08 March 2008
Pollinating our future, part 1
Every single day, I learn something new about gardening, about plants and birds and other myriad creatures, by reading through the scores of blogs that are among my favourites. One of the people I hold in highest esteem in the garden-blogging world is Wild Flora, of Wild Gardening. Flora is a passionate promoter of wildlife-friendly gardens and native plants. She is gently passionate, getting her message across about these things without being strident or didactic. We talk regularly and I read and reread her blog postings faithfully, and we even met, last spring (she also lives in Nova Scotia) and traded native plants. I brought her red trillium (Trillium erectum) and Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum communtatum) from our garden, and she brought me wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) which is a true bee and hummingbird magnet.
Over the past few months, we’ve talked back and forth about a variety of subjects, including pollinators, particularly bees. Even before the fuss began last year about Colony Collapse Disorder, we were both thinking a lot about native bees. Honeybees are not native to North America, and while they’re incredibly important for pollinating a huge number of food crops (and other plants), native bees and other pollinators also perform these important tasks.
Wild Flora put me on to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, where I happily began learning more—but also learning things that alarmed me, about the decline in native pollinators from a host of reasons. Habitat destruction, excessive use of pesticides, possible disease from introduced bumble bee species…while some research has been done, there’s lots more to learn.
Ours is a very bee-friendly property. I’ve always gleefully welcomed the sight of honeybees from a local beekeeper’s boxes, bouncing from flower to flower, but what I love best are the fat, fuzzy, happy-sounding bumble bees. I’ve been stung exactly once in nine years here, and that’s because I walked on one in the clover—and felt very sad for it. Not being allergic to bees or other hymenopterans (order Hymenoptera includes bees, wasps, sawflies and ants), I don’t work in fear in the garden, and I’m quite inclined to follow bees around with my camera, trying to get good photos of them as they go about their business.
By accident last summer, I took several photos of one of the bees that is in decline—the yellow-banded bumble bee, Bombus terricola. I didn’t know what species it was at the time, I just like bees. Earlier this winter Sarina of Xerces confirmed the identification after Flora and I puzzled over it. I was delighted, but also became more determined to do what I can to promote awareness of the plight of native bees, and do what I can to help them.
I’m not an absolutist in most things. I’m a mostly organic gardener (about 99 44/100 %) and use a mixture of native and hybrid plants. Our property is a Monarch Waystation, we feed the birds, don’t spray chemicals (even organic ones), and I encourage plants that are good for all kinds of pollinators. Like nettles, and goldenrod, thistles and even dandelions. Our ‘lawn’ is full of clover and dandelions, and every time I watch a pollen-laden bee rise from a clover blossom or a dandelion flower, I smile.
So while you’ll see a host of cool hybrids here at Sunflower Hill, you’ll also see other plants that won’t grace the front cover of too many glossy gardening magazines. But that’s okay. I hear our happy bees, and like Yeats in his bee-loud glade, I find peace, ‘dropping slow’ on me with a sound of hope. This is just one garden. But there are many who share these concerns, and do what we can to help.