Bee and Butterfly Gardens

After many summers of trying to grow winter squash, this year I decided not to.  I had dedicated an entire garden bed to trying to grow my favorite squash, ‘Buttercup’.  One year I had a wheelbarrow full of them but that was never to be repeated.  I could never really figure out what the problem was but it could be less light from trees growing in.  Another thought was lack of pollination.  Since then, I’ve tried to keep adding in more plants that keep the bees and butterflies happy!

Thyme blooming providing food for bees!
Thyme blooming providing food for bees!

Why Important?

Now, I’m no bee or butterfly expert but I do hear a lot about protecting bees of all kinds.  I also haven’t seen any Monarch butterflies in a while.  Why are our pollinators so important to us?  About 1/3 of crops rely on bees for pollination.  This improves yields and fruiting.  You may have noticed when driving by blueberry fields the colorful bee boxes here and there.  Many farmers rent bees to ensure proper pollination.  According to Berkeley University, fruits can vary greatly in size and quality if insect pollination is taken out of the equation.  So many of the things we love, and rely upon, depend on pollination.  Coffee, tea, cocoa!

Helenium makes a great landing spot for pollinators.
Helenium makes a great landing spot for pollinators.

Other pollinators include birds, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, bats and moths.  If you ever get to watch a hummingbird moth or Sphinx moth in action, it is truly amazing!  The first time I saw one I actually thought it was a tiny hummingbird!

Butterfly weed is a pollinator magnet!
Butterfly weed is a pollinator magnet!

From the time the bees emerge in the spring they are searching for food.  They start with the first crocus, grape hyacinth, tulips, dandelion blossoms and clover.  As the seasons move on they take on each new flower.

Common marigold.
Common marigold.

Try to keep harmful chemicals out of the garden.  They are deadly to our pollinators.  Once the biodiversity is increased on your property, pest management can improve on it’s own.  Think of making your little space a haven for these wonderful helpers.

A Few Thoughts On Design 

What makes a great bee and butterfly garden?  I was at a garden talk many years ago, I’m not even sure what it was about.  I do remember the idea of planning ‘plateaus’ for pollinators.  This means large clumps of key plants so they can almost hop along from flower to flower, making it very enticing for them.  One of our local Maine gardeners, Lee Schneller, wrote a helpful book in 2009, The Ever-Blooming Flower Garden: A Blueprint for Continuous Color.  She outlines many garden plans that continually bloom.  Her simple formulas are really a fail-proof way to keep things blooming.

Echinacea acting as bee and butterfly plateau.
Echinacea acting as bee and butterfly plateau.

Now, as we think about design, the usual cottage perennial garden will do just fine.  To really keep these insects attention, continual blooms will be needed.  Think large groupings of echinacea, bee balm, and bushels of daisies!

The tiniest of bees on the Gypsophilia.
The tiniest of bees on the Gypsophilia.

Shrubs

Most flowering shrubs usually attract a wide range of bees and butterflies.  Some to consider are Rhododendron, Azalea, Lilac, Button bush, Roses, Weigelia, Privet and Indigo.  Butterfly bushes, with their powdery sweet scent are a favorite of Monarch’s and Swallowtail’s.  Honeysuckle bushes or vines could also be added to the landscape.

Swallowtail butterfly on Rhododendron.
Swallowtail butterfly on Rhododendron.

Perennials

There are so many perennial plants to put in a bee and butterfly garden that you will have trouble fitting them all in.  In keeping with the continual flowering theme, you can start with more traditional plants such as lupine, Day lilies, foxglove, bee balm, liatris and rudbeckia.  Many sedums, such as ‘Autumn Joy’ bloom for months and don’t stop until late fall.  You can also leave room for echinacea, globe thistle, lungwort, scabiosa and gypsophilia.  Wild plants like milkweed should be allowed to bloom.

Big bee enjoying some anise hyssop.
Big bee enjoying some anise hyssop.

Annuals

Although a pollinator garden will do well without a single annual, bees and butterflies adore the bright colors and ready supply of nectar!  Low growing types include allysum, gem marigolds and pansies.  Tall annuals to mix in with the perennial garden are snapdragons, cleome, marigolds, sunflowers, cosmos, verbena and zinnias.  Many of these also make wonderful cut flowers that you can bring in to dress up your table.

Herbs such as Oregano make great bee food.
Herbs such as Oregano make great bee food.

Bulbs

Remember how few flowers are actually blooming in early spring?  You can improve your pollinator population by adding in clumps of squill, crocus and snowdrops.  Mix groups of species tulips, taller tulips and grape hyacinths.  Naturalize some daffodils along your driveway.  The many kinds of allium are flower coated orbs that bees love.  The pollinators will be all over them and you will be so grateful for the spring color after a long winter.

Borage is another beneficial herb.
Borage is another beneficial herb.

Herbs

Bees and Butterflies are not just after the usual flowers.  Herbs are great providers of food for them.  Not just for culinary use, basil, chives, garlic chives, thyme, rosemary and lavender.  So many of them have flowers, think mint, catmint, anise hyssop, borage and sage.  You could even plant comfrey, fennel and oregano.

Great spangled fritillary on echinacea.
Great spangled fritillary on echinacea.

Fruits and Vegetables

The very species you would like to pollinate can also be inviting for bees and butterflies.  Fruits such as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are covered with flowers.  Fruit trees provide early nectar.  In the vegetable garden, many types have blooms.  Tomatoes, beans, potatoes, squash or cucumbers.  If you need to attract more pollinators to your veggie garden, think about interplanting with beneficial flowers.  Marigolds and nasturtiums are always a great idea.

Tomato blossoms.
Tomato blossoms.

Many seed companies sell mixtures that could be planted near the garden in a band, working as guardians of the garden!  Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers a Bee Feed Mix, a Beneficial Insect Attractant Mix and a Butterfly and Hummingbird Mix.  All are combinations of annuals and perennials tailor made for each application.  Fedco has a Beneficials mix.  John Scheepers sells four different beneficial habitat mixtures.  All of them sound like they would add so much to your veggie, herb or kitchen garden!

No matter how big or small your home garden is, your plants can benefit from more pollinators.  Not only will the plants be more productive but the extra flowers and resulting pollinators can bring so much enjoyment to the time spent outside.

Alyssum is beloved by our bees and butterflies.
Alyssum is beloved by our bees and butterflies.

If you are interested in a more prolific yield, try attracting more bees and butterflies.  Get out there and watch, it is truly a sight to see!  Hope you are all enjoying the weather.  Thanks for coming along this week.  Don’t forget to subscribe by email in sidebar.  You won’t have to find me, my weekly blog will appear in your inbox every week.  See you next week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

 

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