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Master Gardeners Help Develop Pollinator Garden

ROCKHOUND STATE PARK - The benefits of pollen are often overlooked by allergy sufferers, but pollen serves an essential function in the plant world.

Bees gather on flowers in the new pollinator garden at Rockhound State Park, near Deming. The garden is being developed to attract bees, moths, butterflies and hummingbirds. Master gardeners, Deming Garden Club members and Friends of Rockhound State Park gathered in September to plant 120 native, desert plants in the garden. (10/04/2004) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by Darrell J. Pehr)

To help educate the public about pollen and the wonders of desert plant life, Luna County's master gardeners helped start a pollinator garden at Rockhound State Park, near Deming, in September.

Master gardeners, Deming Garden Club members and Friends of Rockhound State Park helped plant 120 native flowering plants and install a drip irrigation system outside the visitors center.

Leading this pilot project is Steve Cary, parks planner and chief naturalist for New Mexico State Parks.

"Most gardens have a purpose," Cary said. "This garden is intended to recognize and display - show off - this relationship between flowering plants and insects. The pollinator relationship has evolved over millions of years and is one of the most fundamental and important relationships in nature."

The September planting was the third at the garden. Cary used plants from nurseries and growers in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Deming.

MaryKay Brady, a Luna County master gardener, said the garden will help visitors learn about the variety of plants found in arid areas. The garden will show the importance of pollen, nectar and the plants' role in feeding many bird and insect species.

Brady plans to have students and community organizations tour the garden, and it will provide information for travelers who stop at the rugged park on the western slope of the Little Florida Mountains.

"They're not familiar with desert plants," Brady said.

The garden includes areas with plants favored by butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and bees. Verbena, desert zinnia, false indigo, desert willow, Apache plume, ocotillo and agave are among the species that have been planted so far.

Additional plantings are likely in mid-November and again in 2005.

"Bees are probably the most efficient and effective pollinators," Cary said. Most insect pollinators are native to the park. Others, like hummingbirds and monarch butterflies, are migratory, occasional visitors at Rockhound.

The master gardeners' expertise and support from the garden club and Friends group made the project possible, Cary said. "The generosity and cooperation of all volunteers is creating a living project that will benefit the park and the Deming community for years to come."

Master gardeners are graduates of extensive training offered by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service offices in many New Mexico counties. The volunteers help homeowners with questions, and teach garden clubs, community organizations and other non-commercial horticulture groups.

Involvement in the pollinator garden project helps them meet a requirement to volunteer 50 hours each year.

Jim and MaryKay Brady, who coordinate master gardeners' activities in Luna County, say the pollinator garden shows the benefits of using native, desert plants in landscapes.

"People don't think anything grows in the desert," Jim Brady said. "This is a way to get people involved, see what plants we have here and protect the environment."

The project started about 18 months ago when Cary and Rockhound State Park manager Jesus Jimenez made a proposal to the master gardeners and garden club members.

"We knew we couldn't do it without the help of the community," Cary said.

Cary said after the next planting in November, the project will be about 80 percent complete. Additional work on the garden will stretch out over the next five years, as funds become available and plants become established.

Based on the success of the project at Rockhound, the program may expand to other state parks.

"If it works here, we'll try it elsewhere," Cary said.