From Fire to Flowers Pollinator Garden Program: Restoring Community and the Ecology, Part 2
by Erin Keller, PPRV Pollinteer
Pollinator Project Rogue Valley’s From Fire to Flowers Pollinator Garden (FFFPG) program is restoring the community after the devastating impacts of the 2020 Almeda Fire. The FFFPG team contributes to community support, engagement, and education, all while creating beautiful pollinator gardens. This article, a follow-up to Part 1, introduces a few of the amazing people who have participated in the program, and who kindly shared a bit of their experience.
When Stella Kennedy’s home, garden and neighborhood in Phoenix were all destroyed by the Almeda Fire, she felt overwhelmed by the traumatic losses. She was shocked, displaced, and deeply grieving.
When Stella was eventually able to return to her re-built home, 10 months later, she was greeted by yet another disappointment. Her new yard was, as she described it, “barren, dead and lifeless.” The ground was smothered with landscape fabric, which was covered in bark, and the plants were completely devoid of color or flowers--two things Stella had specifically asked for from the landscaping company she had employed.
As such, this barren landscape felt like another devastating blow. With that in mind, what happened next seems like nothing short of a miracle.
Anyone who spends a few minutes with Stella will see that she is a vibrant person who loves color, and values all living things.
PPRV’s President, Kristina Lefever, happened to meet Stella when she was visiting the pollinator garden at The Pollination Place in Phoenix, and “was immediately taken with her pain, and desire for a real garden”. According to Stella, things happened quickly after that.
The FFFPG team first worked with Stella to learn about her garden preferences and priorities. Then, they created a garden plan.
And finally, they removed the troublesome landscape fabric.
Soon, the garden was planted, and Stella was surrounded by color. Stella reports that having flowers bloom in her yard was life-giving! “I was going to sell this house. It felt dead.”
Now, Stella enjoys going out to her garden every day. She finds that the weeding and tending are grounding, and looking for new seedlings and blossoms provides her with hope.
Stella also describes the FFFPG process as uplifting, exclaiming, “the people! Oh my gosh, the sweetest people! They worked hard, and got so excited when the new plants did well!” Stella believes that all of this has helped her to heal following the fire. She states, “I’m amazed at what I’ve learned about native pollinators, and it feels good to inspire others to have pollinator gardens also.”
Stella isn’t alone in her appreciation of the program.
Lisa and Steve Bergum, previous residents of Creekside Estates in Phoenix who returned after the fire, had this to say after receiving a FFFPG garden: “We feel your team did a fantastic job of making our native plant design and you all were so accommodating and taught us what we needed to learn for the future growth of our garden. It was and will be a memorable moment in making our new home beautiful. It was an enjoyable experience, and we will continue planting pollinator plants.”
Another local impacted by the Almeda Fire is Mike Skinner, owner of Bear Creek Mobile Home Park in Ashland. Having owned this hidden gem of a park for almost 30 years, Mike lost both his business and his way of life in a matter of hours. After the fire, it was an entire day before he was able to get back into the park to check on his business and the park residents, some of whom had physical limitations that made escape from the fire particularly difficult.
Photo from Rising from the ashes: From Fire to Flowers program offers free gardens for Almeda survivors, 9.8.23, Ashland.news
Out of 70 homes, all but three were destroyed, and residents were dispersed to local hotels, or further away. It would be six months before FEMA began cleaning-up the burned rubble, and a year before the first home returned. Three years later, the park is about 60% full, with many previous residents returning to this unique location nestled along Bear Creek, working to reclaim some of what they lost.
Bear Creek Mobile Home park is ideal for the FFFPG program. Many of the residents might not be able to install gardens on their own, and might not yet know the importance of native plants.
Moreover, because the park is positioned along the Bear Creek corridor, it is perfect for increasing pollinator habitat and connectivity and furthering PPRV’s Rogue Buzzway mapping project!
To date, four park residents have received new pollinator gardens and another four are scheduled in the coming months. This is hopeful for Mike, a landscaper himself. He observed that “landscaping makes the house a home.” He states that “many (residents) are former tenants who are still suffering. To see that people who have lost so much are getting this help - it's a comfort.”
The FFFPG program is also helping restore the community through engagement and education. Dr. Chhaya Werner’s SOU EcoAdventure class participated in creating multiple pollinator gardens at the Bear Creek Mobile Home Park, the second class to come this park to be learn about and be part of fire restoration in the urban area.
Student Emily Cochran explains that she and her classmates were involved in several aspects. They interacted with the homeowner, learning their gardening preferences and goals. They helped to design the gardens, and to prepare the space with sheet mulching.
Later, they helped with the actual installation of the new garden. One of Emily’s favorite parts was providing the homeowner with information about the native plants they were planting.
She found this rewarding, because she could see that the homeowner now understood how each plant benefits the ecosystem. “They are more likely to stick with a pollinator garden, and to tell friends and neighbors about it.”
Emily also enjoyed the social aspects of participating. “Being with other people who are excited about it is great. Also, because you’re out in nature, and it's an eco-project at the landscape level, you’re doing a lot more good than you even realize.” Per Emily, “it’s great connectivity. It helps the individual, and the greater ecology.”
One of the gardens that the EcoAdventure class participated in creating was Kim and Chris Anglin’s. Kim’s comments about her garden are, “[W]e couldn’t be more pleased and excited with our beautiful pollinator garden. Thank you all so much for your beautiful work and generosity.”
During 2023, the FFFPG team, led by Co-Coordinators Tiina Beaver and Vanessa Henson, designed and installed five gardens, increasing the total number to 11. As of now, six more gardens are on the schedule for 2024.
To see photos of the gardens' transitions, from start to finish, and learn more about PPRV's unique From Fire to Flowers Pollinator Garden program, visit our website here. Watch for interviews with volunteers and the program team in the coming weeks.
Support, engagement, education and new pollinator gardens – the FFFPG program does so much!
Kristina says, “We truly depend on the generosity of donors, sponsors and partners to continue this program! We are inviting additional sponsors and contributors to be a part of this important work and to help us grow the program.”
Would your business, organization, or school like to be involved?
Would you like to make a donation, become a sponsor, or provide a service?
Visit the FFFPG webpage to learn more and Bee Involved!
A Skipper butterfly on Oregon Sunshine in Stella's garden