Pollinator garden shows off fall color

As the sun sets on a bright October day in Chatham County, Agricultural Extension Agent Debbie Roos leads a group of 10 on a tour of the Pollinator Paradise Garden at Chatham Mills, a renovated facility that is home to the Chatham Marketplace cooperative and other clients. Roos hosts the monthly tours throughout the garden’s growing season, and each month, the garden is different, she says.

The three-year old garden is a labor of love for Roos and the volunteers who help maintain it. Started in 2008, the garden is a demonstration tool to help Chatham residents learn how to attract pollinators to their gardens and landscapes. It developed from three of Roos’s passions: pollinators, gardens and photography.

The Chatham Marketplace provided an ideal venue for the garden: Open space in need of landscaping, plenty of sunlight and many customers who visit the garden regularly on shopping trips.

Most plants in the garden are native to North Carolina, obtained from local nurseries as well as the nearby N.C. Botanical Garden. Those on the tours take notes frantically, trying to spell the scientific plant names that roll of Roos’s tongue effortlessly. Fortunately, a garden website includes lists of plants found there, along with many of Roos’s garden photos.

Roos admits that she tends to overuse the phrase, “and another favorite plant of mine…” during the tours. In choosing plants for the garden, she looks for workhorse plants – those with long blooming seasons, well adapted to sunny conditions of the site.

She notes that she and garden volunteers have learned some hard lessons. Hot, humid summers have been a challenge for maintaining new plants. Using native plants that are accustomed to North Carolina’s climate requires less summer watering. So Roos waters newer plants, but rarely has to water established plants in the garden.

Early on, Roos feared that Chatham County’s hungry deer population would take its toll on the garden. While the deer nibble on the fringes, incorporating aromatic plants and herbs into the pollinator garden has discouraged them. Roos takes a realistic approach – though wildlife can be destructive, the garden was created to attract pollinators and other wildlife.

Runoff from Chatham Mills’ roof poses some problems, and like any garden, there are areas that need improvement — new plants, different plants, better drainage. New challenges keep the project interesting and growing.

This year, there will be one more guided tour of the Pollinator Paradise Garden, Nov. 1, 5:30 p.m. For directions and more information about the garden, visit the garden website.

-N. Hampton

See photos from the October tour

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