“I never noticed how many different kinds of bees there are,” said a 10-year-old boy, wading into the masses of wild sunflowers and pink joe-pye blossoms in my backyard, some as high as 6 feet. He peered at the flurry of bees and butterflies visiting one flower, and his face lit up with interest as he watched all the pollinators come and go.
The day was hot, but children, parents, gardeners and nature lovers showed up for the Eagle Watch Pollinator Garden Tour on Aug. 21. Three yards were open to the community, each a certified wildlife habitat, full of flowering plants to attract bees and butterflies.
Visitors on the garden tour repeatedly asked, “How do you keep the deer away?” Master Gardener Mary Schuster and Master Naturalist Diane Tidwell, two who joined me in opening their gardens for the tour, each shared a list of deer-resistant native plants with attendees, as well as hard-won strategies for fending off deer. Visitors learned a lot from them, and they left Diane and Mary’s gardens inspired to plant joe-pye weed, ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod and butterfly weed in the sun, and golden ragwort, foxglove beardtongue and Eastern columbine in the shade.
Some Eagle Watch families came to the gardens prepared for fun and education, and children enjoyed a rich nature experience. At the same time as the garden tour, the Great Pollinator Count was happening. It is a statewide event where Georgians count pollinator visits to a flower, timed over a 15-minute period. During this citizen science project, each participant submits their results online; the data then is compiled by the University of Georgia Extension office. The count is an important way to protect Georgia’s pollinators.
Eagle Watch residents are enthusiastic about their yards making a difference. Landscaping and plant choices are a powerful force for restoring the ecosystem of the North Georgia suburbs. Native plants feed native insects, a foundation that will feed box turtles, small tree frogs and baby songbirds.
The garden tour was the final event needed to certify Eagle Watch as a community wildlife habitat through the National Wildlife Federation. More than 140 Eagle Watch residents certified their yards as part of the requirements, and the tour was one of the outreach and education events organized by a small group of volunteers over the past year.