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New installation at a Minnesota art park is for pollinators

A hill in Caponi park
Caponi Art Park has a new installation for pollinators at the bottom of a grassy slope - a garden. Photo by Mara Koenig/USFWS.

Art is often inspired by nature. Embedded in the rolling, wooded hills and grassy slopes in a St. Paul, Minnesota suburb is art. This distinctive community space offers cultural and educational experiences in an inviting, natural setting, and now hosts a new installation for pollinators. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service know the inherent value in public greenspaces. We partnered with the Eagan Kick-Start Rotary Club, Caponi Art Park and City of Eagan to create a mosaic pattern for pollinators. Discover how art in nature can benefit not only people, but wildlife too.

This was true for Anthony Caponi, who conceived the 60-acre outdoor setting as a laboratory to teach and demonstrate how creativity is an essential part of daily living. He wanted to bring art to the people, not just in a museum. Thus, Caponi Art Park opened to public in 1987. As an educator and professor emeritus of Macalester College in St. Paul, Anthony taught and chaired the art department for more than 40 years. A modern-day Renaissance man, he was an artist, civic leader and environmentalist. After retiring in 1991, he devoted himself to increase awareness of how art and nature could cooperate in public spaces. The art within the nonprofit cultural center are objects of beauty due to the value in relationship to the space it occupies. The park creates a balance between nature and humankind. Anothy’s legacy continues promoting environmental stewardship, public art and community involvement – a movement called creative placemaking.

A snake scultpure
Iconic sculpture at Caponi Art Park is Snake. This sculpture is shaped directly in the hill with a rattlesnake head and anaconda body. Photo by Mara Koenig/USFWS.

“[Anthony] would have loved to see how our park has added a garden as an outdoor gallery for pollinators,” stated Anthony’s wife, and co-founder and Executive Director of Caponi Art Park Cheryl Caponi.

Something as simple as a lunch and learn talk inspired this newly installed pollinator garden. After the Eagan Kick-Start Rotary Club hosted a pollinator presentation by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Public Affairs Specialist Mara Koenig sparks began to fly. Immediately, rotary club members started to look for ways to help reverse the decline in pollinator populations in their community. The club decided to create pollinator habitat within the city. This was thanks to Cheryl, who is a rotary member, and volunteered space at Caponi Art Park. It took a few conversations to ultimately decide on the best location within the park. Cheryl also thought it could be an outreach tool to educate visitors about the plight of pollinators and offer actions that they can take to help.

The project wanted to include long-blooming, native flowering plants and provide a vegetative buffer on the uphill side to divide the garden from the lawn and slow water runoff. From there, members reached out again to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for assistance, as well as the City of Eagan, for technical and financial assistance. Private Lands Biologist Mike Malling with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave them plenty of ideas and offered cost share funding. “They’re great folks and we’ve only begun conservation efforts there,” stated Malling.

With these criteria, concept plans utilized existing terrain and known compatible soils to create a planting that would be a good demonstration for park visitors and provide a visible benefit to pollinators.

“This project also benefited site sustainability as it reduced maintained lawn space by repurposing an existing, raised garden area,” stated City Forestry Maintenance Supervisor Adam Schnaible.

Park staff and board members chose an informal organic pollinator garden design, as it closely mirrors artistic elements featured throughout the park. This design offers flexibility to accommodate future sculptural elements as they are installed within the garden. It also can be easily implemented and allows for future bolstering with additional plantings.

Volunteers planting a pollinator garden
Eagan Kick-Start Rotary Club and Caponi Art Park staff enjoyed a fall day planting the pollinator garden. Photo courtesy of Dianne Miller.

The native plant palette selection included a mixture of 70% flowering perennials and 30% grasses. Plants were purposefully spaced close to force vegetative overlap and promote a closely knitted community of plants.

“Increased plant density and plant canopy is the key to preventing noxious weed infiltration,” stated Schnaible. In total, over two half days, volunteers planted more than 420 plants, and spread mulch to cover the entire 1,100 square foot garden.

The garden is an artform. It’s a living piece; the movement of foliage, for example, changes through time, scents from flowers, sound from leaves stirred by the wind and an ever-changing perspective. The great reward for people who make gardens is that these elements, endless in variety, are summoned; and the pollinators exert their own masterpiece by pollination.

“The installation of this pollinator garden is a great first step to bring awareness to and acknowledge the important role they play in our daily lives,” stated Caponi.

The hope is that by incorporating attractive pollinator-friendly landscapes into the public areas, it can inspire and encourage community members to take action and mirror what is being done at Caponi Art Park.

“Pollinators' contributions to the health of our ecological systems must be championed and supported by such efforts,” stated Malling.

Nature enthuses artists. Apart from providing endless inspiration, many of the mediums that artists use to create their masterpieces such as wood, charcoal, clay, graphite and water are all products from nature. Anthony Caponi used rocks to create his art on display throughout Caponi Art Park. It is open May through October and draws 20,000 people annually. Now, it’ll draw new visitors to view the pollinator garden, learn about their plight and inspire others to conserve pollinators.

Want to help pollinators? Learn how to build a pollinator garden by following our easy step by step guide. If interested in creating larger spaces for wildlife in your land or community space, visit our Partners for Fish and Wildlife website. This Service program provides technical and financial assistance to landowners interested in restoring and enhancing wildlife habitat on their land. Projects are custom designed to meet landowners’ needs. Current partners include farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, recreational landowners, corporations, nonprofits, local governments and universities.