The West End Native Pollinator Garden on the Western Prom is a demonstration project of the Portland Pollinator Partnership, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary. Contributed

PORTLAND — With bee colony collapse, habitat destruction and the spread of invasive species, it’s become the mission of many in Maine to encourage people to think about gardening in new ways that specifically support pollinator health.

Among the groups and individuals working to create a landscape where both native plants and pollinators can thrive is the Portland Pollinator Partnership, which this year is celebrating its fifth anniversary.

Monarch butterflies are attracted to the rough blazing star plant at the West End Native Pollinator Garden. Contributed

Annie Wadleigh, the partnership’s main organizer, said the group evolved from a meeting held by the Bayside Neighborhood Association several years ago about the need to support bees and the desire to create pollinator corridors within the city.

The group’s mission, she said, is to encourage people to plant pollinator and insect-friendly vegetation, either within their own gardens or in public spots, with the goal of “connecting urban residents with nature on a daily basis.”

“Wild bees and other insects are crucial to maintaining our flowers, vegetables, and other plants,” Wadleigh said this week. That’s why the Portland Pollinator Partnership works to provide educational resources on sustainable gardening and landscaping practices, which “has many benefits, including providing food and habitat for many species.”

The partnership, she said, encourages people to “populate their gardens with drought-tolerant, perennial native plants that provide vital sources of food and habitat for not only bees, but butterflies, moths, and many species of native birds who require specific food sources to thrive.”

Wadleigh said the group also encourages people to plant organically and never use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

To help better spread its message, the pollinator partnership has worked with the city and the Wild Seed Project to create demonstration gardens, most notably off Carroll Street on the Western Promenade, and on Bayside Trail behind Trader Joe’s.

“We are very proud of our West End Native Pollinator Garden, which is a marvelous demonstration of how native plants can thrive and attract pollinators,” Wadleigh said. “Hundreds of bees and other insects can be seen enjoying the garden every day.”

She said the pollinator partnership also recently published a “Guide to Creating Your Own Community Pollinator Garden” that’s designed to help civic organizations, churches, schools or individuals plant pollinator gardens near their homes, in local parks, and along sidewalks.

The group also has a new map on its website that identifies pollinator-friendly habitat throughout the city, including several community gardens operated by Cultivating Community. Wadleigh said the partnership is planning to create a brochure about the threat of invasive plants, particularly Asiatic bittersweet and Japanese knotweed.

She said supporting wild bee health is especially important in light of the fact the Center for Food Safety says “native species of bees and other insects are essential to our food supply. Many of our fruits, vegetables, and nuts are reliant upon pollinators for their production. In fact, without these species, 70 percent of plants would be unable to reproduce or provide food.”

Members of the Portland Pollinator Partnership plant a special pollinator-friendly garden on the Bayside Trail in Portland several years ago. Contributed

In addition, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, of the 100 crop varieties that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, 71 are pollinated by bees. And, in the U.S., honey bees alone pollinate nearly 95 kinds of fruits, along with commodity crops, Wadleigh said. “Unfortunately, these critical pollinators are declining at alarming rates,” she said, adding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists nearly 40 pollinator species as threatened or endangered.

“It’s important for people to consider their local environments in a new way,” she said.

“From the way commercial buildings are landscaped to our own backyards, we can make a difference in how we incorporate nature in a way that is beautiful, restorative, and of enormous benefit to bees, birds, and ourselves. There are many examples of how much more beautiful eco-friendly gardens and landscapes can be than the high maintenance, artificial-looking gardens of the past.”