Free seed packets seek to nourish pollinators in Sonoma

Brenda McNeill is helping to gift between 300 and 400 butterfly and hummingbird garden seed packets to any and all Johnny and Janey Appleseeds in the community.|

Where to find free seed packets

Through April 25, seed packets that promote pollinator plants will be available for free at dozens of local businesses.

Shops: Summer Vine, Half Pint, Prohibition Spirits Distillery, Sonoma Country Antiques, Chateau Sonoma, Refill Madness, Sign of the Bear, Wine Country Garden Center, Tiddle E. Winks, Woof, The Corner Store, Readers’ Books, Nomad Botanicals, Williams-Sonoma, Scott Nichols Gallery

Services: Café Mac, Edward Jones, L.Stone, Off Broadway Cleaners, Vinny’s Shoe Repair, Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, Art of Leisure, B McNeill, Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau

Dining: Basque Boulangerie Café, Taub Family Outpost, Café La Haye, Caddis Wines, Baker & Cook, Oak Hill Farm, Sonoma Syrup Co., Cline Cellars

Education: Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, Musette Atelier, Sonoma School of Martial Arts

Lodging: Bancroft Inn of Sonoma, MacArthur Place

This Earth Day, Sonoma is planting gardens. Maybe as many as 300 of them.

That’s the idea, at least, behind a spring planting program launched by Sonoma resident Brenda McNeill, whose helping gift between 300 and 400 butterfly and hummingbird garden seed packets to any and all Johnny and Janey Appleseeds in the community.

From April 15 through Earth Day, April 25, more than 35 local businesses will be distributing the packets filled with more than 300 seeds of a plethora of varieties — from poppy and larkspur to Indian Blanket and Butterfly milkweed and beyond – that can grow into successful pollinator gardens.

“Hummingbirds are all around us and feeding them natural food from flowers, to me it was just important,” said McNeill, a local estate agent who also serves on the board of directors for the Sonoma Garden Park, the Seventh Street East park run by the Sonoma Ecology Center and known for its pollinator gardens. “Hummingbirds and butterflies really need help with additional food sources.”

Pollinator gardens promote specific plants preferred by such pollinators as hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. With Sonoma smack-dab in the middle of the migratory path of such pollinators as Monarch butterflies, providing the insects with habitat is among the most beneficial ways to help protect and promote the species. Habitat destruction is among the leading dangers to pollinators. The Monarch butterfly, for instance, has seen a rapid depletion in its ranks. In the last 25 years, western monarch populations have dropped by more than 50%, according to the Xerces Society, a nonprofit dedicated to the conservation of invertebrates.

The inspiration for the pollinator garden seed giveaway came to McNeill last year during the pandemic when she felt a positive outdoor project could bring some “brightness” to the community.

“There’s something really positive about butterflies and hummingbirds and pollinators,” she said.

Having grown up on a ranch, tending to flora and fauna comes naturally to McNeill, as does sharing her passion for the outdoors. In 2020, she started a farm-to-table program for kids – “to get them away from screens and outside into gardens” – as well as a Sonoma Nature Journal Club, open to all ages, but well-attended by kids.

Buoyed by the success of those programs, McNeill hoped to do something similarly positive, but on a broader scale. “We wanted to bring the community something that is meaningful, that has some substance to it,” she said. “So it started with (the idea), let’s gift to the community the ability to grow your own garden.”

Partnering with the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance and the Sonoma Syrup Company, McNeill’s pollinator seed-packet program was born. She “pulled in” more than two dozen local businesses to help distribute the packets, while Sonoma Nature Journal Club members and Mentoring Alliance kids joined their mentors at the Garden Park to put the packets together. “It gives them something meaningful to do together,” she said of the mentors and mentees. “Kids feel like they’re doing something of substance.”

With so much change and uncertainty of the past two years, McNeill feels programs that give something of substance to the community are all the more important.

“I believe in this whole idea of gifting,” she said, adding she hopes the gardens bring as much to the gardeners as it does the pollinators.

“You can attract the hummingbirds and butterflies who really do need help with additional food sources,” she said. “But you can also nourish yourself.

“And to me that is just as important.”

To learn more about the Butterfly and Hummingbird Spring Garden Gift, visit The packets include a complete list of the seed flowers enclosed, an information sheet and simple planting guidelines.

Email Jason Walsh at

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