by Joanna deBear
Associate Director, Cheshire Pollinator Pathway
Have you noticed some new, beautiful gardens along the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail (FCHT) in Cheshire? Those are thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers that were inspired to install native perennial gardens to support local wildlife. The group is known as the Cheshire Pollinator Pathway, and their mission is to create closely spaced native, straight-species food and habitat oases to support all pollinators such as butterflies and moths, bumblebees and solitary bees, birds, and other wildlife. The pollinator gardens installed along the FCHT were in response to the devastating decline of pollinator and bird populations in the past few years.
This local movement was inspired by Louise Washer from the Norwalk Watershed Association and Pollinator Pathway Northeast steering committee. She spoke to a group of land trusts, garden clubs, and community conservation advocates in and around Cheshire back in 2019 and motivated them into action! With their conservation friends at Southington Land Conservation Trust (Shari Guarino) and the Hamden Land Conservation Trust (Gail Cameron and Jim Sirch), the journey began. The Cheshire Pollinator Pathway was initially under the umbrella of Cheshire Land Trust but has since transitioned to Coalition for a Sustainable Cheshire (CSC).
The first garden at 487 North Brooksvale Road, along the FCHT, was designed by Connecticut’s own well-known landscape designer and native plant advocate Kathy Connolly. A core group of volunteers set to work smothering grass, killing invasives, and taking down dead ash trees to prepare the site. During that time, they installed a “Summer Splash” garden, a mix of brightly colored annuals and perennials, some native and some not. Users of the Canal Trail loved it! The perennial garden was completed in spite of COVID in the summer of 2021, thanks to the hard work of all-ages volunteers.
In early April 2022, they took over stewardship of the gardens on West Main St. adjacent to the Ball and Socket Arts complex and FCHT. In the three garden beds is a Petit Family Foundation memorial named after Michaela Petit, called “Michaela’s Garden,” planted with Michaela’s favorite annual, four o’clocks. The bed also has extensive native plantings including several varieties of milkweed that specifically support Monarch butterflies.
Their third garden (Cheshire Pollinator Pathway at Lock 12) is underway directly across from the original garden at 487 Brooksvale, adjacent to the parking area at the historic Lock 12 site. A successful fundraising event was held in May, 2022 to support the work involved in determining wetland areas for protection, clearing invasives with heavy machinery, and obtaining a plan and plants for installation of native trees, shrubs and perennials. The new garden will have an open view to Willow Brook as well. Currently they are working to smother invasives and have recently planted native shrubbery. The garden will be completed in early 2023.
The generous support of donors and hard work of volunteers has enabled the success of these gardens. Just listen to the happy hum and buzz of the pollinators and you will agree! The hope is that passers-by on the trail will take these lessons home to their gardens and find ways to support these fragile ecosystems.
In addition to the garden work, the Cheshire Pollinator Pathway under the CSC has been able to host educational talks at the Cheshire Public Library. They’ve held on-site workshops and have regular, weekly volunteer workdays in the gardens spring, summer and fall. Additionally, they send out a monthly newsletter with the goal to inform and raise awareness of pollinators and native plants. If you are interested, they are always looking for volunteers to plant, weed, water, work in outreach, and whatever else is needed! Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Contact them for more information at Cheshirepollinatorpathway@gmail.com.
Photos courtesy of Joy VanderLek