Let Nature Play Her Part in the Garden

Presentation: Let Nature Play Her Part in the Garden

Bill Terry may be best known for his Himalayan Blue Poppies (Meconopsis grandis, and many of us likely have a copy of Blue Heaven on our gardening book shelves.  Bill has spent much of the last 22 years trying to create the “perfect garden” based on generally accepted design combined with exotic plant materials.  More recently however he has come to realize that working with Mother Nature rather than controlling her makes tasks simpler and easier, especially for older gardeners.

Bill was influenced by Michael Pollan’s book Second Nature: A Gardeners Education, in which Pollan writes about rethinking our relationship with nature claiming that “nature abhors a garden”.  Haven’t we all had these thoughts as we laboured away, trying to exert our control over seemingly unruly plants?  After spending decades moving from one trend to another, purchasing arm loads of bedding plants each spring and following the latest trends and crazes, Bill and Rosemary changed their focus to developing an understanding of plants in their natural habitat and learning to accept that nature must have an equal part in the garden.

In The Carefree Garden, Bill teaches us how to give ourselves a break by letting nature do her share of the work. This requires an adjustment to our concepts of beauty and what constitutes the perfect garden.  For instance, we have been educated to think of a large expanse of lush well manicured grass as an ideal to aspire to.  Instead, we could appreciate the beauty of wild flowers or ground covers such as moss or clover.

A list of common plants that Bill and Rosemary have been introducing into their garden, most of which are native to our region:

  • Rhododendron macrophyllum – the pacific rhodo;
  • Camassia quamish (camas) – the bulbs are edible however harvest while in bloom so as not to confuse it with a similar poisonous plant;
  • Plectritis congesta (seablush) – in the honeysuckle family;
  • Mimulus (common monkey flower);
  • Calypso bulbosa (fairy slipper orchid);
  • Lysichiton americanus (swamp lantern or skunk cabbage); Erythronium oreganus (giant white fawn lily or Oregon fawn lily), E. revolutum (mahogany, coast or pink fawn lily) – Bill planted some in a moss lawn;
  • Collinsia paryiflora (blue-eyed mary); polypodium glycyrrhiza (licorice fern);
  • Rosa Nutkana (bristly or wild rose) – can be invasive but is confined in poor soil;
  • Holodiscus discolor (ocean spray, ironwood or creambrush) was used to make harpoons and arrow shafts;
  • Goodyera oblongifolia (wild orchid);
  • Lonicera cilosa (honeysuckle) – Bill’s is climbing a douglas fir;
  • Fritillaria affinis (chocolate lily), F. Camschatcensis (black lily) – beautiful but smelly;
  • Trillium ovatum (pacific western trillium) – easy to re-introduce and maintenance free;
  • Brodiaea coronaria – growing from seed it takes four years to develop a flowering plant;
  • Dodecatheon sp. (Shooting star) – has no diseases and is surviving well with limited maintenance;
  • Ribes sanguineum (red and white flowering currants);
  • Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape)- the currants and Oregon grape plants are flourishing without being watered or fertilized;
  • Philadephus lewsii (Gordon’s mock orange);
  • Dicentra Formosa (pacific bleeding heart) have pink, yellow or cream flowers;
  • Aquilegia (columbine);
  • Pacific iris; Lilium columbianum (Columbia or tiger lily);
  • Tulipa sprengeri, T. Sylvestris, T. Batalinii, T. Turkestanica are all species tulips generally dwarf ranging from 4” – 8” tall that have evolved to survive in their locale and are durable while hybrids diminish in health and stamina over time. Although small and simple they have a special appeal and require no feeding or digging up and have no diseases.  turkestanica is the size of a crocus;
  • Narcissus bulbocodium (the hoop petticoat daffodil) – 6-8” high, ‘tete a tete’ is another Narcissus favourite;
  • Rosa hugonis (Father Hugo’s Rose) – a single flowered yellow rose that blooms only once a year, but worth it, called the ‘golden rose of china’;
  • Paeonia mascula (wild Balkan peony) – grows well in our Mediterranean climate, P. Mlokosewitschii;
  • obovata var. alba “molly the witch” – will cross breed with other species, P. Lutea (single flowered yellow tree peony), P. Delavayi – a shrub with deep maroon flowers and yellow stamins, Rockii semi-double white flowers -grows well from seed.

Bill Terry is author of “Blue Heaven: Encounters with the Blue Poppy, (2009), “Beyond Beauty: Hunting the Wild Blue Poppy” (2012), “Beauty by Design: Inspired Gardening in the Pacific Northwest.” (2013,) co-authored with his wife, Rosemary Bates and “The Carefree Garden: Letting Nature play her part” (2015).

Workshop:  Bees and the Garden

Nairn Hollett, a Victoria bee keeper.

If left to their own devices bees would prefer to build a cone shaped hive structure in a tree hollow. Beekeepers entice them to live in an artificial ‘hive’ to make honey collection easier.

The ‘hive’ comprises a series of boxes stacked one upon another.  The lower boxes are filled with frames in which are inserted wax sheets on which hexagons have been imprinted and upon which the bees build chambers where the queen will lay eggs and where honey is stored.  Usually a hive will consist of two lower boxes, sometimes referred to as brood chambers, above which are honey supers where excess honey is stored.

The Queen and her workers:

Beekeepers dab paint on the back of the queen for easy identification, using a different colour each year so the keeper knows how old she is.

Queens mate with multiple drones fertilizing her lifetime supply of eggs that she holds in her abdomen and for this reason she is much larger than worker bees. She lays approximately 1500 eggs every day.

Queen bees can live up to 5 years but beekeepers replace their queens every year or two.

Worker bees do all the work with drones needed only for mating.  There are 100 or so drones in a hive, mating only with queens from other hives, after which they die.  In the fall any drones remaining in the hive will be kicked out.

The queen lays eggs in the chambers built by worker bees.  The eggs develop into larva and are fed royal jelly with honey and pollen added to their diet as they develop.  The worker bees enclose them in the chamber to pupate and they hatch 21 days later.  When they emerge from the cell these ‘nurse bees’ immediately clean up the hive, feed larvae and build comb cells. Eventually they begin foraging to gather nectar.  In the summer they live six weeks and in winter their life span is six months.

To create a queen a larva that has been deposited in a specially built large sized chamber is fed only royal jelly. She will not be fed honey and pollen as are larvae that become worker bees.

Bees Making Honey:

Foraging bees do a waggle dance to communicate to other foragers the direction and distance to nectar sources.

When bees leave the hive to forage they move in circles that are ever increasing and this is how they re-find the hive.

To create honey, worker bees evaporate water from the nectar by flapping their wings and when the nectar is dehydrated sufficiently the cells are capped thus enabling the honey to keep indefinitely.

If the hive gets too crowded the old queen will take half of the bees in a swarm to a new location. They fill themselves with extra honey before they leave for sustenance until they can build a new hive.

A swarm line run by the Capital Region Beekeepers Association for reporting a swarm can be reached at 250-900-5133.

To prevent your hive from swarming and risk losing half of your bees, split the hive and start a new one. Place some of the full frames in a new box and when the bees realize they do not have a queen they will work at producing one.

Bees making wax:

Beeswax comes from a gland on either side of the bees’ body and they work it to make the comb in the hive.  Colour of the wax also ranges from light to dark and for commercial use the whiter wax is preferred.

Propylis comes from sap from certain plants and trees and is used as a glue in the hive.

Harvesting Honey:

To extract honey or to work with the hives, beekeepers use smoke to make the bees easier to work with.  The smoke causes them to fill up with honey and that makes them more docile.

To harvest honey, scrape the wax off the surface of the frame then it insert into a machine where the honey is sucked out by centrifugal force.  Honey can range from white to dark brown depending on where the nectar comes from.

Challenges of Beekeeping:  

Beekeeping is more complicated now because of disease, parasites and pesticides.

Join the beekeepers association to learn how to properly care for your hives or you will lose your bees (www.capital region beekeepers.ca).

Neonicotinoids are a systemic pesticide that kills bees.  There are curbs now put on the use of this substance.

Gardeners need to ensure the plants purchased from nurseries have not been treated with neonicotinoids because it is a long lived and toxic chemical.  It affects the nervous system of the bees causing problems with navigation, learning and communicating.

Varroa mite spread through Europe and came here in early 2000s.  It bores its way into the larva and spreads disease to the bees.  Mite treatments include oxalic acid and oil of thyme,  used in late fall and early winter when no brood is in the hive.

Helping the Pollinators:

There are approximately 70 kinds of bees on Vancouver Island.

Pollinators (including the queen) will overwinter in dead garden debris so gardeners can help them by leaving part of the garden untidy with dead leaves and stocks for them to live in. It is therefore doubly important not to use pesticides in your garden.

Attracting the pollinators:

Capital City Bee Keepers website has a list of plants that attract bees.

Colour is important – yellow is favourite – blues, purples, mauves and some reds are good.

Planting in groups is preferred to make them easier to find.

A sunny location 4 – 6 hrs. per day for good nectar production.  Some plants produce nectar in morning, some in the afternoon and some all day long. Synchronize sunshine hours with peak nectar production.

Good nectar producers:  dandelions and thistles, maple & arbutus; oregon grape, salal, snowberry, camas, fire weed, manzanita, fruit trees, raspberry, blackberry and blueberry bushes, runner beans, broad beans, squash, chives, sunflowers, zinnias, dahlias, roses – single blossoms are better than doubles –  Roses have the highest percentage of nectar, herbs, crocus, snowdrops, oregano, rosemary, thyme, borage, ground covers such as clover, vetch and buckwheat. Rhododendron are poisonous and bees avoid them (except bumblebees).