JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Like bees at work, Johnson City Public Works employees buzzed around a large, empty flowerbed at the west end of Founders Park.
Within minutes, they had planted more than 60 milkweed — swamp milkweed (asclepius incarnata) and butterfly weed (asclepius tuberosa) to attract monarch butterflies. They also laid in dozens of other native pollinators in a bed they had built after design by Christy Shivell, owner of Shy Valley Farm.
“Both of those (milkweed types) are great larval food sources for the monarchs,” Shivell said.
Last year’s effort, part of a partnership between “What’s The Buzz” and the city, saw placement of annuals — mostly sunflowers — in more than a dozen beds throughout Johnson City.
After a positive reception in 2019, What’s The Buzz leader Judith Hammond met with city staff leaders and Mayor Jenny Brock in hopes of moving the project to another level.
“Mayor Brock got very interested in making this a part of our city’s culture,” Hammond said. “Now we’re planting not annuals but perennials. These plants will attract butterflies, and especially monarch butterflies because the milkweed plants are essential for their migration pattern.”
Brock suggested a bed be built in Founders Park to display native pollinators.
That’s where Shivell came in. She’s been helping area gardeners learn the benefits of native pollinators for years and was happy to design a showcase bed in a high-visibility area of Johnson City.
“We bring a lot of wonderful native plants and we try to fill in the space as full and pretty as possible. We have a wide variety of plants in here today and they’re all low maintenance and hearty natives.”
The plants will grow and establish themselves through the years, Shivell said. The swamp milkweed should put forth its pale pink blooms this year, but the butterfly weed’s bright orange flowers may take another year to establish.
She said numerous other varieties will bloom in this first year.
“We’ve got some agastache (anise hyssop), which is a great food source for not only butterflies but also the native bees. There’s a lot of wonderful coneflowers (echinacea), some rudbeckias (black eyed Susans), some things for different texture like the threadleaf mountain mint, and we’ve got some wonderful native grasses.”
Easy enough for DIY’ers – benefit to bees
Shivell said if passers by like what they see, they might be surprised at how easy it is to plant pollinators at their own homes.
“We’re trying to educate the public that any plant that they plant can have pollinator value whether it’s a shrub or a grass or a perennial,” she said. “Any time you have a choice to put a plant in your yard you might as well go ahead and do one that’s going to have some wildlife value.”
Planting with wildlife value, particularly for pollinators, is something Hammond has been stressing for several years. Without going to the significant effort of actual beekeeping, anyone can become a “bee guardian” and help the area’s many native bee species thrive simply by planting flowers they’ll be able to enjoy year after year.
Other beds around the city will again be planted with annuals this year, but Hammond said she’s hoping to see more native gardens replace them in coming years.
“I’m very thankful to Mayor Brock and the public works team,” Hammond said. “They did excellent work and did it very quickly and they’ll be taking care of it all summer so we can all enjoy it.”