The Rotary Club of Bedford hopes to install a 400-square-foot natural pollination preservation garden behind the west end of Veterans Memorial Park to restore habitat for wild bees and native plants.
The Conservation Commission Wednesday will determine whether the project has applicability under state wetlands protection regulations, and if so how to safeguard the contiguous area.
Paula Gilarde, immediate past president of the club, is the primary driver for the project. “I am not an expert in this field but I’ve learned so much since we’ve had this idea,” she said.
The environment was one of Rotary International’s focus areas during her presidency, Gilarde said, and “I was very interested in that because in this Covid world I thought it would be really cool to do something that would be outdoors. I thought it would be something to get people out, involve the community and help make the world a better place.”
The club, in materials provided to the Conservation Commission, explains, “Our plan is to choose a wide variety of plants with overlapping and sequential bloom periods to provide food for pollinators throughout the season. We will use native species over cultivars. We will plant densely, using native groundcovers as ‘green mulch,’ leaving some bare soil for the 70
percent of native bees that nest in the ground.
“Native pollinators are vital to creating and maintaining the habitats and ecosystems that most animals rely on for food and shelter — including humans… bees alone pollinate 45 percent of the food crops grown in Massachusetts.”
The background also reports, “Multiple wild bee species presently in decline were found to have historic ties to plant species which are presently threatened or endangered. Because many of these plant species are no longer found in most of their historic range, the scientists concluded that conservation efforts specifically on habitat restoration for declining wild bee and plant species are fundamental to the preservation of regional biodiversity.”
Gilarde said she consulted Select Board member Bopha Malone, a fellow Rotarian, “to see what we would need to do to get some town land. Bopha spoke to Town Manager Sarah Stanton and the Department of Public Works.”
The suggested site at the north end of the Page Field recreation area, east of the narrow-gauge rail trail, is ideal, Gilarde said, because it is central, visible, and accessible. “We thought this would be a perfect place for a preservation garden.”
“We plan to use it for educational purposes,” she said of the garden. “It would be fabulous if they took school kids there.”
Gilarde said the plant list was provided by Dr. Robert Gegear, assistant professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, whose research addresses “the dynamic interplay between pollinators and the flowering plants that they service (https://gegearlab.weebly.com/).”
“His expertise is in native bees, and these are plants specifically for sources of nectar and pollen for bees of this area,” Gilarde said. These are plants that “should be growing here anyway as part of an ecosystem. We are trying to build the ecosystem back.” In theory, “this will spread. Birds and bees will move the seeds around.”
She pointed out that “native bees don’t live in hives. They have to find their own homes. This kind of environment would provide shelter for native bees.”
If and when the Conservation Commission issues orders of condition, Gilarde said, she thinks the project can move forward.
“It’s not just, ‘We’ll get some bees and some plants and that will be great,’” Gilarde explained. “We have to prep the soil. Basically, we will have to kill everything that’s there,” to ensure the absence of invasive plants. “You cover the soil with biodegradable cardboard, and then the sun, through some process, inhibits growth.”
That takes nine months to a year, but Gilarde isn’t deterred. “From what I understand it would be better to plant them in the fall anyway.” She hopes community members can be involved in the “winter sow.”
Last winter, she said, guided by members of the Southborough Open Space Preservation Commission, Rotarians grew native plants from seeds in cut-off plastic milk containers that are destined for the natural garden.
She said the chair of that commission “has been incredibly helpful and has taken some of us Rotarians on tours of the native pollinator gardens she started in her town, all on town properties. That group also provided seeds for our winter sow project.”
“I’ve hooked into networks all over the state of towns starting these projects and trying to promote pollinating gardens. I’ve certainly tried to do my research,” Gilarde said. “The root of the whole thing is that we are trying to return the land to what it should be.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763