By Meg A. Parson
Last week was Pollinator Week, an annual event supporting the health of bees, butterflies, birds and bats that are an essential part of our ecosystem. By transferring pollen from flower to flower, these creatures contribute to the growth of our gardens and play a key role in the plant biodiversity of our city.
At a time when pollinator habitats are under threat, our community parks and gardens are planting more native plants that not only look beautiful, but also have a mutually beneficial relationship with pollinators.
Here’s a look at what some of the Upper West Side’s community gardens are doing to support our local pollinators.
In the 91st Street Garden at the Riverside Park Boardwalk, vibrant purple and red bees (monarda) are in full bloom and buzzing with bees. An early monarch butterfly also stopped by to take advantage of the bee balm bounty. (Monarch sightings in New York are more common later in the summer, as they stop on their annual migration to Mexico.) Garden in the Rectangle and Octagon.
Other pollinator-friendly flowering plants now include coneflower, also known as coneflower (a pink perennial in the daisy family with petals that often turn downward); rue (a herb with bluish-green foliage and tiny yellow flowers); and catnip (an aromatic herb with delicate purple flowers), which seems to be as irresistible to bees as it is to felines. Later this summer, look for other plants that attract bees and butterflies, including the aptly named six-foot-tall butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) with its clusters of purple flowers, Blazing Star thorny blazing star – also with deep amethyst flowers – and milkweed, which has large teardrop-shaped seed pods.
The Lotus Garden on West 97e The rue is particularly lush right now, bursting with lilies in shades of cream, apricot and dusty pink, roses and bright purple drumstick allium or round-headed garlic (sphaerocephalus).
Scattered throughout the garden, fluffy hydrangeas bloom in shades of pink, lavender and blue, as well as white. The gardener tending one of the plots near the steps has added garden aluminum sulphate to the soil to make it more acidic in hopes of turning his hydrangea blue. Her variegated blue and white hydrangea is the amazing result of her experiment.
These flowers attract their share of bees and butterflies, but gardeners also grow echinacea, lemon balm and purple hyssop (an ornamental flowering herb also known as agastache), among many other native plants. The herb garden plot is also home to pollinator-friendly plants including fennel, thyme, lemon balm, culver root, oregano and chives.
Lilies and hydrangeas reign supreme right now in the West Side Community Garden at 89e-90e Streets, with glorious crimson, yellow, orange and white lilies flourishing in a number of plots. The path leading to 90e The street gate is lined with two different varieties of abundant white hydrangeas.
In addition to these beauties and some annuals including begonias and impatiens, the West Side Community Garden also grows a number of native plants to attract and support pollinators. Several swamp milkweed plants (Asclepium Incarnata) are just beginning to bloom. By midsummer the plants will be three or four feet tall with showy pink flowers. (“incarnata” means “rinsed with rose”.)
Some of the flowerbeds are home to wild geranium, a ground cover with small pinkish-purple flowers native to forests in the eastern United States. These plants are unrelated to the geraniums that commonly adorn planters and planters, and are native to Africa. Another wonderful pollinator-friendly plant I discovered on my last visit to the garden is the blanket flower (gallardia ‘Arizona Apricot Shades’). These cheerful bright yellow flowers with an apricot eye are particularly attractive to butterflies.
For the bees
Olivia Cox Matise, a graduate student in Columbia’s Ecological Evolution and Environmental Biology program, is conducting a study of the movements of bees between urban green spaces (parks, gardens, and green roofs). Both the 91st Street Garden and the West Side Community Garden are among the sites of his study. His research involves netting bees, applying tiny blue markers to their backs, and releasing them to collect re-sighting data at multiple sites across Manhattan.
She says, “Knowledge of how bees use and move through urban green spaces can be used to inform conservation management plans for these endangered creatures.”
Schedule a visit:
The West Side Community Garden (89-90e Streets, between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues)
Open 7 days a week from dawn to dusk
REMARK: The West Side Community Garden hosts a Sunday morning compost drive from 11 a.m. to noon in front of its 90th Street entrance, between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues. They incorporate the compost into their flower beds. The public is invited to drop off fresh or frozen organic waste, including vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grounds and tea bags, eggshells, shredded newspapers and brown paper bags. The garden cannot accept meat, fish, bones, dairy products, grease, animal waste or compostable bags. Please read their guidelines before depositing the compost.
The Lotus Garden (97th Street between West End Avenue and Broadway)
Open to the public on Sunday afternoons from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., from April 10 to mid-November
The 91st Street Garden at the boardwalk level of Riverside Park
Open 7 days a week from dawn to dusk