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New garden at library designed to create a buzz

The city’s commitment to building ecosystems for vital pollinating insects took another step forward with the installation of a second, officially sanctioned garden designed to attract and nourish them.

Sunlight and mild temperatures made for a perfect environment for five volunteers to put their green thumbs to work May 8 at the Palos Heights Public Library, 12501 S. 71st Ave.

“Pollinating insects are in decline worldwide, and they’re in decline in the Midwest,” said Gareth Blakesley, operations manager at Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens, as he supervised and helped install approximately 500 plants in a plot 44-feet long by 12-feet wide between the sidewalk and the library’s parking lot.

Blakesley is a tireless advocate of the need to bolster populations of pollinating insects. He attributes their decline to pollution, disease, misuse of chemicals and changes in climate patterns.  

“Seventy-five percent to 95 percent of all our flowering plants on earth require help with pollination,” he explained last spring in an impassioned presentation before the Palos Heights City Council. “That’s 180,000 plant species and 1,200 crop species, very vital to our lives.”

That presentation launched the city’s commitment to butterflies and other pollinating insects. Mayor Bob Straz signed the National Wildlife Federation’s “Mayor’s Monarch Pledge” to encourage local residents to provide habitat and food for creatures that produce as much as $40 billion of products nationwide.

Not long after the pledge was signed, the first official, public pollinator garden located outside Lake Katherine Nature Center was established just outside City Hall, 7607 W. College Drive. Mayor Straz and library Director Jesse Blazek were on hand to put many of the plants in the ground.

And the promise of a second garden, this one at the library, has now been realized.

“If other people start to do this and realize how simple it is to do, we could actually create a lot of extra habitat for butterflies and other pollinators, (which) includes bees, as well,” said Blakesley, who said that multiple, small gardens serve as one large ecosystem for the insects.

In fact, the pledge that Straz signed reads, in part, “When mayors speak up and take a stand, citizens notice. Therefore, we hereby commit to help restore habitat for the monarch and encourage our citizens to do the same, so that these magnificent butterflies will once again flourish across the continent.”

In support of that commitment, the mayor now has pollinating insect-attracting plants in a garden at his home.

“People can realize they can really make a difference just by mixing up what they have in their garden,” said Blakesly. “To an insect, a lawn is basically like a green desert and it’s usually got pesticides on it.”

Blakesley barely broke rhythm as he continued to work on the garden while he talked, explaining the many different plants at the library’s new attraction.

“We have about 15 varieties,” he said. “We made sure the variety of plants will actually bloom throughout the year to attract butterflies. The first year you won’t see much, because it’s still being established.”

Butterfly weed, blazing star, a variety of native grasses and multiple species of goldenrod are among the perrenials visitors to the library will soon enjoy as the plants begin to mature.

“It’s right along the walkway, right by the parking lot, where it’s highly visible,” said Blazek, the library director, who was among the volunteers planting the garden. Also taking part, besides Blakesley, was Susan Snow, president of the Palos Heights Library Board; Jeannine Kacmar, the library’s head public services and Sara Barnas, a naturalist at Lake Katherine.

Blazek talked about potentially installing a “Little Free Library” book-sharing hut, similar to the ones at Lake Katherine and at the Art Park on 123rd Street just west of Harlem Avenue.

“There’s going to be a pathway there,” said Kacmar, pointing to small, colored flags in the soil that wound through the young garden.

“We will be planning kids’ programs around the garden,” she said. “The butterflies have become a lot of our thinking, our education for the public. Inside, starting in June, we’ll have an origami butterfly station. We have the butterfly kites hanging on the wall from the Palos Arts Commission project that they’re doing citywide.

“It’s just a lot of bringing awareness to something we kind of forget about, the need to protect our surrounding, our nature,” Kacmar said. “it’s good to be part of that.”

“When we planned this last fall, Gareth said ‘Next April or May we’ll be planting,’” she said. “It was cold and rainy, and there was no color. It seemed so far away.

“But now, this day finally came and it’s beautiful. Being part of it and doing the planting is something that I love, too,” Kacmar said, adding “It’s a great day at the library when you can come out and play in the dirt!”

 

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