The Mayor's Roundtable Podcast

Pollinators Group with Mary Westervelt

March 01, 2023 City of Greenfield, Massachusetts Season 1 Episode 6
The Mayor's Roundtable Podcast
Pollinators Group with Mary Westervelt
Show Notes Transcript

Mary Westervelt is part of a group of local gardeners working to beautify the city and help bees and other pollinators by planting native plants on public land. She discusses their work, their plans for the future and how you can help bees and other pollinators in your own garden.

Learn more about their efforts here:

Episode also includes a Municipal Minute on the new City website.


MAYOR: Good morning to a Mayor's Roundtable. It's an early spring-like morning, although I do hear that there's a storm on the way, but we've had a lot of early spring-like mornings this winter certainly in the month of February. So it's a perfect day to have Mary Westervelt of the pollinators group, and I think I have that name, correct, but maybe there's a more official name to it.

It's a group of wonderful people that have done a lot of planting around the city of Greenfield and it's volunteer. And so let's get started. Mary, want to tell us a little bit about the pollinators group, how it came about and some of the things that you folks do?

MARY WESTERVELT: Sure. Well, good morning. I call it the pollinators group too. It's a little group of us who are part of Greening Greenfield, but the thing that really caught our attention and and motivates us to  to do things for the community is planting and maintaining pollinator gardens.

So, there are only three or four of us: me, Dorothea Sotiros, Nancy Hazard and a new one, Sarah Brown. But the list of people who have been involved planting and maintaining native plant gardens goes on and on and on. And I'm a relative newcomer to Greenfield. So I don't know all of them, but I've met a few and I meet them when I'm going around, learning about gardens...Maybe helping with gardens. So there's quite a community here in Greenfield and quite a list of gardens they've worked on. You could start in Energy Park and then you could walk past Fiske Avenue and you could go one way and you could go up towards the transportation center and you'd see bio swales and pollinator gardens and signs explaining what's going on. Or, you could head north and you could go to John Zon and you'd see a wonderful pollinator garden with plant labels, so that residents can come see what's growing and what's beautiful when and what they could put in their yards.

You could even go up to the high school where there's a wonderful rain garden and students there are are monitoring that with the help of a science teacher.

MAYOR: Well, that's great.

MARY WESTERVELT: So there are all these wonderful gardens even out at the transfer station. There's one.

MAYOR Is that right? I wasn't aware of that one. I'm aware of all of the ones that you mentioned except for that one. And is it not the case, that at one point the pollinators group did have a plan to be able to walk no less than you know a mile without encountering a pollinators garden or something of that nature?

MARY WESTERVELT: Well, I'm thinking of two things. One is Carole Collins, whose [title] you'll have to help me with her title. 

MAYOR: Energy and sustainability director for the City of Greenfield.

MARY WESTERVELT: Right. Yes, and I remember when we had a meeting. I think it was last March. She said her dream is that you could walk no more than 10 minutes in any direction and you'd be in green space, where you could sit down and admire it.

MAYOR: Then that's probably where I got that notion. 

MARY WESTERVELT: Yeah. Well, there's that. But then there's also the plan put out by FRCOG the Franklin Community...

MAYOR: Regional Council of Governments.

MARY WESTERVELT: Thank you. Yes, which is basically to try to put through a pollinator corridor that would extend across Massachusetts, but in Franklin County, they're working with various communities and Greenfield happens to be one of them. And the idea is to connect up these gardens with open space maybe a long Green River. 

MAYOR: Ah, okay.

MARY WESTERVELT: And encourage people to plant in their own yards to include pollinator plants and native trees and leaves on the ground and things like that, that are all part of the picture for supporting pollinators.

MAYOR: Ah. That's great. I think in my email is maybe a new proposal from you folks. I know it came from Dorothea, to look at a space on Deerfield Street that and previously been in use by the group of people... I can't think of their name either, but they had chickens there.

MARY WESTERVELT: They had chickens there.

MAYOR: Yeah.

MARY WESTERVELT: I'm thinking of it as the Washington Avenue spot. 

MAYOR: Right. It's between Deerfield Street and Washington Avenue.  Yeah, and it's this piece of City-owned property. So I know that we do try often to accommodate requests to use City-owned properties for those types of activities. I recall being told by the DPW director that they believe that the folks who've been doing the chickens have moved off of that space. I was never officially notified of that. That's fine. So I'm sure it's available and I've just been talking with DPW director Marlo Warner and Carole Collins to see what we can do to make that happen. Because I do think some debris was left behind and and we'll need to clean that up and make it available to you. But it was great program.


MAYOR: Proposal. There's a group I think out of Turner's Falls...

MARY WESTERVELT: A young man named Peter Wackernagel.

MAYOR: Yeah. I saw that on paper. It's like a Wedegartner.  


MAYOR: He has a cross to bear too.

MARY WESTERVELT: Yeah. Yeah. Maybe even more than Westervelt.

He's done some some really great stuff in Turners Falls, and he, I believe recently moved to Greenfield and and approached our little group and said what can we do here?

MAYOR: Oh great.

MARY WESTERVELT: So he he's one of the people really... He's kind of spearheading that one. 

MAYOR: Oh, that's good. Well, that's a nice spot because it's terraced. So it seems a little bit, you know, it's a little bit it's not a just... my recollection of it. It's not a steep grade from Washington, which is about Deerfield Street. It's got a little bit of a terrace to it. So yeah, that'll make it interesting.


MAYOR: So, it's my understanding that I mean, obviously we we love bees in Greenfield. They are certainly what I would call super pollinators and you know, the bee population is fragile in many cases. So we want to encourage as much be activity as possible.

Bees and butterflies. That's what I think of. What would you consider to be other pollinators and how might someone who wants to do this in their own yard begin to approach creating a more friendly pollinator space?

MARY WESTERVELT: Well, first let's talk about bees a little bit here. We are right next to the church where Pastor Langstroth started the whole honey bee
thing, and I know that's really popular in Greenfield and we don't want to diminish that. But, the fact is honeybees, first of all, they're not a native bee and there are thousands of bees native to North America ,which are really important for pollination but also for ecosystem connection. Whereas the honeybees really aren't part of the local ecosystem in the same way at all. So the first thing people can do is make sure they're providing for our native bees and that means most of them are solitary bees and most of them nest in the ground. 

MAYOR. Oh. Okay. 

MARY WESTERVELT: So and it's hard for those of us who have encountered yellow jackets, which are not bees. They're actually a wasp and seeing their nests in the ground. You know, we see it something coming out of the ground and we think, "Got to kill that. Got to get in the, you know heavy artillery."

MAYOR: Especially if they wiggle.

MARY WESTERVELT: Yeah. Yeah. Just stepping back and kind of watching what's going on-- watching what what insects are at your plants. So if you see bumble bees, that's wonderful. In fact some of our even some of our crops, blueberries for example, depend on bumblebees not honey bees for pollination. 

MAYOR: Oh. I wasn't aware of that. That tends to be what I have around my garden.


MAYOR: Bumble bees. 

MARY WESTERVELT: Yeah, and I love to watch them and they don't, you know, they're not out to sting me. They aren't territorial.

And then there are lots of other ones and it turns out a lot of them are quite tiny. So learning to you know, walk around your yard and just kind of look at what's there. If you see a metallic green thing about as long as your little fingernail, you may have metallic green bees, and they're wonderful, and they're great pollinators. Butterflies don't do as much pollination because they're the adults are looking for nectar, but the butterfly settles down to get some nectar and get some pollen on its face and then it goes to another plant and it gets some nectar and drops some pollen. So they're doing some of that.

Butterflies, their larvae are caterpillars and the caterpillars are a really important nutrient source for birds when they're nesting in the spring. It's caterpillars that they bring to their young. So if you like birds in your yard, then you specially want to encourage-- not just the butterflies-- but the caterpillars and you do it by having native plants and by leaving your leaves on the ground, because many of those caterpillars over winter in the leaf litter. Other pollinators-- even ants-- do some work there. It's kind of a complicated thing that maybe I won't go into right now.

Beetles: So bees are at the top of the list for sure, but the native bees are at the real top of the list. 

MAYOR: How about the hummingbird? Is it just looking for nectar too and similar to the butterflies? As it gathers pollen along the way and spreads it quickly?

MARY WESTERVELT: Yeah. Yep. Yeah, it would kind of be doing that but, so I feel as if they're sort of pollinating our imagination and that's a good thing, too.

MAYOR: Right. Yeah. Well, that's it's all very interesting. I can't wait for real Spring to get here because I always do like going out. I have two gardens in the backyard one is strictly a flower garden. Well, they're both strictly flower. I don't grow food anymore. Farmers do it so much better.

MARY WESTERVELT: Yeah. I know.  

MAYOR: ...Than I do and we have such an abundance of it. I definitely do herbs and I do have tomatoes from time to time. But other than that, it's flowers, plant life, fern different things. 


MAYOR: I enjoy the spring as much to see one-- what survived and two-- what's going on in the garden.

I think it's time for us to take a quick break and then we'll come back and talk about some other projects around the city that you folks are either have been involved in or going to be involved in.


As of February 22, 2023 the City of Greenfield launched a new and improved municipal website at Greenfield-dash-M-A-dot-gov. The new design was assembled to be more intentional and user friendly than ever before, enabling citizens, businesses, and visitors to have access to information about the City. 

Like before, people have the ability to pay bills online, like water and sewer, property tax and excise tax. You can find legally posted meetings for boards, commissions and the City Council. The sections on various boards and commissions have been updated with descriptions to help citizens understand what each group does.

One of the best features of the new site is that it is 
 ADA accessible, in particular for those with visual impairments. 

Because the project is so enormous, and the website is made up of 142 pages and thousands of documents, not everything you could find before was able to come over for the launch. But in the coming weeks, City staff will be working to get up older minutes, agendas and documents. In the meantime, those are all available for public inspection, just by request. 

Over the next couple of weeks, some search engines and some folks’ computers may still point you to old pages or you may encounter broken links, as the cache (the way computers store data from websites in order to get to the sites faster), clears up and fills in with the new site. This is a normal thing that happens whenever a new website is launched from an existing one.  

So check it out, Greenfield-dash-M-A-dot-gov, and let us know what you think! Email “webmaster-at-Greenfield-dash-M-A-dot-gov, or click the “webmaster” link under “Contact Us.”


MAYOR: During the break you mentioned that you had one other thing to say to help people who want to encourage pollinators in their yard. 

MARY WESTERVELT: Yeah, it occurred to me that we were aching for spring right now ,us gardeners. But if we extend the seasons over which we have flowers in the garden, we're helping the pollinators quite a bit. So there are some really early bumblebees that if it gets warm, they'll come out they'll be looking for pollen. So our early spring flowers are great for them, but there are also some who need pollen in the fall. And they're actually looking for it to pack in with their eggs underground, but they're spreading out from plant to plant. 

MAYOR Yeah. 

MARY WESTERVELT: So yeah November or October even into early November, we've got things still blooming we're helping a lot and if we're leaving the dead stems from some of our plants, some of those insects are actually laying eggs in the plant stems. So, don't be too busy about cleaning up during November-December-January either.

MAYOR: Oh, that's a pass then. We can just leave it all there. 


MAYOR: Okay. I think my husband will certainly be happy to hear about that. So pass that along Mary says, yeah leave it there.

Yeah, so that's great. That's good to know. I've observed that phenomenon because I've had late-blooming daisies and asters, and they are very busy in those fall months. Yeah, they really really are. They're like the rest of us-- getting ready for winter.

The City of Greenfield and the City Hall seem to be the beneficiary, if I'm not mistaken, of some pollinator group activity, here, come spring-- whenever it officially arrives. And that is the two very sometimes derelict looking flower beds that are at the entrance of City Hall are about to be transformed. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

MARY WESTERVELT: We're really excited about that. We had hoped to plant those last summer as you know, and as you remember we had a drought, and so we got as far as planting two shrubs one on either side of the door, clethra alnifolia, which is summer sweet klethora. And then the City said, "That's it for water guys."

So so we watered those using what we could collect in our rain barrels. And we held off on the rest of the gardens, but we have now ordered the plants that we talked about last year.

MAYOR: Oh. That's exciting.

MARY WESTERVELT: Yes, and we will pick those up probably mid April to early May and we're hoping for a planting date in the first couple weeks of May.

MAYOR Okay. Well, I'm gonna hold you to that then. 


MAYOR: So depending on the weather, of course.

MARY WESTERVELT: Yeah. Well, we hope it'll all agree and we will be looking for volunteers. So anyone who'd be interested in finding out more and maybe showing up with a trowel could contact me through Greening Greenfield--and or contact any of the people I mentioned if people happened to know Nancy Hazard or Dorothea Sotiros. The three of us are sort of spearheading this little thing. 

MAYOR: Oh, that's great. Well, they can certainly call City Hall too-- to the main number: 413 772-1560 and that will get you to the very capable and wonderful gardener herself, Caitlin von Schmidt, who is executive assistant to the Mayor.


MAYOR: That said, I will say that one of the things that did happen through the summer months was you now have a water faucet right out in front of City Hall. So you don't have to carry heavy hoses from the back of City Hall all the way up front, or you don't have to carry buckets of water.

MARY WESTERVELT: So that'll be really useful when we're planting and when we're getting plants and established, but I I want to say another good thing about native plants is that they are pretty resistant to drought stress. And one thing our little group did last summer when we couldn't plant was we went around and looked at the gardens that are planted to see how they were doing to see what was surviving the drought and we went to Highland Park to look at natives there where they, you know, nobody's watering them or taking care of them. And, we made ourselves a list of plants that did. Well, I have to say Fiske Avenue-- the garden on Fiske Avenue. It was stellar. It looked wonderful all the way through the drought.

MAYOR: You're right. That's I guess, my favorite pollinator garden. 


MAYOR: Because, one-- it's really visible. It's planted beautifully and I observe that as well and thought, "Oh, okay. That's pretty." I like the way it looks and it can live in a drought.


MAYOR: So that's good to know. Tell us a little bit more about say the Fiske Avenue lot. Now it may have gotten started before you arrived in Greenfield.

MARY WESTERVELT: Yes, but just barely. I gather it was planned. I'm not sure when it was planned, but it was actually planted in 2020.

MAYOR: Oh. Okay.

MARY WESTERVELT: Which is just about when I was moving north out of Pennsylvania, but not into Greenfield yet. We have pictures of the planting going in on the website we created that highlights all the different gardens in town. 

MAYOR: Oh great.

MARY WESTERVELT: And people can find that through the Greening Greenfield website. It was planted in November. 

MAYOR Oh, okay, That was brave.

MARY WESTERVELT: People there in their coats planting these little...thes little things. 

MAYOR: Yeah. I guess one of my first encounters and this is before Nancy and maybe even pre-Greening Greenfield. But Nancy is always, Nancy Hazard, because Dr. Nancy Bershof's also been involved in the past as well. But Nancy Hazard was interested in making the Energy Park beautiful. And so I think probably the first bug quote unquote that she got was along with some other folks that I recall putting in some pollinators and different garden plants native. I don't know that I think they're all native plants also in the Energy Park. 

MARY WESTERVELT: Right. Yeah and I think with Wisty Rorabacher was a large part of that. 

MAYOR: Yes. She was.

MARY WESTERVELT: Sandy Thomas, when she worked on getting it established. That was a big part of her vision as well.

MAYOR: Yeah. 

MARY WESTERVELT: So those are the people I've met and names I know and I apologize to anyone I haven't mentioned.

MAYOR: I bet they won't be hurt... So, I'm also aware that at the Green River, there's been some activity on the the hillside there. Well, not just across not the not what I call the beach side, but the picnic side.

MARY WESTERVELT: Right. If you walk above the picnic side, I had heard there were some signs along the path highlighting the springtime ephemerals and I went over to look at those. And I had heard that Wisty Rorabacher had put those in and I went out looking and there was this person. And I just that's when I met her. 

MAYOR: Oh, okay. 

MARY WESTERVELT: I said I bet your Wisty Rorabacher. I've been wanting to be you. This is so wonderful. And it is wonderful. 

MAYOR: Yeah. Yeah, that's great. That's great. Well my husband and I, mostly him, walk our dog over there, and I think the first time I ever saw a sign was it was actually kind of in the grass area there. It wasn't up along the hillside, but it is beautiful and it's wonderful and they have come to me very recently in the winter to talk about some additional types of planting on that same side, but elsewhere so we'll see. We'll see what happens. I haven't checked back with them to see what they're up to.

MARY WESTERVELT: That would be fun.

MAYOR: Yeah.

MARY WESTERVELT: Another activity that our pollinator group is doing actually I forgot Elizabeth Erickson. She's not working on the City Hall project, but she is part of our pollinator group and she's spearheading putting in native plant gardens out at Just Roots.

MAYOR: Oh wonderful.

MARY WESTERVELT: Out at the the farm there. There's a lot of action. I mean the pollinators will help the crops.

MAYOR: For sure.

MARY WESTERVELT: But they'll also. It'll be a good demonstration garden for people to go out and see what they could plant in their own yards.

MAYOR: Oh, that's great.

MARY WESTERVELT: And for people to get involved in planting. We're excited about that too. 

MAYOR: That's good to know. Actually. It's making me more excited because my flower garden, I recently had to remove a lot of things because I had that dreaded weed. It's called goat weed or I guess some people refer to it as goutweed.

MARY WESTERVELT: Goutweed. Oh, yes-- goutweed. 

MAYOR: And you can't get rid of it unless you dig it up. 

MARY WESTERVELT: And even then.

MAYOR: And even then. Right. Yeah, so it's been a battle but I'm ready to start replanting some things. I have some favorites that I had to dig up that I'll have to put in but it'll give me a good opportunity to go find some new things as well.


MAYOR: Yeah. Very exciting. 

MAYOR: What's going on in your garden?

MARY WESTERVELT: Well, you know, every fall I say, okay, that's it. I'm not planning anything more. And every spring, I just can't resist.

In my yard, I've planted a lot of shrubs. There were already pollinator gardens and I've edited out a lot of the non-natives and put in more natives, but there were very few shrubs. And the shrubs have pollinator value but they also provide berries for birds. 

MAYOR: Oh sure.

MARY WESTERVELT: And they help soak up rainwater and they provide a good screen between me and a busy street.

MAYOR: Oh yeah.

MARY WESTERVELT: So I'm really excited to see my shrubs. coming coming in the spring. 

MAYOR: Right. Right. I have noticed as I travel around Greenfield that more people are utilizing their median-- the space between the street and the sidewalk-- for some sort of gardening, you know, as you general rule, it's flowers different different things, which I love. I love seeing that.


MAYOR: I can't seem to keep anything growing in the median because it seems to always get mowed down, but that's okay. Can put up signs.

MARY WESTERVELT: Yeah. Well, I've been slowly digging out the grass that is in mine and and extending the native the flowers and the shrubs and things.

MAYOR: All right. All right. 

MARY WESTERVELT: But it does take some digging. 

MAYOR: So, before we wrap up, is there anything else you'd like to for people to know about the pollinators group?

MARY WESTERVELT: Gosh about the pollinators group?

MAYOR: Or you work or well say again how people can contact you?

MARY WESTERVELT: Well, you can contact us through Greening Greenfield and I think on the website, there's just a place you can say it says "contact us" and if you say to them "I would like to get in touch with the pollinator group," that person will know who to who to contact. So that's the easiest way,  I think. As for other things we're doing. We're starting on a sort of an education trajectory to try to help people see how they can do something besides lawns. We were hoping to have our first event tomorrow and we'll see if it really happens. 

MAYOR Okay. 

MARY WESTERVELT: There's more information about that on the Greening Greenfield website as well. 

MAYOR: And where is that going to happen? 

MARY WESTERVELT: It would be at Second Congregational Church. If it happens. If not, it'll be a week later.

MAYOR: Okay, so okay. Yeah good enough. Well, we don't really know yet quite what's happened. It looks like the clouds are starting to come in. So I guess we'll have to wait and see.

MARY WESTERVELT: If it's just rain. We're good. 

MAYOR: Oh, yeah, all the better. All the better. Because we know we haven't had enough snow melt this year to not put us in danger of a drought as well. 

Well, it's been great talking to you. I can't wait till you start working out front and thank you very much, Mary. 


MAYOR: You can find the Mayor's Roundtable on the city website or wherever you get your podcasts. So please join us for another podcast next month.