Barbara Bramblett has a soft spot for pollinators. She wears an apron bearing the words “Got Milkweed?” and finds good things to say about buzzing and fluttering creatures that spread small grains of life.
She does not gloss over their shortcomings. “Pollinators don’t have a long attention span,” Bramblett concedes, explaining the need for similar plants in close proximity, the better not to complicate their chores.
Various bees (honeybees, bumblebees, twig nesters and carpenters and leafcutters) are held in high regard, as are butterflies and moths, even beetles and flies. And who doesn’t love a hummingbird?
A master gardener, she appreciates the workmanship of pollinators in carrying out one of nature’s essential tasks. Enablers of fertilization have their own skins to worry about, predators lurking about, and Bramblett accommodates them with food sources and shelter.
The Buchanan County farm she shares with her husband, Dr. James Mallow, has been designated a Monarch Waystation, a site certified with an environment necessary to sustain monarch butterflies on their long migrations through North America.
Monarch populations have decreased dramatically in the last two decades, 80 percent by some estimates, and conservationists have urged like-minded souls to improve habitat to help mitigate the situation.
Milkweed, a bane to farmers, helps the monarch makes its way. The butterfly has adapted to the plant’s horrid taste, making themselves taste bad in the process, and this keeps aggressors away.
“This is their plant,” Bramblett says. “They lay their eggs on the milkweed plant. When the eggs hatch, the milkweed provides food for the caterpillar part of the life cycle.”
Bramblett has become a latter-day adherent to this. Gardening only became a passion in recent years.
She grew up in the South, though exhibiting now only a hint of that background. “I lost my linguistic roots. If I were to eat some grits, they’d probably come back,” Bramblett says.
After getting a degree at Auburn University, she would spend much of her professional life in municipal administration, from cities in Georgia to Alabama to Nebraska.
While in Conyers, Georgia, Bramblett took part in landing the equestrian events for the 1996 Summer Olympics. The key, she says, was giving venue committee members something distinctive to remember while making their selection.
She put a puppy in their hands.
“I learned a lot about economic development,” Bramblett says.
(For the record, the dog in her life these days is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Franklin, which she shows in a picture sniffing a bed of daisies. Everybody, she insists, “needs to have some cute.”)
James, a physician, had owned the property near the Missouri River for 40 years, a place to go duck hunting. They had lived in Johnson County, Kansas, and spent weekends at the farm until about four years ago, when they moved to the country life.
A quest for better garlic propelled her interest in gardening. She began with a class at The Culinary Center of Kansas City and followed that into a longer course through the master gardeners’ program of the University of Missouri Extension, which she praises effusively.
“You don’t know everything when you come out,” Bramblett says, “but you know enough to find your way.”
On Mallow Farm, the winter sowing starts in January, 100 or so containers bearing seeds for the summer “salad garden.” The naturally grown vegetables have neighboring plots of herbs, flowers and, of course, garlic.
(The artichoke garlic she landed upon, originated in Susanville, California, is of the softneck variety, flavorful but not hot and durable in storing.)
To encourage pollinators of all sorts, Bramblett emphasizes a diversity of plants, incorporating those of different heights for canopy shelter and flowering plants as food for those needing it. She eschews pesticides, saying they can also damage creatures not causing any problems.
She admits to having a bad attitude about pruning. The gardener usually schedules this on April 15, Tax Day. “It’s a bad day anyway, so I do get out and prune roses,” Bramblett says, noting she also forgoes fall cleanup of the gardens, wanting to leave something for the birds.
Bramblett offers help where she can to others interested in pollinators, though she waves off any notion of expertise. The gardener recounts as many mistakes as triumphs.
“Growing things is like religion,” Bramblett says. “Everybody’s got a little different way to get the job done.”