Bee's Knees

Volunteers Laura Murphy, Tom Hughes and Cathy Rivera (left to right) stand amid the community garden at Capra Park, where volunteers have established a variety of plants that bloom in different seasons, so as to attract pollinators the entire year.

The whole project came together by chance, and two years later, it’s now blossoming – literally.

In the spring and summer of 2019, volunteers from Sustainable Seaside, a chapter of the nonprofit Communities for Sustainable Monterey County, teamed up with another nonprofit, Friends of Seaside Parks (FOSPA), to do some cleaning up of the city’s parks.

Several local residents joined in over the weeks, many of whom became inspired to take on beautification projects in a park near them. But one of them, Laura Murphy, a member of the Seaside Environmental Commission, had a more ambitious, transformative idea: Why only beautify the parks – why not also establish native pollinator-attracting plants to provide habitat for threatened species like honey bees and monarch butterflies, as well as pollinators like native bees?

The idea took root, so Murphy applied for a grant from the Xerces Society, a nonprofit devoted to the conservation of invertebrates, like butterflies. The application succeeded, and Xerces awarded Seaside a flat with 2,000 starter plugs of native pollinator plants. From there, the idea leafed out.

“Immediately, a coalition started to form,” says Cathy Rivera, a member of Sustainable Seaside who was among the early advocates for the project. But there was a problem: The city had nowhere to store plants, so the group reached out to another nonprofit, Return of the Natives, which agreed to house them in their greenhouse at CSU Monterey Bay until they became mature enough to transplant.

Fast forward to a weekday this September, in Seaside’s Beta Park, where Murphy and Rivera lead the way to showcase some of the work that’s been done since to establish the pollinator gardens.

Like many of Seaside’s parks south of Broadway, Beta is small, what locals refer to as a “pocket” park.

“This here is a pyracantha,” Murphy says, referring to a bushy, thorny, nonnative plant still present in the park. “[It] used to be all throughout here, that is what characterized this hillside besides annual, nonnative grasses like foxtails.”

The disparate group of local volunteers in the pollinator project – all under the umbrella of FOSPA – have transformed their parks since. In this case, they’ve mulched much of the hillside and planted the pollinator-attracting natives, some of which, like goldenrod, are blooming. Murphy adds the plan for this park is to remove all the remaining pyracantha and replace them with natives. “In a little microcosm, that is what we’re intending to do everywhere,” she says.

In Seaside parks with green grass – like Beta – there is a water supply to irrigate the plants as they get established. For others, the Seaside Public Works Department delivers 500-gallon tanks of water (pumped from Laguna Grande) to irrigate while the plants establish themselves, which takes about three years. Volunteers greet the truck for regular watering, weeding and maintenance, hoping to get pollinators established, and to beautify parks.

Just a few blocks south, Murphy and Rivera head into Capra Park, home to a vibrant community vegetable garden that is starting to fade with the end of summer. Murphy points to a barren hillside above the garden, which is buzzing with bees and fluttering with butterflies, and notes the plan is to plant it with natives this winter.

“We’re all kind of hustling all the time to get more resources, to purchase more plants, but really the greatest resource is just the volunteer time and interest and dedication to the upkeep and maintenance,” Murphy says.

Sustainable Seaside and FOSPA are hosting a tour of the pollinator gardens in eight of the city’s parks on Saturday Oct. 2, from 1-4pm (see Hot Picks, p. 26), with activities put on by each garden’s stewards. And there are many.

“It’s really not an exaggeration to say we have 20 people every Saturday morning for two hours working on one of the parks,” Rivera says.

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