Open Spaces

Welcoming Pollinators One Garden at a Time


By April Anderson | Photo: Ariel Majewski

During the lower Cretaceous Period (roughly 125 million years ago), some wasps began to switch from hunting prey to gathering protein-rich pollen from the first flowering plants. Perhaps it was easier to gather rather than fight for a meal, but the adaptation stuck and so did their eventual descendants—bees. Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) appeared 50 million years later. Moving from flower to flower, pollinators have been transporting grains of pollen for millions of years to create seeds, and in some cases, fruit. The system seems perfect, so why are there concerns about pollinators now?

What’s the buzz?

In 2007, the National Research Council released “Status of Pollinators in North America” presenting evidence of downward, long-term trends of the populations of many pollinators, including solitary bees and some species of bumblebees. Concerns about this decline led to recommendations of long-term monitoring and pollinator-friendly practices. Seven years later, the U.S. Pollinator Health Task Force presented an “Executive Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and Other Pollinators”, which was established to expand research, educate the public, and develop public-private partnerships to support these efforts.

Between April 2014 and 2015, a nationwide survey of beekeepers revealed that more than 40 percent of honeybee colonies in the U.S. had perished. Winter losses declined while summer losses were the second highest in nine years. Unmanaged infestations of mites and parasites are believed to be the culprits.

Mites are transported from colony to colony by robbing bees, or young bees that drift to other colonies. Neonicotinoids are insecticide seed treatments designed to reduce spraying, which makes a plant toxic to insects that might otherwise consume it. According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, “Recent research suggests that neonicotinoids may make honeybees more susceptible to parasites and pathogens, including the intestinal parasite Nosema, which has been implicated as one causative factor in CCD [Colony Collapse Disorder].”

Every garden makes a difference

Last year the National Pollinator Garden Network (NPGN), a collaboration between conservation and garden organizations, launched the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. They provided information to help individuals, community groups, government agencies, and the garden industry create habitat for pollinators through sustainable gardening and conservation practices. The Challenge is focused on reaching the goal of one million additional pollinator gardens within the next two years.

For The Conservancy of South Barrington, welcoming pollinators began with the installation of a butterfly garden about six years ago. Indian grass seeded in at the same time as the wildflowers took over the site, so a new area was added to provide additional pollinator habitat this past spring. Chairwoman of The Conservancy Diane Bodkin worked with volunteers from the South Barrington Garden Club to plant a few hundred plugs of native wildflowers amid short fescue.

“From the beginning of spring ‘til the end of fall, there is a continuous bloom of color that is great at attracting different pollinators, such as honeybees, bumblebees, monarchs, swallowtails, various flies, and other butterflies,” says Dustin Wire, a contractor who helps maintain The Conservancy.

“We wouldn’t have a garden without pollinators,” notes Smart Farm founder Kathy Gabelman. Registering Smart Farm in the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge last year, Gabelman, head gardener Meg Mitchell, and their team included sunflowers, nasturtium, and native wildflowers in their gardens. Keeping bees at Smart Farm since 2013, Gableman believes that “it just makes sense to be part of a project that’s looking out for us.”

Over the past 11 years, Barrington’s Fresh Flower Market owner Liz Bremner has cultivated a border garden to attract pollinators to her home in Lake Barrington. “Even people that have small yards or patios can make a difference with hanging planters of petunias or mandevilla vines. A couple of summers ago, a hummingbird moth flew right into the shop [to visit a mandevilla vine]!”

Native wildflower gardens planted close to remnant prairies, woodlands, and wetlands are more likely to attract rare species. “Many [native bees] are oligolectic,” says Cook County Forest Preserves Wildlife Biologist Laura Anchor explaining that “They only forage upon certain plant species.” As tiny (3-4 mm) solitary soil-dwellers, native bees store pollen underground for their larvae to consume. “Most people would not recognize them as bees,” Anchor says. Pollinators are unsung heroes doing a job that contributes more than $24 billion dollars to the U.S. economy supporting at least 90 commercially grown crops here. Gardens—large and small—that incorporate native plants provide habitat that not only makes life easier for these essential winged creatures, but also enriches life for us.

What you can do to invite pollinators

  • Allow clover and violets to grow in your lawn.
  • Plant a pollinator garden with native trees, shrubs, and clusters of wildflowers.
  • Provide larval food (such as butterfly weed of marsh milkweed for monarchs) and expect it to be eaten!
  • Avoid using pesticides.
  • Resist the urge to till. Keeping soil in tact provides pore space for native bees too small to bother humans, but not too small to pollinate.
  • Keep a spot of soil or a flat rock in the sun to furnish a place to bask.
  • Supply a source of clean water. “We have a mud puddle the kids love to spray that butterflies use to get water and minerals from the soil,” says naturalist Sue Dombro, describing the butterfly garden at Crabtree Nature Center.
  • Provide nesting habitats: bare soil, a hollow tree or stump, a pile of sand, or a bunch of hollow twigs tied together.

Pollinator Favorites

Select a diversity of species for full to part-sun that will bloom throughout growing season recommends Wildlife Biologist Laura Anchor.


  • Aquilegia Canadensis/Columbine
  • Mertensia virginica/Bluebell
  • Zizia aptera/Golden Alexander
  • Physostegia virginiana/Obedient Plant
  • Amelanchier sp./Shadbush
  • Spring flowering bulbs


  • Ceanothus americanus/New Jersey tea
  • Amorpha canescens/Lead plant
  • Asclepias incarnta/Swamp milkweed
  • Ascelepias tuberosa/Butterfly weed
  • Echinacea pallida/Pale Purple coneflower
  • Echinacea purpurea/Purple coneflower
  • Dalea purpurea/Purple prairie clover
  • Liatris pycnostachya/Prairie blazing star
  • Lobelia cardinalis/Cardinal flower
  • Monarda fistulosa/Wild bergamot
  • Rudbeckia hirta/Black-eyed Susan


  • Pycnanthemun virginianum/Mountain mint
  • Solidago speciose/Showy goldenrod
  • Symphyotrichum oolentangiense/Sky blue aster
  • Symphyotrichum novae-angliae/New England aster

April Anderson is a naturalist and freelance writer who can be contacted at

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BACT’s Conservation@School

By lisa stamos | Photography courtesy of bact

Barrington High School students attended the inaugural Habitat Restoration Internship with Barrington Area Conservation Trust (BACT) this summer to learn about native and invasive plants, planting native plants at BACT’s preserves, starting plants from seed, and collecting local data to support the national RiverWatch Monitoring program.

BACT partnered with BHS Environmental and Horticulture classes and their teachers, staff, and administration to create this experience of authentic conservation field work in Flint Creek and Pederson Preserve. The five BHS student interns participated in habitat restoration following a competitive application process and when selected, BACT conducted a pre-assessment on the students’ knowledge and attitudes regarding the environment. At the end of the program, the five students participated in a post-assessment and concluded their experience with a recognition event at the Barrington Area Library. There, the interns presented their findings and experience in personal and creative ways to their families and BACT staff.

“It is so gratifying to see the students’ excitement and curiosity about the environment and their desire to get involved,” BACT Executive Director Lisa Woolford said. BACT Conservation@School Project Coordinator, Susan Lenz, reflected on the success of this first summer with the internship. “Through a variety of offerings of the Conservation@School program, we hope to reach a wide range of students, from those who are just beginning their trek into exploring the environment and conservation, to those who are delving deep into a further understanding of the world around them. In doing so, we are cultivating our future environmental stewards.”

The Conservation@School program is not the only growth BACT has experienced. The nonprofit’s service area has recently expanded and now includes all the Barringtons, Tower Lakes, Palatine, Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg, Rolling Meadows, and Inverness. BACT says that the Conservation@School program will include applicants from its entire service area in the future.

To learn more about BACT events and programs, visit or call 847-387-3149.

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Raptors and Rascals Needing Rescue

By Leah Rose Drennan

Since 2003, Barrington’s Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation (FCWR) team has worked tirelessly to save the lives of injured and orphaned animals—everything from squirrels to injured Bald Eagles. FCWR maintains around-the-clock medical and nutritional care, the support that’s needed for injured animals and birds, to provide them the best chance of survival and release back into the wild. As an entirely volunteer based, not-for-profit organization, this is a huge undertaking.

Each year FCWR takes in more than 3,400 animals that need help. They also conduct educational programs about reptiles, mammals, and birds found in Illinois and offer programs specifically about raptors. Such programs are enriched with non-releasable birds of prey given a second chance as educational animals.

Such expert care doesn’t come cheap. Dawn Keller, FCWR founder and director, spoke of a gentleman coming to the Flint Creek facility with a bird suffering from a broken wing. He handed her five dollars and told her to buy the bird some seed. Five dollars does not buy much seed, let alone begin to cover the cost of X-rays, setting the wing, and weeks of continuous care until the bird can be reconditioned to life outside once more. Orphaned animals also require regular feedings around-the-clock and many have to be put in incubators to maintain their internal temperatures until they are able to thermo-regulate on their own.

With no government funding and all costs covered through the charitable donations, FCWR is challenged to make ends meet. For 12 years, the center has helped the local police and the public. But, without community support FCWR can’t maintain its facility or provide the service the local wildlife needs—both here in the Barrington area and from another site in Chicago at Northerly Island that serves as a drop-off facility for injured birds. FCWR dreams to one day have the land and money to build a Barrington facility is open to the public. They have been here for the community when we needed help, and now they need ours. As Dawn Keller said, “We just want to be sure that we can be here to help the next animal.”

Help Support Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation

Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation is a state- and federally-licensed private not-for-profit wildlife rehabilitation center in Barrington. Donations can be made online, through a check in the mail, or by phone. A needed supplies list can also be found online, however cash donations are applied to where they are needed most. If you find an injured bird or animal, go to the “Found an Animal” section online at For more information or to make a donation.

Leah Rose Drennan is a senior at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she studies biology, chemistry, and creative writing. She spends most of her free time reading, playing videogames, drawing, and lying in bed with her cats.