In my day job at CPS Energy, the largest municipally owned electric and gas utility in the country, I look out my window onto the glorious San Antonio River Walk.
CPS Energy Pollinator Posse, L- R: Stephanie Ockenfels, Sam Taylor, Vincent McDonald, Pamela Maris, Gwenn Young, Monika Maeckle Photo by Gary Chavez
When I joined the company last year, a homogenous, overgrown patch of iron plant, occupied the small, triangular garden that separates my office from the San Antonio River. My view includes locals mingling with tourists and badge-wearing conventioneers shuffling along the sidewalk en route to hotels or meetings under the shade of grand Bald Cypress trees. Until recently, not many insects or pollinators joined the party.
Pollinators and other creatures have gravitated to the small plot at CPS Energy. Photo by Vincent McDonald
When I accepted the position as director of integrated communications, I joked with friends that my not-so-secret agenda would be “pollinator corridors under power lines.” I wasn’t kidding. We’re working on that.
In the meantime, however, I wondered: would it be possible to transform this small corner of the River Walk into a more interesting view for me and my colleagues while offering a more inviting habitat for local critters, especially pollinators?
BEFORE: View from my office at CPS Energy. Iron plant on the River Walk. Photo by Monika Maeckle
The area sees mostly shade, which is why landscapers planted Aspidistra elatior. Commonly known as iron plant, or cast iron plant, this well-adapted evergreen has a reputation for its resistance to neglect. It thrives in shade and requires little water.
Flowers need sun and pollinators need flowers. Dappled light finds its way to this plot in the mornings and cascades from the west in the afternoon. That’s enough for certain plants to flower. If we chose our plants carefully, we might be able to lure butterflies or hummingbirds. Hmmm.
AFTER: Pollinators and other creatures have gravitated to the small plot at CPS Energy. Photo by Vincent McDonald
In January, volunteers from our corporate communications team joined me in a small “Pollinator Power” experiment. A half-dozen willing workers gathered late one cool winter afternoon to tackle the transformation of the 120-square foot plot into a pollinator habitat.
We used my favorite low-tech method of clearing undesirable plants: hand pulling (thank you, CPS Energy landscape crew!) followed by solarization, an environmentally friendly method for ridding soil of pests, pathogens and undesirable plants executed by my corp comm colleagues.
On January 3, we laid six-10 layers of newspaper atop the soil after the CPS Energy landscape crew hand-pulled the iron plant. We then watered the newspaper, applied four-six inches of compost and mulch, spreading it evenly.
Sorry, kitty. No milk, but would you settle for some milkweed? “Polly” the cat visits the CPS Energy pollinator garden. Photo by Monika Maeckle
Then, we waited. Solar power does the rest. By blocking light with the newspaper and mulch mix and using the sun’s energy to kill pathogens and weed seed, we prevent the growth and spread of undesirables.
About eight weeks later, we plugged in specific shade tolerant plants by simply carving a small hole into the mulch and newspaper with a shovel. Plant choices were dictated by their appeal to pollinators as either host plants (where they lay their eggs) or nectar plants (which they use for fuel), and an ability to thrive in dappled sun.