A clump of honeybees clouds the small hole in the side of the Sunlight Peak classroom building at Front Range Community College’s Larimer Campus in Fort Collins. While the bees tirelessly make foraging trips and return to an observation hive for biology students, Evelyn Freytag takes a well-earned break from digging in the sticky clay loam soils that cover a small wedge of undeveloped land at Harmony Road and Shields Street to sift through plastic irrigation parts on her small cart.

Nature in the City grant

Evelyn, a horticulture instructor, is part of a team of faculty, instructors, and staff constructing the Sunlight Peak Pollinator Garden, a project recently funded by the city of Fort Collins Nature in the City Program. Covering 8,000 square feet, the garden will provide bumblebees, wild solitary bees, and honeybees with nectar and pollen from carefully selected native shrubs like the late-blooming rabbitbrush and the delicate, pale-pink Woods’ rose, along with wildflowers like beebalm and coreopsis.

Students designed garden

Landscape Design students in the Horticulture and Landscape Technologies Program designed the garden with input and oversight from Diane Waltman, horticulture faculty; Jennifer Lee, forestry and natural resources faculty; Susan Brown, science lab coordinator, and Aaron Wagner, a former horticulture instructor. They shared a common vision: Create habitat that connects FRCC’s thousands of students, faculty, and staff and Harmony Library’s high volume of visitors with the beauty and diversity of Larimer County’s native plants and pollinators.

The group’s design includes visitor-friendly educational signs, large boulders for visitor seating, and a wide variety of native trees, grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers. FRCC students enrolled in horticulture, natural resources, and biology classes will pitch in to help install the garden and design the interpretive signs.

Ground nests, too

Because most of Colorado’s native bees nest in the ground, the garden will contain small patches of soft soil (far from areas open to visitors) to attract female bees looking for nesting sites. Ground-nesting native bees are usually not aggressive, and will only sting if handled, harassed, or stepped on. To warn visitors with bee-sting allergies, the team is installing signs that read “Caution, Bees in the Area,” along with smaller educational signs about pollinators and native plants.

New habitats for pollinators

FRCC joins a growing number of organizations in Fort Collins creating habitat for bees and other pollinators, thanks to the city’s Natural Areas Department. The department has taken a proactive approach to combat pollinator decline by creating pollinator gardens at places like Coyote Ridge Elementary School, Park Lane Mobile Home Park, and the brand-new Manhattan Townhomes.

437 bee species in Larimer County!

These efforts may be especially critical in Larimer County, which has the second-highest number of bee species documented in the state (437 species), surpassed only by Boulder County (552 species). Diversity is high in these counties because of a wide range of elevations and habitats, from shortgrass prairie to alpine. The counts are credible because entomologists at Colorado State University and the University of Colorado-Boulder collect and identify bees close to home.

Fall opening for humans

Once the garden is completed, it will become an outdoor lab where students can study native plants and pollinators.

The garden should be completed and open for human visitors this fall. Bees, bats, and other pollinators are welcome anytime.

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