Does anyone garden for pollinators?
When I planted my new perennial/cottage-style garden last fall and this spring, I decided I wanted to plant as many things as possible for pollinators. I wanted to focus on native bees, honey bees and even pollinating wasps and flies, and so far I have been having a great time watching all of these young plants come into bloom (well, those that are still alive after the heat and drought) and watch who comes to visit. Once you get over the initial fear of the possibility getting stung, it becomes just as fascinating as birdwatching. Most pollinators are quite gentle when going about their business, especially if they have no nearby nest to defend. (I am allergic to most wasp/hornet stings and carry an epi-pen in season.)
There is a wealth of information both online and in books about gardening for butterflies and hummingbirds, but it seems that gardening for other pollinators is a relatively new area of interest. As such, there is not a lot of information available...yet. Most of the current information pertains to honeybees, but the Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation has a great new book called "Attracting Native Pollinators" that has been very useful to me.
Here are some of the plants I put in that are attracting a lot of attention from winged visitors, in no particular order:
Monarda 'Raspberry Wine'
Agastache--Blue Blazes, Blue Fortune, Purple Haze and Golden Jubilee
African Blue basil
Helenium 'Mardi Gras'
I also have a lot of plants that have not yet bloomed or settled in, so I can't really comment on how well they attract pollinators.
One plant that has disappointed me has been Phacelia tanacetifolia, the so-called bee's friend or purple tansy. This is a weedy, unattractive, brittle plant and looks dull even when in full bloom. More importantly, the bees completely overlooked it and preferred the nearby (and more attractive to humans) borage.
My inner city back garden is small, about 25 x 35 feet total. On warm, sunny days, I can count dozens and dozens of bees, wasps (not hornets or yellow jackets) and flower flies. All of them have been extremely gentle and have allowed me to get close enough to identify them easily with a guidebook in hand. I can close my eyes and literally hear the garden buzz with activity!
In the past couple of weeks, there have been dozens of giant black wasps about 1.5-2 inches long that have been working over the flowers. At first I was frightened, but they have been identified as Great Black Wasps, a non-aggressive solitary species (i.e., no nest to defend). The adults eat only flower pollen and nectar but they will kill adult grasshoppers and crickets to bury with their eggs as a food source. They usually fly away from me as soon as I get near. Now that I know what they are, they are welcome garden visitors, even if they do look a little scary.
I have had three species of bumblebees, one species of carpenter bees, one species of leaf cutter bees, and several species of sweat and solitary bees. Because Chicago has an active beekeepers' association, I get a fair amount of traffic from honeybees from nearby hives. It is harder to identify the individual species of wasps and flower flies since even less information exists about these insects, but I have seen many different types.
In the past, I have been an avid hummingbirder and butterfly watcher as well. I still have many things planted for both, and I have a hummingbird feeder set up for the odd hummer that travels into the city (I last saw one three weeks ago). But I have to say that watching pollinating insects has really opened my eyes to different aspects of gardening and to the role of humans in stewarding and conserving nature.
All of these insects have been with humans for the past thousands and millions of years and yet so few of us have taken the time to really notice them. It is so rewarding to cultivate a beautiful garden and still feel like you are "giving something back to Nature" as well.
Has anyone else been gardening for pollinators? What have been your most successful plants? Or, even if you don't garden for pollinators, have you noticed anything in your garden that gets a lot of winged traffic?