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Literary Gardener: 'Enjoy the beauty' on Pollinator Garden Tour

“Upon a garden’s perfum’d bed

With various gaudy colours spread,

Beneath the shelter of a rose

A butterfly had sought repose

A bee, impatient to devour

The nectar sweets of ev’ry flow’r,

Returning to her golden store,

A weight of fragrant treasure bore”

— Mary Darby Robinson, “The Bee and the Butterfly” in “Poems,” 1791

When Ashland resident Donna Rhee was 10 years old, her parents gave her a little garden plot to tend. This experience began an enduring love for growing plants that has culminated in Rhee’s small but impressive garden packed with a variety of trees, shrubs, flowers, herbs and vegetables that provide shelter and a place of repose for pollinators.

Rhee, who is a past president of the Ashland Garden Club, downsized three years ago from a third of an acre to her small lot on North Wightman Street.

“We had mostly shade gardens before, so it’s been fun to grow more sun-loving plants here,” Rhee said.

In fact, Rhee’s front, back and side yards receive a mixture of sunshine and shade, and she has paid close attention to the different micro-climates in order to select plants that will thrive in particular areas. She has created a variety of compact garden “rooms” with artfully planted communities of native and non-native flora that provide nourishing habitat for pollinators.

Some of the Pacific Northwest natives in Rhee’s landscape include: manzanita, western redbud, Ceanothus blue blossom, bearberry/kinnickkinnick, mock orange, thimbleberry, red currant, western sword fern, western columbine, penstemon, goatsbeard and silver lupine. These natives are complemented by non-native pollinator plantings of peonies, roses, hardy geranium, Japanese maples and dwarf conifers, among many others.

In a vegetable and herb garden off the back patio and side of the house, Rhee is growing parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, as well as basil, peas, tomatoes, peppers and marigolds.

Her garden is recognized by Bee City USA Ashland as a pollinator-friendly setting, and it’s one of 18 diverse pollinator gardens that will be featured on the group’s upcoming pollinator garden tour.

In addition to gardens at private residences and in the demonstration gardens at the North Mountain Park Nature Center, the tour features pollinator gardens that have been created at several Ashland businesses, including Banyan Botanicals, Spirit of Shakti, Bloomsbury Coffee House, Chanticleer Inn and Pacific Domes.

Bee City USA Ashland’s third annual Pollinator Garden Tour will take place on two days this year, from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday and Sunday, June 29-30. Also new this year are special discounts and complimentary refreshments offered by participating Ashland businesses on one or both days of the tour, including Chozu Gardens, Be Cherished Salon, Awake Tea & Espresso, Oak Knoll Golf Course, Bayberry Inn, Spirit of Shakti and Banyan Botanicals.

The cost of the tour is $10 ($15 after June 28). Register online at www.ashland.or.us/register or call North Mountain Park Nature Center at 541-488-6606. A tour booklet with garden addresses, descriptions and a map is available in advance and on tour days at the Nature Center, 620 N. Mountain Ave.

Tour-goers are advised to carpool, wear comfortable clothing and shoes for walking in the sun, bring a water bottle, and note that bathrooms will not be available at home sites on the tour.

Kristina Lefever, chair of Bee City USA Ashland, offered other suggestions: read the tour booklet ahead of time to see which gardens are most appealing, bring a notebook and camera, notice where pollinator plants are growing and the insects they attract, and ask garden hosts about their successes and failures.

“Mostly, just enjoy the beauty,” Lefever said.

The yearly pollinator garden tours are part of a community-wide effort to educate residents and business owners about the importance of providing habitat for bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, bats, flies and hummingbirds. According to Bee City USA, an initiative of the Xerces Society, one-third of the food we eat depends on insect pollination, and 90 percent of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators to reproduce.

Yet, pollinators are declining at an alarming rate. Forty percent of insect species have disappeared in the last 10 years, and another 40% are expected to become extinct in the next decade. Bees and butterflies are among the insects that are most at risk due to climate change, exposure to pesticides, poor nutrition, disease and lack of nesting habitat.

Bee City USA Ashland became the fifth Bee City USA in 2014 (there are currently 85 Bee Cities across the country), and Southern Oregon University was the first Bee Campus USA (there are now 73 Bee Campuses). Talent, Phoenix, Medford and Gold Hill are also Bee Cities in Southern Oregon.

Libby Van Whye, manager of the North Mountain Park Nature Center, where Bee City USA Ashland is housed, said the initiative has helped create a local movement among new and experienced gardeners to establish pollinator-friendly spaces. Fifty-one gardens in Ashland, including gardens at 10 businesses, have met Bee City USA Ashland guidelines so far.

“It’s been a great way to recognize the work that’s already being done in the community, and to provide networking opportunities so the number of pollinator gardens continues to grow,” Van Whye said.

In addition to the demonstration gardens that attract pollinators, the Nature Center offers programs about pollinator gardening and lists of native and non-native pollinator plants that grow well in our area.

Van Whye said a rebate program offered through the Ashland’s Conservation Division provides up to $3,000 reimbursements for homeowners who remove their irrigated lawn and replace it with a low-water use landscape, such as a pollinator garden. For more information about the lawn replacement program, see www.ashland.or.us.

Transforming at least part of your lawn into a pollinator garden is one good way to help save our pollinator friends. As the butterfly reminded the bee in Mary Darby Robinson’s poem, “For where ill-nature holds her reign, taste, worth and beauty plead in vain.”

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, visit her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/ and listen to her podcasts at https://mailtribune.com/podcasts/the-literary-gardener.

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Tips for protecting pollinators

Bee City USA Ashland offers several ways to protect pollinators.

If you have a lawn, plant clover to add nitrogen to the soil, and to feed the bees.

Eliminate use of pesticides or use only as a last resort. If you do use pesticides, apply in the evening when pollinators are least active.

Do not use plants treated with systemic neonicotinoid insecticides.

Eat organic and local foods that have not been treated with pesticides.

Plant native plants to support native pollinators.

Grow a variety of flower types and colors that bloom at different times from spring to fall.

Plant multiples of the same flowering plant to form at least 3-foot clumps.

Grow flowering plants near vegetables to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.

Leave patches of bare ground for ground-dwelling native bees and other insects.

Tie together dry stems or pieces of bamboo for mason and leafcutter bees.

Provide a water source in the garden, such as a shallow, pebble-lined dish, bird bath or water feature, and change the water weekly.

Have your garden recognized as pollinator friendly by Bee City USA Ashland, and become an ambassador for pollinators by sharing your garden with others.

For more information, see www.ashland.or.us/beecity.

Rhee breaks her garden up into "rooms," based on the micro-climates in her yard.
Donna Rhee works in her pollinator-friendly garden in Ashland. Photos by Rhonda Nowak