The city had bloodsuckers in its sights — in February 2020, Greenwood’s then-horticultural crew chief and Bee City Chairwoman Ann Barklow was focusing on mosquitoes.
She, along with volunteers, city horticultural staff and Greenwood Master Gardeners had made educational materials to teach people about the life cycle of mosquitoes. Since Greenwood went pollinator-friendly as a Bee City USA affiliate in 2017, a cutback in pesticides that harm natural pollinators led to an uptick in mosquitoes, and a concern about the viruses and illnesses they can carry.
But just as Barklow was readying to teach students in Greenwood’s schools about West Nile Virus, a completely different virus was starting to sweep the globe. COVID-19 pumped the brakes on many of these plans.
“We have boxes of stuff, pamphlets and cards, still lined up at city hall that we haven’t been able to distribute,” Barklow said. “We had stickers for the kids to be a SWAT member — you know, the Standing Water Attack Team. But everything is just sitting there.”
Like everyone else, the gardeners who keep Greenwood green had to take time to adjust to the coronavirus pandemic. Barklow said the silver lining is that everyone’s experience with COVID-19 will likely make it easier to talk about West Nile virus. People have more knowledge about viral transmission and the importance of preventative measures now.
“When you have lemons, you make lemonade,” she said.
While in-person classroom visits and lessons are still postponed, Barklow and others are using virtual meeting programs to do video lessons for classes. The video setup allows the horticulture crews to show off the ways they use beneficial insects in the city greenhouse to control pests, including tiny, parasitic wasps.
“They lay their eggs in aphids, then the eggs hatch and the larva eat the aphid,” Barklow said. “We’ve learned to release beneficial insects into the greenhouse to take out the bad guys.”
As part of their outreach, the city’s horticultural crew now has a Facebook page at facebook.com/CityofGreenwoodHorticulture, and people can learn more about city horticulture at cityofgreenwoodsc.com/departments/public-works/horticulture
The volunteers that usually keep this operation running smoothly have thinned out as well amid the pandemic. The greenhouse would usually see about 10 volunteers a day, but that’s been reduced to about five to allow them to spread out and practice social distancing. Volunteers wear masks while they work, too.
Limitations pose new challenges, but Barklow said she’s grateful for the talent and experience of her veteran volunteers, who have been able to keep the pace.
“There’s so many that are so experienced now,” she said. “For many of the volunteers, this has been a safe haven for them.”
In the greenhouse, Gayle DiChiara carefully took the tip of a wooden skewer and picked up nearly imperceptible black seeds one at a time and pushing them into damp soil squares. She worked to plant flowers that will propagate in the greenhouse until they’re ready to be put out in Greenwood’s gardens or made part of a topiary.
DiChiara has been volunteering for about three years and was recruited by a master gardener friend. She’s now taken master gardener classes herself.
“This is where a lot of master gardeners volunteer their time,” she said. “It’s peaceful — it’s just peaceful, that’s what it is.”
Besides the dip in volunteer attendance, DiChiara said they were showing up on alternating schedules. Volunteers would take a break and refrain from coming in back-to-back, to isolate groups and reduce the chance of someone getting sick and passing it among multiple groups of volunteers.
Crews have worked to improve the rain garden at the Oak Avenue and Edgefield Street corner parking lot with informational signage, and during the summer put together a scavenger hunt list for people enjoying the flora throughout town.
“It was part of our outreach as a Bee City USA, but also our Master Gardener outreach,” Barklow said. “This is what America in Bloom taught us, how to work together.”
Currently crews are working in the greenhouses to get topiaries ready for the S.C. Festival of Flowers, said horticultural Crew Chief Clint Price. While the pandemic might have caused a dip in volunteer numbers, the city’s paid crews have been out working through it all to maintain Greenwood’s lush gardens.
Now crews are working on topiaries, with many of them already looking show-ready. Some, like the Jeep, are being redesigned completely — Price said he’s eager to surprise the public with the new look. They’ve used palm fiber to reproduce the plastic lining of wheel covers, and have accurately reproduced the side-step lining on a Jeep.
“We’re excited to show off what we’ve been working on,” he said.