Wildflowers are springing up all over the Borough.

I was recently chatting with someone in the landscape industry and she told me when she was in school the focus was on water management and how to create inviting gathering spaces. There was no talk of native plants or pollinator gardens. Today’s grads, on the other hand, pay close attention to a plant’s origin, preferring varieties that are native to an area. 

It seems many West Chester residents are on board with this new way of thinking. Each year more and more Borough streets are being left to run wild. And I love it. Not only is it a gorgeous distraction from broken sidewalks and crumbling roadways, but native wildflowers also offer the benefit of hearty blooms and create habitat for the pollinators that keep the whole system going.  

I reached out to Christiane Torres, a member of West Chester’s Green Team and the visionary behind the mini-wildflower meadow happening alongside the Chester County History Center on Chestnut Street, in search of some answers on what’s going on – and how I can join in. 

Q. Why did you choose wildflowers for the space? 

A. This strip used to be a weedy grass strip that a volunteer had to keep mowed. It did not add much to the curb appeal or any natural benefits. Together with CCHC and Mike Dunn, the Borough arborist, we decided to plant the strip with flowering perennials. We also added trees back for additional shade in the future. 

Q. So, are these native plants? 

A. Yes, we only planted native beneficial flowers and ornamental grasses with interest for every season: grape hyacinth and Golden Ragwort for spring flowers, catmintevening primroseconeflower for the summer, asters, and sedum for the fall. The ornamental grasses stay up all winter and look beautiful until new growth starts in the spring. 

Q. Why did you choose native plants – what are the benefits? 

A. Compared to the grass strip that was there previously, we now provide nectar for bees and butterflies, leaves and hiding places for caterpillars, worms, and others. It’s becoming its own little ecosystem and instead of mowing the strip on a regular basis throughout the spring and summer, the maintenance is now very low. It takes only an hour in the late spring to cut down the dried flower stalks (we keep them up for insects to overwinter in the hollow stems) and ornamental grasses. And another hour for a bit of weeding in the summer. 

Q. Any tips for residents that want to create their own road-side pollinator garden?  A. We would love to see more hell strips established with beneficial plantings like this. It can be a wild meadow or a more formal planting with beneficial shrubs.  Select plants that stay short and upright to avoid flopping plants on the sidewalk or street. They should be drought-resistant and selected for the light conditions (sun/shade/partial shade) of the area. Also, be conscious of foot traffic (e.g. leave space open around bus stops), and maybe add stepping stones for people exiting parked cars.Thanks, Christiane!The Chester County History Center garden, as well as the Chestnut Street Garage pollinator garden and others maintained by members of the West Chester Green Team, are now part of the “Homegrown National Park,” a program started by University of Delaware Professor Doug Tallamy that aims to regenerate biodiversity across the U.S. and Canada. 

Originally published, July 28, 2023

This story is part of a longer weekly West Chester newsletter. Curious what else is going on? You can find the full issue here and the latest newsletter here. Even easier? Subscribe here to get the future issues delivered directly.

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