Saratoga County

Pollinator event draws crowd in Saratoga County

Johanna Garrison of Saratoga Springs, a pollenator committee volunteer holds a tray of plants and answers a customer's question at Sunday's Pollinator Palooza native plant sale hosted by Sustainable Saratoga June 5, 2022 at the former Oligny Garden Center in Gansevoort.
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Johanna Garrison of Saratoga Springs, a pollenator committee volunteer holds a tray of plants and answers a customer's question at Sunday's Pollinator Palooza native plant sale hosted by Sustainable Saratoga June 5, 2022 at the former Oligny Garden Center in Gansevoort.

GANSEVOORT — Sue Edwards has spent years maintaining a lush, vibrant garden made up of an assortment of colorful flowers and bucolic plants at her Clifton Park home.  

But over the last few planting seasons, Edwards has moved away from eye-catching flowers, opting instead for far less catchy native plants in the hopes of attracting pollinators and benefiting the environment.

“I’m trying to draw in the butterflies,” said Edwards, who just purchased a few goldenrod and Joe-Pye weed plants with the help of her goddaughter, Kristina Vedder of Malta, who encouraged her to begin seeking out native plants a few years ago.

The pair were among the dozens who descended on the former Oligny Garden Center along Wilton-Gansevoort Road on Sunday for Pollinator Palooza: the first-of-its-kind event hosted by Sustainable Saratoga to raise awareness about the plight of pollinators and the important role native plants play in the ecosystem.

The nonprofit spent months cultivating around 1,500 plant plugs — everything from milkweed, nodding onion and mountain mint — which they planned to sell during a five-hour window beginning at 10 a.m. But just an hour into the sale, many of the 30 plant species available had sold out.

The event’s success was an unexpected but hopeful surprise for organizer Chris Burghart, a Ballston Spa resident who joined Sustainable Saratoga after the organization established a pollinator committee a few months ago.

“It’s hard to get the word out,” she said.

Pollinators have been on the decline in recent years, a problem attributable to a number of factors, including climate change, pesticides and the proliferation of invasive species that have choked out native plant life, leaving insects that rely on them for dead.

A 2017 study by the Center for Biological Diversity found that more than half of the 1,437 bee species found in North America are in decline, and 1 in 4 of those species are at risk for extinction. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that bees are responsible for $15 billion in crop value each year and their decline spells trouble for the ecosystem.

But the problem extends beyond bees. Butterflies and beetles are also in decline.

“Without pollinators, we don’t eat — it’s as simple as that — and, at the moment, large numbers of pollinators are dying,” Sonny Ramaswamay, the former director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, wrote in a 2017 article.

But Burghart said people can help reverse the trend by taking small, but impactful steps, including eliminating harmful pesticides and fertilizers from their gardens and incorporating native plants that pollinators, including butterflies, beetles and hummingbirds, feed on.

Sustainable Saratoga also worked this year to spread awareness about “No Mow May,” a growing movement where people don’t mow their lawns for the entire month of May so pollinators can feed on things like dandelions and other plant species that bloom during the early spring months.

“That’s why native plants are so important, because the insects can’t eat so many foreign plants,” Burghart said. “So many plants that are pretty to us do not support the ecosystem.”

Elsewhere, Jerry Wanapun, a Saratoga resident, was browsing the dwindling selection of plants available for sale. She has been gardening for the past two years and is considering setting aside a portion of her property for native plants in an effort to be environmentally conscious.

‘I’m trying to get some resources here and see what plants are native to this area, because it’s a little bit of a shorter growing season,” she said.

Veeder, meanwhile, said more people should be planting native plants and advocated people work to make the change.

Someone who lives in an apartment complex, she said, can have a window box full of native species or talk to their landlord about planting native species in flower beds that make up the property.

“You don’t think about how the smallest creature impacts us as humans and how the extinction of those creatures will lead to the extinction of use,” Veeder said. “It’s just mostly expanding our ideas on what gardening should look like. You can make a beautiful garden and still help the wildlife thrive.”

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.  

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