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Hundreds Of People Are Planting 64,000 Flowers In The Treasure Valley To Help The Birds And Bees

A flat of plants with green leaves sits on a wooden table. A sign behind them reads "A Field Guide to Plants of the Boise Foothills" and a pamphlet sits to the right of it titled "Treasure Valley Pollinator Project."
Michael Martin
This flower flat is Mix 3 and includes scabiosa, shasta daisy, dahlia, oregano, snapdragon, sage, salvia (pink sunday) and salvia (blue victory).

On a very windy weekend in May more than 800 people, including myself, drove out to the Sunnyslope region in Canyon County to take part in the Treasure Valley Pollinator Project. Sign-ups for the project started in January. After five months, I’m finally here to pick up my flowers.

Michael Martin
Some of the 64,000 plants grown for the Treasure Valley Pollinator Project.

The landscape of the Treasure Valley is changing as new development replaces farmland and other open spaces. That can make it tough for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to find the flowering plants they need to survive. That’s where the Treasure Valley Pollinator Project comes in.

The project is the brainchild of the Ada Soil and Water Conservation District. The idea is to increase pollinator habitat — and the number of pollinators in the Treasure Valley — by having people plant 32 different flowers, some of which I have never heard of.

Michael Martin
Jessica Harrold, who manages the Treasure Valley Pollinator Project, holds a flat of flowers that will soon be planted somewhere in the Treasure Valley.

Jessica Harrold coordinates the project. I see a tray of plants and ask her what's in it.

“That is our flower mix number one," she said. "So in that tray is Cosmos, Marigold, Zin ... nope ... nope Zinnias, sorry about that, Black-eyed Susans, Catmint, Blue Flax and Echinacea.”

Harrold has been reeling off dozens of flower names all morning. Soon these flats will be blossoming with shades of periwinkle, bright pinks and flashes of purple.

There are four different mixes of plants, Harrold said. They were very carefully designed for our area, with the help of a soil scientist, to have a variety of flowers, including perennials and re-seeding annuals that spread in the garden easily.

“And they also had to have an early spring flower to a late fall flower and everything blooming in between because having that continual habitat and food for bees is really important to creating a good pollinator habitat."

"And there’s also at least one flower in each flat that hummingbirds like and a variety of flowers in the others with various shapes and sizes and colors to attract the widest variety of pollinators,” Harrold said.

She also points out you need all those sizes and shapes for other reasons you might not think of.

“Because there are certain sizes of bees and certain insect tongues that fit with different flowers.”

Harrold said pollinators, including bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, even bats and beetles, are losing their food supply as growth in the Treasure Valley replaces fields and open space with buildings and houses. The Treasure Valley Pollinator Project is designed to help bring that habitat, and the pollinators, back, one flower at a time.

Michael Martin
This greenhouse, which seems to go on forever, has been growing thousands of pollinator plants.

We walk over to another gigantic wire greenhouse filled with rows and rows of flower starts in little plastic trays under a dome of white flapping fabric. Harrold reels off more flower names.

“So this is our flower mix number two. So it has Nasturtiums and Calendula and Sea Holly in there," she said.

Volunteers slip into the greenhouses and pull up flower mixes that are so eager to grow they’re already rooting into the ground. The plastic trays make a ripping sound as they’re pulled up and placed on a little wagon and rolled out to people waiting for their plants.

Michael Martin
Josie Erskine is the manager of the Ada Soil and Water Conservation District. She's also the owner of Peaceful Belly Farm and has a lot of experience with plants.

I ask Harrold where all these flowers came from and she points me to Josie Erskine, Owner of Peaceful Belly Farm and Manager of the Ada Soil and Water Conservation District.

“You grew 64,000 flowering plants?” I ask Erskine.

“You know, I didn’t count, but that’s what I’ve been told," she said. "If I did the math, that’s I guess what I would come up with."

Erskine said they started seeds in December.

"Some of the seed did well, some of the seed didn’t do as well as we were hoping it would do, and I brought in a crew of young female farmers and they started potting everything up with the idea of this project,” she said.

According to Erskine, the project is about a lot more than just growing pretty flowers. That’s just the first step.

“Because they are the stars of the Earth. They are the universal language. They’re beauty and through the flowers, we fall in love with the bugs. And through the bugs, we’ll start noticing the birds. And it’s just that building of noticing and noticing, observation, curiosity, community. And that is really kind of the whole movement behind this project, is, 'Where do we start as a collective in empowerment of our community?'” Erskine said.

"What can we do as humans with our ability to plant and tend plants that can have an effect on future generations and climate change is really where this project goes."
Josie Erskine, owner of Peaceful Belly Farm and Manager of the Ada Soil and Water Conservation District

The real goal she says is conservation ... and stewardship.

“Stewardship of your yard, then stewardship of your neighborhood, then stewardship of your community, your city, stewardship of your county, stewardship of your public lands. This whole idea of what we see through stewardship of plants, mimicking nature," said Erskine. "What can we do as humans with our ability to plant and tend plants that can have an effect on future generations and climate change is really where this project goes."

Hundreds of people have already picked up and planted their flowers, sharing their pictures on Facebook. The cities of Boise, Meridian and Eagle, along with schools and community partners, also planted the flowers in parks and public spaces.

Harrold said she’s excited to see the flowers popping up in yards and on farms. She said one person even planted their flowers along their concrete ditch banks.

"It’s really been inspiring to see how people are using the plants in their spaces and how excited they are."
Jessica Harrold, Project Manager for the Treasure Valley Pollinator Project

Harrold looks around the little dirt parking lot where strangers are becoming friends as they compare plants, offer growing advice and laugh with one another. She said she’ll send out surveys to participants throughout the summer — that will help her track where the thousands of plants end up around the Treasure Valley and if more bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators are finding them.

Michael Martin
There are four different flower mixes. Each mix has eight different pollinator plants. The "Idaho Natives" mix was the most popular and Josie Erskine had to grow extra plants to try to meet the demand!

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As Senior Producer of our live daily talk show Idaho Matters, I’m able to indulge my love of storytelling and share all kinds of information (I was probably a Town Crier in a past life!). My career has allowed me to learn something new everyday and to share that knowledge with all my friends on the radio.