Aug. 6—Princeton City Park's Pollinator Garden is a hidden gem in the Princeton area that has multiple uses for the public and the pollinators that it serves.
Princeton native Becky Kidwell is the main caretaker of the garden, but she was not the one who originally got everything planted and started.
"It was started in 2015 by a lady named Nora Fernandez who was over at Concord (University)," said Kidwell. "She and some of her friends started it as a medicinal garden, so their herbs and plants were beneficial health-wise."
As the original gardeners were students, after their graduation, Nora and the others left the area and the garden laid untouched for a couple years until Kidwell came along.
"In 2017, I was in a meeting here in town, and I heard that the city was about to just plow under it," said Kidwell. "I had retired then and a friend of mine and I came up here and worked on the garden."
She also added, "Since then, my interest has not been so much in medicinal plants even though a lot of these plants are the original plants and have medicinal properties, but they're also good for pollinators."
Kidwell explains that she is not a master gardener, but she is a master naturalist.
"I work with a very interesting group called the Virginia Master Naturalists, and I'm in the New River Valley Chapter," she said.
Naturalists do like gardens, but Kidwell said that what they do expands beyond just gardening.
"It is very similar to master gardeners, but we do things maybe a bit more diverse than just gardens," Kidwell explained.
Kidwell expanded on the interests of naturalists giving a few examples that they enjoyed including birds, gardens, fish, and mushrooms.
"I like gardens and birds," she said.
Kidwell added, I do stream monitoring, so I have lots of fun with lots of stuff."
The Princeton garden is not the only pollinator garden that Kidwell works in, she also volunteers at the Pandapas Pond pollinator garden in Blacksburg, Va. which is a project that the United States Forestry Service is doing.
The pollinator garden there is a professional one, and they actually contribute to the Princeton garden by donating plants for Kidwell to plant.
"They share plants with me, and the native plants that we have here are the ones they have donated to me," Kidwell said.
Though Kidwell has been working in the pollinator gardens for a few years, she called herself a "novice" at it, but she does know the importance of having native plants in the pollinator garden.
"The reason it's nice to have native plants is that they are going to be more adapted to here," she explained. "The rainfall, the soil type, the temperature, and the insects too, so it works out really well if you can get native plants."
Some of the other plants at the Princeton garden she bought, though they may not be native, she tries to make sure they offer something to the pollinators.
"Plants at Wal-Mart and Lowes are plants that are more grown for people rather than insects. They are usually flowers and are really showy," said Kidwell.
She added, "The question we have to ask before putting them here is do they serve the insects though? Some of them, not at all. Some of them do, but some of them not at all."
The Princeton Pollinator Garden is completely run by Kidwell and other volunteers like her neighbors and friends.
"Everyone that helps here are volunteers or people that I've asked for help, and the city is planning to help us get some water up here soon," said Kidwell.
Kidwell said that the most important thing when taking care of and planting a pollinator garden is making sure that you have plants blooming for as much of the year as possible.
"This time of year, it doesn't take much work, but what you want to have a good pollinator garden is to have something blooming all year," she said.
Kidwell added, "You want to extend your season for as long as possible, and they are not the same as other gardens."
The only season there is not something blooming at the garden is winter, so the pollinators are able to enjoy the garden for most of the year.
"Botanical gardens, everything looks beautiful and it is all neat and pretty at once," said Kidwell. "Pollinator gardens aren't like that. You want it to come all during the seasons, you want different sizes and shapes."
The Princeton garden sees not only different kinds of native and non-native plants, but it also sees all kinds of different pollinators, not just the usual ones.
"We think of pollinators being bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, but they're also a lot of little beetles that pollinate a lot as well," said Kidwell.
The garden is also pesticide free and protected from pesticides in order to make sure the pollinators are protected.
Kidwell feels that the pollinator park is for everybody, and that locals and anyone who comes to see it can gain something from it.
"I think it's a good learning tool, I think anytime you can make people aware of the importance of pollinators, it's really necessary because our food, crops really depend on pollinators," she said. "We need them to keep us alive."
Kidwell expanded this saying, "Without them, we're going to have to do without a lot of things. Chocolate, grass, flowers, and weeds are all things that depend on pollinators."
Kidwell said she thinks many people are starting to realize them importance of pollinators because people are hearing about the Monarch Butterfly being endangered.
"People really need to help our pollinators, and I think because of the Monarchs, they are starting to realize that," said Kidwell.
While the garden's main purpose is to help the pollinators, according to Kidwell, people who have seen the garden love it.
"I think it's a really nice place to come when people walk the trail," she said. Kidwell also added, "Most of the time, if I'm out here, somebody will come by and say, 'I really enjoy this,' and it's just so great."
Kidwell said that many local photographers have noticed it's beauty as well, and they are now using it a lot of times for wedding, graduation, and engagement photos.
"It's different plants that you don't really see everyday, and it's just a really fun thing to get to see and for me to do," she said.
The garden is open to the public at anytime the park is open, and the Pollinator Garden will be hosting an event soon as well.
"On August the 11th, Thursday evening 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., they are going to do music down here at the park, and we are doing a 'Peak at the Pollinators' at the same time," Kidwell said.
The garden is open to the public as long as the park is open, but Kidwell also wanted people to know that if they want a tour, she would love to show them around the garden.
"If anyone wants to come, they can come and have a tour of the garden, and I would love to show it to them," she said.
In order to set up a tour time, Kidwell said to contact Amanda McCabe at the Princeton Recreation Center at 304-487-5040, and she will get those people in contact with Kidwell.
You can also find more information about pollinators at xerces.org.