Brooklyn’s newest luxury hotel is surrounded by nature, has its own vegetable garden, and is hand-crafted from salvaged materials sourced directly from the Brooklyn landscape.
It’s also completely infested with bugs.
Don’t call the exterminator, though—this hotel is supposed to be infested. It’s actually an insect hotel, a structure designed specifically to provide food, shelter, and nesting space to all manner of Brooklyn bugs: think honey bees, butterflies, beetles, and ladybugs.
This particular domicile is located inside Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s dazzling new Discovery Garden—just around the bend from the human-sized bird’s nest, past the gently sloping grassy hill perfect for rolling, and nestled on a sunny slope amidst a handful of garden beds and fruit trees.
Part art installation and part bug abode, the hotel was built especially for the Discovery Garden by designer Lisa Lee Benjamin of Urban Hedgerow, and over time, BBG staff hope it will attract a range of beneficial insects to the garden for both pollination and observation.
Illustrating a Vital Connection
Insect hotels haven’t quite caught on (yet!) here in the United States, but just across the Atlantic, the structures are actually quite common. Benjamin notes their popularity throughout Germany, Austria, Holland, England, Sweden, and in her home country of Switzerland, too.
In fact, she says, ”in Switzerland it is common…to leave brush piles as refuge for all the insects and small mammals.”
While you may not see piles of brush and debris popping up in places like the Botanic Garden anytime soon, it’s possible you’ll see more insect hotels in coming years, especially as we all become more aware of the important role insects play in our day-to-day life.
Ashley Gamell, Manager of Discovery Garden and Family Programs, explains that one of the most important ideas behind the new garden was that vital connection between plants and animals.
“You could peer in and see bee heads poking out of the bamboo stems!”
The new insect hotel fits squarely within this mission. The frame of the structure holds nine sections, each specifically designed to attract beneficial insects to the garden—for both pollination and pest control. And it’s locally grown, too. “We were able to source all of the materials except for the frame from the brush and compost piles at BBG,” says designer Benjamin, including bamboo, thick branches, ragweed stems, and even reclaimed wood pieces.
But this hotel isn’t all about the bugs—it’s also designed to attract curious youngsters, too. “Many city kids are fearful when it comes to bees and other insects,” explains Gamell, “so we wanted to invite those critters into this space and expose kids to the idea that they’re helpful rather than harmful, and to provide a place where kids can safely view them and perhaps start to develop an appreciation.”
The million dollar question, of course, is whether the hotel lives up to its five-star reviews. Benjamin warns there’s no guarantee that the bugs will come. “All we can do is aim for the right conditions. I had one structure that we built with beautifully arranged holes in wood rounds and the first bee nest we found was in a screw hole under the roof!”
Turns out a guarantee for the Discovery Garden’s hotel would have been unnecessary. According to Gamell, native bees found the structure the day after it was installed. “There was evidence of life so quickly,” she recalls. “You could peer in and see bee heads poking out of the bamboo stems or a wood borer wiggling inside a tree cross-section, and leaf-cutter bees promptly began filling the pre-drilled holes with leaves.”
While few insects will take up permanent residence in the hotel—spiders may be the only long-term guests—plenty of bugs will find ways to use the space for hiding, hibernation, and reproduction throughout the year. Wild bees will lay eggs inside the bamboo, praying mantids will place egg cases in between wood slats, and butterfly larvae will create their chrysalises hanging from branches or twigs, protected from ground predators.
Run Your Own Hotel
For now, there are no plans to construct other insect hotels in Brooklyn Botanic Garden, but staff hope that the popularity of the structure will inspire New Yorkers to get creative in their own yards. “Given the response and the public’s interest in nurturing native flora and fauna, I suspect insect hotels will pop up around the city!” says Kate Fermoile, Director of Interpretation and Exhibitions.
Photo credit: Emily Manley via NYER