The First Baptist Church (FBC) Pollinator/Habitat Garden is a long-term project led by the FBC Green Team with ongoing support of the congregation. Located in a small area of land in front of the historic Greystone church, it faces DeWitt Park in Ithaca, NY. In response to the widely documented precipitous decline in songbirds and insects due in part to lack of habitat, pollen and nectar sources, the garden is being created as a teaching and learning garden. It features plants that are native to the Finger Lakes area and support native fauna. Native plants have co-evolved with the birds and insects here; they empower us to build an ark, a place of hospitality, to insects and birds on whom we depend.  

The Garden Committee, a sub-group of the FBC Green Team, adopted ten garden guidelines early on. We will try to: 

  1. use a broad diversity of plant species locally native to this area (with only a few regionally native species that are used by local pollinators.) 
  2. use straight species grown from local seed rather than cultivars (species grown from seed also offer more chances of adapting to climate changes)
  3. retain surface water on site so it can nourish the garden (as opposed to channeling it quickly off-site onto the parking lots where it picks up pollutants that drain directly into Cayuga Lake)
  4. focus on soil health
  5. plant for a good sequence of bloom for ongoing pollen and nectar availability
  6. refrain from using plants that are known to be toxic especially those that might be appealing to little children (attractive pods or berries)
  7. make it clear where people are welcomed in the garden (and where they are not.) Include a bench and seat where people can sit and enjoy the garden
  8. design the garden to include people and to include a pathway where super pollinator plant species will be labeled and featured
  9. do our best to leave the leaves and perennial stalks standing over winter because that is where the eggs or larvae of the next generation of insects overwinter 
  10. maintain the garden with an eye to traditional aesthetic tastes and a clean-cut grass edge (for tidiness) and “curb appeal” for the public. This includes provision for long term nurture and careful garden maintenance. 

We think of the garden as an ongoing process rather than a work to be finished in a season. We hope to offer a little node of hospitality, respite, joy and beauty for us, the gardeners, and for those who pass by on their way through the urban park it faces.  

In October 2021, Rev. Reynolds led us in a Sunday worship service followed by an adult education session focused on blessing the garden. We came with thanksgiving and gratitude for this garden, the land, the air, and waters that flow through it. We gave thanks for: the energy that so many folks have contributed to creating and maintaining the garden, spending time on the garden budget process, creating and installing a sign, obtaining plants, digging up roots from the invasive burning bushes, creating piping for the downspout water gardens, fixing the plumbing and hose fittings, obtaining and shoveling mulch and organic leaf compost, obtaining and carting nursery plants, designing planting plans, giving opinions about designs, photographing the garden, inventorying plants, advising about plant pathogens and species selections, planting plants and so important, keeping the plants watered. Many people volunteered lots of hours through several work sessions. We got really muddy and tired out and felt satisfaction and joy for the experiences of growing together.  

Land, air, and the waters that flow through it as well as all the inhabitants are sacred and part of Creation. The Pollinator/Habitat Garden was envisioned to explore how we can best use this tiny area of land to support and foster the web of life including helping people who are part of it. Working on the garden together as a church has stimulated us to have conversations about two important questions: “What are our past relationships to the land we are on?” and, “What are our relationships to the land now?” We hope that working together on this small garden will help each of us become more intentional about how we live in relationship to the sacred lands we depend on each day. Do we slow down enough discover awe, and beauty? Do we include respect for the web of life in the management of the lands where we live? Is respect for the living land part of our personal social and political advocacy? How do we acknowledge the Cayuga peoples who lived here before this land was colonized by European settlers and who continue to be present now? We are learning that there is not one single but many ways to frame our questions. We come with gratitude and humility as we undertake the ongoing process of discerning answers.