The flower garden at the corner of South Main and Cherry streets is arguably one of Mount Airy’s most beautiful spots, but its dual purpose of pollination apparently isn’t appreciated by everyone — judging by recent acts of vandalism there.
A honeybee stand placed at the rear of one of the two garden plots at the site, which sit side by side across South Main from the Municipal Building, has been targeted by those incidents.
“There have been several acts by vandals that have thrown large rocks, poke sticks, metal garden flower frames, etc.,” explained Paul Madren of Mount Airy, a master beekeeper who has been involved with the pollinator garden since its development in 2019.
In addition, the hive has been turned over multiple times, Madren reported.
The incidents have prompted a decision to remove the bee stand from the garden for safety reasons, due to the honeybees being put in a constant state of agitation because of those acts. Madren said Wednesday that he feared passersby on the street getting stung as a result.
A hive stand can accommodate a colony of 50,000 bees.
“For everyone’s safety when these vandalisms happen, I feel we should remove the hive,” Madren reasoned, which was slated to occur either Wednesday or Thursday.
This means a key component of the pollinator garden, which promotes plant survival and agricultural production along with aesthetics, will be missing from the site.
“It’s a shame we must reduce our city displays in our beautiful gardens because of acts by inconsiderate destructive vandals,” Madren said, terming this scenario “very aggravating.”
“A game for them”
The origin of the pollinator garden — considered a true community endeavor — dates to 2017, when funding for it was generated through a garden tour organized by Mount Airy Blooms, an alliance of the city’s three garden clubs. These include the Garden Gate, Modern Gardeners and Mountain View groups.
Plans for the garden were formalized in 2018 and club members actually developed the site in the spring of 2019, joined by the Mount Airy Parks and Recreation landscaping crew then headed by Michella Huff, city horticulturalist.
An attractive space resulted adorned by such varieties as sunflowers, zinnias and marigolds, which Madren has said are “very good pollinators,” and the display has been meticulously maintained since.
Such gardens contain flowering native and other non-invasive plants to provide nectar and pollen for honeybees, butterflies and others involved in the pollination process, which can include hummingbirds.
The local display was installed as part of a statewide effort to promote the importance of honeybees with guidance from Madren, known as one of the few master practitioners of beekeeping in North Carolina.
He has been involved with the craft since 1959 and taught local classes on it in recent years sponsored by the Surry County Beekeepers Association and N.C. Cooperative Extension office in Dobson.
As a bee or other pollinator moves from one flowering plant to another in search of nectar, it is dusted with pollen and unwittingly spreads it to the female parts of flowers, which are fertilized as a result. Only fertilized plants can make fruit and seeds and without pollination, plants cannot reproduce.
Upsetting the balance
However, the recent acts of vandalism have served to thwart a key part of that equation with the bee stand’s ouster.
Madren first became aware of a problem when he was notified on the morning of Aug. 1, a Sunday, that the hive had been turned over, which led to him going to the garden and returning the stand to its proper position.
“And they went back Sunday night and turned it back over,” Madren lamented, an act that has occurred four times in all.
“The police and citizens have been helpful to advise me when these incidents have happened so I could restore the hive,” he related. “They’ve turned it over every time.”
The continuing hassle of having to reposition it and the ongoing safety concerns led to the painful choice to remove the bee stand.
“The bees were getting really irritated,” said Madren.
He doesn’t know if kids or adults were involved, and what their motivation might have been.
“It was probably just a game for them,” Madren said Wednesday. Turn the hive over, run away to prevent stings and then say, “See what I did,” he speculated.
“Must be a real macho act.”
Madren says it is “really disturbing” that someone would be so malicious for no good reason, ironically in Mount Airy — a registered Bee City with the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association.
He compared the pointlessness and senselessness prompting the removal decision to vandalism occurring at Grace Moravian Church in recent months.
“It’s just like throwing rocks in the windows at the church.”
Along with depriving nature of a pollination source, the big losers will be those who have admired the floral display and its winged inhabitants.
“The hive in the pollinator garden is an asset and enjoyed by walkers and visitors to our beautiful city,” Madren observed.