Sections of the Our Lady of the Snows Parish campus, 4810 S. Leamington Ave., have been transformed this year with the addition of more than 1,600 native plants selected especially to attract and support pollinators such as butterflies and bees. The parish garden was officially blessed and dedicated as a “Laudato Si’ garden” on Sept. 25, the day the parish invited volunteers to help weed and get it ready for the fall. “Laudato Si’” gardens are those planted at parishes, schools and other Catholic institutions with the stated goal of helping to care for creation, and they are designated with signs that encourage visitors to reflect on the meaning and beauty of what God has created. “It’s a beautiful thing,” said Our Lady of the Snows pastor Father Stan Rataj. “It attracts people’s eyes. If we can see the butterflies stopping there, it will be wonderful.” It has also already proven to be good for the community, attracting volunteers who don’t always work together, he said. “It brings people together in a way that they don’t normally come together,” he said, adding that neighbors who were watching volunteers plant this summer came across the street to join them. “We had old people and young people and members of the Polish community and the Spanish community all working on it. It’s sort of like a magnet for people to come together and help sustain this thing.” The garden was developed with the help of several grants and assistance from the Field Museum. “We know that cities really need nature,” said Iza Redlinski, a conservation biologist who works in the museum’s Keller Science Action Center. “We need it for cooling of the heat island effect, for beautification, for mental health. There are studies that show people who are exposed to green spaces can concentrate better, have better mental health.” Natural spaces are in especially short supply on Chicago’s Southwest Side, where Our Lady of the Snows is, she said. So Redlinski, who speaks Polish as well as English, and Laurena Lopez, a colleague who speaks Spanish as well as English and who knew of Our Lady of the Snows from her previous position at the non-profit Faith in Place, worked with parishioners to educate them about native plants and the needs of pollinators, such as monarch butterflies, whose caterpillars will not survive without a supply of milkweed. “By planting native plants, you are setting up that native food web,” Redlinski said. “They are used to our hot summers and cold winters and a lot of them have special relationships with our insect life.” The deep roots generated by native plants help break up soil and help the ground retain water, keeping it out of sewers and city basements as well, she said. Redlinski said she thinks everyone should consider replacing at least some of their lawns with native plants. “Our lawns are ecological deserts,” she said. “But that’s a disservice to deserts.” Plants chosen for Our Lady of the Snows include purple coneflower, several varieties of milkweed, prairie smoke, and geraniums, as well as grasses and sedges. The parish also planted some non-native plants like zinnias for “instant color,” she said. However, the area around the Our Lady of the Snows statue at the parish entrance only has plants with white blooms. “It’s going to look amazing,” she said. In the end, she said, gardens full of native plants actually take less work to maintain. “Any garden you have to maintain, so there is some work,” she said. “With native plants, the maintenance is less. You do have to weed because there is pressure from non-native plants.” Rataj, who said he had no gardening expertise before this, is looking forward to learning more, he said. “This is hopefully going to be a thing that continues to grow and continues to get added to after I’m long gone,” he said.