Planting for Pollinators

I’ve done a lot of posting over the last week or two about what I’m planting–my herbs, both for me and for the pollinators, the annuals in the herbs garden, my indoor succulent corner (which no pollinators can get to, of course, unless they accidentally get inside the screened porch–and why would they want to?

As I was thinking back over this and thinking forward to Pollinator Week, which occurs this year June 17-23, I realized that for all my talk about native plants, I hadn’t planted any native plants.

Is this a catastrophe? No. I already have a lot of native plants in my yard. But as someone who talks a lot about native plants, I do like to add them when I can.

But one thing I didn’t do this year was add any trees, shrubs or perennials–the sorts of plants that are native plants. So that’s why no natives this season.

So should I consider my whole season a loss? I guess that depends on what you are trying to accomplish. This season, I am lucky that I can get a little gardening in. I am hoping to be able to harvest just a few tomatoes and some green beans–and to have some fresh herbs to cook with.

I’d like a few pretty flowers to look at and I have chosen those flowers with pollinators in mind. In the past, I have seen both hummingbirds and sphinx moths on impatiens so I chose those for a semi-shaded spot.

For the sunnier spots, I chose annuals in colors of blue and yellow, primarily to attract bees and butterflies. One of the containers has some lantana, which I know the butterflies in my area love.

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My earlier spring container, which was a Wordless Wednesday photo, was violets and alyssum. I have watched honeybees and smaller bees on that until I moved it to a shadier spot where I don’t get to observe it so readily.

So I am not feeling too sad about the gardening season so far. I am just hoping that the deer don’t eat the green beans, as they have in some years. Time will tell!

Re-Cycling

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Trash? Or someone else’s treasure? For a couple of years now the Spoiler has been whining that my flower pots were taking over his garage–and it is his garage. I have to park outside, under the old trees, even in snowstorms, because he has more vehicles and accoutrements than our garage will accommodate. But that isn’t the topic of this post.

So after moving the house plants and deciding that I really did have far more pots than I would ever use again, I agreed that we could put them out for the neighborhood version of free cycling. What you see is about half of what’s left.

At least I know that they will go to good homes. Presumably you don’t stop for flower pots unless you need them.

The Freedom Lawn

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We’ve grown a little too obsessed with perfection. It’s everywhere we look. If we turn on the television, all we have to do is tune in to the commercials to see that we are being sold a bill of goods: buy the perfect vehicle, or clothes dryer, or clothing, or grass seed and we too can be perfect (and don’t even get me started on the pharmaceutical commercials!)

What exactly is a “Freedom Lawn?” Well, like the name suggests, it’s a lawn that avoids inputs–so no fertilizer, pesticide, irrigation or other input beside mowing. So what happens?

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As you can well imagine, nature happens. Wildflowers–or to the uninitiated–weeds grow. And granted, not all wildflowers are welcome. For example, we have far too much plantain in our lawn. But it’s there and it’s not terribly unsightly and were we motivated it’s fairly easy to remove with a stand on step weeder–so clearly we’re not terribly motivated.

This strip is right next to the driveway as you might be able to tell. Plantain loves compacted soil. So we would be working at cross purposes by trying to remove it and grow grass in a spot where folks keep driving.

Dandelions are creeping back in, I notice. That’s one thing that doesn’t bother me at all. If you’re a “lawn person,” they drive you crazy. If you’re a pollinator person, you rejoice, because they are one of the earliest flowers for pollinators. Just deadhead them before they seed. I think I can still count them on 2 hands so they’re not a nuisance.

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And violets. I love the violets. I would have an entire lawn of violets if I could–again for my pollinators. This lovely little one is a species of viola moderate that I planted called ‘Freckles.’ The photo at the top of the post afe all wild violets.

Certain butterflies will nectar only from violets–why would anyone want to get rid of them? (Again, you can see that I am clearly NOT a lawn person!)

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Ants have naturalized these muscari for me. Maybe you can see why I am fond of ants. They also spread my violets around.

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We used to have much more clover but since my neighbor’s landscape company mistakenly poisoned my property, most of it was killed off. It’s just beginning to return, thankfully. Where the plantain has run amok used to be wild clover. Ah well.

As the season progresses, I get tiny little St. John’s wort coming up–I’ll post that at some point. The plantain blooms. And of course we get more unwelcome wildflowers like purslane and the vetches and oxalis–not welcome to us, but valuable to wildlife like the later nesting goldfinch who love the seeds.

So rejoice and enjoy a more nature looking lawn–and maybe even consider a “freedom lawn.” Your birds and pollinators will thank you.

Earth Day 2019

Happy Earth Day! Can you believe that Earth Day is 49 years old? Goodness, neither could I–I had to look it up.

Thankfully, as with all things internet, Earth Day has its own web site so you can check it out for yourself if you’d like.

I am old enough to remember when Earth Day was started (although I am not quite old enough to remember a lot about the first Earth Day–as I like to say, I missed all the fun things about the 60s and got disco for my teen years–sigh!)

But that does make me old enough to have experienced the first great house plant revolution so by now, at least, I am a house plant expert. There are some benefits to age. Just some.

But if we think about how our lives have changed–for the better–since that first Earth Day–we won’t be lamenting so much, I don’t think.

I think back to the pesticides in use in my childhood and teen years–now all of them banned, thank goodness.

We didn’t think about anything like water use, energy use, the type of light bulbs we used, or recycling. And now, most of us have become so efficient at recycling that there’s actually a glut and no market for our recyclables. Wow.

In our gardens, more of us than ever are seeking the least toxic alternative possible. We’re growing our own vegetables and sometimes our own fruits, and raising backyard chickens and bees. Sometimes we have goats or alpacas and even spin our own fleece.

We have come a long way in 49 years. There is still a lot more to do, of course. But let’s not forget to celebrate our successes.

The Eye of the Beholder

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I had an interesting thing happen when I was asked about how to control weeds at my last lecture. I began to talk about using low, ground-cover plants as living mulch for weed control and I said that while it was a relatively new idea to the United States, it was being used in Europe for several years and that I had been doing it my house for a decade or more with two different materials–leaves and moss.

The gentleman I was speaking to said, “Moss? Isn’t that something you kill?”

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And while I am just famous for saying that we can’t all like the same thing, I just shudder at that.

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My answer to him was that yes, I had seen the moss-killing products in the aisles of the big box stores, but he might be surprised to learn that moss was actually a living plant, and a very valuable one at that. I told him that if he were to go home and try to buy flats of moss online, he would spend a minimum of $80 per flat and could spend considerably more (that seemed to get his attention!)

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And while I don’t have a spectacular garden of moss-that’s not really my intention, although someday I would love it if that were to happen–but I need to do a lot more than I am doing to make that happen (and probably have a lot more shade and reliable moisture than I do), I do have lots of different species of moss and I just adore them. I encourage the moss whenever and where ever I can. It solves a multitude of problems.

And yes, it makes a great mulch for me as well.

So please, do yourself a favor. Next time you see some moss, don’t just reach for a “product.” Stop to appreciate it–and perhaps put it to work for your as a mulch!

Spring Clean-Up

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What?! Dead trees again?! Actually no. Take a look at what’s beneath them. See all those leaves? Every cultivated garden bed in my yard looks similar to that. And it’s going to for awhile yet.

I postpone my spring clean-up until at least May most years. Some years, things happen and the beds never get cleaned out. In that case, I call this “mulch.” Nothing terrible happens to my plants. I don’t harbor over-wintering insects (at least not the bad kind–more on that later) and I don’t have a whole slew of fungal diseases.

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So why–or perhaps more important–how can I tolerate this look–in my garden beds? (Here’s what this really looks like, with some of the spring foliage coming up through it, in my “wildlife garden”.)

It’s pretty simple: These leaves are sheltering all kinds of over-wintering things: good bugs like spiders, over-wintering larva of mourning cloak butterflies. The stems of the upright perennials may be sheltering bees that use hollow stems like mason bees (which don’t sting, by the way). I have ant colonies under here (and you know that I love my ants and consider them pollinators). I have earthworms. I know that I have ground beetles because I see lots of them all summer.

So I ask you–with all that “goodness” going on here, could you put up with some ugliness for a bit into the spring?

Because I tell you, I sure can!

Dead Trees?

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Why are you looking at 2 dead trees? I know that I am always whining about spring coming too slowly to Connecticut (actually I usually say that it doesn’t come at all and that all we have is winter and July.) But surely this isn’t a post about that.

No, it isn’t. And if I carefully think about it, most years, our trees leaf out about the first week of May and stay in leaf until the first week of November when the leaves come down almost like a blizzard. If we’re lucky, there’s enough time between leaf fall and snow fall to get them off the grass.

But the 2 dead trees are important. They are in the portion of our yard that will shortly be leafy woods. We leave them there as “snags,” or wildlife nesting places.

Even if they were to fall, there is enough land around them that nothing could be harmed.

And there are several fallen trees in our tiny woods as well, to provide cover for small creatures and habitat for their young.

Most people don’t have the ability to leave a type of wild place like this in their yards, but a brush pile out of sight can also work (on a smaller scale, of course).

We need to try to provide habitat for our wildlife or we will lose it.

The More Things Change….

I am preparing for a “new” lecture:Organic Gardening 101. And although I can’t believe it, I have not given this particular talk since 2007.

Organic gardening is a large part of every lecture I give, of course. I can’t talk about gardening for pollinators or for wildlife or even about how to grow vegetables or flowers without getting asked about pesticide use or how to deter a particular type of critter.

Many times, I am a bit flummoxed. There’s only one insect that visits my yard with any regularity. I know when it’s coming (sometime in May, depending on temperatures), what plant it will visit (my mugo pine) and that I just need a few squirts of insecticidal soap at dusk to get rid of it.

But I can often tell folks how to organically rid themselves of other things. Sometimes I ask them if those other things are worth the trouble? For example, for me, I just don’t grow lilies, as lovely as they are. Between battling deer and the lily leaf beetle, I am not going to do that. There are too many other choices that don’t require all the effort.

So in pulling out my 12 year old lecture copy, I knew that I would have to revise some things. What I was not prepared for was all of the organic companies that have simply fallen off the face of the earth. I must have had 12 references on there. I am down to 4. That’s a little sad. People are more interested in things organic and healthy living–I thought.

With certain things, I know it was an issue of not wanting to fight the issue of government licensing. Several of my favorite weed killers and pesticides made with essential oils (and even some deer repellents) have all left the market. Most of them were excellent.

I have found another product that I love–and again, it is not registered for sale in Connecticut. It was sent to me as a test product. This sort of thing is so disappointing because how can I recommend a product that I can’t even buy?

And while there are more lawn care companies than ever offering organic lawn care, the two companies that had been selling the equivalent of an organic “4-step” program no longer even exist. The do it yourself homeowner has no option except to try to cobble together organic lawn care on his or her own without guidance. That is NOT a good option. It surprises me.

So I have to say I am a bit discouraged by what I am finding for the organic homeowner. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 12 years for that to change!!!!

Gardening for Some Other Pollinators

I’ve talked about gardening for bees and butterflies and some of nature’s “happier” pollinators.

But what happens when we garden for some of nature’s less popular pollinators? I think I mentioned that ants are some of my favorite pollinators. Here in the northeastern United States, they pollinate our spring ephemeral wildflowers. In fact, they pollinate anything with a specialized structure called an eliaosome.

Without getting too technical, this is a food source for the ants–and a way of dispersing seeds for the plants. But don’t just take my word for it. Here is a post that explains things far better than I can and lists several of the plants that rely on this wonderful means of seed dispersal.

Plant pollination isn’t the only reason that I love ants–but we’ll save that for some other time.

Another great pollinator that’s a sort of “out of the box” pollinator is the beetle–or more correctly, beetles. Most of us see beetles in our garden and we run of some sort of chemical but did it ever occur to you that they might actually be serving as pollinators? There are several types that do as this article can attest.

And it doesn’t really require any effort to attract these “out of the box” pollinators. They just show up in our gardens, particularly if we aren’t using pesticides to begin with.

The next time you see an insect–or insects–in the garden, before grabbing something to spray it with, try to determine its function. It’s said that 90% of all insects are benign. If that’s true, you might accidentally be spraying pollinators–and no one wants to do that.

We all have phones that have cameras now–snap a photo and try to ID the bug before deciding it doesn’t deserve to live. Chances are, it’s just something harmless–or even better, something beneficial.

You’ll be helping your garden, your ecosystem and our planet.

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!