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Year Two of the Santa Fe Habitat Kit Program: Creating Community and Habitat in the High Desert

By Kaitlin Haase on 13. October 2022
Kaitlin Haase
Participants pose with their truckload of new plants
Participants pose with their new plants from a Santa Fe Habitat Kit at Railyard Park. 


Most of the desert Southwest has been fortunate to receive a robust monsoon season this year, with frequent rains falling from mid-June to the end of September. For participants in the Santa Fe Pollinator Habitat Kit Program, this year’s above-average rainfall is nurturing their newly planted pollinator gardens and allowing gardeners to reduce their water use. 

Water availability is typically the greatest challenge in restoration of native plants and pollinator habitat in arid environments. In many desert landscapes, access to water is a limiting factor for the success of seeding or planting projects for ecological restoration. The urban habitat kit program in Santa Fe takes advantage of existing watering infrastructure and a high density of people with yards and gardens to create connected habitat throughout the city. 

The Santa Fe Pollinator Habitat Kit Program provides native, drought-tolerant pollinator plants at no cost to residents and organizations who dedicate the time and effort to establish these plants on private and public properties in Santa Fe. The Xerces Society distributed 11,500 plants in September 2021 and another 8,250 plants in August 2022. With one year of plants in the ground for our first round of participants, it is clear that this gardening for wildlife program has many benefits to both people and pollinators.


Map showing where Santa Fe Pollinator Habitat Kits have been distributed, dispersed across residential and public spaces in the city of Santa Fe.
Santa Fe Pollinator Habitat Kits have been distributed across residential and public spaces in the city of Santa Fe. A total of 600 kits containing 19,750 plants were shared with program participants in 2021 and 2022. 


Participants say their understanding of nature is “transformed”

The 225 residents and 26 public spaces that received these pollinator habitat kits in 2021 spent the past year carefully tending the small plants and enjoying the pollinators that visit them. This connection with and cultivation of native plants builds a sense of stewardship for the outdoor spaces we care for and an appreciation for more natural landscaping. 

Many participants have reported a newfound awareness of the diversity of pollinators in the Santa Fe area, which encourages them to observe and enjoy the creatures with whom they share their outdoor spaces. The follow-up reports from the 2021 kits contained grateful and reflective feedback. 

“This is an amazing project to be a part of, and it has completely transformed my understanding of our environment here, and what it might look like to live here in a way that is more responsible,” said participant Sarah K. “I now recognize all of these pollinator plants when I'm out on walks, and they feel like friends. Thank you for teaching me and helping me become the kind of nature-citizen that I wish to become.” 

Participant Maria Mullins said, “I’ve loved taking care of them and watching each species bloom this summer and get visited by pollinators has been very cool. It’s pretty funny how much time I spend in the garden just walking though and watching all the progress and activity, which shows that [it] is a great program for pollinators but also for people too.” 

Another lucky participant discovered monarch caterpillars feeding on the showy milkweed plants from the kit they planted! 


Monarch caterpillar feasts on showy milkweed plant
A monarch (Danaus plexippus) caterpillar feasting on showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) planted from a Santa Fe Pollinator Habitat Kit in a residential yard. (Photo: Janna Millard)


For folks who may not have space or resources to grow their own kit, our public space partners provide opportunities for visitors to appreciate pollinator gardens in a shared setting. In these public spaces, the kits are often used as demonstration gardens in education programs and cared for by volunteer groups who share the responsibilities of weeding and watering. 


Volunteers with gardening tools working in a park garden
The Railyard Park Conservancy recruits and leads volunteers in caring for the flowerbeds and orchards in the central Railyard Park of Santa Fe. This park hosts many events for the public and demonstrates sustainable landscaping practices throughout the park. (Photo: Kaitlin Haase / Xerces Society)


Connected habitat in turn connects people

For this year’s kit program, many neighbors, family members, and friends signed up together, often carpooling to pick up their plants. Others heard about the program from last year’s participants who posted Xerces pollinator habitat signs in their yards. Nearly 200 residents and seven public spaces received kits this year, creating dozens of new habitat patches for pollinators throughout the city.

Participants share a collective gardening experience, tying hundreds of individuals together into a community of pollinator protectors. “The feeling of being part of a community-wide and nation-wide project has been really rewarding, as is the sense of doing a tiny good thing,” said Caroline, a participant who asked to be identified by her first name. 

Many of these participants are new to gardening for wildlife and are becoming more in tune with changes of the seasons and more familiar with their tiniest insect neighbors. Kit participants share their sightings of visiting bees and new blooms with one another. These stories and interactions revolving around the plants from the kits and the pollinators they attract build community and an appreciation for less traditional landscaping practices, hopefully moving the needle towards pollinator-friendly management of all outdoor spaces.

Development in cities results in outdoor spaces dominated by pavement, rock mulch, or non-native plants, leaving little space for native plants and animals to survive. Restoration of these areas requires a great deal of labor and patience. Pollinator habitat is making a comeback in Santa Fe thanks to the dedicated community of kit program participants, reminding us that many hands make light work.


Participant poses with new plants and pollinator habitat sign
One of our 2022 kit participants poses with their new plants and pollinator habitat sign. This participant heard about the program from a neighbor who recruited multiple neighbors on their block to participate in the kit program.


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