Tag Archives: beauty bush

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Building a Garden for Native Pollinators

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Wool carder bee collecting a ball of plant fibers from a white campion.

As I continue to landscape small areas around the house and barn, I’ve increasingly included places for vegetables, and vegetables, of course, require pollinators. Last year we opened up a grassy hillside to tomato production and I realized how few flowers I had in the area to attract bees. Up by the patio, we are flush with penstemon, viburnum, asters, iris, and an enormous Kolkwitzia amabilis (beauty bush) lush with pink flowers in May. We enjoy visits from all manner of pollinators, from several kinds of bumblebees to mason bees, wool carder bees, wasps, and an assortment of flies, some of which mimic the bees. However, the vegetable garden has always been traditionally that – vegetables.

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Kolkwitzia flowers are much-liked by bumblebees.

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Sequestering vegetables from the more floral elements of the landscape denies them the benefits of the various pollinators available to us. Furthermore, living on a mostly wooded island, we seldom see honeybees and are dependent upon native bees and flies for pollination.

Calendula, peas, and grape vines combine on one trellis.
Calendula, peas, and grape vines combine on one trellis.

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Intent on bringing the show down to the tomatoes and the vegetable garden behind the barn, I’ve begun to plant strips of flowers and herbs. I started with weedy oregano, which grows anywhere, spreads voraciously, and produces clumps of tiny white flowers irresistable to bees and flies. Calendula is another easily-grown plant enjoyed by pollinators, as is the ubiquitous California poppy, which I’ve noticed is favored by yellow-faced bumblebees. I also favor tall purple mallow, daylily, and fox glove for ease of growth. Certainly there are many other less weedy species to consider, but my soil conditions often dictate what I can grow without too much amendment. Catmint, asters, and zinnias are other less rangy choices. I also love my exotic-looking Erigeron yuccifolia (sea holly) which produces little balls of white flowers on tall stalks, and seems to attract the smaller bees and flies.

The Xerces Society website provides lots of information on planting for pollinators, and has a site for submitting photos of bees for identification and mapping. Having once thought that bumblebee referred to a single species, I am now pleasantly surprised at the sheer number of species and have taken to noting which plants attract what species.

A lush perennial garden attracts several species of bumblebees as well as mason bees, wool carder bees, wasps, and other native pollinators such as flies and small beetles.  Cat mint with purple flowers is in the foreground.
A lush perennial garden attracts several species of bumblebees as well as mason bees, wool carder bees, wasps, and other native pollinators such as flies and small beetles. Cat mint with purple flowers is in the foreground.

I’ve even applied my rudimentary carpentry skills to the construction of a mason bee nest from 2x4s. It looks a bit like Trump Tower for bees.

Mason bee nest structure made of 2x4s. Mud plugs show where bees have built nests.
Mason bee nest structure made of 2x4s. Mud plugs show where bees have built nests.

Plant a few fuzzy plants such as Lamb’s ears and campion to bring in the wool carder bees, whose dutiful collection of plant hairs to form little cotton balls for nesting are far more entertaining than most reality tv shows.

 

 

Plant selections that work for tough areas

I live on a pile of glacial till that was scraped from northern Canada and ingloriously deposited here during the Pleistocene glaciation that shaped Puget Sound. Some areas are gravelly/sand topped with rich forest loam, but much of the property is heavy clay loam or even pure clay. I’ve no lush Puyallup Valley riverine loess here, just clay and clay and more clay.
But the pity party is over: In the developed areas around the buildings, I’ve been diligently working to renew the soil through mulching with mushroom compost and decomposed horse manure where I can afford it. I buy soil and create piles where the soil is too compacted to manage, and I just mow the rest.

I’ve killed a lot of plants, many of which I bought on the cheap as is my custom. Here are a few that have stuck with me for the duration and the places where they’ve survived:

Beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) - grows in full sun on a mound of heavy clay soil with little amendment

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Weigela, before its show of tubular pink flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’) – grows in full sun on sandy loam mixed with some decent topsoil. Slow growing but appears healthy.

Hamamelis x intermedia glows a deep orange.
Hamamelis x intermedia glows a deep orange.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double-file Viburnum (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’) – grows in full sun on a mound of heavy clay soil with little amendment. Gorgeous plant that has grown to over 6 ft from a one gallon pot in four years.

Dble file Viburnum
Double-file viburnum, so-named for its two rows of brilliant white flowers

 

 

 

 

 
Penstemon sp.  – I’ve lost track of which species I now posess, although Penstemon  ‘Blue Midnight’ is among them. They have all done very well in full sun/clay soil with one achieving a height of three feet.

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Butterflies and hummingbirds love penstemon

 

 

 

 

 
Blue holly (Ilex meserveae) - full sun and heavy clay soil right next to the Weigela. Slow growing and still wider than tall but a survivor with about zero maintenance. And the deer won’t touch it.

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Blue holly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day lilies (Hemerocallis sp.) – a rather common looking sister with yellow flowers that I inherited from my mother. Give it sun and it will grow anywhere. Without sun, it will survive in a grass – like state but not bloom. Get large fast and easily transplanted.

Highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus)  – needs damp, organic soils and absolutely loves nurse logs/stumps.
The viburnum in front of the barn has done spectacularly with full sun and a cedar stump for a base. In shade or hard, rocky soils that dry out in summer, it survives but grows so slowly as to be nearly unnoticeable. I’ve some that have remained the same height for three years.

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High bush cranberry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) - grows anywhere with a bit of sun. Invasive in my garden, it freely reseeds. I am actually trying to find places where it won’t grow.
Situationally dependent -
Thyme
Rosemary
Lavender

These things appear to detest rich soils even if the sunlight is good. The thymes thrive for one year, then die the next, while the rosemary and lavender languish with half of their branches bare. My amendments may have to include more rock and sand than organics.

 

What not to put in a damp, shady area with clay soils:
Iris
Brunnera
Monkey flower (Mimulus sp.)
Rogersia

These have all been complete and utter failures in the ditch that was hoping to transform into a water garden. It was dug down to the clay level, and the banks are sodden in winter. None of these plants lasted a season. Even the red osier dogwood has declined to grow more than an inch or so in the three years after placement on a damp bank.
I’m considering a load of gravel topped with an organic soil.