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Phoenix pollinator garden hit by fire gets some love

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Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneAnnie Drager places a plant in a pollinator garden Thursday that was burned during the Almeda fire at Blue Heron Park in Phoenix.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneAnnie Drager replants a pollinator garden Thursday that was burned during the Almeda fire at Blue Heron Park in Phoenix.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneVolunteers replant a pollinator garden Thursday that was burned during the Almeda fire at Blue Heron Park in Phoenix.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneJim Buck replants a pollinator garden Thursday that was burned during the Almeda fire at Blue Heron Park in Phoenix.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneJim Buck and Gerlinde Smith replant a pollinator garden Thursday that was burned during the Almeda fire at Blue Heron Park in Phoenix.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneVolunteers replant a pollinator garden Thursday that was burned during the Almeda fire at Blue Heron Park in Phoenix.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneVolunteers replant a pollinator garden Thursday that was burned during the Almeda fire at Blue Heron Park in Phoenix.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneVolunteers replant a pollinator garden Thursday that was burned during the Almeda fire at Blue Heron Park in Phoenix.

About a dozen volunteers swarmed the pollinator garden in Phoenix’s Blue Heron Park on Thursday to replant the site, which had been heavily damaged by the September Almeda fire.

“I hope we can increase the pollinators and get them something to eat,” said Sharron Schmidt of the nonprofit organization Cascade Girl, which promotes pollinator habitat and beekeeping.

Phoenix Bee City USA, Cascade Girl, Southern Oregon Landscapers Association, city crews and others are collaborating to restore the site created in 2015.

Southern Oregon has from 450 to 500 pollinator species, said Schmidt. Pollinator-friendly plantings provide food for the bees, butterfly’s and birds which are vital for ecosystem health and reproduction of plants.

Volunteers were busy planting and digging holes for four fruit trees to replace ones lost in the fire. Bee City provided lunch for the workers.

Hillary Winslow and her boyfriend, Nate Cox, dug holes for the fruit trees. Winslow is an intern with Cascade Girl.

“We showed up and were given directions, and this is what we are doing,” said Winslow. “We were here during the Almeda fire, so this is what we can do to help with the restoration.”

After seeing an advance story on television, Jim Buck came from Eagle Point to lend a hand.

“We are interested in helping how we can,” said Buck, who is part of the Jackson County Master Gardeners program and interested in pollinator projects.

Damaged shrubs in the area that were not pollinators were removed by Phoenix Public Works as part of a garden redesign, said Annie Drager, vice chair of Phoenix Bee City USA. Roots of some pollinator-friendly plants survived the fire underground.

“They survived at viable levels,” said Drager. “They just need water.”

Redesign of the garden was created by Gerlinde Smith, chair of Bee City USA Talent, who was planting Thursday. Smith will use biodynamic methods to help restore the garden. That includes creation of naturally made preparations to make the soil a living organism.

Plantings included manzanita, mock orange, coffeeberry, ceanothus, California fuchsia, blaze flower, several types of asters and coyote mint. Many native plants are being used.

Southern Oregon Landscape Association is providing some of the shrubs, plants, compost, soil and irrigation equipment, said Drager. Bee City used part of its city-funded budget to buy plants, although she noted some varieties were sold out, likely due to other restoration efforts underway following the fire.

FEMA crews will be removing larger damaged trees just behind the garden in the near future. Bee City has been in contact with Oregon Department of Transportation, which oversees the crews, to ensure that garden work is not harmed, said Drager. A fence will be installed between the trees and the garden.

Ground at the site was found to be heavily compacted after the fire. Phoenix Public Works Department removed some of the older soil and new, donated dirt was put in its place in some areas.

“The area burned for three days,” said Schmidt. “It had an odd smell and feel to it.”

Fewer queen bees and queen bumblebees have been spotted this spring by Schmdit. Her informal survey method for assessing pollinator levels to is observe the number of bug splats that collect on her vehicle’s windshield. Immediately after the fire it stayed clean, but she is now seeing more of a collection.

Blue Heron Park has two monarch butterfly gardens. One in a swale survived the fire, but the other near Bear Creek was destroyed.

Janine Sturm with This Seasons Colors, Inc. replaced the drip irrigation system that was melted by the fire and also brought in more compost and bark chips for pathways.

On Earth Day, April 22, the group will hold a ceremony of attunement to connect with the earth at 5 p.m. at the garden. It will include stirring and application of biodynamic preparations.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.