Apr. 9—The Marietta Educational Garden Center broke ground on a new pollinator garden last Thursday morning, part of a program that's established about 70 gardens across the state.
"Connect to Protect" is the name of the program, an initiative of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and the University of Georgia's Cooperative Extension.
Two plots of soil on the garden center's campus are now home to budding plants, including golden ragwort, eastern columbine, geranium, oakleaf hydrangea, starry campion, Small's penstemon, garden phlox, wood aster, blue mist, calamint and strawberry.
Made up of plants that promote and protect pollinators, the garden is designed to attract pollinators that are critical to sustaining the environment. Garden volunteers explained that it serves another purpose, too — fostering an understanding of the role native plants play in maintaining biodiversity in urban and suburban landscapes.
The State Botanical Garden has built about 70 of them across Georgia, placing them at schools, parks, home gardens and other greenspaces.
According to Lauren Muller, a conservation outreach coordinator for the State Botanical Garden, certain bees and butterflies will only lay eggs on a particular species or family of plants. Connect to Protect gardens provide such plants across Georgia to support the ecosystem. Though labeled pollinator gardens, the gardens' native plants are intended to support the entire food web.
"This place is a nursery for caterpillars, which feeds birds and so on up the food chain," Muller said. "The garden will also provide seeds in the fall and the winter for birds, and protection for smaller animals like lizards and little critters like that."
To qualify as a Connect to Protect garden, there must be at least three native plants that provide nectar or pollen per spring, summer and fall seasons; at least three native insect larval host plants; a commitment to avoiding broad-spectrum insecticides; a commitment to include at least one practice to conserve native bees; interpretive signage; and, lastly, a commitment to maintain the garden for as long as the sign is displayed. Keeping the garden weed-free and groomed is intentional, seeking to dispel the notion that native plant displays are inherently messy.
"It's sort of an ongoing effort to encourage people to rethink the way that gardens function," Muller said. "They can be beautiful, they can be lush, have lots of flowers, but they can also benefit wildlife."
The garden is in its infancy. Immature plants were planted last Thursday and, over the next few years, will fill out the space and provide pollen and nectar for insects. There are plans to add mulch, a border of river rock and a bee house, volunteers said.
"It's going to look a lot better than this," joked Cheryl Briscoe, a volunteer. "It doesn't look all that hot right now."
Kathy Young, who serves on the board for the State Botanical Garden and is involved in the Marietta Educational Garden Center, said the spot for Cobb's first Connect to Protect garden was "the perfect place, because it's right here in the historic area, and this is a great place to have tours anyway."
The garden center hopes to work with Marietta City Schools in the future, inviting students to take field trips. There, they can tour the campus and learn about native plants and pollinators. Similar partnerships exist with other Connect to Protect gardens, Muller said. Curriculum guides and coloring books have been used to educate children.
"Sometimes you have to bring the nature to people, because maybe they don't always have the resources to get out to nature," Muller said. "This is a really wonderful location to bring kids into so they can see these plants that are found here in Georgia."