The Plant that Keeps on Giving

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I bought this plant (the one in the base of the citrus) as a 6″ annual for an outdoor hummingbird container I was planting in 2015. It was called “Jewels of Opar” (don’t you love common names sometime? They’re so romantic!) The botanical name is talinum ‘limon’ presumably for the chartreuse foliage.

As I was scouting around for the botanical on this, lo and behold, I also discovered it was edible! Gracious! This really is the plant that keeps on giving! When I entitled the post that, I merely meant that since 2015, it has self-sowed into various containers of mine and continues to bloom all over the place. You see it here in 3 containers in 3 different stages: blooming, near bloom, and seedling.

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It was blooming outside in my garden beds as well. When I find these flower stalks going to seed, I shake the seeds over my beds and borders and the next season I find plants coming up in the gardens. How delightful. Plants without work. I am all for that!

The article I link to above makes mention of how wonderful these itty bitty tiny flowers are for pollinators. So many of us grow huge hulking flowers to draw in bees and butterflies but we forget about our smaller bees. There are bees that are the size of a grain of white rice and we need to be mindful of those pollinators too!

Of course, if you are going to attempt to eat what you are growing, make sure that you are growing it organically. No pesticides of any kind, especially on the plants but even in your soils. Be mindful of that.

Otherwise, just enjoy these lovely plants and flowers.

 

Composed Flowers

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We hear a lot about “composite flowers” as being great for our pollinators. When they talk about composites, they often talk about things like daisies, cone flowers, sunflower and other flowers with a central disk and a ray of petals radiating from that disk.

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Even these lovely “weeds”–fleabane is the correct name for them and they are in the aster family so you might want to leave them for your pollinators because the tiny little bees adore them–are a fabulous little composite flower. Such a tiny miracle of nature.

I’m here to propose a totally different sort of “composite”–or perhaps I mean “composed”–type of flower that is excellent for our pollinators.

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This photo above is of a great, underused native called veronicastrum. Maybe it’s the name the puts everyone off. The common name is Culver’s root, which isn’t much better. It is native to my part of the country, the eastern seaboard, basically. And normally, it is quite tall, towering over my head. This year it’s stunted–probably only 3′ or so. That’s what 2 1/2 years of drought will do to a native perennial.

What’s great about it is that all these individual spikelets bloom for weeks on end–and sometimes secondary spikelets will form further down the stem, prolonging the bloom time. I have seen several types of bees and solitary wasps all at the same time on this one perennial.

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This of course is our native milkweed, asclepias syriacus. It’s great for our monarchs but what a lot of folks don’t realize is that many bees like it too.

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Finally here is oregano. Notice all the tiny florets. Mine is constantly covered with bumblebees all summer long.

Obviously I don’t use this for cooking or I wouldn’t let it flower. I have some oregano that I use for culinary purposes (meaning that I don’t let it flower) in my vegetable garden. But from what I understand, these flowers are edible too. I would just hate to disturb the bees!

Leave Them Bee!

There is an ever increasing awareness of bees and their role in our ecosystem. In fact, I saw one statement that said that if every bee were to disappear off the face of the earth, humans would only survive for 4 days. Gracious! Surely in these days of cloning and other advances in technology, we could manage to stretch our survival out slightly longer than that, no?

But let’s hope it never comes to that, particularly with all the other dire news on what ever your news channel of choice is these days.

Still in all this awareness of bees, what I want to call most people’s awareness to is the gentle nature of bees. I don’t want anyone with a true allergy to bees to take any risks, of course–no one should endanger his or her life over an insect.

But for the rest of us without true allergies–those with just a morbid fear of insects (which sadly, is just too much of the population as I can attest to from years of retail gardening)–I am here to say that bees do not want to sting you.

Let me repeat that: bees don’t want to sting. Bees want to pollinate plants. That’s why they’re out there flying around. I can tell you that I have handled an awful lot of plants with bees on them and I have photographed even more and bees will not sting you.

There are exceptions to this rule. Don’t get into the middle of a swarm of honeybees. Those are not in the middle of “doing their job.” Those bees have been displaced and are riled up.

Don’t generally mistake bees for hornets or wasps–although early in the season, unless you step into a nest, hornets and wasps generally are fine as well. It’s only later in the season that they get “ornery.”

And don’t start flailing your arms and legs as if you’re trying to signal some sort of alien fleet if something–bee, wasp, hummingbird, or whatever comes nearby. That generally doesn’t end well.

But if you remain calm and keep your arms at your sides (which is a good idea anyway–who wants to be stung under the arm?), bees, wasps and hornets will generally fly up to you, look at you, and just fly right away.

It’s the same with bats. But that’s a whole different animal–literally.

Wordless Wednesday

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These are two bidens plants that I bought for my vegetable garden. Notice I said I bought them for my vegetable garden. It’s important to have lots of colorful, composite type flowers for pollinators in the vegetable garden.

Also notice the difference in the two types of plant tags. I don’t expect you to be able to read them. Just notice that the one on the bottom left is your standard plant tag. I’ll show you the one on the right in a moment.

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Sorry I didn’t think to clean the dirt off this one before I photo’d. I think you can still clearly see the marketing at work on this tag. It’s splashed all over with the words”bee” and “Pollinator Partnership.”

I didn’t pay anything extra for this plant–nor would I unless I were sure that the money were going to support habitat or something. But after my 5 post series on supporting merchants that support pollinators and shopping for pollinators, I thought this was a really interesting piece of marketing!

An Annual for Bees

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I was watering the other day and was surprised by the number of honeybees that I saw on this celosia. It was not something that I expected.

So often when we plant annuals we plant for color or for long blooming time. These plants have performed beyond all expectation, nestled as they are up against a brick wall and a parking lot, in our very dry summer. They’re lucky if they get watered once a week. You all know by now that I am notoriously thrifty with water.

And yet they are thriving and blooming their heads off, as annuals are supposed to do. The fact that the bees love them is quite an unexpected bonus!

As for the mulch–this is my “work” garden. You all also know I don’t mulch at home.

Oregano for Pollinators?

 

20160804_142258Although they are not visible in this photo, there were literally dozens of small bees on this flowering oregano. There were four honeybees. There was at least one bumblebee. And there were 3 steel blue cricket hunter wasps. All on this one clump of oregano.

I didn’t want to get too close to take the photo because I didn’t want to disrupt all those pollinators! Believe it or not, this clump of oregano (which grew from a 4″ pot planted maybe 4 years ago?) is not there to feed anyone. It’s there mainly as a deterrent.

This is my “work” garden. I planted it a few years ago and then it wasn’t supposed to be “mine” anymore.  You know how that goes. I still take care of it and weed it and plant it every spring, etc. That’s fine. It’s definitely small enough for me to manage.

But at work we have a family of woodchucks–or we did until this year. I haven’t seen them too much this year, although I closed up the hole in the garden that was there from last fall and it “re-opened” so I think they’re still around. It probably means I just haven’t been looking at the right time.

I don’t have the physical ability to do the digging required to fence against a woodchuck so I figured that I would just ring the garden with herbs, not grow what it seemed to like to eat and leave it at that. That’s why the oregano is there. It’s one of the “stinky” herbs I brought in. I think it’s even the “hot” variety. Obviously the pollinators don’t care.

At home I have some golden oregano–an ornamental variety–that came back after I removed some insect infested black eyed susans. Although the leaves still get affected by the same insect that bothered the rudbeckia, the oregano has been blooming most of the summer and it is constantly covered in bumble bees. I feel bad when I have to water the garden and get the flowers (and the bees) wet!

Try letting a small portion of your herbs flower, particularly if you have a large clump. Your pollinators will be grateful!

Wordless Wednesday–What The Bees Want!

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While this planter may look messy to you, it represents a great success: the bees actually like coleus flowers. Who knew? I never did because I don’t like the look of coleus flowers and I’d always cut them off.

But this year I tried an experiment. I let some grow because I realized they were the color bees would like. And sure enough, the bumblebees started flocking to them. So how could I chop them off?

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Sometimes it’s not about what I want–it’s about what the bees need!

Native Home for Bees

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What on earth is this mess? Well besides the clover (larval food for four different species of elfin butterfly–don’t you dare ever think of trying to remove all the clover again, now will you?)

Remember Friday’s post on the native gardens by the water? This was the sort of sickly looking pine in the first shot. As I was sitting there watching the water, I happened to notice a large bumble bee flying around. Then I saw it land and crawl right up to the pine and under it. It was going in and out of this little opening–the perfect little spot for a bee to make a home!

That shoot of crab grass coming up in the photo is just near the entrance to its nest. It would land just above there and crawl into the “cave” in the shrub.

Sometimes it’s nice to sit quietly and just watch. All sorts of things will show up!

Wordless Wednesday

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Hmm. I see to have gotten a photo of the only part of this plant without a bee.

Oh no, I see the bee–it was hiding! It’s a bumble bee, almost all the way at the bottom of the most upright part of this plant in the foreground.

This is veronicastrum. It’s a native plant. Its common name is Culver’s root. I’m sure it has others. Once it blooms, it is just covered in bees. The bumble bees were playing “tag” with each other to get onto this plant.

And while I was watching and photographing them, they were also all over the cone flowers that I had planted as well. That made me very happy. And they were completely covering the blue stalks of the anise hyssop. So I’ve done my job well, at least as far as the bees are concerned.

This is not a time plant, however. This is one of those plants that, when I lecture, I tell folks that it’s taller than I am and it’s wider around than I can spread my arms. That makes it great for the pollinators because there’s that much more of it to fight over.

Scroll down to Monday’s post for a photo of this thing. It’s the big pink plant right next to the telephone pole. In fact. I have 6′ stakes all around it–and the telephone pole is part of my staking scheme!

The only other things that are larger in that garden are a rogue L’il Kim hibiscus, a kolkwitzia and the Lady in Red hydrangea. But they are shrubs, not perennials.

What’s particularly nice is that once this thing starts blooming, it will bloom for a long time because of the way the blooms form.

There are only two varieties of this plant, a white one and this one. It’s a little hard to find–garden centers and native plant nurseries will often ahve it but it’s not going to be at the box stores. Catalogs will often have it as well.

But for fuss-free pollinator gardens (so long as you have the space) I highly recommend it!

 

Refreshing A Garden for the Pollinators

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A week or so ago I showed some annuals and tropicals that I had for my pollinators. I also mentioned that I was re-planting a portion of my garden that had succumbed to weather.

I say “weather” because I don’t believe it succumbed to our harsh winter–at least not entirely. These were hardy perennials well suited for my zone (I always chose plants for zone 5 even though, according to the charts I’m at least a zone 6, just because of the difficult conditions of wind and heavy wet clay). Further, most of them had been in that particular garden for 10 years or more. A few of the milkweeds (yes, I lost 3 different varieties of milkweed–none of them tropical–I know better–one of which had been there for 20 years!) were recent additions but most of the garden was very well established.

So what do I think happened? You heard me say it. The garden was very well established. You also know that at my house, the garden get tough love. No additional water, no nothing. Last summer, we had 4 inches of rain in a four month period–and 2 of those inches fell on 1 day in July so it was a very dry summer. That garden was wilting a significant portion of the time.

Couple that with an exceptionally cold winter–the earlier portion of which was snowless–and I think that’s why I lost so much.  Sad, yes, but not a total shock. That’s the only garden where I lost plants–and of course, I didn’t lose all the plants. And interestingly enough, I didn’t lose the ridiculously thirsty hydrangeas. Go figure.

So now I have an opportunity to re-plant. And with the exception of the one variegated plant in the photo (it’s a catmint and I know for a fact that catmint is a bee magnet!), all of the plants in the photo are natives.

From left to right in the photo are: cone flower (I am adding a total of 6. The variety is Cheyenne Spirit so who knows what colors I’ll have and that’s fine. I can see one blooming in yellow and another is blooming in orange in the garden already. They should be great for the bees and butterflies. It was an AAS Winner in 2013.)

Next to that are two asters–the variety escapes me at the moment but they are deep purple and dwarf.

Then milkweed, of course. One is already in the garden. This one is here because I’m taking it to a lecture Monday. Then it will go in beside it.

Then more echinacea (the yellow) with some agastache ‘blue fortune’ near it, as well as the variegated cat mint I mentioned earlier.

Finally, all the way on the right, in the white Proven Winners pot is a native bush honeysuckle (diervilla) Kodiak Black. Behind it is a goldenrod.

I have lots of goldenrod elsewhere in the yard planted by who knows what but I thought I should actually plant some myself as well!

The pollinators should be happy. I know I will be!