Letter to the Editor:
When I first moved to Princeton years ago, spring welcomed back such a wide variety of birds and the fresh warm air awakened the native bees, butterflies, and all the other insects that usually dwell in a diversely populated environment. Today, I hear many less birdsongs and see very, very few insects. I feel an echo of Rachel Carson’s warning in her “Silent Spring” that if we – every one of us – do not understand the consequences of our actions, we will keep contributing to the demise of the very foundation of our eco-community. And yes, it is a community that we belong to—we depend on all of these native pollinators for 75% of the worldwide main food crops, one third of all the food crop production, and 85% of all flowering plants do need a pollinator. In their various stages of development, these pollinators and insects are the main source of protein for baby birds and for many other creatures that are part of a functioning environment that is crucial to human survival.
Now– the place where you and I can take effective action right where we live. What, in turn, supports these native pollinators? Native plants —flowers, bushes, and trees in all of the incredibly beautiful and colorful variety!!! Not the repetitive and actually boring choices of invasive species such as Boxwood, Privet, Barberry, English ivy, Autumn Olive, Bradford Pear, Japanese Maple, Burning Bush, Wisteria, and the wrongly indicated “Butterfly Bush” – that provide little or no food or habitat for native pollinators. Combine these choices with grass lawns full of herbicides with the poisonous glyphosate ingredient, salt-based synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides that destroy the very soil richness and microorganisms that plants need in order to flourish and the result is barren support for pollinators.
Remedy: create oases of any size choosing native plants that have an arc of seasonal bloom and supply food and shelter for the native pollinators; practice best care methods if you do have a lawn; stop landscapers from piling mounds of mulch around trees that destroy their health and shorten their lifespan; do not use dyed mulch as most contain poisonous ingredients. By using these native plants that are also perennials, you will contribute to sequestering more carbon in the soil as their roots reach down deeper and deeper every year.
You can be unique in the visuals of your garden. Choose native equivalent plants. For instance instead of boxwood–choose evergreen Inkberry which has berries for birds. Beautiful native honeysuckle with salmon colored blossoms that attract hummingbirds. Great Blue lobelia with vibrant blue blooms that bumble bees love. My hope is that you will join me in finding the joy that comes from creating a garden palette of colors and textures that also nourishes these — our helpmates — in our eco-community.
Mr. Robinson lives in Hopewell Borough and is a native plant garden designer and environmental activist.