Volunteers with the Hazel Park Nature Initiative and Mulberry Hill Wildlife install a pollinator garden at the corner of Nine Mile  and John R roads Aug. 3. The garden is specifically designed with plants that attract and sustain beneficial native organisms,  while avoiding the use of pesticides and other chemicals that harm them.

Volunteers with the Hazel Park Nature Initiative and Mulberry Hill Wildlife install a pollinator garden at the corner of Nine Mile and John R roads Aug. 3. The garden is specifically designed with plants that attract and sustain beneficial native organisms, while avoiding the use of pesticides and other chemicals that harm them.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Hazel Park Nature Initiative plants pollinator garden

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published August 9, 2019

 Mayor Pro Tem Amy Aubry was among those planting in the garden.

Mayor Pro Tem Amy Aubry was among those planting in the garden.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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HAZEL PARK — For its first major project, the Hazel Park Nature Initiative recently installed a garden at Hazel Park’s municipal offices between City Hall and the library, facing the intersection of Nine Mile and John R roads. The hope is that in time, this all-natural garden will attract pollinators that are crucial to the environment’s health.

The Hazel Park Nature Initiative is a program co-authored by Hazel Park Mayor Pro Tem Amy Aubry and Grace Vatai, a Hazel Park-based naturalist who also serves as executive director of Mulberry Hill Wildlife and vice president of the Michigan Naturalist Society. Mulberry Hill Wildlife designed the new garden.

The program seeks to educate the public on alternatives to the well-manicured grass turf lawn that is a staple of suburban communities — alternatives that provide food for birds, bees, butterflies, bats and bugs, or “the five B’s.” The program also seeks to work on local ordinances that will enhance the city’s natural landscape in this respect.

“This pollinator garden was our first project, and we had so much fun that we can’t wait to find more locations to do it again,” Aubry said. “We’re hoping to create pollinator gardens across the city and encourage residents to plant their own. We have many residents interested in donating plants and supporting the nature initiative. It’s a great opportunity to bring the community together and to learn at the same time.”

This first garden occupies a hill where Hazel Park Neighborhood Enrichment has planted flowers for many years. The new garden features black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, stonecrop, butterfly weed, little bluestem and swamp milkweed, with plans for common milkweed to be added in the cooler months, and in the spring, common blue violet.

The garden uses mulch as natural weed control. This avoids the use of pesticides and herbicides that are deadly for pollinators. Next year, the volunteers plan to install signage so that visitors can identify the different plants and learn about how they benefit pollinators, and how pollinators benefit us.

The garden took five hours to install on Saturday, Aug. 3. The volunteers started by restoring the retaining wall and nourishing the soil with fresh compost before planting. Then the plants were divided and the digging began, topped off with mulch to keep the moisture in and weeds out. About a dozen residents helped out, including members of the Hazel Park City Council and business owners.

“It was an educational experience to learn about native plantings and how they can impact your community,” said Traci Goure, a resident who helped plant the garden. “More people need to learn about growing these types of plants to save on water and to encourage bee and butterfly survival. It was nice to come together with the volunteers to enhance our community.”


Alternative lawns
One goal of the Hazel Park Nature Initiative is to cultivate habitats that will attract and sustain beneficial native wildlife to the city by way of diverse nature gardens. This counters the “monoculture” — the cultivation of a single species of plant with little diversity and covering a large space, as seen in traditional lawns, which also require large amounts of chemical fertilizer and pesticides to maintain.

Vatai noted that turf grass occupies around 30 to 40 million acres in the U.S., or 63,000 square miles of land, making it the No. 1 cultivar in the country and its largest monoculture. Americans spend more than $40 billion each year trying to maintain it, while applying harmful chemicals that kill millions of birds and countless other beneficial organisms annually.

By contrast, a native landscape can incorporate attractive and beautiful elements like wildflower beds, native flower- or fruit-bearing shrubs and trees, and more, supporting local wildlife by providing suitable homes, nest sites and food sources. These alternative lawns avoid the use of chemicals and can be lower maintenance, and often include elements like rain gardens, bioswales for cleaning and controlling water runoff, and compost.

The beneficial wildlife they can attract and sustain include pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, as well as ladybugs that naturally prevent aphid populations from destroying gardens, and birds that appreciate the nest sites and food provided by fruit- and seed-bearing plants.

Bird feeders and bat houses can also be added to such lawns. A single bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in a single hour, Vatai noted, so there are other benefits to humans as well.

Alternative planting options can include such plants as milkweed (beneficial to monarch butterflies), black-eyed Susan, aster, butterfly weed, goldenrod, coneflower, bee-balm and sunflowers. One alternative to traditional turf grass that Vatai recommended is clover, which requires less mowing, turns green sooner and stays green longer into fall. Clover adds nitrogen to soil, fertilizing it naturally, and clover blossoms attract pollinators and provide food for them.

Vatai hopes that pollinator gardens such as the one near City Hall will help improve the balance between mankind and nature.

“This is a municipal property in a visually prominent location. The size of the garden shows that this is something that can be easily achieved in yards at home, and the fact that we came together as a community to make it happen is even better,” Vatai said. “The incredible amount of support from passersby we got while working was so encouraging. People were cheering out the window of their cars, giving thumbs up, and even stopping to talk and tell us how happy they were about the project. People specifically mentioned how great it was that Hazel Park was doing something for wildlife.

“It was awesome,” she said. “People want more nature in their lives. Everyone wants beauty, peace and happiness. By working together with the Hazel Park Nature Initiative on projects like this, we feel we can bring our community even closer to those goals.” 

For more information about the Hazel Park Nature Initiative, visit facebook.com/HPNatureInitative. For more on Mulberry Hill Wildlife, visit facebook.com/mulberryhillwildlife or email wildlife.mulberryhill@gmail.com.

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