Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Why I Keep the Asters October 28, 2009

Filed under: bugs,fall,flora — greenwalks @ 10:06 am
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The asters that reseed vigorously in my parking strip garden are tall, leggy, often in the wrong place and prone to rust late in the season. But I keep them anyway. Do you know why?

Asters in late September

Here’s another look:

Bee on aster blossom

Yes, for the bees. Most of the blossoms are gone by now (these photos were taken back in late September), but since there aren’t many flowers on the street still blooming at that time of year, I like giving my buzzing friends a last little taste of summer before it’s time to close up the honey shop for the year.

Do you have any plants you keep around mostly for the wildlife to enjoy?


No Bee Shortage Here July 5, 2009

Filed under: my garden,perennials,Uncategorized — greenwalks @ 9:46 pm
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Does anyone know the latest on the dire predictions about honeybee colony collapse? I have not noticed any decrease in the number of bees this year, and in fact I almost feel like there are more. Are they rebounding, or am I just lucky to be near some healthy hives? My daughter counted 13 at a time on just one side of our lavender alley today. This is a honeybee, right??

Bee on lavender

I hope she’s not allergic to bee stings. We tend to put out the sidewalk chalk right next to where everyone is buzzing around. So far, no run-ins! I hope it continues. I figure they are much more interested in the lavender than they are in us.

Lavender and chalk

See some bees, then it’s time to draw some bees.

Chalk bees

Lavender has many uses and delights, but right now I love it most for how it’s nourishing our vital and threatened friends. Buzz on, little bees, buzz on!


Bee-autiful Poppies June 10, 2009

Filed under: bugs,flora,my garden — greenwalks @ 5:26 pm
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I have a lot of poppies in my garden at the moment, all bright (loud, really) colors, all about to have a bunch of interesting seed heads but also floppy, dried-out foliage. Many will get yanked to make room for summer annuals, a few more perennials that need to be liberated from their pots, and my growing herb collection.

While they last, though, the poppies not only put on a riotous visual show but also get the bees going nearly insane with delight. I am easily distracted from garden tasks (and they are legion at the moment, including boring endless watering since we have had no appreciable rain since mid-May – what is this, California?!) and love to watch and listen to them wander around the garden and roll around in the pollen. Here is one in the big showy red poppy right outside our front windows:

Bee in poppy

I know we are supposed to be worried about colony collapse, but I have seen a ton of honeybees this spring so maybe things are not so bad as they have been? Anyone know?

I had to hold onto this smaller poppy to take the photo, since the bee was making it wave around so much. Darker bee, maybe a mason bee? I don’t have bee houses so whoever comes to visit, they are making their own homes and hives.

Bee in orange poppy

Lastly, I don’t know quite how they got into my garden, but late spring and early summer would not feel complete for me at this point without my parking strip full of California poppies. I mention them a lot because they just make me so dang happy. The bees agree on this one too – this time it’s a bumblebee.

Bee on California poppy

We just watched the latest Mike Leigh film on DVD, “Happy-Go-Lucky.” I thought it would maybe be annoying, as his work sometimes can be, but it was one of the better movies I’ve seen in a while (click here to see the trailer). A very nuanced take on the daily life of someone who either by nature or choice is just a truly compassionate, funny, joyful person. Her name – oh, did you need to ask? Poppy!


Buzzing February 23, 2009

Filed under: fauna,garden shows — greenwalks @ 8:48 pm
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In these times of economic woe and gloom, many small businesses are taking a hit along with the big guys. I worry that a lot of the smaller gardening-related outfits are going to be struggling soon if they aren’t already. So it was with great delight that I saw this one booth at the NW Flower & Garden Show, The Beez Neez Apiary Supply, veritably buzzzzzzzing with customers. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Jim and Rachel of Snohomish, WA are professional beekeepers and have everything you need to start keeping bees. They seemed to be having a great time at the show, happily fielding questions from wannabee (oh, sorry again!) apiarists and selling their wares.

Mason bee folks

City and suburb dwellers often feel most comfortable beginning with Mason bees, aka Osmia lignaria , who do not live in hives and are generally non-stinging. They help with pollination and are relatively easy to care for. My folks have a bunch at their place, to help with the apple orchard and berry patches. You can buy a cute little house like this:

Mason bee house

to attach to a tree in or near your garden. The bees fill the holes with mud and go about their solitary ways. It’s kind of like a little bee condo, or maybe a monestary dorm.  Or you can make your own bee house, if you are handy with drills and such. Here’s one plan from the National Wildlife Federation site. Here’s another one that uses mostly stuff you have around the house (except for maybe “bee straws,” which you can probably order from Jim and Rachel).

At first I thought someone had the nutty idea of putting bee sounds on a CD, maybe as a relaxation aid. Actually, I think that would be pretty cool. But it turned out to be a DVD instead, “All About Mason Bees,” by Dr. Margriet Dogterom, who is kind of the Queen Bee (agh! again with the bad bee jokes!) of the whole mason bee thing.

Mason Bee DVDs

She is often at the Garden Show representing her company, Beediverse,but I didn’t see her this time. Maybe she was just off touring the show gardens, flitting from flower to flower… okay, I’ll stop.

Have any of you tried your hand at beekeeping, or with opening up a guest house for Mason bees in particular?


Purple Monarda August 25, 2008

I’ve never had huge success growing Monarda didyma (Bee balm/bergamot), due to powdery mildew, so I stopped trying for a few years. It comes in a nice variety of colors, from bright red to purple to hot pink to white, and attracts both bees and butterflies, so it seems like a worthy plant if your conditions favor it. My mom grew this interesting dusky mauve color from seed this year so I took her leftovers. So far it seems to be doing okay, and maybe if I get around to dead-heading it, it will continue to bloom into the fall. (The rust spots in the photo are on weedy aster leaves, not the monarda.)

Purple Monarda

This member of the mint family has a strong, distinctive scent and flavor that has been used medicinally by Native American peoples and herbalists. For recipes, click here. You can also harvest young leaves and use them as you would basil, in egg dishes and salads.

(A previous version of this post erroneously mentioned that the Monarda bergamot provides the flavor for Earl Grey tea. I’m sorry for the incorrect information – it’s actually an oil that is derived from the bergamot orange, Citrus aurantium spp. bergamia. The tea made from Monarda is sometimes called Oswego Tea. My mistake!)


Our friends the bees August 11, 2008

Filed under: gardening,my garden — greenwalks @ 11:52 pm
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Every time I feel like a water pig, out there with the hose trying to keep my parking strip plants going through the driest part of the summer (i.e. right now), I try to remind myself that having flowers instead of grass is a happy thing for the bees. With all the reports of “hive collapse” and an article in today’s Seattle Times about how to attract bees to the garden, it got me thinking about which flowers seem to keep those critters buzzing the loudest.

The English lavender that is everywhere at our place is a big one in the early summer when it’s in blossom (see Prima Post photo for bee action shot). They also love the purple-blue flowers of rosemary, which tend to be out in late spring – early summer. Later in the season, sunflowers and calendulas are big attractors. They also love the California poppies that many folks consider to be weeds but that I use as a volunteer space filler in early spring until I’m ready to put in more annuals and other stuff.

Apparently they prefer yellow, orange, white and purple flowers, leaving the bright red ones to hummingbirds. I’ve seen them on our coreopsis, blanket flower, and sage flowers, all either orange or purple, so that seems to fit. We don’t have a lot of white flowers except erigeron (i.e. fleabane, great easy-care low-growing perennial), but they do love that:
Erigeron with bee III
So, do your part to avert the global disaster that would befall us if the bees were no more – plant some stuff they like! UC Berkeley has a great list here of plants for an urban bee garden.