Growing Pollinator Gardens with Shawna Coronado

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Growing Pollinator Gardens


Shawna CoronadoWhat are you waiting for?” is a mantra of those who take action in life.  Shawna Coronado is a living, breathing example of a force of nature.  She is a gardening author, blogger and on-camera wild woman!  She is all about healthy living, making green lifestyle choices and inspiring others to get out and dig in the garden.

Just 5 years ago Shawna left her corporate cubicle and chased her dream of landscape design and building beautiful gardens.  This courageous life choice completely changed her physical health and impacted thousands of lives around the world.


In This Episode You Will Discover:

  • the genius secret to add magic growth juice to your garden
  • how to find the “healthiest tomato on Earth”!
  • exciting garden writing and an update on her new gardening book!
  • why Dinosaur Kale is growing 6 feet tall and flowering in her front yard
  • what you should put in your mouth every day even if you don’t garden
  • why you should “Plant A Row For The Hungry” to help change the planet




This is the book Shawna mentioned on the show!

Interview Links

Follow Shawna on Twitter: @shawnacoronado

Shawna’s awesome website: 

Shawna Coronado on Amazon


Watch the Podcast Here:



Interview Transcript:

Dave:  Well good morning, good afternoon, or good evening depending on where in the world you are when you listen to this.  Welcome to another edition of Back To My Garden.  Today, buckle up, pour yourself your favorite beverage … I am so excited.  Today on the show, you’re going to make some notes, we’re going to be talking with a lady who needs no introduction, but I’m going to do a big one for her right now.  She is an author of seven books and soon to be eight; she’s one of the foremost green lifestyle authors on Amazon.  She’s an on-camera wild woman;  she’s a TEDX rock star;  she blogs for Better Homes and Gardens.  She is all about the living of health, culinary — if you get down to her blog, steal her Martini and guacamole recipe.  She’s about green-living, nature and digging in the garden.  Please help we welcome, broadcasting live from an undisclosed location near Chicago, Illinois, author, speaker and blogger, Shawn Coronado.  Shawna welcome to the podcast.

Shawna:  Woohoo!!  What in introduction! LOL

Dave:  I tell you, I have been telling my wife all week that I get to interview you.  You are about as close to being a celebrity rockstar in the gardening space on social media.  Most of the people who listen to this know who you are.  Shawna, for everybody who doesn’t know you, please take a minute, we want to get to know you.  Tell us a little bit about your adventures.

Shawna:  Well, about 5 years ago I left the sales and marketing world, the hated corporate office.  I had a cube, it was fantastic.  And on my drive home the day I left my job, my husband called me and said “listen, what are you going to do now?”.  And I said “I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m never going to work in a cube again.”  So that began landscaping design, that was the next step I decided to take.  And then that year I did something really interesting, I built a garden out behind the fence.  Since then it’s been covered on WGN news nationally, and all kinds of exciting things.  But it was a drought-tolerant garden.  At the beginning of the garden, I took over a dozen prescriptions a day.  At the end of the garden, well it’s still going on of course, but at the end of building it I was down to 2 prescriptions a day and felt like a million bucks.  And I think that’s the story for everyone.  I wanted to share it, it was passionate.  Every time I go back to garden, I get hugged, still to this day five years later.  So that’s what started off my whole story, because I wanted to write a book about it, and the first book was Gardening Nude and it was really about green lifestyle living, not nude gardening … so disappointing.    But from that point it really springboarded me into the green lifestyle arena.  I started doing primarily gardening stories, everywhere I could go online.  And that expanded, because once you grow a kale, how do you fix it, what do you do with it?  And so there are a lot of ideas, I could make a cocktail, I could cook culinary, but the more important messages were:  ‘Hey, you could take this kale to your local food pantry and donate it’.  So over the last several years, I’ve grown this front lawn vegetable garden, and I donate my food every year — it’s about between 120 and 150 lbs of food — that ends up at the local food pantry.  And then my blogging and the books and everything that I do is focused on social good with gardening and organic green lifestyle living.


veggies n greens


Dave:  Did you get all that dear listeners?  When you talk about being spiritually aligned into your purpose in life and making a difference.  Shawna, you seem to be in perpetual motion.  You’re authentically living your life.  I’m just trying to visualize your little cubicle with that flickering fluorescent light above you, all grey and pasty.

Shawna:  Exactly!  Grey and pasty was a great description.  I was sick.  And I think that lot of people that are working in an office environment are sick.  They have health issues and emotional issues.  We’re going to doctors and saying give me a pill to solve my emotional drama.  But the reality is, there’s nothing healthier than getting out and weeding your a** off in the garden.  It is a soul-changing experience once you do it consistently.  And really, just growing.  Getting outside and smelling fresh air once in a while is a wonderful experience.

Dave:  You know Shawna, a lot of our listeners live in apartments in major cities with one little pot on a windowsill and that’s the beginning of their garden.  Describe for us how you went from the cubicle to the first season of gardening.  What was that like in the very beginning?

Shawna:  I think the most shocking thing was I would get out and see an area that needed a hosta, dang it , when I was out in the garden I’d think “hey, I know what needs to go there, I can’t wait till the next exciting thing”.  For me it was an artistic expression initially.  I didn’t think that I would end up feeding my community.  It was a simple step of when I get outside it’s such a marvelous, exhilarating experience, I’m going to do it again and again.  So, when I started doing it again and again, I soon realized that I didn’t know everything and I failed repeatedly.  Who, that’s a gardener, doesn’t understand that right?  It is about failure that you learn.  So I kept failing, and eventually I figured it all out.  I was writing about perennial gardens and flower gardens, and that sort of thing in the local newspaper.  And one of my followers sent me a note and said “listen, I need to grow vegetables, and I don’t know how”.  So that was about a year into all of this that I really started growing vegetables heavily.  So now what I do is I incorporate vegetables in every flower pot you can imagine.  It is part annual, part perennial, part vegetable — each planting container that I make.  So, for those people that are growing on balconies, and let me tell you, I think the majority, the millions of people that live in major cities, everyone has at least one container out there.  What if we could get people to grow more in smaller space?  You know that I’m working on this book. The latest book that I’m working on is a living wall book through Cool Springs Press, and I’ve discovered a way that you can plant between 35 and 40 plants in a little over a square foot area.  So that means that urban people, people that have these tiny little balconies, can grow a lot.  They can grow pollinator gardens, and vegetable gardens, and passionate beautiful gardens, and aphrodisiac gardens … the list goes on.  From where I started to getting more people to grow, is the constant message.  It is about social good and connecting the world to living better, helping community and doing a better job of it if they can.

Dave:  You know I had an outline that I wanted to stick to, because I’m short on time.  But I’m throwing it aside because when I see the passion in your eyes light up for certain topics … explain to the new listener who’s just getting into gardening, what’s a pollinator garden?


butterfly & bee


Shawna:  The bees are having this giant crisis right now.  We all know about the colony collapse disorder that’s going on with bees.  But butterflies are also having a problem, the monarchs are having this serious transportation problem.  They’re not getting to Mexico like they used to.  A lot of that’s tied in to the way we grow our foods.  The farmers, the chemicals that we use on them.  So the question becomes ‘how do you attract more pollinators?’  You want to attract more pollinators but not because we want beautiful flowers.  Here’s the shocker … people don’t realize this amazing connection that pollinators feed humanity.  So this is about human social good.  When you keep pollinators alive, you are encouraging them to do their job of helping create our food source.  So, that’s what a pollinator garden is.  It is an attracting garden that attracts bees and butterflies and other pollinators into your neighbourhood or closer to an area where there’s vegetables growing.  What my dream, my evil master plan is, , is to build pollinator corridors all over the world.  Strips of areas that are 20 miles long that might have pollinator sources and gardens where bees can stop and sup that are safe and organic and don’t have chemicals in them.  So we have to find a way to balance that all out with our agricultural systems, and what we’re doing.  How does a little butterfly get across a giant city like Chicago or New York?  It’s a sea of cement.  Imagine if people had pollinator gardens on their balconies going through the cities.  Then that butterfly or bee has a chance to of making it through the city to the other to pollinate a giant bunch of strawberries on the other side.  I think that’s an important message, that a pollinator garden is important because we’re trying to feed humanity.

Dave:  For those of you driving in your car, or jogging and listening to your iPod, as soon as you get in front of your computer, head over to Shawna’s blog at   Shawna you are so generous with the visual treats on your blog and social media.  If you want to participate in Shawna’s vision of helping the butterflies, get on her Facebook fan page, link up with her on Google+ and follow her on Twitter.  You’re so active in spreading your teaching and message on social media.  Have you had any surprises along the way as you’ve been developing your books and your blog?

Shawna:  <lol!>  Non-stop surprises!  Are you crazy!?  I have the wackiest fanbase ever!  They’re all nuts and I love it!  They are the inspiration for me.  When I started all of this, it was not my goal to be some big social media person.  But if you want to spread a message of social good, and you’re only reaching 3 people, then that’s not enough people.  I have to have more of my peeps to help spread that message to other people as well.  And so, when I first started no one would come to my blog, it was very dreary and it was miserable.  And again, I failed over and over with social media and eventually I figured out what formula works.  The formula that works for me is just to be myself and to post up stories that are imaginative and creative in my mind.  And then people seem to follow along.  The biggest surprise is probably Google+.  I have over 150,000 followers there and they are very gung-ho and the commentary and the notes that they leave are both inspirational and dramatic sometimes.  I’m very surprised that so many people are so very passionate about where you place a garden.  I think the most response I’ve ever received is over the front lawn vegetable garden, and that behind the fence garden.  That behind the fence garden that started all this out, it improved my health and everything else, was covered in a national story from WGN News.  I received thousands of people with hate mail, thousands of people with positive statements.  People got fired up over it and I think it’s amazing to me that we can’t get people to go and vote in our American elections, people don’t want to vote, but they’re certainly the first ones to send me a note telling me what they think one way or the other about a garden or a front lawn vegetable garden and how that affects what their opinions are.  So I think that’s probably the most surprising of all.




David:  You’ve poured your soul into 7 books.  Number 8 is nearly ready for birth.  Which book should a new reader who’s just getting into Shawna Coronado’s head space around gardening, where should they start, which book is first?

Shawna:  The Gardening Nude book is the first book I wrote, but you know, it’s not about gardening so much as green lifestyle living.  So it’s a handbook on how you can go organic, how you can live with less chemicals.  It talks about being outdoors and the difference in your life because of that.  The next two books, How To Garden in Illinois and How to Garden in Indiana, so those are regional that are traditionally published books.  I think that the most powerful book to read is the one that’s coming out next.  I’d highly recommend it, it is a living-well book that is a practical: How do I grow 40 plants in a square foot area?  How do I do that?  And how can I make a balcony garden absolutely brilliant?  I think this is going to be a huge thing because people from a common sense perspective are like ‘hey, I’m just going to put a little something out on my balcony, I live in an urban city, I’d like some geraniums’.  I like the idea of teaching them about pollinator plants that attract things that will help their community.  Or growing vegetables or herbs.  Hey, you could have a cocktail garden on your balcony.  What a great way to bring community to your place to hang out.  It’s really, ultimately, any of the books and the stories that I aimed at in the future, it’s all about community, and finding ways to connect people and make sure that they grow, which is what we should all be doing.

David:  For my city dwellers who don’t know their neighbours after 7 years in the same apartment or house, plant a garden.  I’ve found garden people to be different than the rest of the world.  Because the conversation always is “how’s your garden, how’s your garden, what are you growing, what are you growing, how’s your garden?”  And then you start trading plants and then you start trading seeds, and all of a sudden you’re part of a secret society of cool people and it all starts with a radish.  So go to Shawna’s blog, get signed up and connect with her on social media.  When the book comes out, is there anything more important, dear listener, than learning to grow food in a small space and controlling your food supply?  Shawna, you’re super-swamped, you’re super-busy, what is your garden like this season?

Shawna:  This is an interesting year for me.  Because I’m writing this book on living walls, who would have guessed it?  I’m doing all the photography and the writing for the book.  So I have built 30 living wall gardens, so I have living walls all over my property which is a very small property.  And then I’ve gone to local garden centers and partnered with them as well in building the living walls.  So I think I planted over 2000 plants in 6 weeks and so I’m building lots of muscle and when you think about 2000 plants in 6 weeks, it’s like, Holy Cow, that’s a lot!  The front lawn vegetable garden has taken a slight turn this year.  I have a cool design laid out that looks like a rainbow, so if you take a picture from the sky you can see a rainbow of colour.  I’m resting part of the garden because I planted cabbages and kale there like 3 years in a row, so crop rotation rules call for a bit of a rotation out.  So this year I planted more flowers and less vegetables in the vegetable garden, but it’s all good.  We still have a huge amount of beets and kale and swiss chard out there, so I’ll definitely be donating.  But this year, exciting rainbow front lawn vegetable garden and, of course, all the living walls.  Holy Cow! I never imagined it would take me 6 weeks to plant up all these gardens.  So quite the challenge.

David:  Somebody driving their car right now, Shawna, is like gripping their steering wheel trying to imagine what 2000 plants worth of work looks like.  Because they’re commuting to and from the office, with the same excuse, I’m too busy.  Where gardening is viewed as extra stress and drama, not a relief.  You didn’t start out that way.  You’ve been generous to comment that you’ve made mistakes along the way.  Can you share with our listeners, a hilarious mistake or some experiment that went tragically or hysterically wrong in your gardening adventure?

Shawn:  Yes, absolutely.  So the worst one, the one that took us weeks to solve … I had a lovely friend give me a bunch of plants and I just threw them in the back garden as instant plants without really paying attention to what they were.  I’m like ‘hey, I have this space, I’m throwing them in’.  Two years later, we had to pull out 200 lbs of mint out of there.  200 lbs! That’s bags and bags and bags and bags.  I asked for some help from some friends, the people who came to help me were cursing me.  We had mojitos for months.  It was madness.  Anyone can tell you mint in the garden is a huge mistake.  Only put mint in containers now, because it is dreadful.  There’s no denying it.  The second mistake I made is soil.  The number one way to improve any plant and garden anywhere is to have good soil.  And so, for years, I struggled trying to find the right combination.  When I’m planting in planting containers, traditional horticulturalists don’t want you to drown your roots, which will happen if you have too heavy of a mix. So they’re always saying “lighten up the mix, needs extra drainage”.  But in the Chicagoland area where I live, it gets to 100 degrees in August and minus 35 in the winter.   What a change!  But that 100 degree means that you’re going to be watering your container plants every day.  I think it’s a waste of water, and it’s not going to work for me.  So what I do, is sometimes I do half and half where it’s traditional potting soil and rotted manure.  Sometimes I do a 3-way combination of potting soil, rotted manure and compost.  Either compost that I’ve made myself, or an organic compost that I can find at a garden center.  I mix these three together and I use them for all my containers.  For years I used to go to the garden centers and buy those big, beautiful displays of annuals that are pre-potted up altogether and they look so pretty at the store.  Then I bring them home and I hang them up and I’m like “ta-da! I’m done”.  Well, in 3 weeks they would die.  And I couldn’t figure out why.  Well, garden centers are nurseries and they are constantly watering, like all the time watering.  They’re concerned about extreme drainage, they need really a lot of drainage. So I bring those containers home, I tear them all apart, I plant them into my soil mix that I’ve mixed, the manure, the compost and the potting soil mix, and I never have another problem with them the rest of the year.  And I only have to water once or twice per week.  It is brilliant and if I hadn’t have failed and killed many plants to start out with, I never would have learned the lesson of proper soil and good soil for your plants.


wheelbarrow & soil


David:  See, dear listener, you make more from your mistakes.  I’m the guy that forgot to drill holes in the bottom of his first container, so I know all about wet roots.  I’m convinced mint wasn’t created on earth but it came on a meteorite to infect our planet.  <LOL>  Just as a reminder when Shawna was talking about mint, when it comes time to get rid of that stuff, your soil has to go with it, because it is insidious.  Now, we’re getting to the fun part of the interview Shawna, it’s called 5 Quick Questions.  And this is where you just drop the wisdom especially tailored for the brand new novice gardener like myself.  Are you ready to play.

Shawna:  I’m ready. Oh my God, <LOL>. I’m so nervous! 

David:  Question Number One:  In your experience, what do you think stops most people from starting their first garden?

Shawna:  They’re terrified they’ll fail.  Bottom line.  But see, in failure we win.  So I say go for it.  Just try it and if you fail, try something new the next year.

David:  Practice growing weeds for a season, along with those dried brown sticks that used to be corn. <LOL>  Question Number Two:  What is the best gardening advice you’ve ever received?

Shawna:  Wow, that’s a hard one.  I think rotted manure was the best gardening advice I ever received.  That actually came from my grandmother.  She had this amazing garden back in the 70’s that I remember as a child I would just stand out there and eat tomatoes right out of the garden.  It was amazing.  And she had this old barn that the sheep used to be in when they had sheep.  And it was a dirt floor.  And every year she would go into the old sheep barn and dig out the soil and move it to her garden, and that’s rotted manure gold right there.  I think without the lesson of rotted manure, I would have had a lot more failures in the garden.  It really is a genius way to organically add nutrients to your plants.

David:  Brilliant. See, dear listener, there’s 9000 podcasts on iTunes, where else are you going to hear about the secrets of rotted manure?

Shawna:  Poop that’s good for the garden! <LOL>

David:  Question Number three:  If you had just two websites to share with a beginner, what would they be?

Shawna:  I’m a big fan of Joe Lamp’l.  He’s a buddy of mine and I love Growing a Greener World, specifically when you go to their website, you can watch all the old video shows, their TV shows essentially.  And I think it’s a great place to learn.  You get a really good consistent overview of gardening.  There are so many.  So many of my friends that are bloggers … is Kylee Baumle.  She has this lovely little blog on gardening tips.  But I think when you’re looking at a HowTo, then is a site that you can go and buy products and that sort of thing.  But in the background they have all kinds of stories about the people that have used their products, and they give HowTo’s on how to grow things, and they have videos that are interesting.  It’s kind of an off the traditional road sort of website that is a really nice little reference.  So you have to go take a look at  You could buy some of their products, but the blog part of it is a really nice little place to go.

David:  For those of you driving or listening to this away from your computer, I’ll have those links up in the show notes.  You’ll see a page dedicated to Shawna Coronado in the podcast, and just head over there for the resources.  Question Number Four:  What’s the best gardening book or resource that you can suggest that everyone should get this year?

Shawna:  There’s too many to list.

David:  Ok, let me change it. I’m in my third season, I’m just starting to get adventurous, we have 22 types of heirloom tomatoes this year.  I’m getting into hot peppers.  What’s the best gardening book that I should read?

Shawna:  I’m going to have to go with Joe Lamp’l again.  Joe Lample wrote the Green Gardener’s Guide.  Why it’s such an important book is because it talks about sustainability, bottom line.  How do you sustainably grow things without chemicals, without other issues, how do you treat a bug in the garden?  I love the book.  It’s several years old, but it’s really a fantastic reference.  And you can tell, mine is dog-eared and I’ve gotten many, many tips from him.  I’d highly recommend that.  Now, you didn’t ask this question, but I’m growing a tomato this year that is super-cool.  It’s called the Indigo Rose Tomato.  Have you ever heard about it before?

David:  No, it’s a new one on me. I’m all ears, I’m taking notes.

Shawna:  Here’s the cool thing about the Indigo Rose, and they have several types.  The plain Indigo Rose and they gave the grated tomato that’s an Indigo Rose.  And it looks like it’s so dark purple as to be black.  It is a dark, dark purple tomato.  But when you slice it open it’s red.  And what they’re calling it is the healthiest tomato on earth, that is the phrase that I keep hearing over and over.  It has special and unusual antioxidants that no other tomato has.  And it’s based primarily because of the colour of the skin and that brings the antioxidants.  The story of the Indigo Rose is fascinating, so if you can go and look it up, it’s really cool.  I’m growing the grafted Indigo Roses from Jung Seed this year, and they are fantastic, they’re doing really well.  I’m a little worried about the excessive rain we’re getting, but overall, I think it’s going to be this really fantastic tomato.  Imagine cutting it open and taking pictures for culinary stories, that deep blackish-purple, it’s so cool.

David:  For those of you playing the home game, you probably had an Ah-Ha moment.  Because if you listened to the podcast 2 weeks ago with Annie Haven, Annie said you’ve got to talk to Shawna Coronado.  And here’s Shawna saying you’ve got to talk to Joe Lamp’l.  Joe’s coming up as a guest on the show in three weeks.  He’s already booked.  I want you to understand, this community, the gardening world is one of the most generous, giving and socially-oriented communities you can ever be a part of.  I’m telling you, you’re in the right place at the right time.  There’s nothing more important in the next decade or two than growing your own food.  Every eight seconds, somebody turns 60 in this country, and we’re going to have a major gardening movement like you’ve never seen before.  Wow, we’re up to Question Number Five Shawna. Last Question.  What is the number one thing every gardener should try to grow next year?

Shawna:  Kale.  It is without a doubt my favorite vegetable ever.  And here’s the reason why.  There’s all varieties of Kale.  The more colourful the leaf of a plant, the more vitamins it has.  And kale is so flavorful, I never ate it before until a couple of years ago, no lie.  And now, I’m addicted.  I slice it super-thin and saute it with onions, scramble it with eggs, I slice it up for salads.  It makes a much more delicious salad than a traditional lettuce like iceberg which has no flavour.  You can use dinosaur kale which is Toscano kale, or you can use the purple kale which is absolutely astounding.  In fact, last year I made the front lawn vegetable garden into a giant flower, if you took a picture from outer space it would look like this huge flower.  I used a big honking hunk of kale in a section of that.  I’d had drought for four years, so whenever I grew kale, it only grew a couple of feet high.  Well, last year was a rainy season, and I had 6-foot tall purple kale in my front lawn flower.  It was madness.  It is wonderful, and there’s only one issue with kale.  And that is they suggest you don’t plant it in the same spot, I think it’s up to 4 years, so 3 to 4 years.  Because kale really sucks the nutrition out of the soil.  How I’ve combatted that is I plant a lot of kale in containers.  So my containers are mixed with dinosaur kale this year.  I get rid of that soil, I mix it in with my compost and then next year I can put all new soil in so I don’t have to worry about the soil depleting anything, and it’ll all be fresh.  So kale is it.  It is the greatest vegetable ever.




David:  There you go guys. Dropping wisdom with Shawna Coronado.  I told you this was going to be an incredible interview.  The half hour has flown by, so listeners please promise me as soon as you get in front of a laptop, you’re going to head over to www.  You’re going to follow her on Twitter and Facebook.  You’re going to head over the Amazon and pick up some of her books, and share them with your gardening friends.  Let’s love, reciprocate and share her stuff on social media.  And I told you this was going to be great.  And now, I’d love to give you the last word Shawna.  If you would just share with our listeners one little note of encouragement or some wisdom for our people who are just beginning their gardening adventure, what would it be?

Shawna:  I think the strongest message that I share with people is to try to eat and grow organically.  Heck, if you’re not a gardener, I want you to eat organically.  And I know that it’s expensive when you look at some of the prices in the grocery stores, right?  But all organic is, is it means chemical-free.  That’s it.  I’m concerned about the level of cancers, and asthma, and leukemia that we have in our society, and the food that we’re eating, the crap.  Seriously, we don’t need to eat hamburger helper.  You could have fresh organic potatoes, and meat and make something super-inexpensive and organic.  I want more people to think about what kind of chemicals they’re putting in their mouth.  Now in my own household, we try to choose the thing we eat the most and make that organic, because I can’t afford to eat all organic either.  So we love eggs, I mean I can’t even tell you how passionate I am about eggs.  I eat them every day, I would eat them twice a day.  I just love them.  So we realize that the food that we consume the most is eggs at home, so we’ve switched to organic.  Because if you’re going to switch one thing, it’s the thing that you’re eating the most.  Because it has more chemicals in it if you’re consuming it the most, it’s common sense.  So eggs have been the big switchover.  The other thing though is getting fresh, organic kale from the grocery store and fixing yourself a salad from that instead of this cruddy iceberg in a package.  It’s a much better deal, and of course the best thing ever is if you could grow the food yourself.  Which you can, you can grow a lot of food in a small space if you’re on a balcony.  I suggest doing it. Or rip out that front lawn and plant an organic garden.  Plan more than you need and give some of that to your local food pantry, because of all the people, the poor people in our communities are the ones that have the toughest time finding fresh food that is organic and good for them.

David: Ladies and gentlemen, she’s escaped the cubicle and changed her health, donated hundreds and hundreds of pounds of food to her community and touched thousands of lives.  It is exciting or what to hear from somebody living in such an authentic, spiritually aligned purpose.  Shawna, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

Shawna:  Thank you! This was so fun, I loved being here.

More Garden Ideas:


Listen to Shawna Share Her Vision for Pollinator Gardens Here: