Grounds Shop initiative creates bee havens, gardens

(Photo credits: Claire Cecil and Songjun Deng/Fourth Estate)

The Mason Grounds Shop is taking steps to add local flora and fauna to campus. While the average passerby enjoys these bursts of color, so do the bees.

Archie Nesbitt supervises the Grounds Shop, which handles all landscaping on campus. He says this project has become one of the shop’s initiatives.

“We’ve taken low-use areas or areas where we’ve had to remove plant material, and instead of converting it to turf, we’ve found we can get reliable results using a seed mix to have various garden flowers or wildflowers growing that will attract bees, butterflies and other wildlife,” Nesbitt said.

Signs in these landscaping areas read, “Bumblebee Haven: Do Not Mow or Disturb.” Others are labeled as butterfly gardens, or simply “Wildflower Area.” Nesbitt said all these areas essentially serve the same purpose.

“They all can be considered butterfly gardens, because they all attract solitary bees, honey bees, and various moths and butterflies,” Nesbitt said.

In addition to adding beauty and attracting wildlife, Nesbitt said these areas reduce Grounds Shop maintenance.

“In some areas, it’s just to reduce our maintenance or turn the maintenance of a difficult area and make it a little easier for us,” Nesbitt said. “We’ve found as long as we do those sorts of things, and we put up some proper signage so people know the intent, they’ll adjust to it relatively quickly.”

Generally, the areas host a wide variety of local flowers. For example, an area near the Aquia building is home to many types of flora, according to Nesbitt.

“One of the wildflower areas [next to Aquia], it’s got yarrow, Queen Anne’s lace, lupines, coreopsis, and several other different types of wildflowers in it,” Nesbitt said.

Molly Baldovin, assistant to the directors in the School of Music, appreciates the beauty of these areas. She said on a large campus filled with buildings, asphalt and concrete, the wildflower areas add much needed color and life.

She discovered the existence of these wildflower areas one morning when Nesbitt found her picking some of the flowers. Baldovin was in Lot J that morning, and was in awe of the flowers planted in that parking lot.

“I saw this blooming garden,” she said. “…I just thought it was beautiful.”

Nesbitt took no issue with Baldovin picking the flowers. His reaction was just the opposite, she said.

“He was really excited I was taking part in what was there for everyone,” Baldovin said.“I thought I wanted to bring some of the beauty into my windowless office,” Baldovin said.

One of the wildflower areas — the combined butterfly garden and bumblebee haven located between the Thompson and Finley buildings — used to be maintained by the Mason LIFE program as part of a partnership with the Grounds Shop. However, Nesbitt said it petered out a few years ago.

He hopes to renew this partnership and has been talking with teachers in the Mason LIFE program, although nothing is official yet.