The grassy roof of the University of Georgia’s geography-geology building is an oasis for pollinators thanks to an enterprising student at the State Botanical Garden.

Carson Dann, who graduated in May with a degree in agriculture, used a mini-grant from the nonprofit Pollination Project, to transform the edge of the building’s roof into a pollinator garden of native plants grown at UGA’s State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Now those plants are blooming and attracting bees to the climatology lab.

“I’m shooting for garden of Eden,” Dann said. “I’m hoping it will be a much greener space. To have vegetation everywhere you look and the thought of it teeming with butterflies and bees is super exciting. I’m hoping those natives pack a punch.”

The installation is part of Connect to Protect, a program at the State Botanical Garden, that installs native plants in public spaces and private gardens to boost pollinator habitat. These gardens increase biodiversity and support healthy urban ecosystems.

Heather Alley, a conservation horticulturist at the garden, worked with Dann to pick plants would make sense for the rooftop and provided a Connect to Protect sign that explains the importance of maintaining pollinator habitats.

“This project allows us to promote our mission to a whole other audience in students on campus,” Alley said. “It feels like we’re passing the torch and our passion will carry on to future generations.”

The rooftop garden started in the 1960s as a way to help prevent extreme heat from affecting climatology research equipment in the geography-geology building. In the last decade, grad students added a vegetable garden.

Dann became a UGA Office of Sustainability intern last year and began exploring ways to support pollinators. Using the grant funds to collaborate with Alley seemed like a perfect fit.

“I wanted to keep the money as locally as possible and having access to a program that was specifically focusing on pollinators and native plants was just two birds with one stone,” Dann said. “The plants are actually from Georgia and have been propagated by the State Botanical Garden, which is a really cool dimension to this project.”

Dann wanted to focus on native plants because the heat on the rooftop in the summer meant she needed drought tolerant, full-sun plants that could stand the sweltering Georgia summer. That’s where Alley’s expertise was critical.

“Without the State Botanical Garden, it probably would’ve come down to traveling around Georgia and looking to find the right natives at small nurseries,” Dann said. “That’s not easy. That connection within UGA makes the experience all the more rich and exciting.”

Writer: Christopher James