The Pollinator Garden Fence at IslandWood, by Melinda West
As a plant fiber artist inspired by nature, learning the life stories of important native Pacific Northwest pollinators has been one of the most delightful aspects of making this fence, and is one example of how art and science are interwoven. This fence defines a border for ‘a garden for pollinators’ yet to be planted, and offers privacy for the residence adjacent to it. The rusted steel wire and rebar framework provides an arbor structure to support flowering vines that will be planted for the benefit of specific pollinators. The five alcoves within the fence-frame could represent the concept that there are multiple mechanisms for transporting pollen, with these featured through chosen plantings. Or, each alcove could be planted with plants that target specific species of Pacific Northwest pollinators.
This is a wattle, or woven, fence. Wattle weaving is one of the oldest methods of construction, and is used in many regions of the world today where renewable limbs from shrubs and trees are available. Because Western red cedar is a tree culturally important to the First Peoples of our region, I wove with cedar limbs. Because IslandWood is built upon land that once supported a milling community, I wove with milled cedar wood splints. And because bamboo is culturally significant to peoples from Africa, Asia, North and South America, Indonesia, and beyond, I wove with black bamboo. Knowledge of the uses of plants by humans (ethnobotany) can be extrapolated from this fence by the IslandWood educators, with stories about these particular materials. These stories can help to connect students with plants possibly utilized by their own ancestors.
The natural materials exposed to the elements in this fence will predictably wear out. So in five to ten years, this natural process will give a new group of IslandWood students the opportunity to work with the garden educators, so that the trimmings and prunings from the IslandWood campus can be used to weave a new wattle fence. This is an ancient, universal, and sustainable process that will keep the knowledge of cultural plant use alive.
There are many possibilities of plants and pollinators that can be featured by this garden. Plantings that attract daytime (diurnal) nectar feeders like Bees, Butterflies, and Hummingbirds; could be Fuchsias, Columbines, Sweet Peas, Honeysuckles and Salvias. Pollinators such as beetles, flies and ants might be attracted by slightly foul smells given off by certain flowers, like Marigolds. The locations of flowers can determine the pollinators attracted, such as Wild Ginger, located near the soil, where only the ants and even the lowly gastropods end up dragging pollen from bloom to bloom. Pollinators like moths spread pollen at night (nocturnal) and are attracted to light colored blossoms. And many insects are attracted to plants with scents given off only at dawn and dusk (crepuscular), like Nicotina, Jasmine and Evening primrose. The wind is a huge mechanism for transporting the pollen of trees and grasses. And we must consider human actions which transport pollen, as well as other small and large mammals moving from place to place.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the environmental learning that takes place at IslandWood. The fence is completed, but the creative work of all the educators, graduate students, and visiting artists and scientists, is just beginning. Everything at IslandWood, including this fence, is designed with layers of function, and one of those layers is to provide lessons in science, technology and cultural arts through student participation. The thousands of young people who come to IslandWood each year will now have an opportunity to learn about important pollinators as the garden educator’s plant a garden to celebrate our everyday pollinating “Heros”. My personal nominations are Lady Bug, Butterfly, Hummingbird, Bumble Bee, and Ant! What about you?