The Putnam County Master Gardener Volunteers Present: Gardeners of Putnam County. This is the seventh in a series appearing in the Sentinel every other week into October. Each article shares the experience of a different Putnam County gardener, focusing on a particular garden project or feature that brings the gardener joy.

The Putnam County Master Gardener Volunteers’ Pollinator Garden and Habitat sits next to Red Fox Cabin on The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve and Conservation Farm on Road 7-L near Pandora. In 2016 we adopted a 35 ft. x 12 ft. plot on the preserve and launched a project intended to help struggling native pollinators and, as project chair Janet Leingang states, “create a teaching tool for club organizations and schools and families.”

Early in 2016 we studied research-based publications to learn more about our native pollinator species (distinct from our imported honeybees) and why we need them, why many are declining world-wide, and what features make up habitats that support them throughout their life cycles. We learned that many thousands of native bees, including bumblebees; countless beetle and fly species; moths; bats and hummingbirds pollinate our crops and gardens and sustain natural ecosystems. However, they are being threatened by invasive plants; parasites and diseases; destruction and breaking up of their habitats; improper use of pesticides and herbicides; and even climate change.

Armed with our findings, we decided to use a space at The Quarry Farm to create a garden that would not only look like a garden but also help pollinators and demonstrate the features of a pollinator habitat. Twelve people formed committees for Pollinator Plant Selection, Design and Hardscape. Throughout the spring and summer of 2016 the committees planned and by fall were ready to prepare the site. With shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows, a backhoe, and heavy labor, we laid down layers of soil, compost and mulch over a weed-smothering layer of newspaper. By the spring of 2017 we were ready to plant.

From a native plant nursery near Delaware, we purchased 3 native grasses and 13 native flowering plants that were on the plant selection committee’s list—all of them nectar sources and a few such as milkweed, also hosts for egg-laying and larval food. By the end of planting day volunteers had carried out the committees’ plans: a rock-lined mulch path wound the length of the garden, a mason bee house and decaying log were in place, and the baby plants were spaced out beside the path and labeled. Since then, garden ornaments, a water bowl, a large rock and a sturdy fence to keep out bunnies and deer from the preserve have been added. Last fall volunteers built a gated entrance at the south end. Volunteers also help keep the garden weeded.

Most of the baby plants from 2017 have thrived. A few that didn’t like the clay soil have been replaced and a few more species planted. As planned, something is in bloom throughout the growing season, and pollinators have come. Last summer, Monarchs loved the Swamp Milkweed. Bees and butterflies swarmed Penstemon, Bee Balm, Goldenrod and others as they bloomed. This spring wild bees, Silver-Spotted Skippers and Red Admirals have been all over the blue False Indigo and pink Prairie Phlox. We await the year’s remaining show.

To the left of the garden gate is a colorful sign that lists pollinator habitat elements implemented in our garden: a variety of native flowering plants and grasses; conditions for nesting and egg-laying; mineral sources, such as rocks and bare soil; undisturbed soil; shelter from predators and weather; a clean water source and no pesticides or herbicides. If all of us gardeners were to provide these conditions in even a small patch, we could go a long way toward ensuring pollinator survival.

Master Gardeners are Ohio State University Extension-trained volunteers working with county Extension personnel to provide educational services to their communities. For more about the Master Gardener program, contact the Putnam County Extension Office, 419-523-6294, or go online to Watch for an announcement in the Sentinel about Master Gardener training classes this fall.