Tag Archives: garden

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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.

 

 

Forever and a Day

Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical GardenThe Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden: a landscape like this can take a lifetime to grow

Gardens take a long, long time to establish. A year and a few months have shown me this valuable lesson. Somehow, I’d been led to believe that three years later, the trees and shrubs would be approaching full size, groundcovers would sprawl verdantly about the landscape, and everything would be well on its way to looking like the landscapes in my favorite parks and gardens.

How wrong I was. Somehow, the jarring realization that it decades to achieve mature garden status had not occurred to me until sometime earlier this year when seeing that one year had passed with only mere inches of growth achieved led me to recognize the obvious. I suppose that I’d been too focused on the plants to see the garden, so to speak.

The trees I’d planted – the peaches, the pawpaws, the redbud, the Kousa dogwood, the katsuras, maples, cedars and crab apples – take a decade or more to reach a mature size sufficient to dominant or fill in a landscape. So I do the math, and realize that at 43, I’ll be at least 53 before things look they way that I wish. In the meantime, I’ll be finding ways to fill the spaces between the long-lived plants that will someday expand into one another to form the green jungle that I had envisioned. 

The unfortunate thing about this is that unlike many of my generation and those previous, I have lived a comparatively rootless life with no more than three years in any one place. I have initiated many gardens, but seen none to fruition.  Now, choosing to settle for at least a few more years than usual, I see the time that I spend moving as having been frittered away from a gardening perspective. Nor can I easily return to the sold houses or torn down rentals to review the progress of my plantings.

Beyond the daunting linearity of garden time are the broader dimensions of spatial distribution. Like old friends or lovers, garden elements grow together with time, shaping each other, relying on another, building shade for some, creating soil for others. Dependencies develop, and relationships change as plants grow and senesce. How did I miss this? How did I mistake the photos for a singular finality? I feel as though I’ve missed out on a long-term marriage. Some things in life do take time, and are worth more so for the effort.

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Yet, here I am, and my obsession with gardening is still strong and so I continue my efforts to design and landscape my own territory so that perhaps in 20 years, when I am a respectible yet spry 63, I can enjoy at least a semi-mature garden. If I can keep the deer at bay….but that will be the subject of another post.

The Barn Landscape Project: A Story in Photos

During the months of my silence, I have been building my new businsess, Belle Terra Landscape Design LLC www.belleterradesign.com , and working slowly but steadily upon my most recent project, the well-abused landscape that surrounds what was once my old horse barn. This is the first sight that greets visitors, not the main house. As a barn with surrounding horse corral, it wasn’t bad. After that, my father removed the fencing and added a few civilizing touches – a sidewalk and brick-and-lattice entryway, flowers along the foundation, and a tiered basalt planter on the left (south) side that held up a bank that was once a manure dump. The rest took care of itself to create a snarl of grass and weeds.  In the first photo, the front side is being used as a wood pile.

The full effort took about 8 months, and some $500 worth of plants, fine gravel for a path, basalt rock for the retaining wall, newspaper for mulch, and shredded bark topdressing (which I later got for free from the local tree grinding service working on county roads). Topsoil, goat manure, and large landscape rock was free, as was the excavator work to remove a large Douglas fir stump.  Deer and goat damage was an external cost which, along with a plant list and specific planting techniques, I will cover in subsequent posts.  The result is a drought-tolerant perennial garden and shrub border comprised of native hardscape materials that compliment the rather rustic surroundings and give visitors some hope for what comes next. Not shown here is the nascent berry patch that I have started around the right (north) side of the barn as a tribute to my dedication to permaculture.  That too, will be fodder for subsequent posts.   For now, I can’t help but smile everytime I see the colorful flowers that now grow here!Barn summer 2009

 barn - front yard 2009

 stump excavation

 Douglas fir root massself-portrait with excavated stump

essential landscape tools

first plantings at the barn start of basalt retaining wall cement poolconstruction planting mounds

completed front perennial bed

completed basalt rock wall with bark mulchcompleted wall with plant bedhinoki cypress in shrub borderrowboat planterfront yard perennial garden