All the Buzz for Helping Mother Nature
by Paula Steers Brown, Contributing Writer
I recall many times when sound has
enhanced the sensory experience of a garden. The fast flutter of a
hummingbird’s wings as it hovered near its big breakfast of hibiscus
nectar, the rustle of giant reed grass playing like pipes when the wind
stirred it, and the harmonies of birds and church bells all stand out in my
mind as enchanting.
But the best music of all came as a
prelude to a wedding. It was a chorus of bees around rows of magnificent
African Blue Basil that lined the path the bride would take to the altar, a
path that meandered through the garden of her family’s herb farm.
To some, the thought of bees en masse is
frightening, and that day I was surprised to realize that the loud volume of
the symphony I heard was caused by such large numbers of bees. However, when
I saw how little attention they paid us humans all dressed up and sitting in
their space, and how peacefully the family of herb farmers coexisted with
these busy workers (so crucial to their livelihood), I settled in
comfortably, reassured by this admirable example of a benevolent reciprocity
between mankind and nature.
Of course, if you have allergies to bee
stings, read ahead only to learn what plants to avoid. If, however, you are
aware of the essential role bees play in the environment, and you’re
interested in helping to foster their welfare, consider planting a
In the last two years, scientists have
sent up an SOS because of the loss of honeybees. Known as “Colony Collapse
Disorder,” this bee crisis has had a real impact on agriculture and could
be even more devastating. The pollination work of bees is vital to providing
our food. Researchers are looking into possible bee-loss causes ranging from
pesticide use to parasites and other stresses.
Honeybees are needed most by large-scale
agriculture, but the populations of all native bees are also of concern to
local farmers and orchardists operating on a small scale. Since many
consumers are now trying as much as possible to buy locally grown food,
planting a bee-friendly garden may help local farmers. Even a small
(10-by-10-foot) plot of bee-friendly plants can provide significant habitat.
As bees are able to pollinate these flowers, they enhance seed and fruit
production and often stimulate the plant to bloom more, benefitting you, the
gardener, in return.
In selecting plants that attract bees,
you should choose natives. They are hardier and are already adjusted to the
area without a need for fertilizers or pesticides, and they use less water.
The African Blue Basil I admired at the wedding is a handsome herb with a
neat mounding form that continues to look good after its bloom. Bees are
able to see the infrared spectrum so they tend to like blue plants, but do
not respond as much to white ones. They are drawn to the ornamental lavender
blue shrub vitex that blooms in summer. Other plants that attract bees
include hollyhocks, asters, purple coneflower, Russian sage, salvia, thyme,
mint, lavender, chives, strawberries, black-eyed Susans, sunflowers, cosmos,
and, of course, monarda, commonly known as bee balm.
Many environmentally conscious groups
are doing their part to promote interest in bees. A project that is underway
nationally is called “The Great Sunflower Project.” You can visit the
Web site at www.greatsunflower.org to receive seeds for native sunflowers
and a kit that explains how to track bees in the garden. Citizen-scientists
can then submit the data they have collected to the group research effort.
Most bees are solitary and are generally so busy collecting nectar and
pollen that they tolerate the humans observing them. Bee communication is
through movement, so you may enjoy watching their dances as they communicate
to other colony members your particular goldmine of pollen.
Bees need sources of water and some,
such as blue orchard bees and mason bees, use mud as a building material for
nests, so remember to have water near your garden. Some types of bees need
bare patches of ground for their underground nests, so a perfect lawn is not
to every bee’s taste.
If you don’t mind leaving a dead limb
on a tree now and then, some bee varieties would appreciate that material
for nesting. If you are a neat freak, though, and cannot bring yourself to
leave bare patches or dead limbs, you might consider buying a bee house. At
the very least, an old-fashioned woven bee skep would make a charming
ornamental feature in your garden.
Visit The Great Sunflower Project at www.greatsunflower.org
for free sunflower seeds and more info on how you can help.