Columnist Tom Atwell posted a Pollinator Pathway sign on his garden. The organization is working to make a continuous pathway of native plant habitat in people’s yards, rather than monoculture lawns, to help threatened pollinators. Photo by Tom Atwell

I recently joined a group called Pollinator Pathways. It hasn’t required any extra work that my wife and I wouldn’t have done on our property anyway as part of our usual garden routines, except for the small metal sign that I tacked onto a fence.

I got that sign last February, when I attended a Kennebunkport Conservation Commission meeting about a potential pesticide ban. I made a small donation to Pollinator Pathways, and added my name and address to its membership list.

According to its website, the nonprofit launched in Connecticut in 2017 with the goal of getting home gardeners to build, as its name suggests, continuous pathways for pollinators. Development, for one, has fractured animal habitat so severely that populations of pollinators (such as endangered Monarch butterflies) and many other animals are in severe decline. Among a list of actions the organization wants gardeners to take is to avoid pesticides and to plant the native plants pollinators need to thrive.

I hadn’t seen any Pollinator Pathways signs during my neighborhood strolls, so I assumed that the pathway is, at least for now, more dream than reality. A look at the Pollinator Pathways map ( confirmed my suspicion. Our closest listed Pollinator Pathway neighbors are in Freeport, Buxton and Kennebunk. Any of those towns would be a long way for a butterfly, bee or other insect to go without nutrition.

“Most native bees have a range of about 750 meters, so the goal is to connect properties that are no farther apart than that,” the group’s website says.

For now, Maine as a whole has only about a dozen listings. (At an annual meeting of New England Garden Clubs earlier this fall, I learned that the Cape Cod Pollinator Pathways includes more than 100 Pollinator Pathway gardens).


Of course, many pollinator-friendly gardens are grown by people who haven’t joined Pollinator Pathways, and probably don’t even know the group exists. And other groups share the goals of Pollinator Pathways.

The three-year-old Homegrown National Park, for instance, encourages homeowners to plant their properties with native plants, especially keystone species such as oaks. Ultimately, the group would like to convert 20 million acres of privately owned lawns in the U.S. into gardens of diverse native trees, shrubs and perennials – a huge goal, but an important one; lawns, a monoculture pervasive across the United States, are almost useless to insects and birds, and they require polluting lawn mowers to maintain.

Other groups, like the Planeteers of Southern Maine, make similar efforts on a smaller scale. The nonprofit group is focused on climate change and has worked in Kennebunk, including on one of the sites I found on the Pollinator Pathways map.

The most recent Planeteers project in Kennebunk has been to convert so-called “hell strips” – that area of green (supposedly grass but more often weeds) that separates streets and sidewalks – into native-plant gardens, according to member Andrea Roth Kimmich. Hell strips require plants that can withstand dry conditions, strong sun, doses of salt and sand in winter, and auto emissions year round.

Beyond native plants, gardens that can provide food for birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife require plants that bloom at different times throughout the growing season. That way, any time an insect is flying by, it will be able to find nectar and pollen, Kimmich said. In her own garden, Kimmich gives herself a bit of leeway, extending blossom times with a few non-native plants, including witch hazel and calendula.

Like me, Kimmich supports, in part, the leave-the-leaves philosophy in her gardens come fall. In the wilder areas, she lets autumn leaves decompose naturally – they provide winter habitat for many types of wildlife – while she removes them from areas that she can see from her house.

At 2 p.m. on Jan. 27 at Kennebunk Town Hall, the Planeteers have scheduled a program on companion planting, which is when two species are planted close together in a way that benefits both. Do check the Planeteers Facebook page before you go, though, Kimmich suggests, to check that bad winter weather hasn’t derailed the program.

I hope to go, if only to meet in person some other people who have joined Pollinator Pathways.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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