Friday December 9th 2022

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City Songs for Loving the Earth: “Wherever we protest we will go planting”*

Late blooming aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) is an important late season food source for bumblebees and other insects. The name “aster” comes from the Greek word for “star.” Photo: Ben Heath


As I write this in the middle of October, I am surrounded by the last blazing russet leaves of the wild plum and the rich burgundy leaves of the serviceberry. Most of the goldenrod and aster blossoms have turned into fluffy seedheads, all but the aromatic aster, which remains a spangled purple cloud even after snow and a hard freeze.

Winter hasn’t quite begun yet, but I am already planning for spring in my garden because I have applied for a Lawns to Legumes grant. Lawns to Legumes is a program of the State of Minnesota’s Board of Water and Soil Resources that provides folks with up to $350 to create pollinator habitat in their yards. Most specifically, these grants are to help provide pollinator habitat for endangered insects like the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis).

Why does it matter what you plant in your yard? Surely there are more pressing neighborhood concerns? Because it is still the little things. I cannot singlehandedly solve the homelessness crisis or the opioid epidemic, or stop climate change, or any of the other million big things we struggle with and worry about. But I can take care of this little patch of earth, which also means taking care of everyone who might be passing through it – whether that’s migrating birds or butterflies, nesting bumblebees, or yes, humans too.

There are lots of reasons to plant native and pollinator friendly plants. You might want to help save a specific endangered insect, or just love the diversity of insects and birds that these plants attract for nesting, food, and overwintering. Native plants are beautiful in all seasons, and they are usually the most climate resilient plants in your garden. Deep-rooted native plants help reduce runoff and soil erosion, and help store carbon underground. Many native plants are also edible and delicious and fragrant.

There are different kinds of plantings to choose from. You might replace part of your turf grass lawn with a pollinator lawn: a carpet of clovers and low-growing plants that provide food for bees. Or you might create a “pocket prairie,” a small insect sanctuary of native grasses and wildflowers. Establishing a new garden or a bee lawn is work, of course. But there are lots of resources available on the Lawns to Legumes website and from Blue Thumb, the State’s non-profit partner, including free workshops and an optional coach if you need more help.

Although I already have lots of native plants in my yard, I’m applying for a Lawns to Legumes grant to help replace some of my non-native trees and shrubs with native ones. My hope is to create a small hedge or thicket of native wild plum, chokecherry, hazelnut, dogwood, gooseberries and wild roses. I love growing native shrubs– they are beautiful and useful all year long for everyone passing through.
We won’t save the world by planting flowers – but we will make it a better place.

Lindsey is a fledgling Master Naturalist watching the natural world in East Phillips.

*Muriel Rukeyser, Out of Silence: Selected Poems

Lawns to Legumes information
Applications for Lawns to Legumes will be accepted through January 18, 2023.
To apply:
More information and resources:
Cost-share funding of up to $350 to create pollinator habitat in your yard. The application period is open until Jan. 18, 2023, and applicants will be chosen and notified in February. Applications will be selected through a randomized drawing, though priority will be given to projects within higher priority areas, and to equitable geographic distribution. Phillips is in the highest priority area for rusty patched bumblebees.

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