Dominican University’s Pollinator Garden Gains Campus-Wide Support

This past winter, it only took one rain storm to fully fill a 3,000 water tank that will supply Dominican University of California’s newly-developed pollinator garden with enough water for an entire year.

The tank is part of a student-developed project to develop a campus pollinator garden that will educate both students and the community on landscape concepts that are water wise, fire smart, and support biodiversity of Marin County’s almost 300 species of bees, as well as butterflies and birds.

The vision for the Daniel Stralka Memorial Pollinator Garden began in May 2019 when Dr. Denise Lucy, Professor of Business and Organizational Studies and Executive Director of the Institute for Leadership Studies, and dedicated honeybee keeper with hives at her home, attended a workshop led by Bonnie Morse of Bee Audacious, a Marin nonprofit focused on preserving pollinator populations by encouraging and educating people to create and preserve environmentally conscious ecosystems that help bees and other pollinators flourish.

It was at that workshop that Dr. Lucy learned of the grave realities of the decline of pollinator habitats both in Marin  and beyond.

“Bonnie encouraged each attendee to consider a project in their communities that may improve these habitats,” Dr. Lucy recalls, “Having local plants in gardens greatly promotes biodiversity and can not only positively impact bees and butterflies, but also the planet.”

Dr. Lucy pledged to engage Dominican students, faculty, administrators, and staff to examine possibilities on the Dominican campus, with a focus on developing a garden that will benefit both the university and the greater community.

Fast forward two years, and Dominican recently celebrated the opening of The Daniel Stralka Memorial Pollinator Garden. The garden, located next to Albertus Magnus, is named in honor of the late Daniel Stralka, a chemist with the Environmental Protection Agency and a hobby beekeeper.  Bonnie Morse generated all of the in-kind donations that totaling $25,000 and also connected with Dr. Stralka’s wife, Judy, who contributed $25,000 this spring, which ensured the garden’s future as a living learning biology lab.

The garden is divided into sections that contain plants curated to highlight specific functions, including serving as pollinators for bees and butterflies; providing food and nesting materials for birds and butterflies; thriving in shaded areas, including under oak trees; and providing safer planting options for areas with high fire risk. One of the beds will have a mixture of plants to ensure something is blooming all year round.

All the plants are rated for low to very low water consumption. Irrigation will be supplied via the rainwater catchment tank that collects water from the Albertus Magnus rooftop. The roof has been calculated to have the capacity to collect 8,200 gallons of water with one inch of rain, which means additional tanks can be added to the system in order to provide water to other areas of campus.

It is anticipated that within three years of average annual rain, the plants will be fully established and only need supplemental water during drought conditions.

This is very much a student developed project, with Morse serving as the client during three consecutive sections of BUS 4046: Leadership and Teams in Organizations in the Barowsky School of Business. The course is structured so that students teams collaborate with community partners on Leadership Practicum projects.

Planning for the pollinator garden started with students in Dr. Lucy’s spring 2021 leadership course where one student team worked with Bonnie Morse as their client. The team identified locations for the garden and generated project collaborators from selected Dominican departments. Dr. Lucy invited biology faculty to join and advise the team. As a result of this work, faculty in the School of Health and Natural Sciences from Dominican’s Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, including Dr. Diara Spain, Dr. Erik Nelson, Dr. Jim Cunningham, and Dr. Mietek Kolpinski, committed to using the pollinator garden as a living lab for appropriate biology and chemistry classes.

The project continued in fall 2021 when a student team in Associate Professor of Management Dr. Thomas Cavanaugh’s Leadership Practicum developed outreach strategies to promote a lecture on biodiversity and native plants. They also contacted local nurseries to locate sources of plants and develop a template with plant inventory and signage that others in the community can use as a model to start their own biodiverse gardens with local plants.

Then, during the spring 2022 semester, students in Dr. Lucy’s Leadership course finalized the project by mapping the pollinator gardens in Fairfax, Sausalito, and Corte Madera using GPS and GIS software to record coordinates and calculate the area of each garden. The students also collected plant inventories, labeled existing plants, and completed a historical description for each garden. All of this information will be available on the Marin Biodiversity Corridor Initiative (MBCI) website as a reference for creating future gardens.

Students involved with the Leadership Practicum project include Amaya Viera, Hannah Bonflis, Jenny Le, Nora Fe, Mitchell Sanders, Fenina Gonzales, Dorothea Hill, Andrew Lucero, Lizbeth Arau Lezama, Zach Dickson, and Alissa Salazar.

Bonnie Morse led all three teams during these three semesters to achieve the vision that she and Dr. Lucy had to create a water-wise pollinator garden that would also be an educational tool for generations to come. Based on the students’ work and input, Bonnie and her husband, Gary, designed and planted the garden pro bono and coordinated with many organizations to contribute materials, plants, and services to plant the garden located in front of Albertus Magnus.

“Our goal with this garden is to make it a community-based garden that attracts individuals from all around the community who will gain awareness of the importance of the garden for our pollinators and our environment,” Dr. Lucy says.

“Not only will the garden promote safe and healthy environments for pollinators, but it also enhances understanding of the importance of water conservation.”

The garden will be promoted by Dominican, Bee Audacious, and the Marin Biodiversity Corridor Initiative. There will also be opportunities to promote the garden through partnerships with FireSafe Marin, Marin Conservation League, Marin Municipal Water District, and the Marin Master Gardeners.