Thursday, July 10, 2014

Visiting Royalty in Oak Meadows Park

No Mow Zones: Buzzing with Potential

We've got to start making more room for pollinators in our city, so why not start by re-wilding the space under our beautiful trees?

This morning I had a very exciting celebrity sighting. She was more beautiful in person than in the photographs and movies and she was very generous about posing for photographs. Her name is Danaus plexippus, but you may know her as the monarch butterfly. I had never seen a monarch in my life, and I was gobsmacked. I happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right camera! What luck! She patiently waited while I took several photos and then fluttered up to perch on a cedar tree. I wanted to jump up and down and hoot and holler, but instead I remained silent and tears of wonder streamed down my cheeks.

For those of you who have seen monarch butterflies, count yourself lucky, their population is in serious decline and we may lose them if we don't take action. Monarch butterflies are dependent on plants in the milkweed family, because this is what their larvae eat. Backyard habitat has recently become essential for the survival of the butterflies because that farmers are using GM Round-up Ready crops are killing all the milkweed on their land, leaving the monarchs with no place to lay their eggs. Milkweeds are great bee plants too, so they should be an essential plant in pollinator gardens and corridors.

The monarch butterfly I saw was sunning her wings in the long grasses under a cedar tree in Oak Meadows Park. This is a site where the Environmental Youth Alliance and the Vancouver Park Board are creating enhanced habitat called Pollinators' Paradise. The proof is in the party, as bees of all stripes, hummingbirds and butterflies are living it up in the lupins, yarrow, bee balm and other wild meadow flowers planted in the park. Take look at the garden right now if you can, because it's really at its peak. It's on the bike route! You might be inspired to add some of the plants to your garden to enhance pollinator habitat. Watch out for hummingbird males dueling over access to the bee balm.

 Part of the Pollinators' Paradise plan has been to leave the zone under the drip line of trees untouched by lawnmowers so that wildflowers and weeds that support bees can grow up, giving the park a more natural look. This circular "no mow zone" was exactly where I saw the monarch butterfly. Why not create more "no mow zones" all across the city? Trying this on boulevards and under trees is a great place to start. Trees that are more upright that allow a sunny spot would be great to plant wildflower perennials like milk weed. Trees with shade could host fabulous native shade tolerant plants for bees and butterflies like nodding onion. To make the idea more user-friendly, perhaps 1/4 of the no-mow zone could be set aside, marked off with a miniature fence, leaving enough room for picnic blankets on the moss or grass. Imagine snuggling next to your sweetheart in the shade next to a charming mini-wildflower meadow. (Just like in the BBC costume dramas!) Miniature hills of compost can provide habitat for beetles and a place for bumblebee queens to snuggle inside to dream away the winter months.We could plant fairy rings of crocuses, squill, and native fritillaries to provide important sources of pollen to bumblebee queens when they emerge in the spring. Children will love it! A child's life should be full of flowers, beetles, butterflies, and bees.

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