Penn State Arboretum opens new garden for pollinators and birds

The new 3-acre Pollinator and Bird Garden at the Penn State Arboretum opened to the public on June 28, 2021. Photo by Geoff Rushton |

After more than a decade of planning and a year and a half of construction, the Arboretum at Penn State’s newest garden opened to the public this week.

The 3-acre Pollinator and Bird Garden increases the HO Smith Botanical Gardens by approximately 60%, creating a new space for relaxation and nature, as well as research and education.

“There are a number of features here that we don’t have elsewhere, so we added a lot of variety to the experience while visiting,” Kim Steiner, Founding Director of The Arboretum said Wednesday afternoon. . “And it’s attractive; we tried to make it a nice space. But behind it all, there is a really hard science on how to attract native pollinating insects. “

One of the garden’s goals is to attract all of the native pollinators to the area, and the science in action “is the really unique thing about gardens,” Steiner said.

Harland Patch, director of pollinator programming and professor of entomology at Penn State, said the garden integrates with academic research and provides a place to educate students of all ages and the general public about the science of pollination.

“It gives us a unique opportunity to see when we put plants in a certain area if things are settling down and what type of pollinators are showing up, but it also gives us a place where we can talk about pollinator science to the general public: K-12 kids, obviously college students and just the general public, producers, ”Patch said. “We have an orchard. We have a whole agricultural demonstration garden that talks about the pollination services of the important pollinated crops of Pennsylvania. It gives us lots of places and places to both communicate science and do science. “

The garden has been “a community effort,” Shari Edelson, director of operations, said in a statement. More than 620 people volunteered to help plant the 143,000 plants in the garden. The project, designed by Didier Design Studio and Phyto Studio, was entirely funded by sponsorship, with the contribution of nearly 500 individual donors.

Several “bee hotels” attract largely solitary pollinators throughout the garden. Photo of Geoff Rushton |

“The planning for this garden took over 10 years, starting from the initial ideas of creating a pollinator garden built from science,” Patch said. “What makes it unique is that it’s created from what we believe to be the most attractive and beneficial plants for pollinators, as well as different structures like wild beehives and things like that.” . It took a while and a lot of different people to create this garden.

The result is a garden made up of several sections. A “backyard garden area,” as Patch describes it, has “the best of native plants and the best of non-native plants: non-native plants that support our pollinators and native plants that do well and don’t. take care of your garden.

Several “hotels” are arranged along the way to provide nests for bees, most of the species of which are solitary. A round meadow is located near a structure that will eventually be a honey bee observation hive.

This structure will eventually be a honey bee observation hive in the Arboretum’s pollinator and bird garden. Photo of Geoff Rushton |

A wooded area will be located at the edge of the garden and as the trees grow, “you will have a lot of ephemeral spring plants growing in the Pennsylvania forest,” Patch said. “People often ask, ‘What can I grow in a wooded area? You can see these plants here.

A stone terrace overlooks a pond, which can also be seen from the porch of the birdhouse at the end of the garden. The house has a bird bath and a small pond.

Bird feeders and nesting boxes will be added throughout the garden, and Steiner said the house is as much a place to relax out of the sun as it is to spot various winged creatures.

Margaret Brittingham, avian ecologist and professor of wildlife resources, said the garden as well as other parts of the Arboretum will be a useful outreach tool to educate the public.

“Many bird populations have declined, as have pollinators, so we are very excited to let owners and landowners know how to set up their own backyards to make them a place for pollinators and trees. birds, ”she said. “Really, it’s all related, because you start with native plants that support the insects, and then the insects are the main source of food for the birds.

The Bird House at the Pollinator and Bird Garden at the Penn State Arboretum. Photo of Geoff Rushton |

“I think it makes people realize that they can do things in their own small space and then learn more about plants, insects and birds at the same time.”

During the winter months, Brittingham expects the garden to attract raptors, from red-tailed hawks and Cooper’s to lesser-known peregrine falcons and merlins. During the spring and fall migration periods, she believes the garden will be a “stopover” for warblers, which breed mainly in the forests of the region.

“A lot of them will feed on berries, so some of the shrubs here will produce berries. They will come and get water points, ”said Brittingham. “I think it’s going to be a really exciting time.”

For Steiner, the opening of the garden has a special meaning. Director of the Arboretum since its opening in 2009 and professor of forest biology, he delayed his retirement until he completed two projects: the completion of the Pollinator and Bird Garden and the planning of the new Palmer Museum of Art which will be located next to the Arboretum.

His retirement was effective at the end of the day on Wednesday.

“I’m happy with the current situation so it’s a good time for me to retire,” said Steiner. “That’s good. I’ll be happy to come here for the rest of my retirement.

Penn State’s Pollinator and Bird Garden Arboretum is now open to the public. The Arboretum is open daily from dawn to dusk. Photo of Geoff Rushton |
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