A Time to Save the Pollinators – One Garden at a Time
Minnesota master gardener lays out the scientific approach to a pollinator friendly garden
—Courtesy of www.quartoknows.com
Rhonda Fleming Hayes has prepared a call to action of sorts in her newly published Pollinator Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies, and Other Pollinators (Voyageur Press, January 2015). The title, friendly enough, doesn’t give way to the fire of her proposals and immediacy of her step-by-step inside. This is Hayes’s version of a shake, a wake-up call, not a pontification of gardening principles. This is Hayes as sidewalk evangelist—urging gardeners to take on her message, plant pollinator friendly blooms, and take the message to neighbour after neighbour after neighbour. “The hope of Pollinator Friendly Gardening is that one pollinator garden begets another and another until there are hundreds of them, conceivably thousands,” she says.
Hayes took her garden from patches of pollinator-friendly spaces to a holistic approach in the year 2000—her garden (and her guide) serves as a laboratory of sorts… experimenting with food, shelter, and water sources for our major pollinators: bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. Her garden has life—it buzzes, it blooms, it beats. It so often stops passersby in their tracks—anxious to know why her garden “looks different, smells different, seems different.” So often, it’s hard to place the source—but look closely or listen carefully and the buzzing of creatures and beating of wings marks the tipping point to extraordinary.
Pollinator Friendly Gardening embraces the idea that healthy, productive gardens shouldn’t be bug-free but rather have lots and lots of creatures performing countless helpful tasks for free. Using a top-down approach to design—Hayes provides a plant list that reads like a greatest hits in support of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Her own garden is a season-long buffet of overlapping blooms—hedges, thickets, flowering groundcover, understory trees and stately trees, mixed with brightly coloured perennials with places to feed, hide, rest, and drink. Every stage of the life-cycle is considered—the total landscape is embraced. But, she understands well that the evangelistic approach to pollinator gardening can be noted as eccentric in neighbourhood circles; the “natural look” doesn’t fit the manicured one tree, three plant foundation that blankets North American suburbia. Hayes has a plan for that. “People say they like natural—just not too natural. Neat and orderly is how they really like their natural,” she laughs.
Pollinator Friendly Gardening recommends a designed garden pulling from a minimum of three consistent blooms per season, grown in drifts in groups of odd numbers. “Keep your palette simple to avoid a chaotic look,” she says.
Hayes uses science, not anecdotal evidence to hone a list of must haves for gardeners seeking to make the switch from unfriendly to friendly gardens.
- Butterflies have bad eyesight—they favour brightly coloured flowers like reds and purples and prefer flowers with flat landing pads that make it easy to nectar.
- Hummingbird tongues are small and forked. Rather than suck nectar—they lap it up. No sense of smell. Common knowledge they like bright but they also like white. They prefer a flower with a sturdy perch.
- Bees have a keen sense of smell—they prefer mild, sweet fragrances in flowers. Most attracted to blue, yellow, and bright white flowers.
A long list of native plants, trees, and herbs are categorized by pollinator. These are not low maintenance landscapes—it requires effort, but Hayes looks back to a time when seasonal blooms were the norm and lovingly maintained. The lowest common denominator landscapes filled with imported foliage or “plant material” do nothing to feed and shelter our crisis-facing pollinators. The hum and beat of Hayes’ thriving landscape is in stark contrast. A secret: ignore the spacing rules on plant tags. Many perennials, ornamental grasses, and ground covers can be divided and replanted to increase the quantity of plants within an area over time. Vast lawns do little to provide shelter and food—Rhonda recommends dicing it up into sections with drifts and native grasses (a wonderful hiding spot).
Pollinator Friendly Gardening is about going the extra mile and being mindful of the wonderful benefit of pollinators. Providing a home and food for super pollinators will breathe new life into a garden—what once was stagnant and silent will be ablaze with activity. Hayes urges gardeners to join the fight—to serve as gardening activist in the battle to save the creatures that hold an entire ecosystem in balance.
Rhonda Fleming Hayes is an award-winning writer and photographer applying her passion for all things plant-related with wit and solid research-based advice. She is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She contributes unique feature stories to Northern Gardener magazine as well as her popular “Kitchen Garden” column. She has also been published in Mother Earth Living, The Herbalist, Wichita Eagle, Savannah Magazine, and many online sites. Rhonda gardens in Minneapolis in an urban neighbourhood surrounded by woods and water. The abundant quarter-acre is home to many bees, butterflies, birds, and beneficial insects. She loves to share the fruits (and veggies, too) of her garden with friends, family, and wildlife. For more information and/or to purchase this book, check your local and online bookstores, or visit www.quartoknows.com or call (612) 344-8100.