With Native Bee Specialist Celeste Ets-Hokin

Early spring is the right time to rejuvenate or plant for a soon to be blooming, fragrant and buzzing native bee garden. A premier example of plant selection and pairing can be seen in the new native bee garden overseen by native bee specialist Celeste Ets-Hokin. The bee garden is located in the Pollinator Garden (across from the Edible Demonstration Gardens –look for the Pollinator signs).

“A good bee garden should include a mix of pollen- and nectar-rich annuals and perennials, offering flowers of different colors, sizes, shapes and bloom periods.  And of course you’ll want to make sure that at least some of these plants are California natives.  Native plants are generally four times more attractive than exotic varieties to our native bees,” says Celeste.

To give you a head start, here’s a look at some of the perennials and annuals she’s introduced to the bee garden. Then to learn more about native bees and the creation of their glorious garden in the Gardens at Lake merritt, be sure to read the following article by Celeste, “The BEE-UTIFUL Gardens at Lake Merritt:  We Built It and They Came!”

PERENNIALS

California Natives:

Erigeron glaucus (seaside daisy), “Bountiful” and “Wayne Roderick” cultivars

Grindelia stricta (gumplant)

Penstemon heterophyllus (beardtongue), “Margarita BOP” cultivar

Spheralcea ambigua (desert mallow),

Lupinus latifolius parishii (lupine)

Monardella villosa (coyote mint)

Solidago californica (goldenrod)

Exotics:

Agastache (giant hyssop) – there are some native species, but more difficult to locate

Bulbine frutescens (bulbine)

Coreopsis lanceolata (tickseed)

Calamintha (calamint)

Gaillardia (Arizona blanket flower) “Oranges and Lemons” cultivar

Lavandula (Spanish lavender)

Helenium (sneezeweed)

Nepeta (catmint)

Salvia melissidora (sage)

Salvia uliginosa (sage)

ANNUAL SEEDS:

Best scorpionweed species –

Phacelia tanacetifolia

Phacelia distans

Phacelia cicutaria

Phacelia campanularia

Eschscholzia (California poppy)

Lupinus succulentus arroyo (arroyo lupine)

Gilia capitata (gilia)

Cosmos bipinnatus (cosmos)

Cosmos sulphureus (cosmos)

The BEE-UTIFUL Gardens at Lake Merritt:  We Built It and They Came!

Article by Celeste Ets-Hokin, native bee expert and advocate overseeing

 the Gardens’ native bee garden

There are some 4000 species of bees that originated here in North America, and these native bees are far and away our most important pollinators.  Their pollinating services are vital to the survival of North American plant communities, which in turn provide food and shelter for the many animals in these ecosystems.  Ironically, the more familiar honey bee, an introduced species from Europe, is not included in this group of essential native pollinators.

Like the honey bee, our native bee populations are suffering steep declines nationwide, threatened by habitat loss and pesticide poisoning.   While these trends are alarming to environmental scientists, most of the rest of us aren’t even aware of the existence of native bees, let alone their astonishing diversity or their profound importance to our ecosystems and food webs.

So about four years ago I began working with the Alameda County Master Gardeners to establish a native bee demonstration garden within their section of the Gardens at Lake Merritt.  Our goal was to attract a diversity of native bees to the garden and introduce the public to this amazing and colorful cast of characters.  We hoped to educate gardeners about how easy and rewarding it is to create a bee-friendly garden and participate in the conservation of these critical species.

Beginning in February of 2009, we planted a diversity of California native and exotic plants known to offer good pollen and nectar resources for our native bees.  We added a few nesting blocks for solitary wood nesting bees, and kept much of the area free from mulch, to allow ground-nesting bees easy access to the soil substrate.  Then we waited to see who showed up.

We couldn’t have been more delighted.  Our small efforts were rewarded by a steady stream of native bee visitors from spring through fall, including mason, mining, digger, leaf-cutter, long-horn, sweat, cuckoo and bumble bees.  Our little bee garden was living proof that when you build it, they will come!

Now it’s been just over a year since we moved our demonstration bee garden from the modest section of the ACMG trials area to a larger, sunnier, triangular plot at the center of the Lake Merritt Gardens.  The new site is easily identified by a large stump at one end, drilled with holes for wood-nesting bees, as well as a sign provided by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, designating the area as a pollinator habitat.

And within a few short months of its establishment, what a glorious pollinator habitat the new location became!  I must admit that on that cold bleak day in January of 2012, when we first transplanted our proven perennials from the old site, we had our doubts about the new garden.  There wasn’t much to see then but an expanse of muddy ground, interrupted here and there with some twiggy clumps holding on to a few sad looking leaves.

But by the end of the year we had seen roughly 80 species of native bees visit the prolific succession of spring, summer and fall blooming plants that soon blanketed the entire plot.  And on any given day there was such an abundance of bees that one visitor to the gardens declared it to be “Bumble Bee Central”! So for all you Doubting Thomas’s out there who think you can’t readily build a bee-friendly garden, think again!

I hope the story of the Lake Merritt bee garden will inspire gardeners everywhere to join us in creating habitat for our VIP (very important pollinators) native bees.  Together we can make the landscape BEE-UTIFUL!

In addition, Celeste has authored an extraordinary resource for true bee and pollinator enthusiasts “Garden Variety Native Bees of North America – Perpetual Calendar.” It is a wealth of stunning photography and pollen and nectar sources.  For more information contact: celeste.ets@comcast.net.