“His labor is a chant,
His idleness a tune;
Oh, for a bee’s experience
Of clovers and of noon!
— Emily Dickenson, “The Bee” in “Poems of Emily Dickenson,” 1890
One of my favorite poets, Emily Dickenson, was a keen observer of pollinators, often featuring bees, butterflies or hummingbirds in her verses. For instance, she wrote about “the bees, from clover rows/Their hock and sherry draw,” and compared a lover’s kiss to a “sip (of) jasmines/As (by) the fainting bee.”
Although not every gardener is eager to write poetry about pollinators, we should all care about their well-being, including the security of bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. Scientists tell us that one out of every three bites of our food comes from plants pollinated by insects, and 85 percent of the plants in our ecosystem reproduce only because of pollinating insects and hummingbirds.
Moving from flower to flower and feeding on pollen and nectar, pollinators not only fertilize the flowers by transferring pollen, they also often feed on garden pests. Hummingbirds, for example, love to eat mosquitoes.
In addition, pollinators add visual beauty and interesting sounds and movement to our gardens. By planting a variety of vegetables and ornamentals that attract pollinators, we increase the sensory pleasures of gardening with vivid colors, subtle buzzing and fluttering, and mouth-watering produce. If getting stung is not your idea of a sensory pleasure, you’ll be glad to know that, with the exception of a few wasps such as yellow jackets, most bees and wasps have little interest in humans and rarely sting unless threatened.
Vegetables with flowers that attract pollinators include artichokes, beans, cucumbers, peas and squash. Herbs that are especially appealing to pollinators include basil, borage, catnip, coriander, dill, fennel, lavender, mint, oregano and rosemary.
Popular ornamental flowers that are irresistible to pollinating insects include alstroemeria, aster, bee balm, blanket flower, butterfly bush, coneflower, lantana, passionflower, penstemon, red hot poker, salvia, sunflower and sweet alyssum. Hummingbirds are also attracted to many of these plants, as well as columbine, daylily, foxglove, fuchsia, hollyhock, honeysuckle, hyssop and lupine.
An excellent guide is “Native Pollinator Plants for Southern Oregon” by Tom Landis and Suzie Savoie (2016), available online for free at https://klamathsiskiyouseeds.com/.
Keep in mind that pollinators need a place in or nearby the garden to call home. For example, many of the 500 species of native bees in Oregon travel fewer than 200 yards in their lifetime. For information and pictures about creating pollinator “pads” in your garden, see my blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.
Unfortunately, pollinators are becoming increasingly threatened by loss of habitat due to development, as well as pesticides, invasive plant and animal species, disease and climate change. There is no better time than now to learn more about the importance of pollinators and how gardeners can help safeguard pollinating insects and birds.
Don’t miss the upcoming conference, “Protecting Pollinators: Benefits for Ecosystems and Food Security in Oregon,” taking place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center Auditorium, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. Keynote presentations, panels and workshops will focus on solutions to the decline of native pollinators. Cost is $10 for advanced registration and $15 at the door. Lunch can be purchased for $12. For more information, call 541-465-8860.
— Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at email@example.com.