Maryland church unveils pollinator garden, part of growing trend supporting bees, butterflies

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 7, 2023

[Episcopal News Service] Gardening is a popular way for congregations across The Episcopal Church to put extra land to productive use, and while many grow food in connection with their local feeding ministries, some church gardeners focus not on what they will produce but on what they will attract: pollinators.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, for example, recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new pollinator garden in the town of Berlin, Maryland. The garden was a collaboration between the church, its Church Mouse thrift store, the Lower Shore Land Trust and the community of Berlin, which is one of 12 municipalities in Maryland and 183 nationwide with a Bee City USA designation.

“We can’t have enough pollinator gardens,” Helen Wiley, a St. Paul’s member and Church Mouse coordinator, told Episcopal News Service. She helped develop the garden on a small plot of church land. It was partly inspired by her daughter’s involvement with a local conservation group, and Wiley said it aligns with the Christian value of “taking care of God’s creation.”

Pollinator gardens include native species of flowers that are particularly attractive to bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other species that aid in the reproduction of flowering plants. Those plants include three-quarters of the staple crop plants that humans rely on for food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “The secret bond of the partnership is that neither plant nor pollinator populations can exist in isolation – should one disappear, the other is one generation away from disaster,” the department says.

That’s why more and more people are observing “no mow May,” by delaying the use of their lawnmowers in the spring. Bees and other pollinators can benefit from flowering weeds in household lawns at a crucial time of year for their survival. Pollinator-friendly habitats are a particularly urgent need for certain threatened and endangered species, including some types of native wild bees.

Scientists also worry about declines in monarch butterfly populations, and some Episcopal congregations have developed gardens with a specific focus on the butterflies. In Georgetown, Delaware, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church has set aside a 112-square-foot area on church grounds to serve as a “Monarch Waystation,” stocked with the milkweed plants that are preferred by migrating monarch butterflies.

“Because of the loss of milkweed and other nectar sources, we need to help preserve the monarch butterfly by providing these Monarch Waystations in home gardens, at schools, businesses, parks, zoos, roadsides and other unused plots of land,” the church says on its website.

St. Paul’s is part of Monarch Watch, a network of gardens that is maintained by the University of Kansas. At least 37 Episcopal churches have registered as Monarch Watch participants since 2007.

One of them, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Versailles, Kentucky, established what it calls Milkweed Manor to attract the butterflies. And in San Marcos, California, Grace Episcopal Church hosted the second annual North County Monarch Butterfly Festival in May.

Bethany House & Garden, an urban garden ministry of the Diocese of Kansas, received one of The Episcopal Church’s United Thank Offering grants in 2022 to establish a butterfly garden near the state Capitol in Topeka. The ministry has partnered with a local school, whose students are raising caterpillars to release into the garden. It is filled with milkweed and other nectar-bearing plants.

The Rev. Jenn Allen, diocesan missioner, called the monarch “a living symbol of hope” in an online article about the project. “The hope of the monarch becomes our hope as we create much needed habitat in urban Topeka,” Allen said. “Increasing pollinator habitat with even a tiny patch of native plants can help.”

These types of projects are encouraged by the the churchwide Good News Gardens initiative, which partners with Episcopalians “in transformational agrarian ministry that feeds body, mind and spirit.” One example is the beekeeping ministry at Trinity Episcopal Pro-Cathedral in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

“The components of our pollinator programs are non-stinging bees, honey bees and beginning the process of replanting native pollinator-friendly plants in our church yards,” Sarah Mckeag Reid, a lay leader at Trinity, said in a Good News Gardens email newsletter. “I believe that through education, advocacy and civic engagement we can have a significant impact on our community.”

Now is a great time to think about starting a pollinator garden, with National Pollinator Week designated for June 19-25 by the nonprofit Pollinator Partnership. “It’s a time to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what we can do to protect them,” the organization says.

In Berlin, Maryland, the pollinator garden at St. Paul’s takes up an oval-shaped plot of land about 20 feet long next to the church’s cemetery and near Stephen Decatur Park.

Wiley proposed the idea last fall and received enthusiastic support from the St. Paul’s vestry and the church’s partners. Costs were covered by proceeds from the Church Mouse thrift shop and additional donations from parishioners and the community. The project also benefited from the labor of local volunteers and the expertise of the Lower Shore Land Trust.

The nonprofit began preparing the ground last November and tilled the soil in the spring. With additional topsoil, the flowers were planted last month, an assortment that included coneflowers, irises and blazing stars.

St. Paul’s hosted its celebration of the new garden on June 2. Those in attendance included one uninvited, but quite welcome, guest – a bee, which landed on one of the freshly planted flowers. It caught Wiley’s eye, and she reached for her camera.

“I’m trying to get the picture of the bee, and as soon as I would come up, it would fly off,” Wiley said.

She wasn’t too disappointed, though. All are welcome in this pollinator garden, even photo-shy bees.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at