Lavender Harvest

White and purple lavender in field

Collecting and Drying the Harvest

Anticipating a bumper crop of fragrant lavender this year after planting more than 30 ‘Phenomenal’ plants in the spring of 2015, I was ready. Ready with lots of purple chiffon bags for sachets, wreath wire forms, and hanging space for the dozens of hand-gathered bundles removed from a thriving hedgerow of lavender plants. And ready with some new ideas of what to try with my sweet-smelling harvest. See Lavender Honey-Scented Body Butter and  Lavender Honey Ice Cream posts for previous articles. The Lavender Honey Ice Cream is sublime!

White lavender is a great plant too

Just as the small purple flowers are opening, I get myself ready for the harvest. Using my sharpest shears, I cut right above the woody part of the plant. This action also prunes it, making the plant neat and tidy looking for the next harvest.

Gathering the harvest is a delightfully aromatic job with lots of bumbles and honeybees still attached. Not likely to sting, I gently brush the bees off while cutting, bunching, and stacking bundles. Gathering in the early evening, bumblebees tend to congregate and sleep on the flower wands, but the heat of midday is too hot for me to handle. I will take the bees anytime!

Cody loves lavender!

Taking about three years to reach full maturity, I can now cut about six to eight bunches per plant. Every year a few plants bite the dust and I fill in the holes with young transplants.

Half of my hedge is cut and you can see the one year old plants filling in

One bunch of lavender stalks fill your hand comfortably and I rubber band the bundle tightly. As the stalks dry they shrink and the rubber band shrinks with it. The band becomes a convenient holder to snag an opened paper clip which I attach to a braided rope hanging from my basement ceiling.

Hang up the bunches in a cool dark place like a basement

Look for a cool dark spot to dry your bunches to retain the best fragrance and color. Any bits and pieces of lavender stalks, I keep to use on the grill or fire pit for aromatic smoke.

Adding lavender bits and pieces to the grill gives food a wonderful taste

 

Wreath Step By Step

Making a lavender wreath takes lots of flower stalks but this year, I had plenty. Gathering a large basket of cut stalks all facing one way is your first step. Using plenty of lavender  to start with will ensure that as the wreath shrinks as it dries, it will still look full.

Creating smaller and shorter bunches for a wreath (about six to seven inches long) and wiring the bunches together makes it possible to create a beautiful fragrant wreath to hang in the house. Start with a 10 inch pinch clamp wire wreath base for a quick and easy method to make your garland. The only other supply you need is some thin wire to wind around the bunches. Your house will remain very fragrant for days after you create this beautiful circlet.

Gather supplies

Gather a large basket of cut flowers along with a wire wreath base and thin wire

Make a fist sized bunch

Bunch a small cluster of flower stalks about 6-7 inches long for a fresh lavender wreath

Wire to fasten stems

Wire the bunch together

Pinch bundle on wreath form with pliers

With pliers pinch the bunch firmly to the base

Keep arranging bundles on base

Continue overlapping each lavender bunch facing one way all around the wreath

Finished! Add a wire hanger to the back and let dry flat

Finished! Continue to dry flat until completely dry (1 week) and then hang

Add a wired moire ribbon bow to complete the dried wreath

Adding a bow to the finished product

 

National Pollinator Week & Pollinator Contest

Eight years ago, the U.S. Senate in a rare unanimous approval vote, designated one week in June as “National Pollinator Week”  which addressed the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Last week was the official kick off of Pollinator Week, and the event has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.  A proclamation signed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture every year designates a week in June to raise pollinator awareness. Pollinator Week was initiated and continues to be managed by the Pollinator Partnership, the largest non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems.

The USDA holds a mini festival on pollinators in front of their headquarters in D.C.

Attending the festival in D.C. on a hot and humid day last Friday, I was impressed with the enthusiasm on display by volunteers and employees of the federal agencies to get the word out. Mason bee houses, giving out free pollinator plants and posters, and a giveaway of Haagen-Dazs ice cream were all on the agenda for the day. Haagen-Dazs is at the forefront of putting their money where there mouth is.

Cone Flowers are a great plant to attract pollinators

Honey bees pollinate one-third of the foods we eat, including many of the ingredients they use to make their delicious ice cream and they are concerned with the decline of bees. Quickly scooping out the ice cream in 95 degree heat before it melted, I appreciated the volunteers who braved the brutal heat.

Handing out free samples of Haagen Dazs
Educating the public about mason bee houses

On their website Haagen-Dazs loves honeybees, I read that they have donated more than $1,000,000 to honey bee research. Also teaming up with Xerces Society, Haagen-Dazs has installed the largest, privately funded pollinator habitat on the farmland of an almond supplier in California’s Central Valley. The newly-planted habitat consists of six and a half miles of hedgerow and 11,000 native drought-tolerant shrubs and flowering plants, impacting 840 acres of farmland.

This year’s poster for Pollinator Week
Trees-For-Bees-2016-Poster_800x1260
2016 Poster

The creation of beautiful posters commemorates Pollinator Week and this years poster illustrates the annual migration of the monarch butterfly. It is available by going to Pollinator Partnership. The 2016 poster puts the spotlight on trees that are important food sources for pollinators. Go to Honeybee NectarFlow-Black Locust Trees to see my recent post on the importance of this local tree for my hives. Most people don’t think of trees as a valuable pollinator source, like they would with annuals and perennials, so I was happy to see the subject of the poster.  Because trees hold their blooms up high where you can’t see them, you don’t see the pollinator activity that you would down below with smaller plants. According to Doug Tallamy, who wrote Bringing Nature Home, Oak trees rank number one as supporting at least 557 species of caterpillars as a host plant, and Cherry trees as number two attracting and supporting 456 species of caterpillars. And to have butterflies and other pollinators like birds who feed their young ones butterfly larvae, you need caterpillars.

Oaks are top of the list for habitat

To make it easy to figure out what to plant, you can ask at native plant sales, visit nature centers, and go to websites like plants.usda.gov. This website has  regional and state lists of native plants that you can plant in your area which includes trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants.

BEE The Change Giveaway

Anyone who has or wants to teach kids (K-12) about pollinators through gardening, either a teacher, parent, community, or other organization is eligible to win pollinator plants and seeds to be awarded to 31 lucky winners. According to the KidsGardening website, “KidsGardening, American Meadows, and High Country Gardens want to thank educators and parents teaching children about Pollinators with the BEE the Change Summer Pollinator Garden Giveaway. The Grand Prize is a pollinator garden—up to 80 plants to cover an area of 1,000 sq. ft—designed by High Country Gardens Chief Horticulturist Dave Salman or American Meadows pollinator plant expert Mike Lizotte”. Sounds like a great contest and you just have to be teaching kids in the school or at home about these essential helpers. You can enter now until August 31, 2017 at KidsGardening.

Native bee house is a great project for kids, seen at the Ripley Garden in D.C.

 

My own poster Plant These For the Bees

 

 

Chelsea Flower Show: The King of Flower Exhibitions

‘Step Into The Med’ themed booth by Marks and Spencer won the gold this year

Chelsea Flower Show History

A veteran of many flower shows in the U.S., I was excited to attend my first ever Chelsea Flower Show in London, a rite of passage for any serious garden lover. On a hot sunny day, not English-like at all!, and not knowing what to expect, I was surprised to find that a good part of this prestigious show is held outside on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea for WWII war veterans in central London. Bigger than any garden show in America, it encompasses over 11 acres of displays, garden landscapes, rare plants, sculpture, food courts, floral arrangements, vendors selling garden paraphernalia, music and much, much more. Tickets for a full day goes for 100 pounds ($128) and sell out months before opening. Hosting a group of 29 other garden enthusiasts on a trip from the U.S., I bought all our tickets by January. Scalpers were selling tickets for 500 pounds or more. After entering, my group of gardening friends quickly scattered and hit the ground running to see everything.

‘Gateway to the Garden Safari’entrance to the Flower Show

Only about a third of the show is undercover, held in the “Great Pavilion” and the floral arrangement competitions are also staged in a studio building, held there since 1913.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) puts on the show and on their website; “The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, sponsored by M&G Investments, is the place to see cutting-edge garden design, new plants and find ideas to take home”. It is very English and brilliantly garden mad! Gardening displays are over the top and crowds of people wanted to see it all and pushed and shoved like I have never experienced at a garden show before. Disappointed that gnomes were frowned upon, I learned that they were allowed for the first time in 2013, and could only make an appearance for that one year. The RHS site claims “gnomes detract from the presentation of the plants or products on display, and from the general appearance of the show”.

Waiting in line for the opening with fellow travelers with the hospital in the background

After entering and being bombarded with plants, people, and booths selling Pimms everywhere, the one flower that shouted out to me was lupins. The English are mad for lupins and they were in almost every show garden. If only we could grow them here! I get a few blooms but nothing like the towering vibrant blooms that I saw at the show.

Many plants attract bees that are staged outside. Bumblebee is collecting nectar and pollen from a bicolor lupin in a show garden

Sarah Raven

As a garden designer, I wasn’t impressed with the show garden designs except for one (Sarah Raven’s) and was fascinated with the stellar new and not so new plants that were on display in the Great Pavilion. Purple Alliums, bronze Verbascums, red Lysimachias, Geums, Iris, Dahlias, Lilies, and Lupin in every hue were on display everywhere and the predominant color palette was gold to bronzey orange, wine red, and purples. In Sarah Raven’s garden, these colors took center stage to create a winning combination of textures and cottage style abundance. Overflowing with exuberance, this was the kind of garden that I came to see!

Purple alliums and bronze geums and calendulas were on display in Sarah Raven’s garden
Orange lupins in Sarah Raven’s show garden
Still life at Saran Raven’s exhibit

Sarah Raven is an English garden celebrity who is also a cook, writer and television presenter and I really admired her garden sponsored by The Anneka Rice Colour Cutting Garden. According to the Chelsea website, “Every square inch of space will give you flowers, flowers and more flowers. The garden is inspired by Tricia Guild’s renowned use of colour in her designs. It is a profusion of colour that will be an amazing sight and concentrates on plants that cut and come out again. Gold, the colour for 50th Wedding Anniversaries, features in this garden to celebrate 50 years of BBC Radio 2″. Adjectives used in the publicity were “zingy colours” “patchwork of flowers”, “diaphanous planting”, “textural planting”, and “cornucopia of colour”. I agreed! It was stunning. A sighting of Sarah at her booth thrilled me and she graciously allowed me to enter the garden to take her picture.

Sarah Raven in her garden at Chelsea 

 

For more information about Sarah and the creation of the garden go to her website. Next trip to England, I plan on going to her garden at Perch Hill!

Stunning gold Verbascum ‘Clementine’

One of my predictions for upcoming gardening trends was the color gold and I saw it everywhere at Chelsea. My favorite was the gold Verbascum ‘Clementine’, used in Sarah’s garden.

The Potato Story

Thompson and Morgan potato exhibit won a gold this year, photo courtesy of Darlene Wells

Potatoes???? One of the most unusual exhibits in the Great Pavilion was Thompson & Morgan Seed company’s potato exhibit which won a gold award in 2015, 2016, and 2017! Displaying 154 varieties, the exhibit highlighted the diversity of one of England’s favorite vegetables. Most varieties came from designers Morrice’s and Ann’s personal collection of over 500 varieties, including a historical European one which was taken to New Zealand by Captain James Cook in the 1770s. In the collection are also modern varieties like the high-yielding salad potato, Jazzy. Morrice and Ann of Aberdeen Scotland worked with Thompson & Morgan potato expert Colin Randel to bring home the gold spud this year!

Trade Spaces

A shortage of high-profile show gardens (8 from the usual dozen) attributed to lack of corporate funding, meant that there were more trade booths or nurseries in the Great Pavilion and outdoors which actively encourage people to enter, touch and feel. An improvement in my view, because you are kept at arm’s length for the big show gardens, trying to muscle your way in front to catch a brief glimpse. I loved Pennard Plants exhibit which exhibited how to grow veggies in small spaces. They actually sell Burpee to the English market. Merlin cucumber was awesome!

Merlin cucumber at Pennard Plants
Pennard Plants exhibit displayed small-scale veggies in containers
Lovely Iris in Great Pavilion
Stunning display of delphiniums and tuberous begonias in Great Pavilion
Display of carnivorous plants
I never knew there were so many varieties of Allium!

Alliums were everywhere in abundance. Virtually every garden I visited on my trip had drifts of Alliums and we can grow them just fine! I know what will be on my bulb order list for next year.

Animals covered in Easigrass, a synthetic life-like grass
Plant Lust- Some of these new Clematis varieties are not available in the U.S. yet
Tricollet Daffodil is on my “to-buy” list
On my list also for next year

Show Gardens

The M & G Garden, the sponsor of the entire show, inspired by an abandoned Maltese quarry

Featuring monumental blocks of limestone planted with grasses, evergreens, and perennials unique to Malta, I was underwhelmed by the main M & G show garden. Malta’s ecological sustainability principles were the intent but I moved on to more interesting pieces. Featuring large show gardens on the main drag of Royal Hospital Way, these drew crowds of  excited jostling people. My favorite was the Silk Road Garden, Chengdu, China. Inspired by Kyoto emperors of Japan, colors and textures abounded and overflowed in this garden.

The Silk Road show garden

Primulas, geum, and rhododendrons made the Silk Road garden beautiful
‘Welcome to Yorkshire’ -another show garden

Great Pavilion

The show’s Great Pavilion, a 12,000 sq meter enclosure, featuring more than 100 exhibits from the world’s best nurseries, growers and florists was the most interesting feature of the show for me.

Southfield Nurseries display of blooming cactus
For 399 pounds you can have this dish garden delivered and set up with all the listed plants

Displaying the newest plants and products, the RHS Chelsea Garden Product of the Year and the RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year, I spent a lot of time browsing the aisles. PURE Greenhouse was the top product of the year. A beautiful seamless glass greenhouse that would elegantly fit into any garden.

PURE, a seamless stylish glass greenhouse
Runner up for product of the year- a self watering enclosed raised bed for growing veg

My personal favorite product which I brought home with me was Burgon & Ball Ltd’s Hip Trug that clips to your belt for hands free picking of produce.

Wearable hip trug

The RHS Plant of the Year was given to a dwarf Mulberry ‘Charlotte Russe Matsunaga’, which has taken over 40 years for Japanese breeder Mr Matsunaga to create. A dwarf unique Mulberry Bush that is compact with tasty berries, fruiting over a long season. Coming in second was Salvia ‘Crystal Blue’ which I grow and love, and third was Hibiscus ‘Petit Orange’, a floriferous dwarf hibiscus with orange flowers with a red eye.

RHS plants of the year: Mulberry on left, Salvia on the bottom, and Hibiscus on top right

Artisan Gardens

On the woodsy serpentine walk outside, nine smaller innovative gardens were featured which I feel would appeal more to a serious but less experienced gardener. Showing just how creative it is possible to be in a smaller space, the artisan gardens were more interesting than most of the larger show gardens. The Poetry Lover’s Garden and The Gosho No Niwa No Wall, No War were my favorite. For the Poetry Lover’s Garden, a creation of a tranquil retreat to read poetry to the sound of water was striking. The plant materials selected were a mix of traditional and modern with a relaxed feel. Based on Coleridge’s poem This Lime Tree Bower My Prison, lime trees tower over abundant flowers in pale hues.

The Poetry Lover’s Garden

The Kyoto residence of Japanese Emperors inspired the Gosho No Niwa garden and displays the beauty and peaceful march of history of two millennia of the imperial family. Moss which looked so soft and touchable was a great feature.

Soft touchable moss is a wonderful feature of the Kyoto garden

Floral Design Studio

To view the best amateur flower arranger’s work, the studio is full of stunning floral designs which are open to National Association of Flower Arranging Society clubs and individuals from all over the world. Jane Belcher won the gold for her category “In Suspense”  based on a piece of literature called The Birds.

Gold winning floral design by Jane Belcher of the UK

Amenities

Spending 10 hours exploring, snapping pictures, and shopping the latest garden products in the artisan studios was exhausting. To rest up, I stopped at the Wedgewood Tea Conservatory for a refreshing spot of tea, a quintessentially British tea experience. Trying different and exotic tea pairings, I browsed through the many offerings of tea selections curated by Wedgwood’s expert tea sommelier Bernadine Tay.

Wedgewood tea salon
Huge bathrooms could handle the traffic
Me and my sister taking a photo moment

I hear that the Hampton Court Garden Show in July is bigger and better. Another road trip I hope!

Honeybee NectarFlow-Black Locust Trees

Black Locust bloom

Planting peas by St Patrick’s Day is an American farming tradition that goes way back and I can remember my father relating this age-old practice. He spent his childhood on a farm and knew all the old-time ways. I didn’t have any beekeeping relatives, but if I had I am sure they would have told me to super my hives (adding extra storage boxes for nectar) when the Black Locust blooms. Beekeepers, like farmers, still look outside in the natural world to gauge how to manage their honey crop.

The lower large box is a brood box, where the queen lays eggs, and the upper boxes are supers

The Black Locust tree, Robinia pseudoacacia, is famous for producing a fruity and fragrant light green honey. Native to the Eastern United State, I always look for this tree to bloom in the spring as a sign that “honeyflow” or “nectarflow” is starting for my honeybees.

Honeybees love native Black Cherries that bloom at the same time

An abundance of nectar sources blooming in profusion means a nectarflow is starting with the bees collecting excess nectar. When bees bring in more nectar than they need or can use, that is when a beekeeper rejoices and can remove the extra stored honey for themselves. Contrary to widely held opinion, bees only produce excess honey in the early spring or occasionally in late summer, and beekeepers harvest in July for much of the United States. In southern states, where native flowering is much more abundant over a longer time period, beekeepers can get two harvests.

Honeybee nectaring from a late nectar source-Dahlia

The Black Locust tree is native to eastern and southeastern North America, but has spread throughout the United States and much of Canada and can be invasive. They grow quickly on roadsides and fields and now the creamy heavily scented branches are hanging heavy over a road that I travel every day. Most people would zip by and not pay any attention at all to these beautiful trees as the blooms are usually high up in the canopy. But I stop and whip out my camera to zoom in on these beautiful blossoms!

The flower racemes pull down the branches of the tree

Last year, because of the fickle weather, Black Locust didn’t bloom in the great abundance that I see this year, so I am hoping for a good honey harvest. But this spring we have had lots of spells of rainy cold days when the bees can’t fly and that might cut short the nectar flow.

A warm and sunny spell during honey flow means that a strong hive can fill a honey super with nectar in two days! Remember…. that is nectar. Ripe honey has had its water fraction reduced greatly by bees fanning nectar to increase water evaporation to produce the sugar concentration necessary to produce honey. Once honey is ready, the bees cap over the top with wax.

Ripe honey cells are capped by wax in the upper left hand side; on the lower right are growing brood

Blooming for about 10 days between April and June, here in the mid-Atlantic, the racemes of blooms of Black Locust opened in early May. Even before the flowers opened, the bees started collecting pollen from the tree which they need to feed their growing brood or larvae. Worker bees will flock to the flowers for the abundance of nectar that they produce, once the days turn warm and sunny and browse from other flowering trees and vegetation, like the Black Cherry. With the onset of blooming, bees start producing wax which requires several times more nectar than honey. And bees need honeycomb built first before storing nectar. The purpose of a spring flow, for the bees, is to provide food for the rest of the year, not honey for the beekeeper!

The racemes of the Black Locust flowers hang down 8 inches

After this big burst of native bloom, there is usually a summer dearth until goldenrod, asters, and other late bloomers appear. That is why gardeners should plant summer bloomers to supplement their diet. Plant those Zinnias, Sunflowers, etc. Go to Plant These For The Bees.

Plant These For The Bees poster available at TheGardenDiaries Etsy Shop

Asters are an important late season nectar source for all pollinators

Healthy hives may produce queen cells in preparation for swarming, as the spring nectarflow builds; their normal method of making new colonies. The old queen and a large swarm of bees will go off and begin a new hive. See Swarming of the Bees.

Producing more queens prior to swarming
Bee swarm in my backyard tree

Interesting and Surprising Facts About Black Locust

  • Abraham Lincoln, as a young man, built up his muscles splitting logs from Black Locust trees for firewood and fence posts

  • Extremely hard wood, one of the hardest and rot resistant in North America, the wood is valuable for floors, boats, fence posts, and furniture

  • A member of the Fabaceae (pea family), the tree has nodules of nitrogen-fixing bacteria on its roots which make it an excellent species for re-vegetating poor or damaged soils

  • Newly cut wood has an offensive odor which disappears with time

  • The flowers are eaten in Japan, France, and Italy, battered and fried as beignets or in tempura

  • The bark, wood, and leaves are toxic to livestock and humans, so farmers remove them from their fields

  • Black Locust blooms along with privet, multi-flora, blackberries, honeysuckle, and other native vegetation to produce the abundance of available nectar for pollinators; so even invasives play a role in supporting pollinators

  • Black locust is an interesting example of how one plant is considered an invasive species even on the same continent it is native to

  • Racemes of flowers can hang 4-8 inches long and intensely fragrant smelling like an orange tree

  • Highly tolerant of pollution, the tree is planted in Europe and produces the acclaimed ‘Acacia Honey’

  • One of the best woods for burning in wood stove, it has little or no flame and can burn when wet, burning at a comparable temperature as coal

  • Compounds in the heartwood allow the wood to last over 100 years in soil

 

 

 

 

Fuzzy, Fragrant, & Ferny; Deer-Proof Plants For the Garden

The scourge of most people’s gardens, deer are cursed by everyone who plants a pricey carefully selected gem, that overnight becomes deer salad on the buffet line. Using fences, sprays, loud noises, and other innovative controls to some effect, deer will always find a way to get to a freshly planted tender morsel one way or another. Frustrating is not the word! Gardeners feel that they are under attack and throw up their hands in defeat against their Bambi foes.

The best defense against this concerted garden attack is to plant things that deer rarely if ever eat…. Kind of like putting out a liver dish for most people. But if you are unsure about the resistance factor, consider if the plant is fuzzy, fragrant or a fern… animals (deer and bunnies) tend to leave them alone.

Sometimes rabbits are worse than deer

On the other hand, don’t plant the big three-hostas, daylilies, and tulips. Plantings of any of these will entice deer to your property, like “M and M’s” scattered around that will draw deer in to your property. Or inviting them to a party! Instead, you want to put up “keep away” signs with your plant choices.

Yes, I love daylilies also, but deer will clean you out!
Tulips are like candy to deer

List of  Plants That are “Usually” Deerproof (Some Always!)

Usually is the key here. I thought that Epimedium was a stalwart deer proof plant until someone sent me a picture of a stand of chewed up Epimedium from deer. Some of these plants are understandably resistant like lavender or nepeta, both being very pungent. But Shasta Daisy? This seems very juicy and succulent to me but I find that deer never touch it. Here’s my list from experience:

Achillea, Yarrow

Aconitum, Monkshood

Agastache, Anise Hyssop

Ajuga

Alchemilla, Lady’s Mantle

Allium, Ornamental Onion

Angelonia, Annual

Armeria, Sea Thrift

Arisaema, Jack in the Pulpit

Artemisia, all varieties

Aruncus, Goatsbeard

Astilbe

Asclepias, Butterfly Weed, all varieties

Baptisia, False Indigo

Barberry, can be invasive

Bleeding Heart, Dicentra

Borage

Boxwood

Brunnera, Forget Me Not

Butterfly Bush

Calycanthus, Sweet Shrub

Caryopteris, Bluebeard 

Celosia, Cockscomb

Chelone, Turtlehead 

Chrysogonum virginianum, Green and Gold

Cimicifuga, Bugbane

Clethra, Summersweet

Convallaria, Lily of the Valley

Cordyline

Coreopsis-Threadleaf varieties only like Zagreb

Cryptomeria radicans, Japanese Cedar

Daffodils, poisonous and they never eat these!

Daphne

Deutzia

Dianthus, Pinks

Dicentra, Bleeding Heart

Epimedium, Barrenwort

Euphorbia, Cushion Spurge

Ferns, all kinds

Geranium macrorhizzum  ‘Ingwersens’ &  ‘Bevans’, Big Root Geranium

Globe Amaranth, Gomprhena

Grasses, all kinds

Hakonechloa, Japanese Forest Grass

Helleborus, Lenten Rose

Heuchera ‘Autumn Bride’,Coral Bells

Hibiscus

Hyacinth

Iberis, Candytuft

Iris, all kinds

Ivy

Kniphofia, Red Hot Poker

Lamium, Dead Nettle

Lantana, Annual

Lavender

Leucanthemum, Shasta Daisy

Leucothoe

Ligularia

Lupine

Lysimachia, Creeping Jenny

Mahonia, Oregon Grape

Mazus reptans

Mertensia virginica, Virginia Bluebells

Microbiota decussatta, Russian Cypress

Monarda, Bee Balm

Myosotis, Forget Me Not

Nandina, Heavenly Bamboo

Nepeta, Catmint

Pachysandra

Peony

Perovskia, Russian Sage

Phlox subulata, Creeping Phlox

Pulmonaria,  Lungwort

Pynacanthemum, Mountain Mint

Rhus ‘Gro-Low’, Sumac

Rudbeckia, Black Eyed Susan

Sarcococca, Sweetbox

Salvia, all kinds

Scabiosa, Pincushion Flower

Senecio, Golden Groundsel

Solidago, Golden Rod

Spirea

Stachys, Lambs Ears

Stylophorum diphyllum, Celandine Poppy

Tanacetum, Tansy

Teucrium, Germander

Thyme

Tiarella

Vernonia, Ironweed

Vinca

Viburnum ‘Pragense’

Vitex

Yucca

 

 

 

Three For the Bees

Congregating on the front porch, my bees are hungry!
Pollinator container for early spring

#1

Pollinators are flying and searching for nectar and pollen to take back to their colony and the pickings are slim until the rest of the spring flowers open. Help them out with container plantings to supplement their foraging efforts.

Everything here I picked up at my local Lowes and/or Home Depot. Pick a large wide mouthed container  (18″ at least) and plant snapdragons, lavender, foxglove (digitalis), violas, and dianthus. I noticed once I potted this all up, that lots of bees, flies, and other insects started to visit immediately.

This container will remain on my patio all spring and once the foxglove, snapdragons,and violas are kaput, I will add some summer blooming plants to continue the show with the lavender and the dianthus.

#2

Another container which attracts many pollinators is the one above with primrose, scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’, heather, alyssum, woodland phlox, lilies, and yellow dogwood sticks for fun. The lilies will be the last to flower and will take this container into the summer. At that time, I will rejuvenate the container, keeping the plants that still look good and changing out the bloomed out ones. Makeover time!

Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ is a great pollinator friendly plant

#3

Violas are the star in this pollinator container. The silver ball is a great way to add “pizzazz” and amp up the impact. Again snapdragons are an important element for early spring chilly weather. The alliums will be blooming in another month to continue the color show. The cobalt blue container adds a splash of color to the composition.

Frost date for my area of the mid-Atlantic is May 12 so I am careful to plant only cold hardy plants –  no pentas, marigolds, lantana, coleus, etc.! I hold these until later in my greenhouse to fill in for my spent spring flowers.

 

For more information on the best plants for bees, go to my post, Plant These For The Bees.

Native vs Non-Native-Which is Better for Pollinators?

butterfly
Tithonia, Mexican Sunflower, native to Mexico and Central America, is one of the top insect drawing plants in my garden

Native Vs Non-Native

Native or non-native in the garden: Which is better? Simple- everyone knows the answer to that question…Natives of course! As gardeners, we have been bombarded with information about the value to wildlife of native plants and the more natives the better. But the definition of natives has always been fuzzy to me. Are natives plants that originated within our region, state, or North America? Or things that predate Europeans settling North America? Or does it mean plants indigenous to a particular habitat or ecosystem? And how about cultivars of native plants-like different varieties of Anise Hyssop which is a North American native? There are no easy answers to these questions.

070
‘Pink Panther’ Anise Hyssop is a bee magnet
DSCN1921
Liatris is a great native wildflower that I grow for bee value

I have always been skeptical about the native plant zeal and ready to challenge it after my observations of over 50 years of gardening experience. My blog post on the benefits of planting Butterfly Bushes stirred up some controversy. I acknowledge that Butterfly Bush provides only nectar and not foliage value to caterpillars as a host plant. But I still urge people to plant Butterfly Bush because deer won’t touch it and the butterflies flock to it and I enjoy the plant for its beauty and ease of growth. There aren’t many flowering shrubs that deer leave alone which makes it valuable as a landscape plant.

IMG_9271
Pipevine Swallowtail on Butterfly Bush flower

I always deferred to the experts about native plants because anecdotal evidence is not the same as peer reviewed scientific articles.  So, I had no numbers to back up my belief gained from experience. Planting a diverse assortment of flowers- be it perennials, vines, annuals, trees, or shrubs or native and non-native to provide a healthy and beautiful habitat was always what I have practiced. My decisions on what to plant was determined by whether the plant was appropriate for the location and environment, not fussy, and that it wasn’t invasive.  Invasive means that a plant is spreading prolifically and undesirable or harmful to the habitat.

P1060383
A roadside field of invasive Purple Loosestrife,, Lythrum salicaria, originally from Europe
P1060381
Invasive Japanese Beetles feeding on Lythrum

Plants For Bugs Article

My longtime observations of planting a diverse selection of plants, both native and non-native, was recently backed up by an article, “Plants For Bugs: all in the mix” by Helen Bostock, who is a RHS Senior Horticultural advisor, from across the pond. Bostock says the average UK garden contains around 70 percent non-native and 30 percent native plants. I couldn’t find the U.S average, but I think it is probably very close to that same percentage. Bostock concludes that native use is on the rise, especially with the ‘back to the wild’ environmental movement, and ongoing education of home consumers of landscapes. I see it happening in my own practice of landscape designer with more and more requests for butterfly/wildlife friendly landscapes and less requests for manicured formal gardens. Gardens are still very unlike natural habitats but have a much greater diversity of plant species than their surroundings which have been degraded with development encroachment.

Disney wedding 163
Zinnias are not native to my area but pollinators love them

Bostock’s research concludes after studies spanning four years that a mix of plants from around the world may be the most effective way to sustain pollinators. This was no surprise to me. The native bandwagon has acquired mystical connotations in the past 10 years and claims that natives use less water, are disease free, and low maintenance have been made over and over.

P1060243
I am slowly removing turf and planting meadows with native plants on my property

But what role do garden plants (both native and non-native) play in supporting wildlife?  Views differ on whether planting native plants only is necessary for the most wildlife friendly garden. This was the question posed by the Wildlife Gardening Forum in the UK and they set up a field experiment designed to test whether the geographical origin of a plant affects the numbers and diversity of insects and other wildlife.

024 (3)
Pollinating fly on mint flower

Conclusions

This is what the RHS study has concluded:

• Research reveals a mixture of native and non-native ornamental plants may provide the best resources for pollinating insects in gardens
• Native plants are not always the first choice for pollinators visiting gardens
• Non-native plants can prolong the flowering season providing an additional food source

Surprising results for many!

The basis of a garden’s health and vigor is determined by invertebrates, animals lacking a backbone. The more critters making a home or just stopping by for a refueling visit, the healthier your garden is to the environment and your health and well being.

P1050823
Dragonfly on waterlily

 Findings and Messages

For all pollinator groups on all treatments, greater floral resource, either native or non-native, resulted in an increase in visits. There was, however, a greater abundance of total pollinators recorded on native and near-native treatments compared with the exotic plots.

P1060158
Allegheny Vine, Adlumia Fungosa, is an endangered North American native, closely related to Bleeding Heart

Exotics were notable in extending the period of bloom which is really important to attract insects all season long.

The takeaway here – use site appropriate native plants when possible, understanding that some are a bit more boisterous than others, but add exotics where appropriate to enrich and extend the season. Gardens can be enhanced as a habitat by planting a variety of flowering plants, tilted towards native and near-native species.