By Laurie Saloman
St. Paul Inside the Walls is drawing more than just devout Catholics lately.
Thanks to Pam Lewis, the grounds of the stately religious center on Madison Avenue are abuzz with honeybees and butterflies, drawn by a recently planted pollinator meadow brimming with colorful life.
Long concerned about humans’ impact on nature, Lewis served on the Watchung Environmental Commission while she lived in that borough. After moving to Madison last year, she hoped to find a new project that would satisfy her desire to nurture the earth and its creatures. As she strolled the grounds of St. Paul one day, contemplating whether this would become her new spiritual home, she noticed that there were no bees or other pollinating insects in sight—something that is, unfortunately, happening everywhere.
“The [bee] populations are catastrophically dwindling all over the world,” she said. “There’s not enough foraging for them for nectar sources.”
Lewis, along with many environmentalists and scientists, puts part of the blame on a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which the Environmental Protection Agency has approved for use in the U.S. but which is banned in Europe. Lewis said a parasite called the varroa mite, which attacks bee colonies, is another cause of their reduced numbers.
Lewis called Allan Wright, the Academic dean for Evangelization at the center, and told him she’d like to plant a pollinator meadow containing a wide variety of flowers and plants for the bees’ benefit. Her proposal was approved, and she was soon joined by Madison resident Gene Cracovia and his team of master gardeners as well as Barbara Gill, a fellow center attendee, in setting up the garden. The project was also supported by the Sustainable Madison Advisory Committee (SMAC), chaired by Stephen Stocker.
According to Lewis, Cracovia and his gardeners did the heavy lifting, digging beds with a backhoe in the summer heat. By the time the meadow was ready for planting this past July, Lewis and her team had 16 native pollinator plants ready to put into the earth, including zinnias, sunflowers, butterfly milkweed, partridge pea, cosmos, coreopsis, purple cornflowers, poppies, lupine, bee balm, crimson clover and Mexican hat.
By August their efforts had bloomed and Lewis deemed the meadow “just spectacular.”
Staffers at the church have taken on the responsibility of watering the plants, which continue to shine with color and attract hordes of flying friends. The public is invited to visit the grounds, which include a main 50’ by 100’ wildflower meadow and a smaller prayer garden with additional plantings, before cold weather sets in.
The plants will, however, grow again in the spring.
Lewis, who takes seriously her role as a steward of the earth, finds joy and peace in the landscape.
“It’s such a magnificent vision and it makes me wish that every town could create a pollinator meadow,” she said.