Lifestyle Sustainability

America’s First Bee City Celebrates 10 Years of Pollinator Advocacy

UNCA Health Services parking lot. Photo by Phyllis Stiles

By Natasha Anderson

In June 2012, Asheville’s City Council adopted the first Bee City USA resolution in the US. Since then, the program has grown into a nationwide movement for pollinator conservation that has certified more than 300 Bee City municipalities and campuses in 45 states and the District of Columbia. In addition to Asheville, WNC is home to five certified Bee Cities (Hendersonville, Highlands, Boone, Laurel Park and Hayesville), and five Bee Campuses (UNC Asheville, the NC Arboretum, Warren Wilson College, Blue Ridge Community College and Appalachian State University).

“The Pollinator Habitat Certification program we launched in Asheville in 2020 has wildly exceeded our expectations, leading more and more people to shift from conventional landscaping paradigms to those defined by native trees, shrubs and wildflowers that welcome pollinators and other wildlife,” says Bee City USA founder and director emerita Phyllis Stiles. “Over time, those fragmented pollinator habitats will link together to create corridors where pollinators can find all of the shelter, food and mates they need to help their numbers rebound and contribute to sustaining our planet’s rich biodiversity.”

Linda Tsan in her pollinator garden

Asheville resident and pollinator advocate Pamela Cauble jumped into gardening upon her 2010 retirement, but struggled to find direction until she attended a Bee City Pollination Celebration! in 2014. “I was a little embarrassed not to be growing something more useful than flowers, like food of some description,” she says. “After the Pollination Celebration! it all felt different. I was no longer ‘just growing flowers’; I was growing food for the environment.”

Cauble describes her pollinator garden as an eight-year process of learning, practicing and experimenting. Though the primary reward is supporting an abundance of wildlife in her backyard, Cauble also enjoys having people stop by to take a look. Occasionally, she puts out a wood-framed chalkboard with tidbits of information about pollinators and plants she needs to split and share, sparking conversations with neighbors and passersby. “Even when the COVID quarantine was in full swing, I never once felt lonely or bored,” she says. “I had dirt to dig in and people to talk to.”

Linda Tsan, who began developing her pollinator garden more than two years ago, has worked, along with her husband, since 2021, to mobilize their South French Broad neighborhood to plant and certify residents’ pollinator gardens. With help from Bee City USA, who donated more than 200 swamp milkweed plants, as well as donations from other native gardeners, they have contributed to the installation of 18 gardens and hope to continue the effort to distribute a larger variety of native plants to more households in South French Broad.

“Walking around Asheville, it’s hard to miss the beautiful, blooming gardens with bright yellow signs that read ‘Certified Pollinator Habitat,’” says Tsan. “Prior to moving here, I had no knowledge of the important role native plants played in supporting bee and butterfly populations, so these signs certainly helped educate me and gave me an entry point into understanding how I can do my small part.”

In addition to certifying about 150 pollinator habitats, Asheville’s Bee City USA affiliate has encouraged area individuals and organizations to find other innovative ways to preserve pollinators, including dozens of educational outreach events and the installation of two new demonstration pollinator gardens on the Wilma Dykeman Greenway. Bee Campus USA affiliate UNC Asheville has essentially made its entire campus a pollinator garden, integrating more native plants, removing invasive plant species and implementing an integrated pest management plan.

All year long, Asheville GreenWorks’ Bee City USA Leadership Committee will celebrate the 10th anniversary with programs designed to help residents get to know Asheville’s thousands of species of hometown pollinators, reduce pesticide use and create
pollinator habitat in their yards.

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