SPRINGFIELD — When Deborah Shea steps outside to survey her garden from the back door of her house, nestled on a corner across from the woods of Forest Park, she thinks of the birds and the bees. Literal.
An avid birdwatcher, Shea is among a growing number of environmentally conscious gardeners creating pollinator gardens to attract birds, bees and butterflies, whose existence depends on the availability of native plants such as spotted bee balm, marsh milkweed and coneflower.
Noting that there has been a serious decline in birds, insects and other pollinators, Shea said she and her husband, Lou Harm, have switched from tomato plants to a pollinator garden, both to help the ecosystem and for fun.
“When given the chance, I wanted to plant things that are native,” she said, adding that for a nature lover, the rewards are many.
In addition to monarch butterflies and hummingbirds, she recently spotted an eastern tiger swallowtail moth feasting on some agastache, a perennial flowering plant commonly known as giant hyssop or hummingbird mint.
“I bought the plant from a local nursery when I noticed bees and insects everywhere,” she said.
Pollinator gardens are gaining popularity everywhere as global warming threatens the environment.
“Two other neighbors have also replanted their gardens to attract bees and butterflies and one of them now has a beehive,” she said. “In addition, there are now two small pollinator gardens on the edge of Forest Park along Washington Boulevard and another one near the park’s administrative building.”
The last three gardens mentioned by Shea are projects by ReGreen and Springfield Garden Club.
Janet Burdewik, a retired pastor of Faith United Church, and Kathleen Plante, an advertising consultant, live down the street from Shea and are also avid pollinators.
Tall stalks of milkweed, buzzing with insect activity, frame the side yard of Burdewik’s house on Pineywoods Avenue. “I didn’t start out as a pollinator gardener,” she said, “but I’m concerned about the damage pesticides and herbicides do to the environment.”
Plante, who has lived in a house a few doors down from Shea and Burdewik, had taken a break from gardening when she moved from Seattle to Springfield, but decided last year she needed to “get my hands back in the earth.”
She had four meters of compost delivered to her front yard and got to work planting native species. “I wanted something to help native pollinators,” Plante said.
Now, a year after planting the garden, it is teeming with bees, other insects and birds. “Last year there wasn’t enough to feed them,” she said.
“Pollinator gardens don’t look manicured,” Plante explained, noting that clover and crabgrass would suit her just fine. “I wanted a natural look,” she said, adding that her garden has provided passers-by with an educational opportunity.
Pollinator gardens are low-maintenance and require less water than other types of plantings, she said, noting the black-eyed susans and sweet fern bushes that frame the sidewalk to her front door.
The Forest Park’s pollinators get plants from friends, nurseries and the Native Plant Trust, which is based in Framingham at Garden in the Woods, a native plant botanical garden. The trust also operates a native plant nursery at Nasami Farm in Whately.
The trust was established more than a century ago to stop the destruction of native plants and remains a national leader in the conservation, horticulture and education of native plants.
Shea said there are plenty of resources for potential pollinators from horticulturalists from organizations such as the Native Plant Trust, the Massachusetts Audubon Society and gardening associations.
“I’m a novice,” Shea said, adding that there’s a big learning curve ahead.
Meanwhile, Shea and her neighbors enjoy the trip as they interact with the bees and butterflies.