A University of Georgia program aimed at supporting pollinators across the state may be expanding even further south.

A group from Hawkinsville, Ga. toured the State Botanical Garden of Georgia on July 6 to explore bringing a Connect to Protect garden to the Middle Georgia community’s downtown. The visit was set up by Archway Partnership Professional Michelle Elliott, who is based in Pulaski County. Both the Archway Partnership and the State Botanical Garden are units of UGA Public Service and Outreach.

“Archway gives us so many opportunities to meet and work with other people that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to do because we don’t have those connections,” said Lora DePietro, who owns a bed and breakfast in Hawkinsville and is training to become a master gardener. “This has been a definite help.”

The goal of Connect to Protect, a program run through the Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies at the State Botanical Garden, is to encourage Georgia residents, developers, landscapers, businesses and governments to install native plants to support pollinators and other wildlife. The native habitats, planted in downtown areas, in front of courthouses and next to schools, for example, help educate the public about the importance of native plants.

DePietro and other Pulaski residents are considering installing native plants grown at the State Botanical Garden in beds along Hawkinsville’s downtown and a pocket park. The project is part of a downtown beautification initiative that has already included hiring a street sweeper, purchasing waste receptacles and supporting the training of four master gardeners.

“This is an investment that gives us a sense of community and makes the downtown a nice place to go,” Elliott said. “The staff at the botanical garden did a great job explaining that there’s an educational component so that younger generations of folks can come and see what the plants are and understand why it’s important that we have the native pollinators.”

Several Connect to Protect projects already are underway. Macon-Bibb County officials had native plants grown at the botanical garden planted in several public parks last year. Another garden was planted near Athens Regional Medical Center. Lauren Muller, a graduate assistant at the botanical garden who is coordinating the program, installed another set of plants at Hendershot’s Coffee in Athens on July 8.

Muller led the tour for the Hawkinsville group, gathering information about the sites in the city and what kind of plants would work well in the downtown Hawkinsville area. She showed visitors the plants being propagated at the Center for Native Plant Studies

“I’m here to answer any questions,” Muller said. “It’s my job. I’m excited to work with y’all.”

Written by Christopher James