The Big E Habitat Garden
Designed and installed by New England Wild Flower Society, the Habitat Garden at the Big E is filled with native plants, habitat boxes, and bee boxes.
When you think of the Big E, held each fall in West Springfield, MA, you may not think about native plants and habitat gardening. However, habitats and habitat gardens can exist anywhere. Thanks to a new, permanent exhibit by New England Wildflower Society, that is what many of the more than 1 million visitors to New England’s largest fair will experience. Just outside the Mallory Agriculture Building (the big dome), the Society has installed a native plant habitat garden.
This is a garden filled with native plants, offering tasty fruit, sweet nectar, and a feast of pollen to sustain the bees, butterflies, birds, beetles and other pollinators critical to the health of natural ecosystems and to the food chain - including your own dinner! One-third of the nations food supply depends on bee pollination. Having pollinators in your garden can improve fruit-set and quality. Pollinators can even increase fruit size. In farming situations, pollinators can increase the amount of food produced. Pollinators in the wild increase biodiversity and food for wildlife. Native plants play a critical role in the life cycles of many bats, bees, birds, beetles, butterflies, flies, and moths. Just think of the most famous connection - that between the monarch caterpillar and asclepias (milkweed). Without this important food source, the monarch caterpillar could not survive, form a cocoon and finally hatch into those gorgeous orange and black butterflies.
The habitat garden at the Big E utilizes native plants from all five eco-regions of New England. Identifying which eco-region you live in and using a high percentage of plants from that eco-region will create a stronger regional identity for your garden and provide the best food source for creatures utilizing your buffet table. Since the Big E represents all of New England, the Society wanted to representall of the eco-regions.
The Big E habitat garden also provides lots of shelter for many different creatures that will be stopping by with bat boxes, bee boxes, habitat boxes and bird houses. All of theses “homes” are not only functional, but very artistic and beautiful, and create interesting focal points for visitors to the Big E. A habitat box is a form of functional art that creates shelter for small furry or winged creatures. They are filled with sticks, stones or other natural elements and have various sized holes on the side to provide easy access for would-be residents and to offer artistic interest for humans. The bee boxes serve some of the more than 4,000 species of North American native bees. The solitary bee “condo” provides different sized holes for various species of bees. The native bumble bees prefer to use abandoned mice holes, therefore the bumble bee box is placed on the ground and designed to mimic an abandoned mouse den.
Humans and nature must exist together and we can provide important resources for our wildlife friends. Urban naturalism must become a part of our landscape whether at the largest fair in New England or in your own back yard. Provide a welcoming habitat garden to the creatures of your eco-region and enjoy the wonders of nature right outside your door!
If you are interested in creating your own habitat garden, click here to watch a quick video featuring the Society’s Horticulture Director Scott LaFleur and keep these helpful tips in mind:
- Provide a food source, i.e. plants that flower or produce fruits at different times of the year.
- Provide shelter and nesting sites so your invited guests will feel at home.
- Incorporate water features, such as a bird bath, since water is essential to pollinators.
- Leave your garden standing through the winter and cut it back in the spring for winter design interest and wildlife food.
- Become familiar with the creatures that are visiting and enjoy them!
- DON’T USE PESTICIDES, they are designed to kill the very creatures you are inviting into your garden.