On Saturday, April 11, Ben Chambers turned 15. He spent his birthday leading a group of 20 Boy Scouts in installing seven permanent sign posts and creating a new seating area in the U.S. Forest Service People’s Garden at the Southern Research Station (SRS) in Asheville, North Carolina.
The garden has been a highly collaborative project since it was inspired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s People’s Garden Initiative in 2009. The initiative encourages USDA employees to create gardens that demonstrate the department’s mission and provide an example of a sustainable landscape.
Chambers, who has been a scout for 10 years, considered many projects before deciding to focus on the garden for his Eagle Scout project. “I like flowers as much as the next person,” says Chambers. “And I wanted my project to mean something.” People at the Station and in the community enjoy the garden, but it has a broader significance as a pollinator garden, designed to provide bees, moths, butterflies, and other helpful insects with food and habitat all year long.
The pollinator garden began in early 2010, SRS employees Stephanie Worley-Firley, a biological information specialist with Eastern Forest Threat Assessment Center, and Susan Fox, now the director of the Aldo Leopold Research Institute, reached out to Diane Almond, a local master gardener. Almond began coordinating Buncombe County Master Gardeners who, along with SRS employees and community volunteers, donated plants and helped care for the garden. As part of his project, Chambers visited local businesses to find donors for the sign posts, as well as the two benches in the new seating area.
“We searched the grounds for the best place to put this garden,” recalled Almond as she watched a group of Boy Scouts dig a sign post hole. Oblivious to their visitors, bumblebees visited blueberry, redbud, and dogwood’s early flowers. “This spot used to be lifeless, not a bee or butterfly in sight. What a delight to find it teeming with life now!”
The garden features mostly native flowers and shrubs that not only provide food to the honeybee (which hails from Eurasia) but also to many species of native bees. Across the U.S., there are about 4,000 native bee species. Native bees may be green, gold purple, or multicolored, and they also have diverse feeding habits and lifestyles, although unlike honeybees, most native bees are solitary.
Thanks to the sign posts installed by the Boy Scouts, visitors to the pollinator garden will be able to learn about the importance of pollinators and the garden design principles that help attract and sustain them. During the work day, the scouts took a short break and gathered around SRS garden co-coordinator Maureen Stuart to learn about pollinators and their habitat. When the scouts regrouped, Meade Olson commented, “I’ve built a hundred picnic tables. This project is a lot more interesting.”
For more information about the pollinator garden, email Sarah Farmer at email@example.com