Affiliate Spotlight: Ashland, Oregon

Guest blog by Kristina Lefever, Committee Chair, Bee City USA – Ashland 
Ashland is proud to be the 5th Bee City USA affiliate in the country, and fortunate to be a subcommittee of Ashland Parks and Recreation. The Bee City USA Ashland (BCUA) subcommittee currently consists of four community members, an Ashland Parks and Recreation Commissioner, and our liaison, Libby VanWyhe, manager of the North Mountain Park Nature Center. We meet quarterly at the Nature Center, a wonderful educational center that offers classes, demonstration gardens, field trips, children’s activities, and more. 
We have three signs marking our status as a Bee City USA affiliate: one at the north entrance of town, and two in the median of Siskiyou Boulevard, the busy thoroughfare that runs through town (and past the front of Southern Oregon University, the first Bee Campus USA affiliate in the country!)
Bee City USA Ashland has two overarching goals: 

  • Create pollinator friendly landscapes. 
  • Educate the public about pollinators and their conservation.

Education & Outreach

Pollinator Garden Program
Ashland is a community of walkers. From our charming downtown to our easily accessed mountain biking and hiking trails, people are afoot. This gives us walkers ample opportunities to chat with our neighbors and an opening to share additional information about which plants work best in Ashland: drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, pollinator-friendly natives that thrive in our decomposed granite soil. We also spot gardens that will likely qualify for our Approved Pollinator Garden Program. We have been known to leave an introductory letter on a doorstep with encouragement for the resident gardener to contact the BCUA team for more information. 

The process to have a garden certified is simple and enjoyable for everyone. The gardener submits a short form, or has someone submit on their behalf, then two BCUA team members visit the garden to get a tour and make sure that it meets our stated qualifications per the form. The nomination form is available on the Bee City USA Ashland webpage on the Ashland Parks and Recreation website, along with our requirements and an image of the garden sign that approved households can display. 

We usually make plant or habitat suggestions during the visit, but always enjoy seeing what people are doing in different parts of the city with varied microclimates and growing conditions. We encourage inclusion of natives to our area, and are considering increasing the minimum number of native plants from three to five. Once approved, the gardener is invited to accept our BCUA Pollinator Garden garden sign for a donation that just about covers the cost of the sign; most people are just delighted to accept! (A local sign company makes them for us by applying the image to a thin sheet of aluminum / poly blend. After 4 years, the signs look almost brand new.)

During 2019, we certified ten gardens for our Approved Pollinator Garden Program, bringing us to a total of 61 at the end of the year. Of these, 13 belong to Ashland Garden Club members and 12 are located at local businesses, including North Mountain Park.

Tabling
Each summer, we table at our very popular local farmers’ market at least once a month. We use the opportunity to engage with residents, share information about pollinators and gardens, and encourage gardeners to consider having their pollinator garden certified. The market is very popular, even drawing tourists from other countries! Who knows, we may have influenced another city to begin the process of becoming a Bee City USA affiliate! We also use the opportunity to advertise our Annual Pollinator Garden Tour that happens in June.

Another favorite tabling event is the annual Bear Creek Salmon Festival hosted by North Mountain Park and Ashland Parks and Recreation. BCUA is one of more than twenty environmental organizations providing educational, hands-on activities for children and adults — it’s always a fun day in the fall!

In 2019 we also tabled at a large local seed swap in Ashland, offering native seeds especially attractive to local pollinators, plus herb and flower seeds grown at North Mountain Park. Our committee member Carolyn also had a lovely time tabling at an Ashland art gallery for a “First Friday” art event featuring handmade glass flowers.

Pollinator Garden Tour
During 2019 we held our 3rd Annual Pollinator Garden Tour — and it was the best one yet! We invited all BCUA pollinator gardeners to a Pollinator Gardener Social, and 15 gardeners volunteered. For the first time, we decided to make the tour a weekend event. Gardens were open for four hours on both Saturday and Sunday mornings, with the gardeners choosing which day(s) to show their gardens. We also invited local businesses to participate either by sharing their garden or supporting the pollinator theme in some other way. We met with the Ashland Chamber of Commerce about how to best spread the word. They helped us get an article in the Chamber’s newsletter and we also attended several Chamber meetings. Six businesses accepted our invitation and offered a range of ‘extras’ to ‘ticket’ holders: free beverages, a discount on purchases, and one even offered refreshments in their garden along with a talk by a local bee-loved pollinator person!

​As always, the Garden Tour booklet served as the ‘ticket’. The booklet included a map with descriptions and pictures of each garden, Phyllis Stiles’ welcome letter, a letter from BCUA about the dangers of neonicotinoids, and a little ‘advertisement’ for each participating business. With help from the City of Ashland and BCUA gardeners, we advertised the tour in the Ashland Parks and Recreation Community Playguide, on Facebook, in a press release, with flyers, and in letters in the paper. We also were featured with both video and a print story in the excellent “Literary Gardener” column for the Rogue Valley’s primary paper, the Mail Tribune. The tour booklet was available for purchase several weeks before the tour date, so it was easy for people to select the gardens they wanted to visit on this self-guided tour. Over 125 people participated in the tour over the two days, a 50% increase from 2018!

Other Activities
In 2019, Ashland Parks Commissioners and staff participated in a unique opportunity, attending a day-long workshop about organic lawn care led by Chip Osborne of Osborne Organics. Other attendees included staff from five cities, an elementary school, Southern Oregon University, the county parks, and the Ashland golf course. Sponsored by Beyond Toxics, Pollinator Project Rogue Valley, and Beyond Pesticides, the workshop included a visit to a city park in neighboring Talent for a ‘how-to’ review of soil testing, along with Chip’s recommendations for improving lawns without synthetic fertilizers or toxic chemicals.

Perhaps the most fun thing BCUA did all year was welcome Phyllis Stiles and Molly Martin to Southern Oregon in October! With representatives from the other four Bee City USA committees in the Rogue Valley, we all enjoyed getting to know each other over dinner at a local restaurant. The next day Phyllis and Molly went on a whirlwind tour, visiting with Bee City and Bee Campus volunteers and city and university officials in Talent, Phoenix, Medford, Gold Hill, and at Southern Oregon University. We were so glad to see Phyllis again, sad knowing of her departure, and thrilled to meet Molly.
Pollinator Health & Habitat

We began working with the Riverwalk community to transform a little-used Ashland neighborhood pocket park into a pollinator garden park in 2018. The Riverwalk community includes 62 homes, and is across the street from Ashland’s North Mountain Park, home to BCUA. This project was suggested by Carolyn Hunsaker, a Riverwalk resident, who was “enticed” to join the BCUA subcommittee to help make her dream a reality.

The project came together after a number of planning meetings among BCUA team members, and began with several work parties with BCUA and Riverwalk residents in the summer of 2018. We began by solarizing the primary garden section (to get rid of the crab and bermuda grasses) and sheet mulching the front area by the sidewalk. In March of 2019, under Carolyn’s direction, volunteers from the community planted the front area. In the fall of 2019, the plastic was removed from the main garden area and we were very pleased to see the majority of the grass had been killed. There were some areas on the edge that we tackled manually. We immediately covered the area with cardboard and then Parks department staff delivered loads of topsoil, which BCUA volunteers shaped into mounded beds flanking a pathway through the main garden area. When we were satisfied with height and shape, wood chips (also supplied by the Parks department) were wheelbarrowed from the street to the garden. Then the area rested, to be planted in the spring of 2020. As of this writing, the garden is stunning. Thyme, veronica, joe pye weed, and milkweed grow alongside the native kinnikinick that was already there. View the album of the Riverwalk pollinator garden project here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/F8TXgAaBJL9Ttibc9 Stay tuned for more updates in our 2020 annual report! 

This new BCUA Pollinator Garden Pocket Park, in close proximity to the North Mountain Park demonstration gardens and the Hunsakers’ own garden in Riverwalk, creates a cluster of pollinator patches within a small area. 

BCUA continues to maintain the small pollinator garden that we planted at the end of 2017 at The Grove, the office of Parks and Rec, on East Main St, a busy thoroughfare through town. The garden is planted with goldenrod, lavender, thyme, echinacea, native bunch grass, and more. We continue to work on adding more native plants and improving the soil and irrigation system. We purposefully leave the plants in their ‘weedy’ state through the winter for birds and stem-nesting bees, and if we are lucky, overwintering butterflies. We plan to add signage explaining our maintenance practices, identifying the pollinator plants, and sharing information about different pollinators’ varied nesting habits. ​​

We love our Parks and Rec staff, and would like to express our deep appreciation for their excellent support of our subcommittee and our pollinator gardens!

Policies & Practices

Recommended Locally Native Plant Species List — http://www.ashlandsaveswater.org/assets/NativePlants_10.2010.pdf 

Regional Native Plant Supplier List — https://f5d66c9a-906a-4990-8897-20d125ce7879.filesusr.com/ugd/9290bd_9819e8d13c2d41d1933a5d0e156dafa9.pdf 

Pollinator Friendly Integrated Pest Management Plan — http://www.ashland.or.us/Files/IPM_PolicyOriginalAmendments.pdf

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