Are you “In Search Of Plants That Won’t Harm Bees”? Read this great blog by Meleah Maynard

Our colleague, Meleah Maynard, co-author of Decoding Gardening Advice: The Science Behind the 100 Most Common Recommendations, recently wrote an excellent piece about ways in which gardeners can support bees by providing plants that haven’t been treated with neonicotinoids, a group of pesticides used in the nursery trade, that are suspected to be harmful to our native pollinators. We have re-posted Meleah’s post below and encourage you to follow her great blog at http://everydaygardener.com/

In Search of Plants That Won’t Harm Bees

In the midst of the worst winter—ever—it’s hard to think about flowers, I know. But this time of year, I normally order a few plants for spring delivery from catalogs and I’m having to spend a lot more time on that than usual because I want to make sure that the flowers I’m ordering aren’t going to kill the bees that visit my gardens. By now you’ve probably heard that many of the pollinator-friendly plants and flowers that we’ve been filling our gardens with over the last few years may actually be harming, and even killing, bees. The culprit, many scientists and researchers believe, are neonicotinoid pesticides. Widely used in lawn fertilizers and on crops and nursery plants, neonicotinoids (commonly called neonics) came on the market in the 1990s and are chemically related to nicotine.

           

Credit: iStock

Marketed as safer for humans than other pesticides, neonics are now thought to be at least in part responsible for declining bee populations all over the world. Let me explain why. Like all systemic pesticides, neonics are absorbed by plants after being applied to the leaves, seeds or even soil. When bees and other pollinators feed on the leaves, flowers and pollen of plants treated with neonics, they ingest a “dose” of the insecticide.

Though the makers of these pesticides contend that the amount ingested by insects, including bees, is not enough to kill them, entomologists who study bees believe otherwise. Neonicotinoids are neuroactive, meaning they block connections in the brain. Over the last several years, studies have shown that even after ingesting small amounts of neonics, bees can become confused to the point of being unable to identify food sources. Some even forget how to find their way back to the hive. Over time, without food from the hive’s forages, colonies starve and collapse.

Credit: iStock

Vera Krischik, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, has been studying the effects of insecticide on bees for several years. She has found that large doses of neonics can kill bees, sometimes moments after they feed on a treated plant. Where are they getting these large doses of neonicotinoid pesticides? Possibly, my garden, I hate to say; or maybe yours, or your neighbor’s. That’s because it is legal to treat ornamental plants with much higher levels of neonicotinoids than are acceptable for use on agricultural crops like corn and soybeans. And because pre-treatment of nursery plants is so common these days, it’s very likely that most of us have brought home some of these plants in the last few years without realizing the harm they could be doing.

 

What Can Gardener Do?

So what can we do now? Well, that’s going to take a bit of work on our part. Concern over whether neonicotinoids are harming bees is not new, and Krischik is just one of many researchers across the country. and the world, who have spoken out about the problem. As a result, some European countries have restricted or banned some neonicotinoids.

But, as is usually the case, our U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has opted to take a wait-and-see approach and has decided to look at the insecticide as part of a standard registration review. That could take years—years that bees don’t have. Though it is good news that the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources seem to have taken the issue more seriously since the start of the year.

Credit: iStock

           

For now, fellow gardeners, help must come from us, so we need to do all we can to keep neonics out of our gardens. That means growing some of our plants ourselves using seeds collected from plants we know to be untreated or purchased from retailers who don’t sell pre-treated seeds such as Seed Savers Exchange, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Renee’s Garden Seeds.

           

Shopping for plants will be trickier and in some cases, more expensive. Home Depot and Lowes may offer lower prices on ornamental plants, but so far Home Depot has indicated that they plan to continue selling plants treated with neonics until they can work with suppliers to find an alternative insecticide. I don’t know about Lowes, but I imagine that selling far fewer plants to gardeners who won’t buy anything treated with neonics might speed talks up a bit.  

           

Before buying plants from any seller, ask them whether they use neonics or buy plants treated with them. To help, I made some calls for this article to see how various growers and garden centers are dealing with this issue. Glacial Ridge Growers in Glenwood, Minnesota, sells native plants free of neonics. Bachman’s, Gertens and Menards didn’t return calls before my deadline, so you’ll need to ask them yourselves. Mother Earth Gardens says they don’t sell any flowering, edible or fruiting plants treated with neonics, though they do carry a few non-flowering trees that have been treated with the pesticides.

           

Scott Endres, co-owner of Minneapolis’ Tangletown Gardens, told me that though he can’t guarantee that every single plant they sell is neonic-free, almost every single plant is neonic-free because they grow the majority of them themselves and know exactly how they are produced. When they do buy something they want to carry but don’t grow, he says they buy from reputable growers they trust, so consumers can feel confident buying plants from them. Scott also said that he thinks it’s “awesome” that more and more gardeners are insisting on plants grown “with organic principles that support a sustainable product and the earth.” He believes that people’s awareness is already creating demand that is pushing companies to think more closely about their practices. I couldn’t agree more.

EnergyScapes and Douglas’s new book featured in Highland Villager

_SustainableCoverWe are proud to announce that the Catherine Condon Gudio of ‘The Villager’ newspaper wrote an article about EnergyScapes and Douglas’s new book, Beautifully Sustainable, which you can purchase here. If you don’t receive The Villager on your doorstep, here is a scan of the article: Villager Article 3-19-14

 

Spring is coming, and here’s proof! — by Douglas Owens-Pike

Spring is scheduled to arrive this Thursday with our Vernal Equinox.

Currently we are battered by a mix of rain, freezing rain and

predicted several inches of snow falling overnight tonight and tomorrow.

 

As a celebration of spring I thought it might be helpful to show hopeful signs.

I caught this view of prairie smoke emerging at our entry.

Prairie smoke emerging.

Prairie smoke emerging.

Plenty of snow to melt!

Plenty of snow to melt!

 

 

The distant view reveals there is a great deal of snow remaining to be melted.

The big difference this time of year is albedo: how much of the suns heat is reflected back vs. absorbed by rock, soil or plants.  You can see the effect in our rock garden where the stone is absorbing more heat and melting the snow around them, as well as under the bird feeding station where fallen seed has darkened the snow and bare ground was visible.

Rocks melting snow.

Rocks melting snow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another sure sign of spring is this beautiful barred owl investigating her surroundings. It’s possible that she has a nest nearby and is checking for dangers, or maybe scoping out the availability of prey.

Barred owl.

Barred owl.

 

 

 

Design Basics – Garden Design Round Table

by Douglas Owens-Pike

There are four steps to accomplish, when working toward a landscape plan,before making decisions about what plants to add.

First is to map what is present. This includes property lines, known utilities, soil type (texture or particle size and tilth or structure), existing plants, important views, neighboring distractions (views to screen), direction water flows across site, and any unusual features that could impact the future landscape. Often it is critical to include on this base map trees and other elements beyond the property line that influence sunlight available, water flow, and sight lines. Don’t restrict your inventory to elements only on the land you are designing.

 

The existing ash tree was removed to avoid emerald ash borer infestation as well as to make room for new aspens. The existing front entry walk will also be rerouted to create a more welcoming entrance.

The existing ash tree was removed to avoid emerald ash borer infestation as well as to make room for new aspens. The existing front entry walk will also be rerouted to create a more welcoming entrance.

Second step is to take time to visualize your desires for how you want to make best use of this land. This may include your favorite place to stop to contemplate the world. That location may require radical change to frame the view and claim it as your own. One way to find this spot is to physically wander the property. Another method is to travel in your mind until you reach a spot that feels most welcoming. It may help you feel more grounded or allow you to cast off daily concerns. The garden design can radiate out from this special point to help determine paths, screening, and how to shape the land to guide surface water flow.

This landscape plan offers the client seclusion, a space to gather, as well as a rain garden to control water on site

This landscape plan offers the client seclusion, a space to gather, as well as a rain garden to control water on site

A small amount of surface shaping can dramatically improve where storm water travels and where it collects. This water is an important resource as our weather becomes increasingly erratic, with long periods of drought that end with too much water coming too quickly. Hard surfaces like roofs and pavement can be sued to guide this flow toward a slight depression where you want water to soak in deep into the soil. These temporary pools, with no standing water two days after a rain event, are called raingardens. Plants selected for these depressions are ideally adapted to both drought and flooded soil. They can range in size from low perennials and showy grasses and sedges to trees and shrubs, depending on your goals for views in that area, either open or private.

This stone channel collects storm water from a downspout and leads it to a raingarden on site.

This stone channel collects storm water from a downspout and leads it to a raingarden on site.

The third step, which will bring your vision into focus, is to identify which existing plants are worth saving or require removal. This decision could be a product of poor placement or changing goals, or due to invasive properties and are not appropriate for your habitat. It may be the right tree species, but poor pruning or care have allowed it to grow into a form that does not fit with your new vision. Once undesirable plants are removed, you can more easily see and walk your land to confirm the desired views from your home or your favorite spot in the landscape.

 

This photo, taken during construction, shows an existing wall and foundation plants that remained unmoved. The new design complements them well.

This photo, taken during construction, shows an existing wall and foundation plants that remained unmoved. The new design complements them well.

The fourth step is to determine the best flow, how you want to move through the space, both where paths will be built and the routes to move surface water flow, guiding it to the best raingarden locations. After these primary routes are established you can determine if existing soils will support the plants desired or if any soil amendment would be helpful. Compost can be an important amendment, tilled into the raingarden basin after removing topsoil to achieve the depth for best water collection. Compost can also be helpful to loosen compacted soils and make it easier for new plants to become established. Soils, either heavy with clay or extremely sandy, will be improved by tilling several inches of compost deep into that parent soil. After adding these amendments it is possible to do final grading to achieve the best water flow results.

Compost is tilled into the existing soil to amend it.

Compost is tilled into the existing soil to amend it.

The final design step is to decide what plants could be added to create the views and structure your early design steps predicted. Deciding the right plants is a process of knowing your site. Successful plant choice evolves from knowing your soil texture, sunlight and water available. The first four design steps predict locations of garden beds vs. trees and shrubs or lawn and spaces for entertaining. Most important is to enjoy this process and be patient knowing that the best results come from taking time for more deliberation.

View from the street upon completion. The blanket is a germination blanket that helps our no-mow grass seed mix germinate and establish quickly. The stone pad visible in the bottom-right corner is to place recycling and trash receptacles.

View from the street upon completion. The blanket is a germination blanket that helps our no-mow grass seed mix germinate and establish quickly. The stone pad visible in the bottom-right corner is to place recycling and trash receptacles.

This gathering space will offer seclusion as perennials, shrubs and trees mature.

This gathering space will offer seclusion as perennials, shrubs and trees mature.

 

Please enjoy the other Garden Design Round Table perspectives on design basics by following the links below.

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

David Cristiani : It’s A Dry Heat : Albuquerque, NM

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Open vs. Private – Garden Design Round Table

by Douglas Owens-Pike

Visiting a home for the first time can reveal volumes about who lives there.  Is it open to the street?  Can you find the front door without searching?  Entry landscapes might be defined as formal vs. informal or open vs. private; perhaps the terms wild vs. domesticated come to mind.

My practice of landscape design at EnergyScapes has focused on showing homeowners how to transform their entry toward more sustainable practices, while fitting into their neighborhood.

The second criteria is to make it easy for those first time guests to find their way to where the homeowner wants them to enter their home.

Here are several examples of contrasting styles that are all adjacent or across the street from one another.

our EnergyScapes client's home

our EnergyScapes client’s home

 

neighbor to left of last view (south of our EnergyScapes client)

neighbor to left of last view (south of our EnergyScapes client)

 

home to right side (north) of our EnergyScapes client

home to right side (north) of our EnergyScapes client

Our project, which began in 1997, has medium to tall shrubs at both front corners, but is more welcoming to guests than before we removed the mugo pine on either side of entry walk at the top of the steps up from public walk.  The new shrubs at both north and south corners at the top of front yard slope have the effect of creating a new room on the inside.  The level, former lawn, is now a diverse collection of native ground cover plants.  If the owner is out enjoying the diversity of life drawn to their garden, they have the choice of greeting neighbors as they pass on their walk to the nearby lake or to stay secluded from view, as their mood dictates.

view from entry walk looking northeast with bur oak tree, serviceberry shrubs and ground layer of merry bells, Solomon seal and false Solomon seal with red berries.  Deep green leaves are on volunteer shoots, rhizomes of runners coming from nannyberry shrub next to foundation.  These will be cut off to maintain more openness on either side of entry walk.

view from entry walk looking northeast with bur oak tree, serviceberry shrubs and ground layer of merry bells, Solomon seal and false Solomon seal with red berries. Deep green leaves are on volunteer shoots, rhizomes of runners coming from nannyberry shrub next to foundation. These will be cut off to maintain more openness on either side of entry walk.

close up of Solomon seal with blue fruit, red fruit of Jack-in-the-pulpit, and foliage of maidenhair and bulblet ferns

close up of Solomon seal with blue fruit, red fruit of Jack-in-the-pulpit, and foliage of maidenhair and bulblet ferns

Next door (on either side) there is no option.  If you were sitting on that front stoop or in a lawn chair, you might be considered rude if you did not speak with anyone walking by just twenty feet away.  This formal entry has the advantage of showing off the home’s architecture and leaving it all wide open for public view.  Their lawn is level, watered and tightly manicured as are their “green tutu” of shrubs at the foundation, kept well below the first floor windows.  The care required to maintain this tight appearance is both the time spent mowing and trimming as well as the expense of keeping a short lawn watered through out extended drought the past two growing seasons.

view toward southeast from entry walk showing leatherwood, basswood and native ground cover plants (wild geranium and woodland phlox in foreground); inside the private room

view toward southeast from entry walk showing leatherwood, basswood and native ground cover plants (wild geranium and woodland phlox in foreground); inside the private room

closer view of lawn vs. native ground cover, small trees and shrubs creating a private room on the inside at top of slope

closer view of lawn vs. native ground cover, small trees and shrubs creating a private room on the inside at top of slope

Our client, between these two formal entries, chose to seek more privacy.  When they are in their home they do not need to draw the blinds to feel secluded from public view.  The shrubs accomplish that screening.  Yet, some fine branches are removed.  The stout trunks support the foliage that is maintained at a height between the first and second floor windows.  This selective pruning allows indirect sunlight inside.  This green filtered light makes the room feel cooler in the summer heat than a room in bright, direct sunlight.  Tall foliage also cools the air next to their home by up to ten degrees as water evaporates from those leaves during photosynthesis.

view from front stoop looking south, revealing pruning to keep view to windows open (much more could be removed)

view from front stoop looking south, revealing pruning to keep view to windows open (much more could be removed)

It is possible to create a more open and welcoming entry that is somewhere between these two examples.  The choice is yours.  One way to decide is to take a trip around your neighborhood looking for entries that appeal to you or not.  Take photos of both the good and bad.  If you are working with a landscape designer it will be easy to show them visually rather than struggling with words to describe the mood you would like to create.

Please click on the links below to read perspectives of other designers in our Garden Design Round Table on how they regard this choice of open vs. private entry gardens.

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

“BOLD” for Garden Design Roundtable

by Douglas Owens-Pike

When we think of bold gardens we may be reminded of showy displays of bright perennials often used for monuments at a corporate entry.  Using native plant communities in surprising, urban settings is another way to be bold.  Breaking from convention in the surrounding neighborhood by converting boring lawns into diverse arrangements of the best native plants that survive with minimal care.

Here are a couple of examples:

This was a typical downtown block covered with buildings and pavement within a few blocks of the heart of Seattle.  REI chose to create a dramatic waterfall using local stone and the right native plants so that shoppers entering their flagship store feel like they have already left the city behind and have stepped into the nearby Cascade Mountains.  The growth seen here is just 15-20 years old.

This was a typical downtown block covered with buildings and pavement within a few blocks of the heart of Seattle. REI chose to create a dramatic waterfall using local stone and the right native plants so that shoppers entering their flagship store feel like they have already left the city behind and have stepped into the nearby Cascade Mountains. The growth seen here is just 15-20 years old.

This example shows one of our native Silphium, cup plant, planted outside the hot, west wall of our office.  Soil was not amended and we do not add any irrigation water.  Yet, it has only three feet of width between building and driveway.  Underneath the cup plant are smaller stature plants that bloom either earlier or later than this early August view.

This example shows one of our native Silphium, cup plant, planted outside the hot, west wall of our office. Soil was not amended and we do not add any irrigation water. Yet, it has only three feet of width between building and driveway. Underneath the cup plant are smaller stature plants that bloom either earlier or later than this early August view.

This Raingarden on the boulevard accepts water from the roof of our office.  The recently planted swamp white oak thrives with occasional flooding, along with butterfly flower, provide a dramatic contrast with neighbor’s turf.

This Raingarden on the boulevard accepts water from the roof of our office. The recently planted swamp white oak thrives with occasional flooding, along with butterfly flower, provide a dramatic contrast with neighbor’s turf.

In a year where Monarch butterflies have been scarce, many have been flocking to the blazingstar in our garden.

In a year where Monarch butterflies have been scarce, many have been flocking to the blazingstar in our garden.

These next two views are another demonstration of native plants thriving in harsh conditions.

In this case, tiny flora, less than five inches tall, in full bloom in mid-August in the Cascade Mountains.  Bold in the sense that these miniature plants thrive in spite of an extremely short growing season, due to heavy snow accumulation that only recently melted back from this basin near one mile up from sea level.

In this case, tiny flora, less than five inches tall, in full bloom in mid-August in the Cascade Mountains. Bold in the sense that these miniature plants thrive in spite of an extremely short growing season, due to heavy snow accumulation that only recently melted back from this basin near one mile up from sea level.

In this close up view it is possible to see a rush (black seed forming), alpine fireweed (same pink color as the common fireweed species found at lower elevations) and the deep blue mass is Cuscik’s speedwell, Veronica cuskii.

In this close up view it is possible to see a rush (black seed forming), alpine fireweed (same pink color as the common fireweed species found at lower elevations) and the deep blue mass is Cuscik’s speedwell, Veronica cuskii.

The way I approach landscape design is to seek the toughest plants for the existing conditions that will yield bold, beauty and appeal for our enjoyment in all seasons.

Taking time to hike in the Cascades is one way I get inspired to find these plants that will perform spectacularly in urban settings, with the least care, despite our changing climate.

 

EnergyScapes leads tour for Wild Ones

Tangletown Garden Tour 
Thursday August 29th 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm 
Tour by Douglas Owens-Pike, Ecologically Based Landscape Designer, Owner of EnergyScapes

Join us for a tour of 3 residential gardens in the beautiful Tangletown neighborhood in south Minneapolis. The gardens are professionally installed and maintained by EnergyScapes, “Planning, Transforming and Nurturing Native Landscapes”. Douglas Owens-Pike, an ecologically based landscape designer since the ’80s, and staff from ESI will be leading the tour.

The gardens are landscaped primarily in plants that are native to Minnesota. They will include rain gardens and a mix of habitats from sun to shade expertly nestled into an urban landscape.

Location & Directions:
Meet at Fuller Park at 4800 Grand Av. in south Minneapolis. The sites are just a few blocks apart so biking or carpooling between locations is encouraged.

 

Wild Ones post about upcoming EnergyScapes gardens tour.

PATIOS for Garden Design Round Table

by Douglas Owens-Pike

Outdoor settings often have the potential to be a gathering place for people to slow down, stop, have a sip of their favorite drink, a picnic, or a full-blow dining experience.  The patio surface with appropriate furnishings (bench, table, and shade or sun depending on the weather) can make the difference between a delightful retreat where you want to linger or a place you only observe from a distance.  This view is also an important function as you stand in your kitchen.  Preparing meals or cleaning up will be more pleasant if you are able to travel in your mind to a patio where you linger at the right season or best time of day.  Here are a few examples of projects designed and constructed by EnergyScapes:

IMG_0154 2009-08-03 125

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In this patio, we lay NY Bluestone as a contrast with lighter Chilton dolomite, to create an illusion of a stream flowing through the larger patio.  The "stream" of bluestone doubles as a guide to the steps and path through the woods to lake shore in the distance.

In this patio, we lay NY Bluestone as a contrast with lighter Chilton dolomite, to create an illusion of a stream flowing through the larger patio. The “stream” of bluestone doubles as a guide to the steps and path through the woods to lake shore in the distance.

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