Asheville Field Office Leads by Example in Converting Traditional Landscaping to Pollinator Habitat

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Asheville, N.C. - The spring of 2020 is etched in the memory of all who experienced it, as the curtain of COVID descended, schools and offices closed, and many retreated to their homes and worked to make the best of interacting with the world via screens. There was much tongue-in-cheek commentary about how the natural world was healing in the wake of humankind’s retreat, however, that spring one tiny change was made at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Asheville Field Office that has come to fruition for the benefit of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

This section of landscaping at the building housing the Asheville Field Office is indicative of what the area with the pollinator garden looked like before it was converted.

Over a handful of weeks during that spring, Service staff stopped by the office individually and in small (socially-distanced) groups to pull monkey grass and burning bush shrubs, cut lingering root beds from the soil so they wouldn’t resprout, planted nearly 300 native plants representing 53 species, shoveled over 20  cubic yards of mulch, and even added hand-painted plant identification signs.  The office also designed and added a water feature in a way that provides water to insects without being a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Today, any given afternoon finds a steady stream of ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting the cardinal flowers, and  myriad bee, bumble bee, butterfly, and fly species collecting nectar and pollinating flowers. Visitors to the building, which also houses the U.S. Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Farm Services Agency are often seen taking time to give the garden a closer look.

Asheville Field Office staff member Karla Quast cuts at the original landscaping shrubs to make way for the new pollinator garden.

Service biologist Bryan Tompkins led the effort. As more pollinator species began to be considered for Endangered Species Act protection in recent years, Tompkins has taken a special interest in pollinator conservation, including working with solar power companies to incorporate pollinator plantings into their solar farms and helping found the North Carolina Pollinator Conservation Alliance. Tompkins coordinated staff efforts and worked with local nurseries Saturnia Farms and Carolina Native Nursery to supply the plants.

Sandra Spivey, formerly of the Asheville Field Office, helps get rid of shrubs that had been pulled to make way for the pollinator garden.

“As we see pollinator species become increasingly imperiled, part of the effort to conserve them is setting an example by using our space to support their conservation,” said Tompkins. “Hopefully we’ve created a space that will not only help pollinators, but also inspire others to take similar steps.”

A section of the Asheville Field Office pollinator garden two years after installation.

Even in the gardens third year of growth, it has already provided numerous plants that have been used to supplement other pollinator habitat projects. As the garden continues to mature and the original plants spread and reproduce, Tompkins sees it becoming a source of plants for many future pollinator garden projects. 

A section of the landscaping at the building housing the Asheville Field Office that hasn't been converted to a pollinator garden. Similar landscaping was in place in the area converted to a pollinator garden.
The pollinator garden at the Asheville Field Office, two years after installation.
An eastern swallowtail butterfly on Joe pye weed at the Asheville Field Office pollinator garden
An eastern carpenter bee on a rattlesnake master at the Asheville Field Office pollinator garden.