Pollinator Friendly Gardening

Helpful gardener's book. Available at Amazon.

Helpful gardener’s book.
Available at Amazon.

Pollinator Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies, and Other Pollinators, by Rhonda Fleming Hayes, is a new book for the gardener who wants to help pollinators. With all the news about loss of habitat, warming climate, and pesticides, most wild bugs and birds seem to be in trouble. Ms Hayes’ book will give you some ideas on how you may help them.

A gardener friend told me that she feels a little guilty about her flower garden because she knows it has displaced the wild natural habitat that once occupied her backyard. But her city – like most in the world – prefers tidiness over naturalness so letting it go wild is not an option. She has asked me what she might plant instead of Kentucky Bluegrass. This book will add greatly to our conversations.

Pollinator Friendly Gardening makes it easy to select plants that are known to be helpful to pollinators. You may be disappointed to learn that not all flowers give food to bees, butterflies, or hummingbirds. Actually, most do not – or they are marginally helpful at best. Bright and cheerful flowers are often like clowns at the circus – beneath their cheery posturing is a dearth of pollen and nectar.

Goldenrod, not a typical choice for a flower garden. But in some regions, highly attractive to honey bees.

Goldenrod, not a typical choice for a flower garden. But in some regions, highly attractive to honey bees.  (Photo: Miksha)

This book helps you find flowers that are both lovely and fruitful for pollinators. If you really want to be natural and helpful, you may consider going native. The author obliges with lists of native (to North America) plants that are attractive to bees. Native perennials in her list include asters, California poppies, goldenrod, and sunflowers. For annuals, Ms Hayes suggest that you consider alyssum, marigolds, snapdragons, and zinnias among many others.

If you are a beekeeper, perhaps you are thinking you can cultivate a few flowers for your colony and the bees will love you more because of your thoughtfulness. Forget it. Your bees fly five kilometres in each direction every day. Unless you are planting half a hectare of yellow sweet clover or canola, they will not stay home. Some researchers tell us that honey bees prefer flowers located between 500 and 1,500 metres better than those closer – even if they are the same species. So, keep your bees happy by supplying water on hot days (Pollinator Friendly Gardening mentions essentials like water, shade, and wind breaks) but fill your backyard with flowers that non-honey bees and butterflies will enjoy. These creatures have ranges that are closer to their homes and it is this group that is most at risk from changes in our environment.

Pollinator Friendly Gardening explains the relationship between plants and pollinators of all sorts. This information makes it easier for anyone to turn a yard into a friendly habitat for pollinators. “Gardening” is a broad topic. I like the way the author handled the wide range of subject manner. She appropriately covers the ecology of the garden and the symbiotic relationship between bee and flower.

This is a useful, attractive book. It is arranged in a fun way with charts and informative pictures. Unfortunately, the dozen or so inset factoid boxes (“It takes 100 honeybees to do the same pollination job as one mason bee” and “Since butterflies don’t have eyelids, it’s doubtful they even sleep!”) are almost all incomplete and/or erroneous.  100 vs 1 mason bee – to pollinate what? For most plants, this statement is simply wrong. Further, I’m surprised that she wrote honeybees as a single word in that factoid. It is not. Honey bees are honey bees.  I’m also surprised that the author does not know that all insects have wide-open eyes, all the time, and all insects enter a sleep-like state to rest.  She makes up for such occasional silliness with sections such as  “Ask the Expert” that include Q&A’s with people as noteworthy and knowledgeable as bee researchers Marla Spivak (Have you seen her Ted Talk? It’s here.) and Chip Taylor (A renowned bee guy who is quizzed about monarch butterflies.)

This book is a good choice for advanced as well as beginner beekeepers. Turning our garden into a sanctuary for bees, butterflies, birds, and flowers is not beyond our grasp. Regardless my minor criticisms, I enjoyed reading this book. So did reviewers at newspapers such as The Monterey Herald and The Spokesman, among many others. If you like gardening, you’ll like the book, too.

One final note. The author, Rhonda Hayes, is clearly an advocate for pollinators and a crusader for the cause of healthier, more natural gardens. But she does not blare her convictions through a megaphone – instead she quietly and intelligently shares her ideas through useful, relevant information. Her book is a credit to the voluminous ecology literature and a nice respite from ardent alarmists announcing the extinction of birds and bees with every mint-flavoured breath. This new book (released in 2015) is sold in finer bookstores or can be ordered from Amazon.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Books, Ecology, Honey Plants, Pollination, Save the Bees and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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