A Pollinator Garden Takes Flight

Garden concept sketch by Tonia Andreina

DePaul alumna Tonia Andreina (LAS ’14), owner of Earth Mama Design, a design-build regenerative landscaping company, advocates for sustainable gardens that are both lovely for home owners and supportive of local wildlife, such as pollinator species, that inhabit these environments inspired by Mother Nature’s multi-layered ecosystems. In DePaul Magazine’s spring 2022 issue, she shares tips for growing gardens that help pollinators like native bees.

Here’s a specific example of a pollinator-friendly garden that Andreina designed and built for one of her clients, a home owner in central Illinois.

The residential butterfly oasis pictured here features seasonal blooms that begin in spring with a bulb layer and early blooming evergreens. Tendrils of ferns uncurl to reveal soft clusters of tiarella and hucheria among splashes of pulmonaria.

Summer reveals an abundance of nectar in hostas, cardinal flowers, hibiscus, marsh mallow, butterfly weed, clematis, trumpet vine, wysteria and black-eyed susans. After its planting, the client reported increased levels of bird, butterfly and other wildlife activity almost immediately after install.

Existing assets in this landscape, such as mature overstory trees, were elevated and complemented by understory companions. The mix of layers in this system help support habitat for a variety of beneficial species on site. Overstory layers also provide shade for lower growing plants. Patches of full sun scatter throughout the garden and are greeted with the most prominent of blooms.

The existing front lawn landscape gets a pollinator-approved makeover, transforming a part-shade garden into a curved serpentine border with significantly more blooms. Sunny spots host Midwest favorites like black-eyed susan, jo pye weed, bee balm and agastache.

Some areas in this garden host non-natives with other functions. While hostas, lead plant and creeping jenny might not have value for pollinators, they help fill in the gaps as they mature. Here, creeping thyme is introduced as a ground cover that also works to feed hungry pollinators, so the system can work in relative balance.

The back yard of the property hosts its own delight with a central feature, consisting of non-native (yet stunning) hibiscus, seen from a grass ally. Beneficial ecosystem contributors have plenty of native powerhouses here, including yarrow, butterfly weed, jo pye weed and black-eyed susan.

Small shady nooks like this offer exciting opportunity for delicate whimsy. Pictured here are dynamic cultivars of native coral bells and astilbe, alongside non natives like pulmonaria, painted japanese fern and existing periwinkle, which help add additional color and interest throughout the season.

The back yard from a different perspective, with the density of plantings becoming more apparent. Cultivars of cardinal flower make stunning emergences up from the landscape, helping a monolithic cluster appear more undulating in vertical space while remaining resilient to seasonal stressors like periodic flood events.

Carved through the center, a curved path allows this client and their friends to immerse themselves in the beautiful textures and scents of Mother Nature in full bloom. Eventually the client intends to allow this path to be overgrown with creeping plants like thyme and lysimachia to provide a nice soft carpeted feel on one’s bare feet.

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