Native Plant Pollinator Garden design

The purpose of this project was to create a biodiversity-rich place on campus where students could observe native plants and pollinators interacting. The garden was also intended to provide a place for students to connect with the natural world, to inspire stewardship of nature, and encourage the implementation of native plant pollinator gardens in urban green spaces, such as schools. 

Native Plant Pollinator Garden Project Overview

Project: Native Plant Pollinator Garden

Location: Kammerer Middle School, 7315 Wesboro Rd, Louisville, KY 40222

Budget: Unknown, dependent upon several grants, donations, and fundraising events

Participants: Students in 8th Grade Science and the Environmental Club


This Native Plant and Pollinator Life Cycle Garden will be planted at Kammerer Middle School in Louisville, Kentucky. The purpose of this garden is to provide outdoor education space for teachers and students to utilize that will teach about native plants and attract and support pollinators including native bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and moths. The garden will be used for educational purposes to teach students about native plants, plant-pollinator interactions, pollinator life cycles, conservation, and habitat restoration. The garden will be used to make observations for science classes and to conduct labs and experiments. It may also be used by teachers of different subject area classes as a teaching tool. The garden will also be used by extended school services such as after-school and summer programs. There are over 950 students ranging in age from 10 to 14 years old who will have access to the garden along with about 50 faculty and staff members. Some students have disabilities, so paths will be made wide enough to accommodate the movement of a child with an adult assistant. Paving paths is not in the budget at this time but will be considered in the future to make the garden wheelchair accessible. The garden will also be accessible to neighbors who use the school grounds to walk to bring their children to play, although they are not the intended beneficiaries of this project. 

The garden will be planted on the right side of the school building and will occupy a space of 60 feet by 40 feet for a total of 2,400 square feet. The school currently lacks any kind of outdoor classroom space or gardens, so this garden will fill a need and will greatly benefit the school. Not only will it provide educational opportunities, but it will also beautify an area of the campus that is currently an underutilized empty lawn.

There are currently some saplings planted on the site as part of a project two school years ago that has not been maintained. The trees were not watered or cared for while school was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so several are dead or not in good health. The trees that are in good health will be relocated to open up enough space for this garden to be planted. 


The garden will be planted with a variety of plants native to Kentucky and the Southeastern United States. All plants have been selected according to their ability to support pollinators at various stages of life throughout the year. Plants have also been selected and arranged to be aesthetically pleasing. 

Some plants can be sourced locally from nurseries specializing in native plants. However, some plants will need to be grown from seed. Growing plants from seed will be an 8th-grade student project with students learning about plant biology, stratification and scarification, and cultivation methods. Students will grow plants for the garden at school along with plants to take home and plant at their homes. Due to the availability of some plants and not others, this garden will therefore be a multi-season project lasting at least one school year. 

The garden will look its best during spring, summer, and fall. It will contain a variety of plants that will bloom during the different seasons. Plants to be included are those native to Kentucky and the Southeastern US that support a variety of pollinators throughout various stages of development. A variety of colored blooms will be used in the design to meet the needs of pollinators and to create variety and interest for humans. 

In the spring, the garden will turn green first, and then many different plants will bloom, including the Eastern Redbud tree. These blossoms will support pollinating insects, such as native bumblebees. In the late spring and summer, more wildflowers with pink, purple, orange, and yellow flowers will bloom, including milkweed, which will attract monarch butterflies to lay their eggs. Monarch caterpillars will hatch, feed on the milkweed plant, pupate, and emerge as adult monarch butterflies. Grasses and sedges will emerge. In the late spring and fall, more plants will bloom in a show of yellows and oranges. Throughout these seasons, students will be able to observe the changes in the plants themselves and the organisms that they support. They will make observations about interactions between organisms and their environment, food webs and food chains, energy flow and nutrient cycling through ecosystems, and learn about plant biology. During the winter, changes can also be observed. As plants lose their leaves or become dormant, there is still much to learn. Nothing will be mowed or removed during the winter to provide valuable habitat for organisms. 

Plants included in the garden design are deciduous trees and shrubs and perennial grasses and wildflowers. This ensures that the garden is as low maintenance as possible. Once the garden is planted and established, students will grow native annuals and biennials to plant during the spring. 

No nonnative or invasive plants will be used in the garden and no chemical pesticides will be used. Compost and natural fertilizers may be used as needed to amend soil deficiencies for certain plants. 

In addition, bee houses and objects to provide habitat to support pollinators will be included. For this reason, plants will not be cut down and leaves will not be removed during the fall and winter. Plants will be labeled with information about the plants themselves, the pollinators they support, and at which stage of life. 

Design Elements

Paths throughout the garden will be mulched and lined with stone. Stone will be used to outline the garden. This is necessary to indicate to maintenance where the garden boundaries are and what area should not be mowed. The main path leads to observation areas where students can make observations about the native plants and watch plant-pollinator interactions.

There is also a mulched sitting area with benches that can be used by small groups. Wood arbors mark the entrances to the paths and sitting area. These will be covered with native vines and flowering plants. The benches and arbors are not included in the original project budget, but the school PTO will be approached about securing donations to purchase or build these items. It is possible that the alumni association or the 8th-grade class may be willing to dedicate a bench or arbor. 

Use of Space and Materials

Most of the garden space is dedicated to providing a habitat for pollinators. Because this garden is meant to be an outdoor classroom more than a sitting area, there will only be space for a couple of benches included in the design, and no entertainment area. It is likely that a shade structure will be erected adjacent to the garden with chairs for students to sit in to create an outdoor classroom space, but that has not been finalized at this point.

While irrigation has not been integrated into the design, the garden is situated near outdoor spigot hookups on the outside of the school building that can be used to attach hoses for watering during dry spells. Rain barrels may be used in the future for watering the garden, but this will be an Environmental Club project at a later date. 

Because this garden is meant to be used during daylight hours, no lighting will be used. Further, lighting could potentially disrupt nighttime pollinators, so it will be avoided. 

Other materials used in the design of this garden include wood mulch for mulching around plants and paths, stones for lining paths and outlining the garden, wooden arbors, wooden benches, and bee houses.

Use of Garden and Maintenace

The garden will be used the most often between August and May, during the school year. It will be used the least during summer break. However, it will still be used by summer camp programming. 

The garden will be maintained on an almost daily basis by the school Environmental Club and 8th-grade science classes during the school year. It will not be looked after daily between June and August, however, it will be maintained weekly during that time. I will be overseeing the maintenance of the garden and I have ample gardening experience. This will be the second pollinator garden that I have designed and planted for a school and the fourth school garden overall. I will be instructing other teachers and administrators on garden maintenance and upkeep as well.


The funding for this project is through multiple grants and relies upon the donation of native plants by local nurseries, those bought by parents and members of the school community, and Environmental Club fundraising. 

There are no restrictions for this project other than permission of the Principal to implement the garden, and proper soil testing if planting anything edible. Because this is not an edible garden, soil testing is not applicable or required. The school has a good relationship with the neighbors and the neighborhood surrounding the school. Neighbors frequent the school grounds to walk and bring kids to play. 

There are no foreseeable problems related to the implementation of this project, other than a potential shortfall of funding. If the funding falls short, then the project will be implemented as completely as possible. As much of the garden that can be planted will be. The higher-expense items, such as benches and arbors, will be put off until more funding is available or donations are secured. 

Native Plant Pollinator Garden Design

Native Plant List

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Habitat: Prairies, fields, edge of woods, flood plains, roadsides. Grows in clay, sandy, or rocky soils. 

Description: Tall plants with stout stems and thick, broad leaves. Multiple clusters of fragrant flowers. Most abundant milkweed and fed on by a majority of monarch butterflies that have overwintered in Mexico. 

Color: Muted pink

Bloom: May - August

Habitat: Meadows and prairies, roadside ditches, edges of bodies of water. 

Description: Prefers moist soil but can tolerate drier soil conditions. Plants have smooth, unbranched stems with opposite, narrow leaves. Frequently used by monarch butterflies as a host plant. 

Color: Bright pink, light pink, white

Bloom: June - September

Habitat: Well-drained soil. Sandy, loamy, or rocky soils. Prairies, woodlands, fields, roadsides.

Description: One of the most common and widespread milkweeds. Adaptable and drought-tolerant. Bushy appearance with hairy stems and leaves. Not the best milkweed for monarchs, but provides nectar for many insects. 

Color: Yellow, orange, red

Bloom: May - September

Tickseed Coreopsis (Coreopsis grandiflora)

Habitat: Temperate climates (perennial in warmer climates, annual in colder climates). Sandy soil and those that stay dry during the winter.

Description: Many small, yellow flowers with dark centers on plants with green foiliage 12-24” high.

Color: Yellow

Bloom: Early summer

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Habitat: Fields, prairies, open woods

Description: Tall wildflower with a dark brown or black cone surrounded by narrow yellow petals. Asteraceae (daisy) family.

Color: Yellow

Bloom: June - September

Coneflower, Eastern Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Habitat: Prairies and open woods. Well-drained, moist, loamy soil but adaptable to many types of soil. 

Description: Herbaceous perennial that can grow to 3-4 ft tall with pinkish-purple flowers. Drought tolerant and can grow in full sun or partial shade. Asteraceae (daisy) family. Attractive to pollinators, especially butterflies. Provides seed for birds. 

Color: Pink to purple

Bloom: Early summer - mid-fall

Panicled Aster, Lance-leafed Aster (Aster simplex)

Habitat: Disturbed areas, roadsides. Moist, medium-wet soil and full-sun.

Description:  Can form dense colonies of flowers. Tall green stems with spiraled narrow leaves and small white flowers with yellow centers. 

Color: White

Bloom: September - October

Habitat: Prairies and open woods. Thrives in most soils, from sand to dry loam in full sun and partial shade. 

Description: A multitude of small, bright blue blossoms are attractive to pollinators, including butterflies, and birds. Grows 2-3’ tall. Drought tolerant. 

Color: Bright blue, blue-violet

Bloom: Late August - October

Downy Serviceberry, Common Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)

Habitat: Open woods, slopes, forest borders, stream banks. Moist, well-drained soils that are acidic. Sun, partial shade, or shade. 

Description: A tall shrub growing about 15’ high with masses of white flowers. The shrub has simple oval leaves. The young leaves are covered with soft hairs. Red to purple berry-like fruit. 

Color: White

Bloom: April - May

Common Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Habitat: Disturbed areas, lakeshores, open woods. Dry and rocky or sandy soil. Does well in sun, partial shade, or shade. 

Description: This biennial herbaceous plant grows to about 3’ tall and has bright yellow flowers with four petals that smell of lemons. The flowers attract pollinators and the seeds are eaten by birds. 

Color: Yellow

Bloom: July - September

Redbud, Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Habitat: Woodlands, stream banks, roadsides. Prefer moist soil that is fertile and well-drained. Can tolerate partial to full shade. 

Description: This deciduous tree grows to about 15-30’ high, but generally stays on the smaller side. It produces copious pink flowers in the spring that are of special value to bumblebees and other native bees. 

Color: Pink

Bloom: March - May

Purple Passionflower, Maypop (Passiflora incarnata)

Habitat: Prairie, meadows, roadsides, edges of woodlands, streambanks, and riverbanks. Tolerates both dry and moist rich, clay, loamy, and sandy soils and partial shade to full sun. 

Description: An herbaceous, climbing vine that grows up to 25’ long. Purple flowers that measure 3” across with wavy, thin petals that make a fringe. Leaves are deciduous and have three lobes. The yellow fruits are edible.

Color: Pink, blue, purple

Bloom: April - September

Common Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Habitat: In and around swamps, near streams, dry limestone bluffs. Tolerates sandy, loamy soil, and clay and moist soil with standing water. 

Description: A multi-stemmed perennial shrub that grows to about 6’ tall. Leaves are in pairs or threes and are long, narrow, and pointed. Unusual spherical blooms are white or pale pink 1” globes.

Color: White or pink

Bloom: June - September

Pasture Rose, Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina)

Habitat: Open woods, roadsides, thickets, disturbed areas, prairies. Prefers rocky to sandy soil and can tolerate dry, moist, or wet conditions. Can tolerate shade but grows best in open sun.

Description: A low-growing shrub about 1-3’ high. Thorny stems and 2” 5-petaled flowers that are fragrant. Beneficial to bumblebees and other native bees. Attracts birds. 

Color: Pink

Bloom: May - June

Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)

Habitat: Swamps, bogs, woodlands, dry barrens

Description: A 6 ft tall multi-stemmed shrub with green or red twigs and clusters of small, urn-shaped pink or white flowers. Fruit in the summer

Color: White or pink

Bloom: May - June

Giant Goldenrod (Solidago gigantea)

Habitat: Woodlands, fields, roadsides, swamps, mountainsides. Extremely adaptable tolerating medium-moist soil and partial shade. 

Description: A smooth-stemmed goldenrod with flower stalks that arch with copious amounts of  ¼” yellow flowers. Grows up to 8’ tall. Goldenrod is the state flower of Kentucky and is beneficial for honeybees. 

Color: Yellow

Bloom: August - October

Narrowleaf sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)

Habitat: Flood plains and bottomland

Description: Small flowers organized into larger heads resembling a single, radially symmetrical flower surrounded by a ring of green.

Color: Yellow

Bloom: October

Habitat: Open woodlands, prairies, fields

Description: A 3-5 ft. tall perennial with stiff, branched stems, sunflower-like heads (not a true sunflower) and opposite, toothed leaves. 

Color: Yellow

Bloom: June - September

Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

Habitat: Swamps, bogs, marshes

Description: Up to 7 ft. tall, herbaceous perennial with pink or purple flowers.

Color: Pink, purple

Bloom: August - September





Baldwin’s Ironweed (Vernonia baldwinii)

Habitat: River bottom woods, sedge meadows, wet prairies

Description: Up to 5 ft. tall flowering perennial with pink and purple blossoms.

Color: Pink and purple

Bloom: June - November

White Wild Indigo, White Baptisia (Baptisia alba)

Habitat: Open woods, prairies

Description: A 2-4 ft., mound-shaped perennial with clusters of white, pea-like flowers.

Color: White

Bloom: April - July

Blue Wild Indigo, Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis)

Habitat: Wood edges, prairies, glades

Description: A 2-4 ft. tall bushy perennial with blue-purple pea-like flowers found on dense, upright, spikes.

Color: Blue, purple

Bloom: April - July

Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium)

Habitat: Open woods, roadsides, prairies

Description: A 6 ft. tall plant with thistle-like flower heads made up of small greenish-white florets. The greenish-white flowers clusters form globular heads. 

Color: White

Bloom: May - August

Dixie Iris (Iris hexagona)

Habitat: Coastal plains, swamps, marshes, ditches, slow-moving streams

Description: A perennial herb growing from rhizomes with blue-violet flowers

Color: Blue, violet

Bloom:  April - May

Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata)

Habitat: Prairies, plains, fields, meadows

Description: A 6 inch to 3 ft. tall perennial flower with rosettes of yellow, purple-spotted tubular flowers in a whorl at the end of each stem

Color: White, pink, yellow, green, purple

Bloom: April - August

Golden Zizia, Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea

Habitat: Open woods, thickets, moist prairies

Description: A 1-3 ft. tall flowering plant with clusters of tiny yellow flowers that gather in a flat flower head. Seedheads turn purple in the summer.

Color: Yellow

Bloom: April - August

Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)

Habitat: Dry prairies

Description: Native bunchgrass with fine-textured leaves that curl

Color: Pink, yellow, green, brown

Bloom: June - August

Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)

Habitat: In trees of woodlands, on fence posts in fields

Description: Vine with orange trumpet-shaped flowers

Color: Red, yellow, orange

Bloom: June - September

River Oats, Wild Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

Habitat: Thickets, stream banks, slopes

Description: A 2-4 ft. clumping perennial grass with oat-like flowers

Color: Green

Bloom: July - September 

New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)

Habitat: Open deciduous woods, wood edges, roadsides, dry prairies

Description: A 3 ft. tall low, upright deciduous shrub with tiny white flowers in oval cluster

Color: White

Bloom: March - April

Hoary Skullcap, Downy Skullcap (Scutellaria incana)

Habitat: Bluffs, open woods, pinelands

Description: A member of the mint family that grows up to 3.5 ft. tall with 6 in. flower spikes

Color: Violet, blue, purple

Bloom: June - September

Jerusalem Artichoke, Sunchoke (Helianthus tuberosus)

Habitat: Wastelands, thickets, wood edges

Description: A 6 ft tall yellow sunflower with thick broad leaves and hairy stems.

Color: Yellow, red, pink

Bloom: August - September

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Habitat: Meadows, dry or moist woods, wood edges

Description: Five-petaled flowers at the top of a 1-3 ft stem.

Color: White, pink, purple

Bloom: March - July

Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)

Habitat: Prairies, dry hills

Description: Tiny purple flowers on cylindrical flower heads on wiry stems. Attractive to butterflies.

Color: Vibrant purple

Bloom: June - September

Native Wisteria, Kentucky Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens)

Habitat: River banks, thickets, moist or dry woods

Description: A high-climbing deciduous vine with large, drooping clusters of purple flowers 6-9 in long.

Color: Purple, violet, blue, pink, white

Bloom: May - June

Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

Habitat: Prairies, open woodlands

Description: Perennial herb with 1 in long white flowers. Attractive to hummingbirds and bees.

Color: White

Bloom: May - July