In 2021, Master Gardener volunteers spent time creating and caring for flower gardens near their homes to provide food and shelter for native pollinators.
I proposed a project to the Ramsey County Master Gardener Program. My plan was to enhance the garden space at the church I attend – St. Timothy Lutheran – in St. Paul to demonstrate different styles of gardening using the church's existing gardens as a foundation. The project included two parts:
Converting an overgrown garden in the front of the church into a pollinator garden, and
Working with the Capitol Region Watershed to install a rain garden
The gardens are located in the front of our building in a residential neighborhood. There is a good amount of foot traffic and I estimate 10 people walk by each day, making it a good way to demonstrate these types of gardens and hopefully inspired others to try something similar in their own yards.
It was a busy and successful year of planning and gardening. We completed each of the gardens by late August and continue to tend them as we wait for the end of the growing season.
I made education an important part of this project. We taught the RCMG class “Planting for Pollinators” online in April for members of the congregation and had many people join the class to learn more about how gardens can support local pollinators. This class discusses the value of insect pollinators – bees, flies, beetles, wasps, and butterflies – and what people can do at home to create healthy pollinator habitats for native bees and butterflies in your own yard. RCMG offers this class to all kinds of groups in the community; anyone can request a class on this or other garden-related topics for their community group or business.
I wrote in a newsletter article how a pollinator garden might look different than a typical garden as the seasons changed and that the garden at St. Timothy Lutheran was going to incorporate a majority of native plants. The group I was working with decided the ratio of native to non-native plants would be 80:20.
A soil sample was taken and submitted to the University of MN Soil Testing Laboratory. We were pleased to see that the amount of potassium and phosphorus were within a good range. The soil texture was labeled as medium and the percent of organic matter was at 4.8%. I spent time with our garden group explaining the report and how the sample was taken.
Before any planting could take place we had work to do in digging up the current garden. The garden was overgrown with weeds and flowering plants. As a Master Gardener volunteer, I worked with members of the church community twice to do this part of the project. The garden site is approximately 40 feet by 7 feet so it was a big project! As we dug up the vegetation, we separated out plants that would grow well in a garden, bagged them in plastic, watered them and then offered them for free to the congregation and neighbors, Plants that we thought would fit into our new garden plan were set aside or sent home with gardeners for tending until we re-planted.
As spring warmed the soil, we decided we would add compost to the site in order to increase the organic matter and give our plants a boost for growth the first year. After researching costs, it appeared that purchasing compost would put us over our budget. A member of the congregation stepped forward and generously paid for the compost and delivery. We forked in the compost and were ready to plant.
We spent time determining the amount of sun the garden would get so we could select appropriate plants. It originally seemed as though we had more shade than we remembered. However, as the summer sun angle moved, we realized we had more sun than we first anticipated in the spring! In the end, the sun versus shade indicator became our prime deciding factor.
We found a guide from the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) for a plants for pollinators and used this as our guide. Finding plants turned out to be challenging. We couldn’t find the specific plants listed on the BSWR guide so we did our best to find plants in each category on the chart as listed in the substitutions section on the back of the plan.
We saved blue flag iris, ferns, and coral bells from the original garden for our new garden. We tried to save the phlox but they died before we could transplant them. We also added plants that weren’t on the list. Mother Earth Gardens in Northeast Minneapolis was our main supplier of plants. I stalked their supply for a couple of weeks and, when the shelves were full, I made our purchases.
I purchased plant varieties in quantities of 3, 5, or 7, depending on what was available based on landscape design recommendations. A crew of congregation members showed up to plant on a warm evening in early June. We divided the plants by height and sun requirements and then allowed each crew member to be creative in planting their area. I really wanted people to feel a connection to and ownership of the garden so having members doing hands-on-work was important.
There were 25 different types of plants in total. We labeled each plant in the garden and I put together a document that is shared on the church website showing what plants will look like at maturity with a description of its features.
A key part of the planting was installing fencing so the rabbits would not eat the tender plants. So, on planting night we also had folks assembling fencing. We chose to use dog fencing fortified with a light metal mesh green backing. It worked very well and provided a pleasing aesthetic.
The heat was a major factor the entire season long. We installed soaker hoses throughout the garden. These were secured with landscape staples and we did our best to run the hose right near the plants. Given the heat all summer long, we did end up watering the plants individually to assure they established well. It seemed we got into every other day rotation for the hose and the watering can. Once the city imposed watering restrictions we went to an every other day watering schedule. Thankfully, most of the plants appeared to be well rooted by this time.
I estimate that our team of four spent two hours a week over the course of the season tending to the garden. There are eighteen weeks from June to the end of September so that would equal 144 hours for the whole growing season with most of this time spent watering and weeding.
I’m not sure how many pollinators visited the garden because we didn’t have many blooming plants until August. (There were incidental reports from people about the presence of bees and butterflies.) But we're hoping to see more flowers and pollinators next year!
I hope many people are able to see the pollinator garden and become inspired!
St Timothy Lutheran Church - 1465 N Victoria St, St Paul, MN 55117
Ramsey County Master Gardener Volunteer