Wordless Wednesday

Okay I can’t be “Wordless” today because no one would know what this is. I have just returned from a visit to Oklahoma so here, in all its glory, is the state flower, mistletoe.

According to my sources, it’s actually in short supply there because it’s hemiparasitic so it’s knocked off the trees. In fact, I did only see it twice.

Maybe today’s post, for the first day of spring, should be called “weird fact Wednesday.”

Boston’s Gardener’s Gathering

Celebrate the start of the gardening season! The 44th Annual Gardeners’ Gathering brings Boston-area gardeners together for a free day full of informative workshops, engaging exhibitors, networking, and inspiration. Held at Northeastern University, the Gathering features more than two dozen workshops on everything from Healthy Soil to Urban Foraging. Urban homesteaders can learn about keeping bees or chickens, making fermented pickles, and growing gourmet mushrooms. Gardeners can hone their skills with workshops on garden planning, managing pests and diseases, and more.

This year’s Gathering will feature special guest speaker Aziz Dehkan, Executive Director of the New York City Community Garden Coalition. Aziz is an activist, community organizer, former organic farmer, and a tireless member of #Resist. He has worked for many social and environmental organizations including Mother Jones, The Coalition for the Homeless, The Fortune Society, and Peace Action Network of NY. Aziz will address the history, current state, and future of community gardens in NYC, looking at them through the lens of social justice and climate change protection. He’ll speak to gentrification and racial inequality and delve into how community gardens can be in the vanguard of climate change monitoring, adaption, and mitigation.

When
Saturday, March 23
10AM-5PM

Cost
FREE

Contact
617.542.7696 x2115
mdelima@thetrustees.org

Shillman Hall, Northeastern
115 Forsyth Street
Boston, MA

I’ve been posting and whining about the weather being too cold to do any gardening and about a week ago I got this fabulous flyer from the Trustees of the Reservation about their Gardener’s Gathering.

What’s so interesting to me is that rather than just being another “plant conference,” (not that there’s anything wrong with those–we do all need to learn!), this “Gathering,” seeks to address ways in which gardeners can be part of important solutions to very real problems.

I am getting some questions in my lectures about whether growers are addressing things like climate change as they breed plants so I do know it’s on gardeners’ minds. It’s certainly on my mind when I shop for “replacement” plants–what on earth should I be doing to try to help our environment and what on earth should I be planting if I need to replace something long-term like a tree or a shrub?

Unfortunately the timing of the conference isn’t one that I can attend. But I sincerely hope to see more like this. And perhaps some of my readers in the area are able to go and to get some benefit from this interesting day of education!

Planting for Bees

There’s a lot of information out there about planting for butterflies and hummingbirds but there’s less available about planting for bees. I’m not sure why that is–perhaps because until recently we were only thinking about honeybees, which are a managed species, and not perhaps about our hundreds, if not thousands of native bee species.

Thankfully we’re coming around now. In the last few years there have been a couple of good books on the subject both on planting for bees (which you can see here –and no, I am not and Amazon affiliate; I get nothing for this reference!)
and gardening for bees.

One of the best resources for bees is the Xerxes Society. You’ll notice the first book I recommended is published by them. They’re quite reputable and a great source for all thing “bee” related. The publish great Pollinator Conservation Resources for North America––I’ve linked to my own regional guide for the northeast.

The list of plants is not something that one might readily find in every garden center. These are native plants (in fact, the boneset (#8)comes up naturally in my yard and the Spoiler keeps referring to it as “that white weed.”) However, some, like milkweed, tradescantia and mountain mint are certainly readily available now and can easily be obtained many places. Lists for different regions will of course have different plants.

Another handy guide is to Bumblebees. I thought (and still do think) that bumblebees are about all the same. As much as I don’t have a fear of bees, I am not hanging around to examine their stripes! But it was really instructive learn that there are so many native to my region.

Of course it goes without saying that planting for bees requires you to forego pesticides as much as possible. If you must use pesticides, Xerxes has guides for how to do so to maximize safety to bees and other invertebrates.

Finally some tips that I find handy: first, try to have something in bloom from the very earliest days of spring to the last days of fall. I don’t worry about whether these plants are native plants or not, although of course it’s nicer if they are. One of the first plants that blooms in my yard is a shrub called japanese andromeda (pieris andromeda). It has clusters of fragrant white lily of the valley like flowers and when they open in late March, the bumblebees are there.

One of the last things blooming in my garden is a stand of goldenrod planted by the birds (or the “yellow weed” as the Spoiler has dubbed it.) Again, it blooms up through early November, maybe and as long as it has flowers, it has bees of every size, from bumblebees and honeybees down to the little bees that I love but have no idea of their names.

In between I try to have something blooming, even if it’s just hydrangeas. And the bees come, even to hydrangeas–again, they’re non-native, but they make ME happy (and if the gardener’s happy, everybody’s happy!).

And of course, between the birds and the beneficial insects I rarely need to use an insecticide. If I do, I try to do it as late as possible in the evening–once the bees have left. And even then, I just use insecticidal soap–not that that wouldn’t harm a bee, which is why I wait until almost nightfall.

My last tip is to try to have some very shallow dishes of water for bees to sip from. Just be sure to change them daily so you don’t breed mosquitoes!

Finally, and people differ about this, but many of our native bees are ground nesting bees. Personally I have never been stung by these bees. I may have been lucky. I have even accidentally dug up their nests in early spring and escaped unharmed. After that, I was careful to mark the nesting spots and give them a wide berth while gardening later in the season.

If you aren’t feeling as confident about this, just be aware that native bees are ground nesters–and this includes bumblebees. So be observant while working in the garden (no pun intended).

Then, enjoy your bees!

Planting for Pollinators

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I hope that by the time you read this I will be in a part of the country that’s a little closer to planting time. I am taking a week to visit family in Oklahoma City–if I can get out of the frozen north in between snowstorms, This is what it looked like when I drafted this post. Needless to say, I won’t be planting outside anytime soon!

But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t planting time where you are. And since many of you are at least able to plant something right now, I thought that I would continue my garden planning posts for a bit.

Planting for pollinators is actually a little more involved than you might think. Don’t worry! Anything you can plant–so long as it’s pesticide free– will help them.

But different pollinators have different needs. And if we are talking butterflies, you actually have to plant for two different stages: the larval (caterpillar) stage and the adult butterfly stage. More about this in another post.

Bees are easier but even bees have certain needs. Ideally you want to make homes for ground nesting native bees as well as have a watering spot for them. Again, more in a later post.

Finally, read up on and consider the “unconventional” pollinators. All sorts of flies, beetles and other insects, including ants, are pollinators. As we try to better our gardens, and plant more native plants, let’s try not to accidentally kill some insects that are actually pollinators by using insecticides indescriminently.

Ways of Seeing

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I had this photo of my clivia miniata up just a little over a week ago on a “Wordless Wednesday.”

I’m posting it again today for a different reason. As we begin to fully enter spring in the northern hemisphere, I want to remind everyone to take time to really look at flowers. (So I guess you can tell that while I am a little too young to have been a “hippie,” I definitely believe in that stopping to smell the flowers–and to look closely at them–is a good thing!)

I remember distinctly a time when I said to someone how much I loved tulips because there were so many colors held within just one flower.The person looked at me as if I had 3 heads. But I would say the same thing about this lovely clivia flower.

Of course it’s a screaming orange color at first glance. That’s what attracts our gaze. But I am willing to believe that is what attracts pollinators to this beautiful flower (in its natural habitat, of course–not in my living room!)

Once the pollinators notice, I suspect they are lured in by the other coloration. I have read that bees don’t see red very well–they see it as a muddy dark color–and that’s why hummingbirds know that red flowers will have nectar left, for example.

There are some fabulous internet videos of the way bees see color–if you’re interested, take a look!

But the yellow throat of this clivia probably shows up as screaming, shocking fuschia to a bee!

And I adore the three delicate white scallops leading to the yellow throats of each petal.

Next time you have a flowering plant in bloom, take a closer look. Who knows what you’ll see?