I made it to only one seminar: "The birds and the bees - and the bugs!" which was moderated by Nancy Goldman (of Nancyland). The panel included Glen Andresen or Bridgetown Bees, Matthew Shepherd of the Xerces Society, and Nikkie West of the Audubon Society. So we had a honeybee keeper, someone focused on native pollinators, and a bird expert.
There was a lot of conversation volleying around about honeybees versus native pollinators and whether we should care about honeybees (who are not native to North America), none of which was resolved in an hour. The one thing that the panel could agree on was that native plants provide the best nectar for native pollinators. Most of our native pollinators are solitary, which makes it hard to study them like we do honeybees. They don't produce honey, so it's harder to evaluate the quality of their diet like we do honeybees but preliminary studies are showing that non-native plants are a bit like junk food. They provide energy but not necessarily as much nutritional value as natives.
But I don't want to become a native purist! I can hear you saying. Me neither!
Here were some of the takeaways:
- You don't need to have all natives in your garden. You can get a lot of bang for your buck by making sure you have one native in bloom at any time throughout the year. In theory you could get away with including just four or five natives in your garden.
- But which ones? For those of us in the NW, The Xerces Society has created a document highlighting some of the best of the natives with their bloom times. It's located here. The best part? They are some of the prettiest natives like lupines, camassia, and milkweed.
|Camassia leichtlinii 'Blue Danube' handles soggy clay soils like a champ and it's GORGEOUS.|
I planted straight species Camassia quamash this fall (from Brent and Becky's) and I'm noticing it is showing up in nurseries right now. The foliage of my Camassia doesn't turn ugly after blooming the way daffs and tulips do, which makes it extra appealing. It's tall and structural and gorgeous. I can't recommend it enough.
Anyhoo, more takeaways:
- The city of Portland maintains a list of natives to our city, so you can claim to have planted hyperlocal natives. Think of how miserable you can be at dinner parties! The list is located here. Go get your smug on!
- If you want to provide shelter for mason bees, less is more. Smaller boxes or bundles of bamboo (or whatever) in several locations around your garden are better than having one gigantic box. When you get a lot of pollinators in one spot you increase the chance of disease and pestilence. 8-10 holes are plenty.
- Bumblebees need cavities to nest in, like old mice nests. Xerces has instructions on building boxes, if you want a fun project.
- Keeping your garden untidy is a good thing. Bare soil, just a little, allows bees access so they can build underground nests. When you cut back grasses and perennials, bundling them and leaving them on the ground instead of composting them gives pollinators habitat to raise their young. Glen calls it "Laissez faire/laissez ass" gardening.
- We need to look at aphids differently. 96% of terrestrial bird species feed on aphids. They are an important food source, so having them in our gardens isn't a bad thing.
Is everyone familiar with the "Everybody Reads/One City, One Book" idea? It's a program where they encourage everyone in the same city to read the same book, like we're all in a giant book club together. It was championed by a librarian by the name of Nancy Pearl. She has an action figure, guys.
I had the good luck of taking a class from her in grad school and the woman is a BADASS. Wouldn't it be great if our cities championed an "Everybody Plants" program? Is this already happening anywhere?
In Portland they could dispense camassia bulbs in the fall to residents. In the spring we'd have a city-wide wash of gorgeous blue flowers to link all of our neighborhoods together. If you get all the landscape designers and nurseries on board, you could hit a large number of home gardens. Then next year they could champion meadow foam!
|Meadow foam (Limnanthes douglasii) is available from Annie's Annuals|
It seems like the conversation around natives is changing to be less purist and sanctimonious, which I welcome. I think discussions about natives leave a lot of people feeling like they're being asked to rip out all the non-natives they love so much. I would never want to garden without agastache or agave or any number or plants that aren't native to Portland. But ask me to incorporate four or five natives that provide the most bang for the pollinator buck? I'm not just willing to do that, I'm excited.
Anyway, it was a good talk. I've had pollinators on the brain a lot so I really appreciated it. And (for me, at least) the gardening season has begun! Let's do this.