February 10 2021

I try really hard to think outside the box. To my mind, boxes limit choices. I've never believed that I could possibly know the one right answer to much of anything-actually, I don't think there is very often one right answer. Only what is right for me.

What started this line of thought (mini-rant) is that whenever I read something about saving native bees it is almost always accompanied by the direction “plant native plants”. Not that I have a problem with native plants, I don’t, they’re great-plant all you want. But why on earth limit myself so?

Surely our bees are by and large willing to venture into new flowers for sustenance. Now, I know there are specialists out there in the insect world, for instance there is a Sunflower bee (diadasia enavata) that collects nectar only from plants in the aster family such as the native arrowhead balsamroot. But think of how many non-native plants in the aster family we can grow in our gardens-sunflowers, daisies, gaillardia, calendula, zinnias, and well, asters. With over 23,000 species in North America we can probably find a few to grow for ourselves and the bees and vastly extend the blooming season. There is a wonderful little illustrated publication I think you can get from the forest service, called Native Wildflowers and Bees of Western Montana, Here is what they say, “For this guide, a bee is paired with a flower it it most likely to visit, but it may visit other flowers types as well.” Of the 16 bees listed in the guide, 3 are shown on flowers that are members of the aster family. Check out the Indiscriminate Cuckoo Bumble Bee, who knew?

I didn’t used to particularly care for annual garden sunflowers, large gaudy flowers that were mainly a big brown center, but I have changed my mind after growing a cultivar called ‘Lemon Queen’. They grew to over seven feet tall and were covered with soft lemon yellow flowers. Now I can’t get enough sunflowers. Luckily most seed catalogs offer dozens of varieties from tall to short, single to double, and many shades of red, yellow, orange, white and variegated. And yes, the bees love all of them. Really, they don’t care where you got your seeds.

My plan to help the bees is to plant things that have flowers, lots and lots of them. Not just those annual flowers, but perennials, shrubs, trees, fruits and vegetables. A smorgasbord for bees. My only rule is to not plant things that will become invasive and cause me hours of weeding. Except those prolifically reseeding annual poppies, they’re worth it. There’s an exception to every rule.

Helianthus annuus, ‘Lemon Queen’