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A community waystation sprouts in the city

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Photo by Rhonda Nowak | Christie Mackison, right, of Shooting Star Nursery designed the garden with more than 50 different kinds of natives and other pollinator-friendly plants.
Photo by Rhonda Nowak | William Ashton, left, purchased property on North Central Avenue in downtown Medford and has turned the lot into a pollinator garden. Christie Mackison of Shooting Star Nursery designed the garden, provided the plants and helped plant the garden.
Photo by Rhonda Nowak | Butterflies and bees adore plants like this purple-flowered sage.

“Despite the biodiversity crisis unfolding in real time all around us, we believe that butterflies and other animals can have a secure future. However, such a future will require reconciliation between the human environment and a more natural one. … At least in the case of butterflies, every one of us who gardens has the potential to change the world.”

— The Xerces Society, “Gardening for Butterflies,” 2016

When William Ashton moved to the Rogue Valley in 2021 to care for his father, he purchased a piece of real estate on North Central Avenue in Medford’s urban center. Unfortunately, the dilapidated house on the lot had become a shelter for homeless people and drug users, and it wasn’t long before William learned the building was beyond repair.

So he had an idea. Rather than tear down the house and build another one in its place, William decided instead to build a community garden in the 9,000-square-foot space. The old house was demolished, the lot was graded, dirt and debris were removed, and new topsoil and compost were brought in.

William talked with Tom Landis, co-founder of Southern Oregon Monarch Advocates, and Christie Mackison, co-owner and landscape designer of Shooting Star Nursery. They decided the garden could be a way station for monarch butterflies and provide year-long habitat for native butterflies and other pollinators.

Christie designed the garden with a winding path, a slightly undulating landscape, and more than 50 kinds of plants that provide food and/or shelter for pollinators. There is milkweed (Asclepias speciosa and A. tuberosa), which is the only host plant for the caterpillars of monarch butterflies, along with other important plants. Milkweed also provides nectar for several other butterfly and moth species, as well as bees and other beneficial insects.

Here are more of Christie’s plant selections for the pollinator garden, many of which are Oregon/Pacific Northwest natives:

Small trees/shrubs: serviceberry (Amelanchier ‘Autumn Brilliance’); compact linden tree (Tilia ‘Summer Sprite’); redbud tree (Cercis ‘Oklahoma’); chaste tree (Vitex ‘Delta Blues’); manzanitas (Arctostaphylos ‘White Lanterns’, A densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’, A. ‘Louis Edmonds’); Pacific wax myrtle (Myrica californica); ceanothus (C. thrysiflorus); coffeeberry (Rhamnus ‘Eve Case’); compact strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo); birchleaf spirea (S. ‘Tor’); mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii); flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum); compact and creeping Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium and repens); oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor); silverberry (Elaeagnus x ebbengei); rosemary (Rosmarinus ‘Tuscan Blue’), and heath (Erica carnea).

Herbaceous perennials: Erigeron ‘Wayne Roderick’; Santa Barbara daisy (Erigeron ‘Profusion’); ornamental onion (Allium ‘Millennium’); sulphur flower buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum 'Kannah Creek’); catmint (Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ and ‘Purple Haze’); California fuchsia (Zauschneria 'Silver Select’); Douglas aster (Symphyotrichum subspicatus); blue wood aster (A. cordifolius ‘Avondale’); salvia (S. ‘Radio Red’, ‘Caradonna’ and ‘Autumn Sapphire’); Achillea (A. ‘Little Moonshine’ and ‘Pink Grapefruit’);

Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum 'Siskiyou’); solidago (S. ‘Fireworks’); sunflower (Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’); coneflower (Echinacea ‘PowWow Wild Berry’ and ‘White Swan’); silverheels horehound (Marrubium rotundifolium ‘Silverheels’); lambs ear (Stachys ‘Silver Carpet’); pincushion flower (Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’); threadleaf blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii); Agastache (A. ‘Blue Star’); bluebeard (Caryopteris 'Dark Knight'); yellow tickseed (Coreopsis ‘Zagreb’); dwarf joe-pye weed (Eupatorium 'Baby Joe'); western columbine (Aquilegia formosa); Cusick’s checkermallow (Sidalcea cusickii); five-finger cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis); and Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa).

Grasses: fountain grass (Pennisetum 'Karley Rose'); maiden grass (Miscanthus 'Morning Light'); and switchgrass (Panicum 'Shenandoah').

The garden was recently planted by Christie, William, members of William’s family, and a group of high school students. The plants have been thoroughly watered by our recent rains, and drip irrigation has been installed for summer weather. An advantage of using native plants is they are acclimated to our (typically) cool, wet winters and dry, hot summers.

The pollinator garden is located at 909 N. Central Ave., in Medford. The next time you drive by and see a beautiful garden instead of an eyesore, you can thank William for giving a lot to help our butterflies and other polli-neighbors.

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher, and writer. She is the founder of the Bard’s Garden at Hanley Farm in Central Point. Learn more at www.literarygardener.com, and email Rhonda at Rnowak39@gmail.com.