As the Creative Director of the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society, Dan Jones has no shortage of local factoids. Whether storytelling, commenting on architecture, or managing a database, he’s always looking for connections to bring history to life. In 2022 he reached out to the Saint Paul Garden Club and the VLAWMO Landscape grant program, and ideas soon sprouted. With a focus on native plants, Dan saw an opportunity to enhance the experience of the White Bear Historical Town Hall building, located in Polar Lakes Park in White Bear Township. Could a pollinator garden also provide a demonstration on the plants, colors, ecology, and even human relationships that once thrived on this landscape? With a 2022 garden installation plus a 2023 expansion, VLAWMO is excited to see this question being explored. Generous volunteer efforts have helped support the planting, watering, and maintenance of the gardens. We were thankful for a chance to catch up with Dan and hear more on his vision to connect people with landscape and inspire other pollinator gardens around town.
Original project size: 500 ft2
Expansion project size: 1,000 ft2
Native plants utilized: Lance-leaf Coreopsis, Prairie Dropseed, Rough Blazing Star, Lead Plant, Narrow-leaved Coneflower, Smooth Blue Aster, Smooth Wild Rose, New Jersey Tea, Butterfly Milkweed, Common Milkweed, White Prairie Clover, Purple Prairie Clover, Gray Goldenrod
Tell us a bit about the significance of this site.
The Historic White Bear Town Hall is located at Polar Lakes Park in White Bear Township and has been moved four times since it was built in 1885. The building served as the meeting hall for the Township Board of Supervisors for over 120 years. The historic structure was a very early design by renowned Minnesota architect Cass Gilbert. Gilbert went on to design many homes in the White Bear area as well as the Woolworth Building, an early American skyscraper, which was the tallest building in the world from 1913-1930, the Minnesota, West Virginia and Arkansas State Capitol building along with many other significant public and commercial buildings across the country. His career spanned from the 1880s to the 1930s. In 2013 a joint project between the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society (WBLAHS) and White Bear Township moved the Town Hall Polar Lakes Park and historically restored to its original design from Gilbert’s blueprints acquired from his archives in New York.
How did the idea to include a native planting come about? Does it blend with the existing theme and use of the Town Hall?
In early 2022 the idea for a pollinator garden started with a partnership with the WBLAHS and the St. Paul Garden Club. The Town Hall was the perfect location as landscaping was needed along the retaining walls at the front entrance. The project grew by adding additional partnerships with White Bear Township, local business White Bear Lawn & Snow and Vadnais Lake Water Management Organization (VLAWMO) contributing funding and time. The site was the perfect location with large open spaces that would have been representative of the time that the Town Hall was built. The pollinator garden contains 14 different native species, 147 plants and is just over 600 square feet in size. The plan for 2023 is to install a second garden that mirrors the existing one. The pollinator garden serves as a great historic, place based educational tool to visualize Minnesota’s native prairie plants before and at the time of statehood in 1858. The garden is also a display of the real-life, interdependent nature of our food ecosystem, and the valuable services that pollinators provide to our human society.
Have there been any challenges or surprises as the plants established?
The first pollinator garden was planted in the Fall of 2022 so the first ‘growing season’ has been 2023. The first surprise that the WBLAHS staff has recognized is how easy the garden is to maintain with very minimal weeding needed. This was thanks to the knowledge and help provided by VLAWMO staff as to the correct way to install a pollinator garden. The second was despite the harsh, hot and warm weather of 2023 the garden is flourishing with 143 plants surviving. This speaks to the smart plant selection that focused on species that could withstand the hot, full sun conditions of the site.
What’s the public perception been like so far?
The public perception of the pollinator garden has been very positive and we only anticipate that to grow (pun intended). The 2024 restoration of the ball fields after the 2023 Hockey Day Minnesota event will bring new opportunities for exposure.
Any advice for folks who may be interested in starting something similar on a business or organization property?
The staff of the WBLAHS would highly recommend a pollinator garden for a business or residential setting. There are community partners that can help and there may also be some financial assistance available from VLAWMO or a similar watershed organization that works in White Bear Township or the City of White Bear Lake. The gardens are low maintenance and, if you listen to the experts, you can have native flowers blooming during the entire growing season. The first one worked out so well we’re adding a second one this fall.