, trees to stave off population decline

  • Douglas E. Wight, stands in his garden of around 90 pansy plants in his yard on Conway Street in Greenfield, Saturday, June 11. Wight estimated he spent close to $700 purchasing and planting the flowers in an effort to contribute to pollination by bees.

  • Douglas E. Wight stands in his garden of around 90 pansy plants in his yard on Conway Street in Greenfield, Saturday, June 11. Wight estimated he spent close to $700 purchasing and planting the flowers in an effort to contribute to pollination by bees. RECORDER STAFF/MATT BURKHARTT

  • Tom Sullivan of “Pollinators Welcome” advised and helped design this pollinator-friendly garden at Ben Grosscup’s home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Tom Sullivan of “Pollinators Welcome” advised and help design this pollinator-friendly garden at Ben Grosscup’s home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Tom Sullivan of “Pollinators Welcome” advised and help design this pollinator-friendly garden at Ben Grosscup’s home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/30/2016 10:28:22 PM

GREENFIELD — In the midst of a worldwide decline in pollinator populations, some local residents are transforming their yards for the benefit of bees, birds and butterflies.

When Ben Grosscup and Janna Walters-Gidseg purchased their home on Chapman Street last September, they decided to continue the work of previous owners Lori and Stephan Gordon, who planted fruit trees and other pollinator-friendly plants on the property over the four years they lived there.

“We felt inspired by what the Gordons had already done with this property before we got here, and we wanted very much to carry on the work that they started,” Grosscup said.

Since they moved in, they’ve expanded a garden in their side yard — which Stephan Gordon said originally contained about 130 perennial food plants — planted more pollinator-friendly plants and cleared a 1/10-acre area using a soil-friendly technique called street mulching. Grosscup said the plan is to begin an edible food forest with fruit and nut trees and edible ground covers.

Tom Sullivan, a local bee educator, has advised both couples on how to make their yards more pollinator-friendly. Stephan Gordon said after moving to Birch Street, he and his wife are starting their work all over again.

“It wasn’t the plan, but we can’t stop ourselves,” he said.

With pollinator populations in decline worldwide, Sullivan said it’s more important than ever that people make changes that support these species.

“There’s a bigger movement out there that’s really looking to transform landscapes all over the planet into regenerative landscapes that provide habitat for the full range of biodiversity we need as a society to be able to sustain ourselves in the big picture,” Grosscup said. “Our little backyard is just one tiny, tiny example of that.”

On Conway Street, Doug Wight is also taking the initiative of making his yard more bee-friendly. This spring, he rented a rototiller, dug up all the grass in his yard and replaced it with flowers.

“The pollinator bees are being killed off and by replacing your lawn with flowers, you provide an opportunity for the pollinators to come back and survive and breed and grow strong,” he said. “All the way around, it’s just a much healthier way for the environment, and I think it’s a lot more beautiful. I can’t tell you how many compliments we’ve had from people walking by.”

A big problem for pollinators, Sullivan said, is the use of pesticides — particularly neonicotinoids, a form of insecticide that has been linked to declining bee populations. Given their widespread use, he said it’s not enough to refrain from applying them to plants directly. Because the insecticide can linger within plants for an extended amount of time, he said it’s important to check whether the nurseries selling the plants have used them.

He added that while pollinator-friendly yards are good, bees and other pollinators fly, so a continuous habitat is crucial for their survival.

“We can create these islands where pollinators have refuge, and that’s really important, but you also have to transform it so it’s not just these isolated islands, but a really contiguous, larger expanse of continental space,” Grosscup said.

Sullivan said ideally, the tree belts between sidewalks and streets would be filled with pollinator-friendly plants, creating corridors for bees and other pollinators.

“In all of those places that are public, we can create pollinator habitat immensely by creating corridors,” he said. “It would be beautiful, on top of that.”

For those interested in making their yards more pollinator-friendly, Sullivan said an easy first step is to remove a strip of lawn and plant wildflowers in its place. He said those who want to take it a step further can dig up a 3- to 4-foot-wide perimeter around their yard and fill it with wildflowers to create even more habitat.

“It beautifies your house and it’s simple, ornamental and active,” he said.

Both Sullivan and Grosscup also share a hope that one day, Greenfield will pass an ordinance banning the use of pesticides.

“I don’t see why we need them, I don’t see the social good that they’re serving and I think that could be paired with a really large-scale campaign of education to reveal the benefits of the alternatives,” Grosscup said. “They’re really alluring — having a diverse, edible landscape could be a really exciting alternative. It’s not like we’re depriving ourselves of modern conveniences by getting rid of these particular chemicals.”

You can reach Aviva Luttrell at: aluttrell@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 268
On Twitter: @AvivaLuttrell




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