By Lea Anne Moran, Garden Manager
What is a pollinator garden, you might ask? Aren’t all gardens good for pollinators? It’s nice to think that, but it’s not necessarily so.
A honey bee on the heirloom garden heliotrope in the Sunken Garden.
For the past three decades, visitors to Hill-Stead Museum have grown to love and appreciate the scenic historic Sunken Garden, easily viewed from the top of the steps. Those who venture down are often surprised to see the multitude of bees, butterflies, birds, and moths enjoying themselves among the plants. There are some plants in the garden that the bees just love: the many varieties of purple and blue salvia are among their favorites. Some they like to look at, but not touch, like the pink and white Japanese anemone. I’ve watched bees hover and dance around these pretty, bouncing flowers, but after a look or maybe a sniff, they fly on to the next bed for a tastier treat.
So then, what is a pollinator garden? It is one that contains plants that provide nectar and pollen for pollinators, and offers a place for them to
call home. Master Gardener interns and graduates have been hard at work planning a new pollinator garden on the museum grounds that will serve this purpose. Not only will it be a habitat and food source for bees, butterflies and others, it will be a beautiful and colorful garden for visitors to explore. And the best thing is that it will make use of a long-forgotten space that was once a productive greenhouse for the Pope and Riddle families. At its peak, it was filled with bedding plants grown from seed for the gardens on the property and provided plants and blooms for the home. What better way to use the space than to fill it once again with beautiful blooms, climbing vines and flowering shrubs?
An early image of one of three greenhouses on the Hill-Stead grounds.
The old stone foundation of the greenhouse still stands strong but has been overgrown with vines, poison ivy and tree seedlings. It is tucked behind the stone garage, the low stone building facing the Pope house that you drive past to get to the parking lot. You can get to these “ruins” through a vine-covered opening in the high stone wall at the southeast side of the Sunken Garden. Only the curious have ventured there in the past, but it will soon be the home of a bountiful, colorful garden for visitors to explore and appreciate.
Master gardeners hard at work laying the cardboard and landscape fabric over the poison ivy and other weeds.
This past year, a team of Master Gardener interns led by Lora Madorin, Susan Caron and Lea Anne Moran developed a plan for the space. They considered carefully the historic aspect of the site, and their research for plant material included studying invoices found in the archives for plants that would have been grown there. They scoured the long lists of pollinator-friendly plants currently available on the market and have put together a “wish list.”
Clearing the land has been the biggest hurdle. The area was filled with poison ivy that had to be addressed first. Several options were considered, and in the end, layers of landscape fabric and cardboard were laid as a first line of defense. This spring, the group assessed the area and began soil preparation.
The Master Gardeners are seeking plant donations and have many ideas for future educational programs. Keep an eye out for updates on this revitalized outdoor space at Hill-Stead.