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Pollinators thrive in urban spaces

Many people want to help bees and other pollinators, but wonder if their actions can really have an impact. The good news is, you don't need a large yard or garden and you don't have to live in the woods or be surrounded by meadows. This summer I...

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A bumblebee collects pollen at the Duluth Grill. (Photo by Pat Thomas)

 

Many people want to help bees and other pollinators, but wonder if their actions can really have an impact. The good news is, you don't need a large yard or garden and you don't have to live in the woods or be surrounded by meadows.

This summer I examined a city street, parking lot and rooftop from a pollinator's perspective, looking for nesting material, food, water and shelter.

Amity Coffee is tucked into the Lakeside business district. There is very little space to garden, but owners Patti Chuang and Adam Swank planted containers. When a nonprofit installed a small pop-up parklet on Superior St. in front of the shop, they selected native flowers from Boreal Natives, an ecological restoration company in Duluth. The work was not just beautiful for human eyes, but useful for the local pollinator community. Flower flies, bumblebees and a red admiral butterfly found nectar and pollen. Spiders set up webs to capture insects. What most amazed me was a female leafcutter bee flying with plant material to her nest. That little bee was proof that we can help pollinators even in a small area surrounded by concrete on a busy street.

Then there's the Duluth Grill in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. "Veggies from our parking lot" appears on the restaurant's T-shirts. I walked around their parking lot and watched in awe as bumblebees collected pollen, honeybees drank nectar, flower flies hovered and spiders awaited prey in their webs.

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All this activity occurred in a parking lot surrounded by buildings on a busy street, across from a major highway. This parking lot could have easily remained an empty asphalt space devoid of beauty and life, but the Duluth Grill owners, Tom and Jaima Hanson, had a vision. They have worked year after year and continue to improve on the plantings which benefit people and insects. Even their rooftop has a garden, which shows that a concrete jungle can become a beautiful and productive urban garden.

At the College of St. Scholastica I climbed out onto a rooftop where Professor Jane Wattrus and her students engaged in class discussion and work. They are converting the rooftop into a garden for pollinators and other creatures such as birds.

The students are also noticing and changing their daily habits and activities. Some no longer use plastic bottles or paper napkins. Others walk and bike to school or carpool if they must drive. Jane and her class are keenly aware of how their actions impact our planet and their own financial and physical health. They are proof that by changing just one thing in our lives, we can make a difference in the world.

All this is not to say there is no need to protect natural resources within and beyond city limits. There is no doubt that clean water, unpolluted air and large intact areas of forests and other natural spaces are vital for life on earth. Too many of us can point to development projects that cut down trees, destroy wetlands and other natural areas. If we are to continue to enjoy life on Earth we must reuse previously developed land and protect natural spaces.

My time on the rooftop at the College of St. Scholastica, the afternoon of watching insect activity on the street at Amity Coffee and in the Duluth Grill parking lot filled me with gratitude and hope. Each and every one of us can help the tiny creatures that are key to life on this beautiful planet. We are all connected, so everything we do matters. May we all be inspired to do good and may we all enjoy pollinators this summer.

Pat Thomas teaches a class, “Gardening for Pollinators,” through Duluth Community Education on April 19 at Ordean East. To sign up call Julie at (218) 336-8760, ext. 1.

Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. The writers are volunteers at Wildwoods and/or experts in their fields. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit wildwoodsrehab.org, call (218) 491-3604 or write to P.O. Box 3161, Duluth, MN 55803. 

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