Wildflower pollinator garden growing at the monastery

Sister Beth Adams prepares ground while Sister Ann Hoffman sows wildflower seeds.

“If you want birds and butterflies, you’ve got to have something for them to eat,” explained Sister Annette Marshall, chair of the Benedictine Sisters Care for the Earth committee. She and others have noticed a decline in birds around the monastery and began research in how to reverse the trend. “We learned that if we created a native wildflower garden it would attract pollinators. Bees and butterflies need these native habitats to pollinate plants. This in turn attracts birds who feed on the insect larvae. Besides that, a wildflower garden would also provide a beautiful area for we humans to enjoy, too.”
 
Thirty sisters and friends seeded the new garden space in early October. The site is behind the monastery, adjacent to the woods on the far side of the path to the hermitages. Prior to the seeding, the area had to be cleared of grass. It was sprayed a couple times with a solution of 30% vinegar, salt and a bit of dish soap. The dead grass was mowed as close to the ground as possible, and clippings were raked. Then came the seeding.
 
Ernst Seeds gave us seven pounds of native wildflower seeds to which 20 pounds of winter rye seed was added to act as a cover crop that will hold the flower seeds in place until they germinate,” explained Sister Annette. The seed mix was then mixed with play sand to make it easier to spread. The seed-sand mix was scattered by hand and, to make sure it was in contact with the ground, the sisters and volunteers stepped on it. Straw was strewn over the fresh seed in a final step.

The rye will germinate in the fall, but the flowers will wait until spring according to Nancy and Peter Shipe, who created their own pollinator garden in 2021 in a cemetery near their home north of Pittsburgh. They graciously visited the monastery to share their experiences and offer guidance. “They also gave a donation, a gift in honor of their recently deceased college-age son, to offset expenses in preparing the meadow. We were moved by their kindness,” said Sister Annette.
 
The Shipes explained how the first year the rye will grow with the flowers. Each summer there will be less rye and more flowers. Their garden had its first visit from a Monarch butterfly in its first summer. Watch for pictures of our wildflower garden as it grows and welcomes birds, bees, and butterflies. Better yet, come and visit it next summer!

Sister Annette Marshall explains the planting process.
Sister Annette Marshall explains the planting process.
Sister Marian Wehler leads the way to the prepared area.
Sister Marian Wehler leads the way to the prepared area.
The prepared plot waiting to receive wildflower seeds.
The prepared plot waiting to receive wildflower seeds.
Sisters Lucia Surmik and Jacqueline Sanchez-Small prepare the ground.
Sisters Lucia Surmik and Jacqueline Sanchez-Small prepare the ground.
Maureen Gormley and Sister Kath Horan plant seeds.
Maureen Gormley and Sister Kath Horan plant seeds.
Sister Michele Wilwohl preps ground.
Sister Michelle Wilwohl preps ground.
Sisters Stephanie Schmidt and Anne McCarthy enjoy a laugh will stepping down seeds.
Sisters Stephanie Schmidt and Anne McCarthy enjoy a laugh will stepping down seeds.
Sister Val Luckey spreads hay in her Sunday best while Sister Jen Frazer photographs her work.
Sister Val Luckey spreads hay in her Sunday best while Sister Jen Frazer photographs her work.
Teams made sure each section was prepped, seeded, stepped, and covered.
Teams made sure each section was prepped, seeded, stepped, and covered.
Sisters Claire Surmik, Cecilia Sullivan, and Mary Ann Luke take in the action.
Sisters Claire Surmik, Cecilia Sullivan, and Mary Ann Luke take in the action.