Surround Yourself With a Pollinator-Friendly Garden
See how you can help butterflies and bees thrive.
The bees and butterflies we rely upon to pollinate the plants that feed us are in decline around the world. It's a grave problem but one that can be helped even with small efforts by all of us.
Pollinator-Friendly Terrace Has San Francisco Landmark Views
The Cloud Terrace at the 2016 San Francisco Decorator Showcase offers a nearly 180-degree view of San Francisco's top sights, including San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Landscape architect Chih-Wei G.V. Chang added purple walls lined by pollinator friendly flowers to invite hummingbirds and bees to share in the otherwise private view.
Jason Kisner; Design by Chih-Wei G.V. Chang
Take the stunning Cloud Terrace at last year's San Francisco Decorator Showcase. Landscape architect Chih-Wei G.V. Chang of SWA in Sausalito, Calif., packed this small outdoor getaway full of flora native to central California to provide nutrients to pollinator species.
As pollinators visit plants searching for nectar, they distribute pollen from plant to plant, kickstarting those plants' reproduction processes that ultimately lead to the plant-based foods that feed the Earth's entire ecosystem.
Pollinators are in trouble for a number of reasons; loss of habitats, increase in pesticide use and spread of invasive species are among the biggest contributing factors.
Any backyard or apartment balcony can host a pollinator-friendly garden. The important elements for a pollinator garden, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is to select plants native to your home's region, include a variety of colors to catch the eyes of a variety of pollinators, select varieties that bloom at different times of the year and to clump plants together to create a stronger draw.
Purple Flower-Filled Terrace With City Views of San Francisco
This lovely purple terrace at the 2016 San Francisco Decorator Showcase has an abundance of flowers as well as a collection of white contemporary outdoor furniture. It offers a great view of San Francisco's top sights. Landscape architect Chih-Wei G.V. Chang added purple walls lined by pollinator friendly flowers to invite hummingbirds and bees to share in the otherwise private view.
Local native plants not only provide the most ideal habitat for pollinators in your area, they also tend to be the best-suited to growing in your local climate. The National Wildlife Foundation's Plant Finder and your local gardening center can help you identify what flowering plants are ideal for your home garden.
Spring Bloomer: Hepatica
Kim Eierman, environmental horticulturist and founder of EcoBeneficial! recommends including some native plants that bloom in spring, summer and fall to attract bees and other pollinators. Hepatica is a tiny, low-growing plant whose white, pink or blue flowers open as early as late winter or early spring.
Fall Bloomer: Aster
Native to almost every area of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, New England aster, grows easily in gardens with full sun and good air circulation. These tall and majestic plants produce deep blue to purple blooms and can continue to flower after early frosts.
Fall Bloomer: Goldenrod
This delightful wildflower makes hillsides look like Impressionist paintings in late summer and early fall, but is maligned because it blooms at the same time as ragweed. Ragweed pollen is what mucks up your sinuses; goldenrod pollen is made to be carried by bees and butterflies, not wind.
Fall Bloomer: Mist Flower
An attractive plant which blooms in late summer to fall, mist flower spreads easily and produces clusters of blue, violet or white flowers, which can grow up to three feet in height. It prefers moist areas in zones 4 to 9. For more recommendations on native perennials that attract bees, visit EcoBeneficial!
For the San Francisco garden, Chang included bluebells, catmint, sage, California lilac, delphinium and lavender and painted the terrace walls purple to work with his beautiful blooms to attract a variety of bees, butterflies and birds.
The Cloud Terrace isn't just for the birds and the bees, though. Chang included a few creature comforts for the humans, too, such as the bubble chairs from which to enjoy the panoramic views of San Francisco Bay, a french horn sculpture that works as a music amplifier and LED lights to take the terrace into the evening hours.
So as you're planning your summer garden, don't forget the little guys and gals who will help your garden and the greater ecosystem thrive.
Create the Framework of Your House
You can build a simple wooden box, use an old one, or pop the front off of a wooden birdhouse and use that. The front is the open side. It is good to have a little roof over your house, which can be as simple as a slightly pitched board, as with the one shown here. You don't want to paint the interior of the house, or the dowels, because the pollinators don't like the paint.
Find Shelves and Dowels to Fit Your House
The house you build can be as tall or wide as you like, as long as you create evenly-spaced holes, from about 3.5" to 6" inches deep. Separate the levels within the house using 1/4" inch thick boards cut to fit the box that you choose. Any other piece of wood that fits is just fine too.
Add Your Dowels
Use a combination of 3/8" and 1/2" inch square dowels, cut to the depth of your box (these are readily available at home building supply stores). Space the dowels evenly apart. A handy trick is to use dowels of the same thickness to get even spacing and then remove them. According to some experts, it helps the pollinators to recognize their own hole from the others if the entrances aren't too uniform, so it can be good to cut some of the dowels a teeny bit shorter while leaving others a bit longer, giving a bit of 3-dimensional interest to the front.
Enlist a Helper
If you want, after arranging the dowels where you want them to be, pull each dowel out a little, put a drop of glue on top, and slide them back in, so that they stay in place. You can also just leave them loose if you like, which allows you to take it apart later so that you can see the activity in the house, as well as clean it out, if need be. For young people interested in the life cycle of the creatures, being able to take the house apart is very useful, and it also helps you to unclog holes or weed out unwanted creatures.