A mulched basin at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center directs stormwater to be absorbed by the landscaped plants and filtered into the ground, rather than washed into stormwater drains. [Photo courtesy of Jeff Adams]

Does your garden have three flowering plants in bloom during the growing season of spring, summer and fall? If so, your garden may be eligible to become part of the growing Moab-area network of recognized pollinator-friendly spaces known as the Bee Inspired Gardens.  

If your garden is approved by the Bee Inspired Gardens (BIG) committee, you can get a small yard sign to display and help raise awareness about pollinator-friendly gardening practices and why they are important. There are additional signage “badges” in development that will be available to recognize ecosystem-benefiting features such as water stewardship, native plants and chemical-free gardening.  

In 2014, the first official Bee Inspired Garden was installed at Rotary Park, spearheaded by Kara Dohrenwend and Rhonda Gotway Clyde. Both Dohrenwend and Gotway Clyde are Moab-based horticulture professionals; Dohrenwend owns the ecological restoration and revegetation service company Wildland Scapes, while Gotway Clyde grows fruits and vegetables for sale to the community on her Easy Bee Farm. The Rotary Park garden has matured and grown in the past five years under the care of the City of Moab.

A larger Bee Inspired Gardens sign is prominently displayed at the Rotary Park garden.  

Visitors to the Bee Inspired Gardens’ website can get extensive information about this collaborative community movement that grew out of work by the Grand Conservation District to improve local pollinator health and habitat. The effort came to include Community Rebuilds, the City of Moab, MoaBees bee-keeping group, Bureau of Land Management in Moab, United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and Utah State University (USU) students and professors.

As the group expanded its reach, improving pollinator habitat remained a top priority, with goals to include water conservation through appropriate plant choices and water-harvesting techniques, as well as emphasizing plants that are food sources for both pollinators and humans. On its website, Bee Inspired Gardens says its goal is to “create a corridor of pollinator-friendly, perennial, edible, water-wise gardens using permaculture principles in Moab, Utah. Permaculture is designing in a way that mimics natural ecosystems.”

Also in 2014, Jeremy Lynch, Roslynn Brain of Moab’s USU Extension Sustainability and Jason Gerhardt of Real Earth Design held the first of a series of community workshops on garden designs for the USU Extension property and garden installations.

Since then, Lynch has been hired during the growing season to manage the USU gardens. (In addition to his role at USU, Lynch is also on the City of Moab Water Conservation and Drought Management Advisory Board, vice chair of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the owner of In Transition Permaculture, a garden design and consultation service for homes.)

Now in the fifth growing season, Lynch said in an interview with the Moab Sun News that the USU gardens are thriving.

“Production of fruit, berries, medicinal and culinary herbs continues to expand with each season,” he said. “Since year two, USU staff and community members have harvested peaches, cherries, Asian pear, plum, Utah serviceberry, Nanking cherry, golden currant, sand cherry, three varieties of grape, figs, culinary sage, thyme, echinacea and more.”

Rather than the typical parking lot design that funnels stormwater away from the property, rock-lined channels carry rainfall that irrigates the garden plants positioned along them. Lynch said these pollinator-friendly plants watered by the channels have “flourished,” spreading from the original plantings into seasonal beds of yarrow, bee balm, echinacea, Russian sage, daylily and bunch grasses such as Indian rice grass and blue grama. 

“In 2018, it is my understanding that the garden was supplementary-watered (with culinary water from a hose) three, maybe four, times in the middle of summer. Yet, despite that year’s serious drought conditions, there was no noticeable die-off of vegetation,” Lynch said. “Soil moisture from direct rainfall extending from spring back through the snowmelt of winter, complemented by a heavy addition of surface woody mulch to retain said moisture, kept the garden hearty through a perilous season.”

The USU gardens are also watered via six 520-gallon cisterns that collect rainwater from the adjacent Walker True Value lumber yard roof.

Lynch added that one desert willow planted on the USU campus has grown exclusively on parking lot runoff over the past four years.

“The success of this example should serve as a model for responsible green infrastructure growth in tandem with Moab’s broader stormwater management plan in years to come,” Lynch said.  

“Green infrastructure” incorporates elements of the natural environment to provide added benefits such as water quality protection, resilience to fire and flood and aesthetics.

Since the initial projects in 2014, Bee Inspired Gardens have been planted in public locations including the CommuniTea Garden, Canyonlands Field Institute, Youth Garden Project, Goose Island and the Old Spanish Trail Arena.  

Private locations include the Moab Charter School, Aarchway Inn, Grand County Hospice Garden at the Moab Regional Hospital, Community Rebuils Intern Campus, Grand County Middle School and the Mayberry Native Plant Center.

Gardens that meet the Bee Inspired Gardens criteria, but may not yet be formally recognized as such, are also gaining in number.  

Jeff Adams, an active Bee Inspired Gardens member and owner of the “ecological design” company TerraSophia, LLC, has helped design and install a number of pollinator-friendly, water-wise gardens around town, including one at the city’s Moab Arts and Recreation Center (MARC).

In an interview with the Moab Sun News, Adams spoke to the potential for further integrating landscapes into municipal infrastructure. He clarified that these landscapes are “not a replacement for a storm system, but an addition to it to help improve the functionality.”

Others are drawn to the aesthetics of the gardens and the relatively low amount of maintenance they require.  

“The rain garden installed by Jeff Adams and TerraSophia has brought a more welcoming and green space to the MARC,” said MARC employee Makeda Barkley. “By utilizing permaculture principles, the garden maintains itself and provides a beautiful green space for our community year-round.”

For more information on the Bee Inspired Gardens, including how to get your garden certified, and to see a list of Bee Inspired Gardens members who provide private landscaping consultations, visit http://beeinspired.usu.edu.

[Disclosure: The author of this article and Moab Sun News co-publisher Heila Ershadi was a founding member of the Bee Inspired Gardens group. She has not been active with the group in several years.]

Eco-friendly gardening in Moab is a BIG deal

“The success of this example should serve as a model for responsible green infrastructure growth in tandem with Moab’s broader stormwater management plan in years to come.”