Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wildflower Wednesday: Pollinators Need Our Help

Today I am going to "preach to the choir. " I know that you know that many pollinators, especially honeybees and our native bumblebees, are in sharp decline.  I know you are concerned because so many of you post information on your own blogs on this subject. And if you have stopped by after visiting Gail's Wildflower Wednesday post, you already are concerned about helping the pollinators.  So I'm not going to bore you today with things you might already know, but I might have some encouraging news.

Several weeks ago I attended a panel discussion on  helping the pollinators sponsored by three area organizations and held in the County Extension auditorium.  I signed up to attend as soon as I found out about this forum, not only because of the topic, but because I really wanted to hear two of the speakers.

Echinacea Purpurea is a favorite attraction for all kinds of pollinators in my garden.

This was the first time I've had the chance to attend any kind of talk given by Dr. May Berenbaum, the head of the Entomology Department here at the University of Illinois.  Dr. Berenbaum is somewhat of a local celebrity, having started the Insect Fear Film Festival at the U of I over 30 years ago.  The film festival has received national publicity, and I just noticed the 2015 festival will be held this weekend, so stop in for some fun if you're in the area!  Dr. Berenbaum has also received a host of other more dignified academic awards, including the National Medal of Science, which she received in a White House ceremony in November.

If you read Dr. Berenbaum's history of the Insect Fear Film Festival (and it's worth reading), you can tell she is not some stuffy academician.  She is passionate about insects and sharing that passion with the public.  In the 20 minutes or so allotted to her, she gave the audience a wealth of information about the importance of pollinators, including the fact that they are worth about $20 billion to U.S. agriculture.  I learned that while the majority of pollinators are insects, 1 in 100 are vertebrates like birds, bats, and even a few lizards.

Tiny Syrphid flies, also called hoverflies, are important pollinators, too.

While the numbers of some pollinators like honeybees has declined dramatically all over the world in recent years, the interest in this topic is at an all-time high.  So the good news is that more and more people want to help!  Dr. Berenbaum ended her talk by offering some suggestions for all of us such as diversifying our landscapes, avoiding pesticides, and becoming a Bee Spotter.

Native Beebalm, also know as Monarda or Wild Bergamot

The next speaker was someone I was particularly interested in hearing, too, not because he is any kind of a celebrity, but because he is a friend of my family.  A local beekeeper continuing his family's tradition, Rev. Emil discussed the problems in managing beehives and reported that on his last inspection of his hives, there was only a 17% survival rate.  That is a pretty depressing outlook, and I was a little disappointed that he never explained the cause of losses in the hives in recent years.  Perhaps he doesn't know himself, and perhaps it is due to a combination of factors.  However, he did remark that “I haven’t learned yet how to herd bees—bees go where they want to go.”  That drew some chuckles from the audience, but it also highlighted a serious problem for managed bees as well as bees in the wild--nearby fields and lawns sprayed with pesticides.

A familiar sign to Portland Flingers--from Chickadee Gardens--an important reminder to helping the bees!

A representative from Pheasants Forever was also on the panel.  I have to be honest--I knew nothing about this organization beforehand and always assumed from the name that it was some kind of hunting group.  But quite the opposite is true--it's a group dedicated to conserving pheasants and other wildlife through habitat improvement.

A swath of yellow natives--and a wildflower corridor for bees--at a local prairie restoration area.

The speaker also happened to be a Farm Bill Biologist working in several area counties, and in that role he presented what I thought was one of the most encouraging bits of news of the afternoon.  The 2008 Farm Bill calls for more pollinator habitats and specifically is encouraging farmers to turn land not in production or unproductive land into corridors where bees and other pollinating insects can thrive.  Farmers who sign up to participate can receive wildflower seed and even some financial compensation.  This seems like such a great idea, and I hope it is successful.

The final speaker of the afternoon was our own Extension Horticulture Educator Sandy, who offered suggestions for home gardeners on how to create a pollinator-friendly landscape, including plant recommendations and allowing so-called "weeds" in the lawn like violets and white clover to grow because they are important food sources for many pollinators.

Some non-native plants are food sources for pollinators, too.  They prefer single-petaled flowers, like this cosmos, to double-petaled flowers.

 Most of Sandy's recommendations are well-known to those who garden for wildlife and pollinators, so I won't repeat them all here.  But for anyone in the audience who might not know where to start on creating a garden, she recommended a brochure from the Extension, "Plant a Pollinator Pocket."  The pamphlet includes sample designs for a small garden and makes it easy for anyone to get started--you can even download it from the Extension website here, if you wish.

Don't forget late-blooming plants like asters and goldenrods to provide nourishment in the fall.

Although the plight of many pollinators is still in peril, what was so encouraging about this whole forum was that so many people were interested in the topic. There was a standing-room-only crowd in the Extension Auditorium--more than 150 people on a chilly January afternoon.  And these were not necessarily gardeners:  I spotted some familiar Master Gardener faces and some Master Naturalists, but there were just as many farmers and other interested community members as well.  If each one of these takes some action to create a more pollinator-friendly environment on their own property, and then by their own example encourages others to do the same, think of the impact!  

For more ideas on helping the pollinators and different native plants to grow, check out other Wildflower Wednesday posts at Clay and Limestone.  A big thank-you to Gail for being one of the first to inspire me to create a more pollinator-friendly garden and a very Happy 5th WW Anniversary!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

GGBD and GBBC: Blooms and Birds

Welcome to a very cold Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day here in the heart of the Midwest.  The thermometer said 9 degrees when I woke up this morning, but the windchill was minus 2.  At least we don't have the 30-mph winds we had yesterday, or it would be even colder!  Yesterday I went to my grandson's basketball game--if you can call what second-graders play on the court basketball:)--and the wind swept right through my heavy coat and sent a chill through every bone in my body.

Needless to say, there is no gardening outdoors right now.  I took this photo of the arbor bed a week ago, but since that time most of the snow, other than a few patches here and there, has melted. Compared to last year, we haven't had much snow at all this year, which in some ways is good, but I worry what the fluctuating temperatures this winter might have done to many of the plants without the benefit of snow as insulation.  As you can see, there will be lots to do in the garden once warmer weather arrives.

Although nothing is blooming outside, I finally have a few indoor blooms to share:

Ta-da!  Two of the amaryllis I showed just barely growing last month have bloomed!

I don't remember the names of either of these, because I've had them for a few years.  But considering none of the them bloomed at all last year, I'm just as happy to have nameless blooms.  The third amaryllis has done next to nothing, but two out of three isn't bad.

There are also two new additions indoors:

After admiring orchids on so many blogs for several years, I finally broke down and bought this
Phalaenopsis a few weeks ago while spending the day in Indianapolis with friend Beckie.  I found it at a big box store there much cheaper than I have seen them anywhere around here.

In fact, I was so taken with it that when I found this miniature one, I had to have it, too.  Isn't it cute? We visited several garden centers that day; to my surprise, we weren't the only people crazy enough to be thinking about gardening in late January.

This weekend is also the Great Backyard Bird Count, and I was hoping for some snow cover to bring more of the birds to the feeders where I could spot them more easily.  Despite the lack of snow, we have had quite a few different birds visiting outside my window this past week.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker has been a much more frequent visitor than in past years.

The suet feeder has been attracting all kinds of birds, including throngs of sparrows and even, to my dismay, starlings. I am terrible about identifying the "brown" birds--I think these might be goldfinches in their drab winter plumage, but I'm not sure.  Whatever they are, the Downy-headed Woodpecker doesn't look too happy about sharing with them, does he?

The white-breasted nuthatch likes to hang around here, too, though a little out of focus.

A frequent visitor lately has been the Tufted Titmouse.

He enjoys the suet block, too.

But he also enjoys the window feeder and is one bird who is brave enough to ignore whatever lurks on the other side of the window.  Sasha finds him very appealing:)

Unfortunately, someone else is brave enough to use this feeder, too.  I've had trouble keeping this feeder attached to the window lately . . . I wonder why.

The Great Backyard Bird Count runs through tomorrow, Feb. 16, so you still have time to participate.

For more blooms across the country and world, stop by Carol's at May Dreams Gardens where GBBD is going on its ninth year!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Book Review Club: Three Books for Gardeners

It's time for another meeting of the Book Review Club, and this month I'm going to depart from the novels I usually write about.  Instead, I am thinking of the gardeners like myself who are tired of looking at gardens of brown mush or those piled high with snowdrifts.  We may not be able to play in the dirt right now, but we can dream about the spring days ahead.  If you are planning to make some changes in your garden this coming season, here are three books to help you get started:

The 20-30 Something Garden Guide by my blogging friend Dee Nash is the perfect book for a beginning gardener.  Designed for a novice with little time to garden, the book covers a multitude of topics from starting seeds indoors to composting to building garden paths.

Dee recommends starting small with container gardens then shows how to build and use raised beds, and finally how to design a larger garden.  Although she focuses primarily on edible plants early in the book, she also includes later sections on ornamentals, especially ones that delight the senses and attract pollinators, and even how to add some artistic touches to the garden.

Here is what I especially like about this book:
  •  Concise but thorough explanations of a variety of topics--all you really need to get started gardening!
  •  When I pick up a gardening book, I don't want to read a novel.   Besides full-color photos on nearly every page, colorful graphics with lots of headings make it easy to quickly find what you want to read about.  You could learn about the difference--and advantages/disadvantages--of hybrids vs. heirloom plants while brewing your morning cup of coffee, for example.
  •  Dee's encouraging tone: "No one is born with a brown thumb, or a green one for that matter.  Gardening is a skill learned by trial and error."  She remembers what it was like to be a busy professional raising small children and focuses on what a young gardener can do in a short amount of time.
That's Dee exploring the garden at Floramagoria in Portland, Oregon, this summer.

I waited to purchase this book until this past summer, knowing I would see Dee at the Garden Bloggers' Fling in Portland and could ask her to sign it.  I fully intended to give it to my daughter, but I think this signed copy may stay in my collection instead.  When my 20-30 something daughters finally get the gardening bug, I will buy them another copy. Here's a little secret: you don't have to be in your 20's or 30's to find this book helpful--I certainly wish I had had it when I started gardening in earnest in my 50's!

Are you tired of mowing that strip of lawn between the sidewalk and the street?  Or maybe pulling weeds from this area all the time?  If so, then Hellstrip Gardening is the book you need for turning this neglected spot, commonly known as a hellstrip, into a lovely garden that welcomes visitors and makes passersby slow down and take notice.

Author Evelyn Hadden explains that curbside plantings are more than just a way of increasing your garden space--though there's nothing wrong with that--or showing off your gardening skills.  They are important, too, to everyone who views them, even as they drive by.  "Natural scenes, even minutely glimpsed in passing, distract us from worry and interrupt negative psychological cycles."

The book includes everything you need to get started from soil preparation to choosing the most suitable plants to dealing with the challenges unique to these areas like foot traffic, animals,  homeowners' association rules, and piles of snow left by snowplows (a big concern here in the Midwest).  Every chapter is filled with colorful photos to inspire you and give you ideas to copy in your own planting.

I had the opportunity of meeting Evelyn in person at the Portland Fling
while touring Timber Press.  I wish I had had my copy of her book with me for her to sign then!
I won a copy of Hellstrip Gardening through a giveaway last summer on the blog Commonweeder--thanks, Pat!  I must admit I felt a little guilty at the time, because living in the country, I don't even have a hellstrip.  I thought about passing it along to someone living in the city or suburbs who would be more likely to use it, until I started reading the book and realized there are ideas and inspiration here for many areas besides the curbside.  I have a small area I call my roadside garden, which even though it isn't right next to the road, is visible to passersby and definitely could use some sprucing up, as well as some other problem areas that would benefit from Evelyn's suggestions. Besides the inspiration, there is a glossary of tough plants, complete with photos, that is a great reference for choosing new plants.  My copy of Hellstrip Gardening is going on my book shelf after all, where I know I will be consulting it often.

For anyone who wants to encourage more pollinators to their garden, Taming Wildflowers by Miriam Goldberger is just the book for you. Goldberger, who with her husband operates Wildflower Farm in Canada, explains in the introduction how her love affair with wildflowers began and later goes on to explain their importance.   "Wildflowers are without exaggeration, the unsung heroes of the planet; they are a powerful force that truly sustains a complex web of interdependent creatures."

This is a beautifully illustrated book that you could enjoy just thumbing through for the visual delight of the photos alone.  (Can you tell that pictures in a gardening book are important to me?)  But the information in the book will draw you in as well: everything from "making babies"--starting wildflowers from seeds and how to transplant them in the garden--to designing with wildflowers, including how to create arrangements and bouquets for a wildflower wedding.

One of my favorite natives, the purple coneflower, is not only pretty and easy to care for,
 but is sure to attract all sorts of pollinators.

The book describes 60 of Goldberger's favorite wildflowers and native grasses, organized by bloom time, especially helpful for planning a garden through the seasons for pollinators.  One chapter is also devoted to her favorite non-native "must-haves."  I was happy to see one of my personal favorites in this list--zinnias, which always attract the butterflies in my garden late in the summer.

Each plant is described with the usual info about height, light requirement, bloom time, etc. But here is the exciting part--besides a colorful photo of each native in bloom, there is a photo of the seedling of this plant.  Do you know how long I have searched for something like this?? I know that I have often dug up wildflowers I planted the year before, just because I mistakenly thought they were weeds.  Taming Wildflowers isn't going to just sit on my nightstand--it is going out to the garden with me this spring!

If I had gotten my act together in time, I would have posted this for the December meeting, because any one of these books would make a great Christmas gift for the gardener on your list.  However, it's not too early to start thinking of next Christmas--or, even better, treat yourself  with one or all of these helpful books!

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

Disclaimer:  As usual, I have received no compensation of any kind for these reviews.  And even though I met two of the authors, I was not coerced, nudged, or even hinted to in any way about reviewing their books.  If they weren't all great gardening books, I wouldn't be reviewing them!