How the Pollinator Pathways Project is turning Middletown lawns into thriving ecosystems

MIDDLETOWN – A number of local, environmentally conscious groups have joined together in a common mission to educate people to rethink the idea of ​​having a lawn, the importance of keeping native plants in their yard and the reasons behind it. avoid pesticides and insecticides.

The Northeast Pollinator Pathway project, launched in 2017, has expanded from one city to more than 85 municipalities in Connecticut and New York. Local defenders want Middletown’s all-new Pollinator Pathway to connect to and expand on the existing framework.

The collaborative effort is led by the Rockfall Foundation and the Jonah Center for Earth and Art. The Steering Committee partnered with the Middletown Garden Club and representatives from the Conservation and Urban Forestry Commissions, the Sustainability Committee, as well as the UConn Master Gardener Program and Everyone Outside.

“With all the dire predictions from climatologists, we hope public engagement in this project will not only create a healthier ecosystem for Middletown and other towns in the Connecticut River Valley, but also build optimism and hope. community spirit in our cities,” said group member Kathy Meyering, who sits on the Middletown Garden Club’s horticulture committee.

Project goals include identifying corridors of open space for native planting parties and engaging schools, churches and other public places in maintaining pollinator-friendly habitats, she said. declared.

Sometimes you have to convince people to accept the idea of ​​leaving their lawns wild.

“We’re trying to raise awareness to restore the health of our ecosystem,” Meyering said. “All these years of suburban sprawl have destroyed habitats without knowing it. We install our beautiful lawns and our pretty ornamental thickets there and, in doing so, all the pollinators have nothing to eat.

“And then, because of that, the birds have nothing to eat,” she explained.

How people garden and cultivate their gardens affects the whole ecosystem, Meyering said.

Pollinators feed on native plants, which are much hardier and have been around for hundreds of years.

“Rethinking and re-doing lawns is very interesting because people seem to appreciate that message,” she said. It’s the most popular, Meyering found, among men she’s met who are thrilled to hear a proposal that will significantly reduce lawn mowing.

“It’s about changing a person’s paradigm and the way they think about maintaining their properties,” she explained.

Last weekend, the project was exhibited at the city’s Earth Day ‘Go Green’ festival and on Daffodil Day at Wadsworth Mansion. Volunteers managed to get 40 people to sign a pledge to dedicate part of their garden to pollinator-friendly plants. Many have talked about letting their lawns grow longer — and keeping the dandelions out, she said.

Their addresses will be used to help connect open spaces throughout the city to create the trail. The range of most pollinators is half a mile, Meyering said.

Insects, butterflies, bees and other pollinators are genetically diverse species that cannot interact with other species located miles apart. “It’s not good for your health. We’re trying to open up those corridors so they can move from place to place,” she explained. “It’s going to take time.”

Dandelions and clovers, which some may consider weeds, feed these insects and other pollinators. Meyering lets her lawn grow six inches tall and leaves the flowers yellow for the bees, she said. Other natural plants are goldenrod, ragweed and violet.

People who want blooms throughout the season can stagger their planting at regular intervals to achieve that goal, she said.

“It’s about restoration, not conservation – restoring the habitat to how it was before it happened and messing things up,” she said.

There has been a decline in the population of insects, such as moths and butterflies, whose caterpillar larvae feed the nestlings, over the past two decades or so, Meyering said.

“It’s a bit scary. They talk about the insect apocalypse,” she said.

The work of Douglas Tallamy, an entomologist, ecologist and conservationist and professor at the University of Delaware, has focused on the question. “People are really starting to pay attention to it,” she said.

She is a golfer, but since being involved in the project, she looks at the well-groomed greens in a new way. “Golf courses are a terrible place for pollinators,” she said.

However, she added, “you can’t become militant about it. It’s tiny, baby steps.

Upcoming projects for the group include invasive plant removal efforts, “No-Mow May” and identifying open space corridors for native planting parties.

“Pollinator Pathway: Take It to the Next Level” presented by ecological landscaper Kathy Connolly, will be held on Zoom from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.