Oak Forest resident Lauren Simpson didn’t set out to become a champion of pollinators.
Initially, it was the practicality of a drought-tolerant lawn that appealed to her and her husband, Iain Simpson.
“After the droughts following 2011, we had a tough-love policy with our yard,” Lauren Simpson said. “Almost everything died. When we started over on our home garden, we wanted something drought tolerant and also wanted flowers because we knew we liked butterflies.”
What they ended up with was St. Julian’s Crossing, which is a certified wildlife habitat with the National Wildlife Federation, a monarch waystation with Monarch Watch and a certified butterfly garden with the North American Butterfly Association. The gardens have welcomed 48 species of butterflies, at least 20 species of syrphid flies and around 30 species each of bees and wasps, among other pollinators.
It didn’t happen overnight, however.
“(The first garden) looked pretty, but we had all the wrong plants,” Simpson said.
Aside from milkweed, the one plant on which monarch butterflies lay their eggs, Simpson said she and her husband didn’t have a lot of plants native to this part of Texas.
That’s when Simpson started to network online with the Oak Forest Community of Gardeners, linking up with another person who did butterfly gardening. She also joined the Houston Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas and the North American Butterfly Association, Butterfly Enthusiasts of Southeast Texas chapter.
“We started getting critters,” Simpson said.
As Simpson doesn’t have an entomology degree, she photographed the pollinators she found and shared them online for help with identification. She learned a lot along the way.
“There are around 4,000 species of native bees in North America and about 1,100 in Texas, but the honey bee is not one of them,” Simpson said. “They came from Europe.”
In addition to the type of plants the Simpsons chose for their yard, a lot of their success attracting wildlife had to do with changing the way they gardened. For example, they adopted a “no pesticides and no blowers” policy.
As her own education continued, Simpson started to educate others. In 2015, she started a Facebook page for St. Julian’s Crossing and recently got on Instagram and Pinterest. She does talks and presentations for a variety of groups such as the North Shepherd Community Alliance and the Oak Forest Homeowners Association. She has presented at the Texas Pollinator Powwow and the Native Plant Society’s Wildscapes Workshop.
Simpson said she educates about pollinators, their conservation and the wildscapes supporting them. She believes there is a way to transform the traditional landscape in a way that is pleasing to people and supportive of pollinators.
“Critters and community are my passion,” said Simpson, who works at the University of Houston Law Center teaching legal writing.
Most nurseries don’t sell a wide variety of native plants, so Simpson harvests the seeds from her own garden and gives them out, with instructions, at her talks. Recently, she recruited area teens to help her package seeds.
“I talked to them about what they were doing and why they were doing it,” Simpson said. “I told them that ‘this is for you.’ They are going to be the ones who are still around.”
Simpson is now working on rolling out a website. She also looks to marry her legal skills with her passion by educating people about the statutes, rules and ordinances they should know when starting their own gardens.
“Things like what deed restrictions say and knowing which plants aren’t water hogs if water conservation is an issue,” Simpson said. “I call it ‘know your rights,’ because it might affect what homeowners decide to do.”
In that same vein, she is helping with curriculum related to Level 4 of the Native Landscape Certification Program of the Native Plant Society of Texas.
Simpson said the garden they’ve created still brings a lot of joy. When naming their monarch waystation, Simpson’s husband came up with St. Julian’s Crossing.
“St. Julian the Hospitaller is the patron of hotel keepers and travelers, which is perfect because the pollinators are our travelers,” Lauren Simpson said.
And the Simpsons are excellent innkeepers.
For more information, visit “St. Julian’s Crossing – wildlife habitat” on Facebook.