Jill Severn's Gardening Column

The governor's new garden

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On June 22, Governor Jay Inslee introduced a new pollinator garden on the East Capitol Campus, which he said is “the first pollinator garden on a capitol campus in our nation’s history.” He then averred that he wasn’t really sure if it is the first, but will see if any other governor challenges his claim. So far, none has, so the governor is probably right.

Washington may also be the only state whose legislature created a pollinator task force in 2019, and, at the task force’s recommendation, passed a pollinator health bill in 2021.

We like our several hundreds of species of bees in this state.

The new garden is intended to attract and benefit all the pollinators: bees, bats, butterflies, moths, beetles, wasps and birds, notably hummingbirds. All these little critters move grains of pollen from the anthers (male parts) to the stigma (female parts) of plants and thus make it possible for them to produce fruit and seeds. Without them, 85 percent of plants could not survive. Of all these pollinators, bees get the most done.

Pollinators are threatened by pesticides, habitat loss, invasive species, and climate change. And when they’re threatened, we are too. When you put avocado on your toast, take a bite of apple pie, drink a cup of coffee or tea, or eat a handful of nuts, you have a pollinator to thank for them. And if the cow who provided your milk eats alfalfa, you have bees to thank for that too. Humans would go hungry without our pollinator pals.

The new pollinator garden’s purpose is to educate people about how to treat these pals better. Its plants were chosen by one of the many partners in its creation – the Woodland Park Zoo. It’s an interesting plant list, and home gardeners may want to peruse it to see what we might add to our own gardens.

However, there are an awful lot of great things to grow for pollinators that aren’t on the list. Oregano, asters, fruit trees, and foxgloves come to mind, because I have seen how much and how long various kinds of bees attend to them in my own garden. And at the Boston Harbor garden tour last weekend, a woman with a lot of ceanothuses reported that for the last couple of weeks, she could hear the blue-flowered shrubs buzzing with bee activity before she got near them – which she didn’t, as she is allergic to bee stings.

So as summer unfolds, it’s a good idea to watch for bees in your own garden, and see what you’re growing that attracts them, and what doesn’t. And wherever you go – to a friend’s yard, on a walk in your neighborhood, or on a backpacking trip, watch for bees, and see what plants they’re visiting.

As to the Governor’s new garden, I can’t recommend that you drop everything and go see it. It’s a circle of giant concrete planters set on a vast concrete sea, among office buildings that are relics of the semi-brutalist architecture in style when the east capitol campus was built. And right now its new plantings look skimpy and bedraggled, as newly planted gardens often do.

The production of concrete is notorious for being responsible for seven or eight percent of the world’s total global greenhouse gas emissions. That makes the concrete-encased pollinator garden seem like it’s sending a mixed message of environmental concern and climate indifference.

Also, giant concrete planters do not come to mind when you hear the word “garden.”

Worse yet, it’s located where few people will see it and learn from it. Tourists come to visit the capitol building, not the boring office buildings on the other side of Capitol Way. So do school buses full of kids, youth groups, dog-walkers and protesters. Transforming the long-famous sunken garden near the capitol into a pollinator garden would have made more sense.

Fortunately, pollinators are pretty good at finding the plants they need. We hope they will benefit from this new garden, even if there’s no one there to see them.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at  jill@theJOLTnews.com

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  • wildnature

    Dear Jill,

    When I worked on Grounds as a job, the sunken garden was the highest maintenance area of the whole campus. A woman named Hazel somebody managed the greenhouse and sunken garden, instead of us. When she retired, the greenhouse was closed and the sunken garden was put into less high maintenance species that took all it's showcase-ness away from it. (by the way I got married in 1972, in the sunken garden myself, in it's heyday of show stopping flowers)

    I highly agree with you that the sunken garden would be the perfect high traffic area, now dull, to become the pollinator display garden. And it wouldn't take the maintenance of the showy flower garden it used to be. Lots of people are attracted to that spot because of it's staired sunken quaintness the Olmsted Brother's designed into the original Capitol grounds landscaping. Thanks for being there Jill. I hope your idea comes true.

    Jean Shaffer (formerly Jean Stam)

    Saturday, July 2 Report this