My Field (er, garden) of dreams

It was early February when I stumbled across a post on Facebook in my local elementary school council group about a grant being offered from our conservation authority to public schools that wanted funding for a conservation-themed school project. Hmmmm. I love the idea of getting kids involved in and learning about problems in our environment and working to find solutions to these problems. So I had a light bulb moment – I should apply to put in a pollinator garden. And suddenly the idea was taking off and my head was spinning with ideas of how I could get each and every student involved and learning about the importance of protecting our pollinators. But hold on…I was extremely busy studying about bees, and working on bee-related projects (not to mention raising three kids and looking after everything at home). I couldn’t possibly manage another side-project. So I put the breaks on and brushed my idea aside. Yet there it sat, nagging at me. What good is any of the work I do if we do not get the younger generations to understand and care about the importance? Shouldn’t this be a priority? So about a week later, on a long drive home after visiting my Mom, I brought up the grant to my husband. I’m certain I saw his hands tighten around the steering wheel as he patiently waited for me to explain my idea. Then a few side glances with not-so-subtly raised eyebrows. “When do you have the time?” “Do you need more work?” Ok I think he was just listening and I was asking myself these questions, but after talking it over I made the decision (again) that this was not the year to do this. Perhaps next year I could revisit it if I had less on my plate. But as the deadline for the grant application approached I just knew I couldn’t let it go. This was too good of an opportunity! So with a week to go I got approval from the principal, who in-turn go approval from the school board, and wrote the application and sent it off the day before the deadline of February 28th. And then I waited, and wondered, waited and wondered until finally one morning in May I heard that my grant application was approved and we had funding. Yes! So with some wonderful parent and kid volunteers, we got the site prepped. The Grade 1/2 class started zinnia seeds in compostable pots in their classroom. A few parents donated plants and I was able to source the bulk of our plants from nurseries that specialize in native species. Slowly the garden started taking shape – not full yet but give it a couple of years and it will be! The spring was rather wet and cool so maintenance was pretty easy. And then summer vacation, and HOT dry rainless days hit and I was faced with the task of how to keep this garden watered (and alive) at a site that does not have access to outdoor water. No problem (written with sarcasm) – just about every day the kids and I ride over to the school on our bikes with a full watering can “secured” on my handlebar and a large tupperware of water in my bike trailer. I’ve learned how to steer and balance one-handed, though still always have a wet foot by the time we get there! It is an easier task on days when we are heading out of town and can take the water over in my car, though these days are limited as I try not to drive much! Right now it is a lot of green (many of these plants may not bloom in the first year) and I was beginning to feel impatient with the lack of blooms and colour that will make the garden look so beautiful and like the pollinator garden I was envisioning on those cold February days. Then on one particularly hot morning, when I was feeling a bit frustrated and overwhelmed with keeping this desert-like garden watered enough to maintain plant life, I noticed the leaves on the False Dragonhead (Physostegia virginiana) did not look normal. In fact they had little half-circles cut out all along their leaf margins – evidence of the work of a leaf-cutter bee! These bees chew out little leaf circles to take back to their nest where they make little leaf-burritos in which they pack in pollen, nectar and an egg. Success! My pollinator garden was working! We had attracted and provided support for an important pollinator! As my kids finished up playing at the school playground, which they frequently do while I tend to the garden, I was excitedly exclaiming “we have bees!”. In my head I think I’m the cool mom, with the cool job that they brag about to their little friends. Sigh. I’m not quite sure this is how they see it, but they did humor me and come check out what had me over-the-moon excited. As I packed up my watering supplies and a couple of kiddos into my bike-trailer I couldn’t help but smile, feeling like I was Kevin Costner in The Field of Dreams…if you build it, they will come!

Evidence of a leaf cutter bee

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