How Realistic is A Beehive-Friendly Hill Garden?

Dear Garden Problem Lady

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Newspaper articles tell how urgent it is to save bees, whose numbers have been decimated from changes in farming, climate, chemicals and predators all over the world, not just in the US. American gardeners are urged to “Plant a garden that is ‘bee-friendly.’” This seems to encourage setting up a proper beehive and planting lots of sun-loving, nectar-filled flowers such as Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed, a cousin of milkweed). My husband is all for trying. I’m wondering how realistic it would be for us in our tiny Capitol Hill townhouse garden. 

You have a 100% chance of failing. Each bee needs vast amounts of nectar daily. Even a three-acre lot, if it were filled with flowers in full sun, would be too small. Being social insects, bees like other bees nearby, protection from birds, enough space in which to roam widely and a hive to return to. Some neighbors have tried but failed. It is farmers who have the space. People in some green-roofed buildings in DC have tried, but those roofs can end up planted mostly with nectarless weeds from the droppings of birds.

I used to have a pale pink flower with an interesting smell. Did not know its name. A friend said, “It’s a Monarda. Too bad you didn’t plant the popular red Monarda.” It was late in the season by then, but I found a red one and enjoyed it too, even though it spread like mad. Another friend commented, “Red Monarda is common ‒ I prefer the blue one.” How many Monardas are there?

The blue Monarda, called blue stocking, is really a violet-blue (see picture). Next, someone else may recommend Monarda sugar buzz, aka Monarda berry taffy, or even Monarda raspberry wine or fireball. All these, and others, smell like bergamot (a citrus fruit used in an Earl Grey tea). Bergamot is Monarda’s other nickname. And because bees adore it, Monarda is also known simply as bee balm.

Notice from a Reader

“Fellow gardeners, please remember that Nandina’s beautiful red berries that last all winter are poisonous. They contain cyanide, and even if eaten in small number they will kill birds and small animals. These berries are not a first choice of birds, but in late winter there may be few alternatives. For gardeners, native alternatives do exist ‒ winterberry, for instance, which requires a male and a female plant to produce its stunning red berries. Another native, beautyberry, which appears in autumn and which birds love, produces dazzling violet-magenta berries with chartreuse-colored leaves. There are other good alternatives. I believe we should discourage people from planting Nandina.”

For information about the Capitol Hill Garden Club, visit www.capitolhillgardenclub.org. The club is on summer break. Meetings will resume in September.

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