Over the course of my gardening life, I have read several different gardening books. I have learned new methods for forming garden beds, which plants work well together, how to garden in small locations, and other useful tips. After reading the most recent book, one which I would encourage every gardener to read, I can tell you that I now look at my garden with a new set of eyes.
What do I see? My garden is a failure. It is neglecting to attract one of the most important visitors a gardener can ask for, the bee.
When I first opened The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn I was not exactly sure what to expect. Perhaps a list of plants which bees like to visit in order to make honey? After all, their subtitle is “Design an abundant, flower-filled yard that nurtures bees and supports biodiversity.” Is not the main purpose of bees to make honey? (hint: the answer is NO!)
Looking around my yard I thought I was doing well in the flower department. In the spring I have tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, lilies, bleeding hearts and other flowers, as well as strawberries and early garden plants. The maple and hack berry trees in the yard also produce flowers in great abundance. When summer begins to appear the tiger lilies start to make an appearance, hostas and rose bushes bloom, and my garden begins to with fill with tomato and blackberry blossoms. In the fall, the clematis presents a 6 foot wall of blooms behind the rose bushes. All of this is in addition to any potted annuals and hanging baskets I am able to add to the garden.
I felt confident I was doing my part to attract bees and other pollinators to the garden. As I read, I realized there were several obvious aspects I was neglecting to address. These were actually keeping my garden from attracting the much needed insects. Specifically I did not have enough blooms at one time, nor consistent blooms throughout the year, to make my garden inviting enough for the pollinators I have been wanting to appear. Thankfully, I found out these issues could be easily addressed.
Before finding out how to address the issues in my own garden, I had to learn more about what it meant to have a garden the various species of bees find attractive and what aspects may hinder their appearances.
Frey and LeBuhn began The Bee-friendly Garden talking about, well, bees. My knowledge of entomology is pretty basic, though it is broader than the average person. I know the terms and various genus and families, but am not intimately familiar with the various aspects of each. Having this knowledge helped understand the beginning chapters, though I still found myself learning new things. If you had no knowledge to begin with, I believe you could still easily understand this chapter. They made it clear and simple for almost anyone to use as a foundation for the rest of the book.
The next few chapters talked about various plants which would be good additions to your garden to attract bees. They covered both edible and non-edible gardens. I appreciated the authors taking into account visual appeal for humans, as well as attractiveness for the insects. A plant may hold a great appeal to the insect you want to attract, but if it Is a nuisance or difficult to take care of the gardener is unlikely to actually plant it.
Chapter 5 talks about garden designs. The authors again presented the information with a very practical approach – we do not all have perfect gardens, nor the means to make them so. What the reader is presented with are ways to work with what they may have, encouragement to think outside the box or to step back and take a new look.
The final chapter is fairly short, encouraging the reader to go beyond their backyards and find ways to encourage bees in their communities. The authors have provided several resources already organized in working toward this end. I have participated in a few over the years and found myself encouraged to take part again in the upcoming year.
Following the final chapter is a list of resources and regional plant lists.
I greatly enjoyed The Bee-friendly Garden and think every gardener should take time to look beyond the visual appeal, to humans, their gardens provide. You may have the best soil and the newest hybrid of your favorite flower, but it will not do really well if you are not also attracting the much needed pollinators.
Aspects of the book I liked:
- You are not only told how to do something, but also why.
- Suggestions are given for less than perfect gardens, as well as various gardening styles.
- Photos of actual yards and gardens, across various climates, are shown and described.
Aspects of the book I did not like:
- Some repetitive nature.
- While it may be good for the beginning reader to go over certain aspects, there were things explained that I already knew.
After reading through The Bee-friendly Garden I learned:
- There are 46 species of bumble bees in North America. Some other families contain hundreds of different species.
- Honey bees are not the best pollinators.
- Most bees do not live in large colonies.
- Many make their homes in the ground, which makes using a weed barrier a determinant.
- Some plants require the specific resonance of the bee’s vibrations to pollinate.
- Flowers do not mean only the perennial and annual broad leaf plants, but also grasses and trees.
- The presence of flowers is not the only factor, you also need volume. (1 flower does not seem very attractive, but 50 does.)
- Bees tend to visit patch of flowers rather than hop from this flower to that flower.
The last two points were the ones most practical to figuring out how to solve my problem of not enough pollinators.
As I walk out into my garden, I notice the abundance of green and the lack of color signaling pollinators to come to my garden beds. Like other aspects I have adjusted over the years, I will begin to change this by taking small steps at first, working in one part of the garden and spreading to other areas. Thanks to The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity I have a great guide to improve my garden and help it thrive.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. All opinions are honest and my own.
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