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Book Corner

Bring Back the Bees

Text by Nadja Pausch, OALA, CSLA

Equal parts horticultural resource and call to action, A Garden for the Rusty-Patch Bumblebee frames gardening as a practice which extends beyond the act itself and implores us to consider our gardens and planted spaces as manifestations of our personal responsibility to the land, climate change, ecological resilience, species loss, complexity, wonder, messiness, growth, and hope. We are challenged to think beyond the butterflies and bees which are palatable to us and recognize and encourage all forms of insect life in the garden (including flies, moths, spiders, beetles, and yes, even wasps). This is relevant to our work as landscape architects and stewards of land, and also our personal lives—a way of thinking and viewing the world around us and our place within it

The book begins with a primer on native bees, beneficial insects, and the kinds of habitat required to foster these critically important species in our gardens. The process of pollinating flowering plants is also described—and why native pollinators pollinate more efficiently and effectively due to factors such as their hairiness, electrostatic charges, and their tendency toward floral constancy (repeat visits to a species on any given foraging trip, aiding in cross-pollination). The book is dotted throughout with info boxes on specific topics: buzz pollination, wasps, lighting, and bee hotels, to name a few.

No book on pollination would be complete without mention of honeybees, but here their less-often discussed negative impacts are acknowledged. While highlighting the importance of research into colony collapse disorder, we are reminded honeybees are not native to Canada, nor are they an endangered species at risk of extinction. Indeed, their presence in our gardens and green spaces can discourage native bee foraging, may negatively impact the reproductive success of native bees, and may spread diseases and pests to wild bees.

Also discussed is the value of native plants in supporting native pollinators. Native plants are those which “have evolved in an area over thousands of years with other plants, animals, climate, geological features, etc of the region,” meaning that native plants have developed inter-relationships with native wild bees and other insects which function together in crucial ways. The book discusses the importance of these co-evolved relationships on the health of pollinators—perhaps the most prolific example being Monarch butterflies and their relationship with milkweed.

There is much discussion and, sometimes, confusion around whether non-native plants can offer benefits for native pollinators. A Garden for the Rusty-Patch Bumblebee presents research which demonstrates the value of native plants to insects (when compared with non-native plants), including cultivars and hybrids—an understudied and often elusive topic on which to find reliable information. Beyond just pollen, the book helps the reader understand the intricacies of pollen, nectar, oils, and other resources provided by plants for pollinator health.

A Garden for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee: Creating Habitat for Native Pollinators, book cover. IMAGE/ Douglas & McIntyre

The book then moves into practical, hands-on notes on site preparation (for example, the elimination of turf grass). There are tips for design, including bloom times, flower shape and colour, and plant spacing. Particularly useful for urban gardeners is a list of plants which will thrive in container gardens—ideal for patios, balconies, and other small outdoor spaces. More than just a list of plants however, Johnson and Colla help to transition our design thinking away from individual plants, toward plant communities (important for home gardeners and landscape architects alike).

The real meat of the book is the over 170 pages of plant profiles, most of which are beautifully illustrated by Ann Sanderson. Perennials are organized by bloom time, followed by profiles of grasses, sedges, and woody plants. In addition to the typical plant profile information (height, flower colour, bloom period, exposure, soil moisture, etc.), each plant listing includes a list of specialist relationships between the plant and relevant pollinator. And, as with other books authored by Lorraine Johnson, each plant includes a few good companions which can be planted together. There are lists for specific conditions, such as rain gardens, pond and bog gardens, and combinations for different bloom times, exposure, and soil conditions. The result is a comprehensive and thoughtful inventory of plants which is refreshingly accessible to both professionals and home gardeners alike. Taking the practicality of this information even further, the book closes out with sample garden designs, an extensive list of resources including native plant nurseries, non-profit organizations, selected books, and a comprehensive index.

More than 90 per cent of herbivorous insects are specialists on native plants. IMAGE/ Dorte Windmuller

It can occasionally be tricky with botanical research to find reliable information about a plant or how it performs in your particular region. Will it actually grow and perform well? Are the common pests or disease problems both prevalent and detrimental enough to discourage the selection of a particular plant? Internet resources claim it can tolerate shady conditions, but is that consistently true? Most of this knowledge is acquired through years of hands-on experience with plants, observing their performance, year after year. As many of us are designing planting plans from inside our offices and not out in the field, wisdom from trusted sources is indispensable. As a result, I consistently rely on books when devising plant lists, and I already know this volume will be a staple in my collection that I’ll reach for time and again. All in all, A Garden for the Rusty-Patch Bumblebee is an immensely valuable resource for landscape architects, garden designers, and pollinator fanatics living or working in Ontario

BIO/ Nadja Pausch, OALA, CSLA, is a Ground Editorial Board Member and Chair. Nadja Works as a landscape architect at a multidisciplinary design office in Toronto.