Article and photographs by Brielle Tiger.
Brielle Tiger, an 8th grade Girl Scout Cadette, recently installed a pollinator garden in Middlesex County’s Johnson Park as part of her Girl Scout Silver Award. Brielle has been a Girl Scout for seven years. She lives in New Jersey with her parents, brother, two cats and one dog. She loves eating the vegetables from her small family garden.
As a Cadette Girl Scout, I have the opportunity to earn the Silver Award, the second highest award in Girl Scouts. To earn this award, the project I choose needs to benefit my community, take at least fifty hours to complete, be sustainable, and be something I care about. For the past several years, our family garden has not had as many vegetables as there used to be even though we had the same number of plants. On the news they show that bee colonies are dying and butterfly populations are decreasing. Could the decrease of these pollinators be affecting the growth in my garden? That is when I came up with the idea of planting a pollinator garden. I decided to start researching pollinator gardens and visited some local gardens to get ideas for this new project. I then contacted the Middlesex County Parks Department. I spoke with Eric and Scott, and they both loved the idea of a pollinator garden in Johnson Park.
After meeting several times, we decided to plant the garden in a swale area, just over the bridge from East Jersey Olde Town. This was very new to me, since a swale is very wet soil and the banks are dry soil. I contacted Michele, who works in the Environmental and Resource Management at Rutgers and Heather with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, for advice on getting plants for a pollinator garden in a swale. They gave me a lot of information on how to plant the garden, how to care for the plants, and what nurseries could provide plants for me.
I used the information Michele and Heather gave me to put together a diagram of the garden and contacted some nurseries to see if they would donate plants for my cause. Two of the nurseries, Pinelands Nursery and New Moon Nursery, both in New Jersey, were kind enough to supply enough plants for my entire garden.
With my garden being 10ft x 20ft , it was recommended that I plant two hundred plants in my garden to help with weed control. Some of the flowers were Fox Sage, Black Eyed Susan, Orange Coneflower, and New York Aster. Now that I knew what plants will be donated and planted in my garden, I needed to find a deer fence. Johnson Park has many deer, so I wanted to make sure they did not eat my plants. This turned out harder than I thought. I asked several local hardware stores for donations, and none of them responded. So I decided to go online and find places that sold deer fence and were still close to New Jersey. This time when I asked, I asked for a discount on the items needed. Benner’s Garden in Pennsylvania responded and they said that they would give me a discount on the deer fence and donate other needed supplies.
Now it’s time to set planting day and find volunteers. Planting day was scheduled on May 22, and many family members, friends, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts came out to help. Thirty people came out to help plant my pollinator garden. We had to get the grass and dirt out of the swale, prepare the soil, put up the fence, plant the flowers, water the flowers, and enjoy some hot dogs for lunch! It took almost the whole day to complete, but the garden looked great and it was definitely worth all the work.
A few days later, I came back to the garden to put down mulch and pull some weeds. I go back often to water it, and watch how the plants grow in size. I know in the fall, I will have to clean out the garden when all the plants die. In the spring I will have to probably put down more mulch, pull weeds and water again. Hopefully with the plants being close together and being bigger next year, there will be more weed control in my garden. Also, the fact that it is located in a swale, my watering it could be less often, depending on the weather.
With the flowers blooming, it is awesome to see! I’ve seen a few butterflies and tons of bees, which is a great sight. Doing this was a perfect project and something that other communities should also consider. I would suggest contacting the Middlesex County Parks Department and the Environmental and Resource Management at Rutgers. They give great advice on planting native pollinator gardens.
At the time that I’m writing this, the tomato plants in my family garden has given us an extremely large amount of tomatoes! Hopefully our other plants will do the same next year because there will be more pollinators.