Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lucky Seedy

You know it's going to be a good event when notre petit chien steals the show comme d'habitude. Seedy Saturday was very busy this year. I came, I shopped, I chatted and I left before I was crushed by the crowds. They really need to hold it in a larger venue.

I ended up buying lots of seeds from Brother Nature, including edible Chrysanthemums, which is what Chinese Chrysanthemum tea is made from. It's a good tea to drink with dim sum. You can stir-fry the greens of edible Chrysanthemum too. According to

"This tea is slightly sweet and refreshing, with a cooling effect on the body. Chrysanthemum Tea is believed to improve cloudy vision and gradually reduces liver inflammation. It is frequently included in formulas for sinus congestion, fever, complexion problems, and high blood pressure. The infusion is a nearly fluoresent yellow with a fantastically light taste. Chrysanthemum teas are often served with meals and complement many main dishes."

The most gorgeous pussywillows ever. Don't you just want to own a coat made of these!

Viburnum blossoms.

You can buy fruit trees and mushrooms at Seedy Saturday too. The mushroom man had a linuep of people wanting to purchase his shroom kits. I ended up buying the Cerinthe major in the gift shop (Renee's Garden) because the Van Dusen honeywort seeds weren't available during Seedy Saturday. No comment on that one.

You know you want some!

(BTW, I see Brother Nature also has a bee garden mix you can buy on his website.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I Dream of Honeywort

Yes, I did really have a dream about Seedy Saturday. I dreamt I arrived and almost all the seeds were sold out. I was gutted! But there were two honeywort plants left and they were these big nobby pineapple-sized roots attached to succulent plants. I said, "Oh, it's honeywort, just what I was looking for..."and a man said "Use the Latin name, woman!" So I said "Cerinthe major or minor-- or whatever it is," and laughed. Then I tasted the plant and found it had a licorice flavor. C'est tres bizarre. I also dreamt the ponds at the gardens were polluted and brackish and saw a sole swimming in one of them. It was David Cronenburg directing, I tell you. Vivid.

Anyway, it's a plant in the borage family and I must have it for the bee garden. It was nicknamed the wax plant because people thought bees gathered wax from it. It's also waxy in appearance. I think it would be good to plant in the corners because of its protective attributes. I feel a deep connection to this plant which is odd, because I don't think I've ever seen one in my life.

"Because it is so favored by bees, a martial insect, it would be a good herb to use in works where you want to win over a hostile force or attract defensive hosts."

Essentially, what we are creating is a "bee refuge" here. We're focusing our energy and attention on providing a safe space for bees, both physically and metaphorically. As we save the seeds from this garden in the fall we can distribute them to people in Vancouver to create their own bee gardens, refuges, and sanctuaries in their neighborhoods.

Don't forget Seedy Saturday is this weekend at Van Dusen Gardens from 10 am to 4 pm and Brian Campbell is giving a talk on bee gardens.

To Be a Bee Garden

At the Bee Gardening workshop this past weekend, one of the participants made this looping symbol as a suggestion of how to link two paths and I really had a strong gut response to the power of the image. It strikes me as a symbol of security and protection, so as I prepare to make the bed ready for a bee garden, I put this symbol in the four corners of the bed to hem in the energy.

I did the same on the Means of Production monolith, which Oliver informed us really is one big chunk of stone. It is not concrete. All I can say is "Like wow Scooby, that's a big chunk of granite!"

Using chalk pastels, I drew figure eights on the entrances to the garden.

So from this angle you can see how close the garden is to the street. It's a bit of a fish bowl too, with all these apartments around it.

The yellow crocuses are about to open and provide pollen for the bees.

This is the view to the Northeast. We're at the top of a steep hill looking down on a very busy highway.

I like the way the shorter woven willow fence is echoing the corners of the bee garden. That feeling of containment feels very important to me. Someone suggested grape arbors, which led me to thinking about one of my favorite gardens in England which has these amazing scarlet runner bean arbors. That's do-able!

Here is the first part of the new commons gate Sharon Kallis has been working on with the volunteers.

The catkins are coming out of the harvested willow.

This is the dye bed, looking quiet and dormant, directly to the north of the soon to be bee garden. You can see a bit of the paper garden right behind the dye garden. I've ordered some seeds for flowers that are both good bee plants and dye plants such as Coreopsis tinctoria. I can't wait to get planting! Thanks to all who came out to the bee gardening workshop and gave us their input. I will be working with Jean Kindratsky and Brian Campbell to get this space growing. I'll also be looking for volunteers to foster some bee plants until they are ready to be transplanted into the garden. Stay tuned to this blog to find out more information about becoming a bee plant parent.

Hobo Bees

Today in class we made seed balls for bee habitat. We played a seed matching game, and then I talked about the symbolic language of hobos. I suggested we create a symbolic language for bees to signal danger or positive habitat for bees. (Both hobos and bees depend on "the kindness of strangers" to provide them with nutritious meals.) The students made signs to warn the bees of the danger of wasp nests, bears, pesticides, loud noises, unclean water, and traffic. They also made signs for clean air, clean water, hollow trees for shelter, and good pollen and nectar sources. We will eventually be making these marks on the sidewalks in the neighborhood as we evaluate sites from a bee's point of view.

After making the symbols we separated the seeds from the chaff of the corn flower and calendula heads that I gathered (with permission) last fall from UBC Farm. I talked bout how much I love the sculptural and textural qualities of seeds and I hoped the students would fall in love with seeds the way I have. Other seeds in our seed ball mix include Brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), sunflower seeds, snap dragons, violets, candy tuft, crimson clover, holly hock, poppy seeds, and phacelia.

Next, I did a raw cooking show, demonstrating the recipe for seed balls which are made with red clay powder, potting soil, and seeds. The students mucked in and made seed balls which we placed in egg cartons on the windowsill to dry for at least three days. Hopefully the sun will come out again to help this along. We will soon be planting these seed balls in top secret locations in the neighbourhood.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Your Queen

I am particularly pleased with this photograph of me by the Royal Photographer. It captures me in the lovely light of early spring, reminiscent of some of my favorite Dutch painters. I call it "Your Most Precious Highness Reading the Royal Proclamation: Where there is Beauty, there is Hope." And hope is what we need in these trying times. We wait for news from the South with baited breath. What will the winter losses be this year? Will the colonies continue to dwindle in number and in strength? Will the humans stop exploiting the workers for their pollination services? I sincerely hope so. I refuse to let my workers be treated in this fashion. We are not overbred and overfed zombies! We are dignified creatures with hive minds and wild souls.

In the mean time, it's warming up out there and finally it's time to get outside and GET BACK TO WORK!!!! It's time to gather pollen while the sun shines and I mean get off your duff and get me some of that willow and crocus pollen today.

Don't forget your daily proboscis exercises as we need to compete with the long-tongued bees for nectar. Some stupid human mistook me for a Bombus Psithyrus the other day and I was most upset. Do I look like a Cuckoo Bee? I am an Apis Mellifera you fool!! I mean, have you Googled me lately? Does my tongue hand down to my knees? It does not. I will refrain from further comment.

Yours in Beauty and Truth,

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hummingbird and Bee Gardens

Birding is a much more common hobby than watching bees and the information for bird-watchers is much more diverse than for those of us who spend our spare time counting the stripes on bees. Birders tend to be excellent citizen scientists, and the guide books don't talk down to birders the way that books about insects sometimes do. I think it's time for a paradigm shift, so that more books are written for people who aren't scientists, but really want to get into some depth of information without getting lost in layers of obscure technical terms.

Hummingbirds are fascinating pollinators and a lovely shimmering and sparring addition to a Vancouver garden. You may want to create a bee garden that also attracts hummingbirds. Certainly, bumble bees and hummers are sometimes attracted to the same plants, and if you're a bumblebee, you're no match for those kamikaze nectar seeking birds. They are constantly ravenous, and very highly strung. (I like to think of myself as more of a bumble bee myself.) There are great books that talk about hummingbird gardens. I recommend Hummingbird Gardens: Turning Your Yard Into Hummingbird Heaven from the Brooklyn Garden series. Isn't it wonderful when you plug away for years doing research and then you find a paper that just covers a lot of the bases you were looking for? I just found a great little paper called Hummingbird Flowers of British Columbia(pdf) by Jim Popjar [Syesis:25-28 (1975)] It talks in detail about which native flowers attract hummingbirds.

Popjar defines a hummingbird plant right off the bat:

Hummingbird flowers are defined by Grant and Grant (1968) as flowers adapted primarily for feeding of and pollination by humming-birds. The syndrome of hummingbird pollination in western North America includes several coadaptations. Well-developed hummingbird flowers are usually solitary or loosely clustered, and are borne in a pendant or more or less horizontal position. They frequently have deep-tubular corollas or are otherwise constructed to restrict access to the very abundant nectar. The flowers are usually odourless, and most often coloured a vivid red or orange, or red combined with yellow. Correspondingly, hummingbirds hover while sipping nectar. They have long bills and long, extensible tongues. Hummingbirds have high energetic requirements (Heinrich and Raven, 1972). They do not respond primarily to floral odours, but they do perceive red and orange and recognize red flowers as signals of a high caloric reward. The common colour of hummingbird flowers facilitates quick pollinator recognition but is not conspicuous to insects (except butterflies) that could deplete the nectar supply (Grant, 1966; Faegri and van de Pijl, 1971; Raven 1972).

Popjar lists the following plants as examples of species which fit the pollination syndrome fort hummingbirds in British Columbia: Aquilegia formosa (Columbine), Castilleja hispida/spp. (harsh Indian paintbrush as well as other vaieties), Gilia aggregata (Scarlet Gilia), Lonicera ciliosa, ( Western trumpet honeysuckle), Ribes lobbii, (Gummy gooseberry) and Stachys cooleyae (Cooley's hedge nettle). Plants pollinated by hummingbirds and other insects include: Impatiens capensis (Jewelweed), I. noli-tangere, (Touch-me-not balsam), Lilium columbianum (Tiger Lily), Lonicera dioica (Twining Honeysuckle), Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot), Ribes sanguineum (red-flowering currant), and Rubus spectabilis (Salmonberry). Note that the blooming of the salmonberry, not only coincides with the call of the Swainson's thrush, but also the return on migrating Rufous hummingbirds--a sure sign of spring.

Bees and humming birds are both attracted to native and cultivated varieties of Monarda. I have seen bees and hummingbirds on abelia flowers, which is a wonderful hedge because of it long blooming period. I recommend an afternoon spent at Van Dusen gardens watching hummingbirds and bees fight over nectar plants and short-tongued bumble bees robbing the nectar of plants with long nectar tubes. Hummingbirds also like clematis flowers, witch hazel twin flowers and fuschias. So when you are planting your garden, think about whether or not you want to plant pollinator-specific plants or plants that attract many different species of pollinators, or both--it's all a grand experiment.

Hazel Coppicing at the MOP

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The World's Smallest Valentine

Are you in love? Are you looking for love? Are you heart-broken? You must tell the bees. Why not write them a tiny letter or even a tiny valentine and send it care of artist Lea Redmond, Postmaster of the World's Smallest Postal Service based in California. Her web site has photos of the artist at works in cool shops and cafés, and her other work is very interesting. There is a lovely photo on The Letter Writer's Alliance Blog. You can even buy tiny valentines on Redmond's site. Since Redmond's site is called Leafcutter Designs, why not write a letter to a Leafcutter bee and tuck it under a rock in your garden? Did you know that can purchase domesticated leaf cutter bees in Canada?

A Moon Garden for Moths

When You Don't Want a Bee Garden

There are people who are very allergic to bees and may not want to attract them to their garden. You could make your backyard into a prairie-inspired garden with the textures of many interesting grasses. Last year I grew some blue tinge wheat in a neglected spot in my garden just so I could have a few stalks for my fall flower arrangements. Grasses are very satisfying in the way they catch the sunlight and rustle in the breeze. Or if you are a night owl, you may want to try a moon garden to attract mysterious moths.

So how would a garden look like if you didn't want to attract bees? Well, the first thing would be to avoid colours bees are attracted to. I know that magazines tell you bees are attracted to certain colours like blue, mauve and yellow, but as long as flowers have nectar guides (visible to bees who see ultra violet light) they generally see flowers as neon signs saying "good eats" with an arrow pointing to the flower's nectary. I've noticed that bumble bees in particular are not choosy when it comes to flower colour and if their tongues aren't long enough to harvest nectar from plants evolved for hummingbird pollination they will cheat by biting a hole in the back of the blossom which leads other nectar-robbing insects to come in through the back door as well.

A garden designed with wind pollinated plants and plants without brightly coloured flowers might not attract as many bees. Flowers that evolved to attract moths are often white, lilac or pale pink so they can be seen at night and they have a heavier perfume that carries in the cooler air. Jasmine-scented nicotiana is a good example of this kind of flower. You may want to make a corner or your garden into a moon garden, so that if you invite a bee-phobic friend to tea, she can sit in a special spot next to the night garden. If you're looking for plants for a moon garden, a sensible place to start is with plants with night or evening in their name, evening primrose, night phlox, evening Lychnis, night stock, and night-blooming jasmine. There is also a variety of fragrant white flowers to choose from such as Aquilegia fragrans, mock orange, white lavender, Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica Halliana), Madame Alfred Carrière and Darlows Enigma roses as well as white bleeding hearts.

The black/grey/silver/white pallet could make for an elegant moon garden. You could go totally gothic and add gargoyles and dragons. The advantage to using grey-leafed herbs which reflect the moonlight is that they are often resistant to drought. You could choose artemisias, lavender cotton (santolina), wooly lamb's ear, sages (white salvias) and "moonshine" yarrow. I like the idea to plant white veggies and herbs: In a publication called Habichat, Marilyn Mause says you can plant herbs like silver thyme, white, basil, and oregano alongside white pumpkins and eggplants. Check out her articles for ideas on plants moths rely on for larval food. (Spring 2005 Habichat, Vol 11 No. 1) Finally, I turn to one of my favorite gardening books of all time: The Natural Gardener: The Way We All Want to Garden by Val Bourne. Her list of moth plants includes Phlox, Sweet Rocket, Lady's smock (Cardamine pratensis), Dianthus, Verbanas, and Soapwart. Trees such as willow, ash, poplar, land lime are important food sources for caterpillars.

Apparently there is a scientific reason that flowers with brighter colours tend to have less scent. In The Garden by Moonlight by Kim Smith notes:

"With a few notable exceptions, the most intensely fragrant roses are usually in shades of rose-pink to white. Pure white flowers release the strongest perfume, followed by creamy white, pale pink, pale yellow, yellow, purple-pink and purple. Plants with blue, orange, and red flowers have a high degree of pigmentation and usually generate little or no scent. The greater the amount of essential oil produced, the lesser degree of pigmentation in a flower. The oil is the result of the transformation of chlorophyll into tannoid compounds (or pigments), which is in inverse ratio to the amount of pigment in a flower. Scent is the oxidation of essential oils of flowers and leaves." She also says that the more fragrant flowers also have thick petals that prevent the essential oils from evaporating. This is certainly true of the Tuberose I bought from a flower shop last summer. The petals are very thick and extremely fragrant.

How does that affect the way we design a bee garden? You might want to choose white versions of plants and choose another part of your garden that will feature brightly coloured version of the same flower, a kind of a mirror image of each other. cleome, lavender, penstemon, and aquilegia would be good varieties to choose the white version and the coloured variety. It would be fun to compare the moon flowers (Ipomoea alba) with a bright blue morning glory, for instance.

You can do experiments in your garden: will the bees visit the more fragrant white lavender, or the lavender with the more desirable purple colour? Would white alyssum work just as well attracting bees as a pink variety? But then, we're not supposed to be attracting bees with our moon garden are we? I think what we'll learn that it's harder to keep bees away from flowers than deciding which flowers attract bees. Whether or not you're giving them a good source of nectar and pollen is another matter.

One of my favorite essays about pollination and ecology is on the website of the Smithsonian National Zoo. I think it's fascinating that the gilia can actually change its pollination adaptation strategy over the course of a summer.

"Plants and pollinators have been evolving together since at least the early Cretaceous period—that’s 144 million years and more than a billion bee generations—and their relationships have become increasingly specialized. Flower color, shape, fragrance, and position attract specific pollinators. For some flowers, timing is everything. Yellow lantana flowers turn red—a shade that is invisible to butterflies—once they are pollinated in order to concentrate butterfly activity on unpollinated yellow flowers. Scarlet gilia flowers attract hummingbirds with red flowers in early summer and switch to white during late summer in order to attract nocturnal hawkmoths. Pollinators, in turn, sometimes seek very specific commodities from plants. Males of one butterfly species visit flowers to collect certain alkaloids, a butterfly aphrodisiac of sorts that sends females of the species into a narcotic swoon. When the butterflies mate, the male transfers the chemical to the female’s reproductive tract and she coats her eggs with it to protect them from ant attacks, according to Adrian Forsyth, an entomologist with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History." ("Saving Pollinators" by Alison Emblidge and Emily Schuster)

In her lovely whimsical book called Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots: Activities To Do in the Garden, Sharon Lovejoy devotes a chapter on creating a moon garden for kids. She has a plan for setting up a moonflower-covered teepee in front of a crescent moon-shaped garden. She suggests making "Moth Broth" out of mushed up fruit, brown sugar and water to ferment for two days and then paint onto the truck of a tree for a moth-watching spot. What a great spot for a camp-out!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tuesday Ginkgo Walk

All around the Pacific Northwest, I'm sure bloggers are taking photos of the first spring snow drops. They are finally in bloom in our neighborhood, which I think is a bit behind the microclimate of Van Dusen Gardens.

The witch hazel tree near us is in bloom too, and lights up gloriously when the sun comes out.

The squirrels go nuts on this hazelnut tree in the fall, so it's lovely to see the spring catkins.

Some of the winterberries are falling off onto this mossy planting which is an alternative to a traditional lawn.

One lonely quince left rotting on a tree.

I don't know what kind of trees these are. I call them art nouveau trees.

Be sure to take a look at the Wednesday walkabout on the UBC Farm Blog. Check out that rhubarb!