Gardener uses native plants to create a haven for pollinators
People aren’t the audience for the garden Denice Franke is designing. It’s for birds, bees, butterflies and bugs.
Franke has created a large pollinating garden in front of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Galveston County building, 502 Church St. in Galveston, where she has returned the area to a native habitat to attract wildlife and give them a safe and nourishing place to go.
“I’m over pretty and don’t want to plant things that are sterile,” said Franke, looking around her garden, which is filled with native plants and weeds considered beneficial. “The native plants are the way to go. I learned that especially this year with the freeze. Everything here is coming back and natives are a lot less work.”
The yard in front of the church had been grass, weeds and sticker burrs and not very attractive. Franke volunteered to get it back in shape and applied for a grant from the Native Plant Society of Texas to buy specific plants that would lure bees, butterflies and birds to the area. She planted seeds for spotted bee balm, yellow coreopsis, orange Indian blanket flower, green milkweed and verbena, as well as bronze fennel and purple American basket flowers.
Franke concedes her initial approach to the garden was incorrect. As a Galveston County Master Gardener, she was planting the seeds for these wildflowers in a straight line.
“I was doing this wrong,” she said. “With wildflowers, you just want the seeds to make contact with the soil and a little water. Loosen the dirt and then scatter the seeds. The roots will germinate and dig into the soil and grow. Think of it as nature on its own. Nature doesn’t plant seeds — just scatters. That took the pressure off me.”
In addition to the wildflowers and native plants, several species of trees were planted, although mature live oaks towered over the building already. Live oaks are magnets for local and migratory birds, as well as yaupon holly, Eastern red cedar and hackberry trees. And with these trees come insects and bugs, the favorite food for birds.
“Do you know how many thousands of insects it takes to feed one baby bird? They need to be fed,” said Franke, who frequently refers to Douglas W. Tallamy’s book, “Bringing Nature Home.”
Through the book and other sources, Franke learned a single clutch in a single season needs thousands of soft-body insects to develop.
A clutch is the total number of eggs laid by one bird during one nesting session.
“It is all part of the cycle,” she said. “Insects are a wonderful food source for birds. And wasps and mosquitoes are pollinators, too.”
Because the pollinating garden was set up to incorporate birds, it helped the city successfully apply for the designation of Bird City, said Julie Ann Brown, director of Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council. Only seven U.S. cities have earned that designation, which requires re-certification every three years.
Anna Deichmann, who managed the Bird City project, said the collaboration between the city and Franke’s project at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship building was paramount in creating one of the requirements, which was a bird-friendly location on a community property.
The Bird City designation recognizes cities that protect birds and their habitats.
“What is good for the birds is good for people, too,” said Brown, noting nature tourism dollars have been a priority for the city in recent years.
Franke also is working on the gardens around the 1892 Bishop’s Palace, 1402 Broadway in Galveston, to incorporate more native plants for pollinators.
Some of her favorite plants are lanky black-eyed Susans; tall switchgrass with feathery pink flowers; muhly grass with a layer of purple-pink blooms; inland sea oats; false indigo with pea-like blue flowers; as well as colorful cone flowers; African basil, which also has medicinal uses; Texas lantana; and Texas sage.
And plants most people consider to be undesirable weeds actually are good ground covers and pollinators as well, she said. Frog fruit, with its tiny white flowers, holds onto the soil and is a good host and nectar plant; horse herb is a shade-tolerant ground cover that stays green all year and can be walked on; and rosin weed produces round, yellow flowers for bees, she said. And tropical plants such as pride of Barbados, cuphea and cherry Barbados are covered with bees in the hot summer months.
“Some folks say they are weeds and invasive, but many do have a purpose,” Franke said.
Pollinating gardens are easier to maintain than flower gardens because they need less attention. But “they are never done,” she said.
Dead blooms need to be dried and saved and seeds replanted.
“And these gardens require less water and time and no exhaust from lawnmowers,” she said. “Wildlife needs our help.”
Tallamy’s book made Franke realize the importance of our landscapes and the choices of plants we use and how it affects our environment, she said.
“I have so much still to learn, but what a wonderful adventure it has been so far,” she said. “One thing I have learned from this adventure and share with others is, if you plant them, they will come.”
Green milkweed (Asclepias viridis)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Indian blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella)
American basket flower (Centaurea Americana)
Spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata)
Plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘purpureum’)