Friday, August 27, 2010

A weird pollinator on an unusual plant

I was visiting our Pollinator Garden in High Park recently when Tanya, one of the Parks gardeners, commented on a large wasp she saw visiting one of our more unusual native plants. The wasp is Sphex pensylvanicus, the Great Black Wasp. Although it's big, it's not aggressive the way some hornets and yellowjackets are. So don't be scared of it! The female captures katydids to feed to her young, but for herself she drinks nectar.

The ones I saw really loved the flowers of Spotted horsemint, Monarda punctata. This is a lovely and rather odd monarda which tolerates dry sandy spots like our High Park garden better than the more common red bee-balm. It's blooming abundantly now in the garden, and the Great Black Wasps prefer it above any other flower there.

This lovely 1815 picture of horsemint comes from the Botanical Register vol. 1 tabl. 87 from The artist was the Welsh botanical illustrator Sydenham Teak Edwards (1768-1819). Click his name to find out more details of his immense contributions to botany, and the use of his designs in things like Spode china.

To see many more images of horsemint, try "monarda punctata" in Google Images. You'll see there is a wide variety of color forms.

As far as I know horsemint does not runner about the way bee balm does.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

PG at DG

That's Pollinator Gardens at Dufferin Grove to the uninitiated. We had a pleasant afternoon meeting people at the organic market at the park, thanks to help from Anne Freeman - thanks Anne! Ten people joined our mailing list - and it's especially nice to note that several of them are teachers, since we are looking forward to doing in-school pollinator gardens.

Since I last posted to the blog, about 60% of a large garden bed at High Park has been planted with pollinator-friendly plants. This was done with the assistance of several PG project members and a great squad of High Park staff - many thanks to Cheryl, Tanya, and several others whose names I forgot to write down! I'll be getting our final spring order of plants this weekend and finishing High Park planting soon. Meanwhile, here are shots of the beginning of the High Park PG:

 Brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba (donated by Valerie Knapp - thanks!) waiting to go to the park...

Laying out the garden - note how long it is! It runs down from the redbud trees at the top towards Grenadier Pond at the bottom. The soil is sandy and light, so all the plants were chosen to survive dry conditions.

 Getting ready to dig the plants in...

A goatsbeard, Aruncus dioicus, under the redbuds. This shade tolerant native came from my garden, and will be the first of our plants to bloom with long white spires in June.

So, now that we've got our first PPG (Park Pollinator Garden) planted, we're delighted that this Sunday (May 30, 2010) we'll be helping staff at Dufferin Grove Park refresh a native planting at the southwest end of the park.

That's all for now - next post will have a native plant list.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Pollinator Gardens are being planted!

This Pollinator Garden (PG) is one of our first to be planted. It occupies most of the sunny front yard of two PG project members, both experts in native bees. The large green clumps in the foreground are Rudbeckia laciniata, one of our large native golden coneflowers. During mid- to late-summer, swarms of bees and butterflies come to the abundant flowers of this plant - see the picture below for an example.

I emphasized sunny because a recent study in Bronx community gardens showed that large amounts of flowers and sunlight were the main factors affecting butterfly diversity, while bees needed these plus a large garden area (not just flowers), probably for nesting.

Success: sun, flowers (lots!), space.

This weekend our first shipment of PG native plants is being made available to project members. Some of these we bought, but many have been donated from members' gardens (thanks to VK for Rudbeckia triloba and to CK for 15 different species!). If you're the lucky recipient of some of these, plant them as soon as possible, leaving 1.5 to 2 feet around the taller plants and about a foot between the smaller ones. The cool, damp weather we're getting will help them establish, but water during the first month if they start to dry out.

The PG at the top of this post has 15 species now and will end up with about 20-25 this year. Why so many? Mostly, to achieve as long a season of bloom as possible! Also, even a simple but largish garden such as this one has areas with more shade and dryness and more open spots. We're choosing plants not just for flowers but also to attract butterflies to lay their eggs. For instance, our native Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) provides nectar in spring and leaf food for caterpillars of a number of butterflies including the fritillaries. Native Canadians use various parts of this violet medicinally, and like many violas the flowers are edible and ornamental in salads or omelettes. We planted a lovely selected form called "Freckles" I grew from seed many years ago. I photographed it in our garden yesterday.

Last but not least, ambitious Pollinator Gardeners with some space should think about native trees, which provide much-needed spring flowers. The Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a striking small tree which tolerates partial shade and grows from Southern Ontario to the US south. Here it is blooming in our front yard yesterday. This 18-year old specimen started under a maple tree and reached one story. When the city took the old maple down, the extra sun allowed it to reach the second story, quite unusual for this species. And yes, there were native pollinators on it! I took my pictures in early morning before it warmed up so only saw bumblebees and a few small bees, probably Andrena. The picture could be clearer, but it's from 20 feet away at maximum zoom on a moving target. Nonetheless you can see what can be found in a Toronto garden on May 6.

Next post I'll feature some of our other larger gardens and the plants going into them.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pollinator Gardens - getting started

Pollinator Gardens -
supporting native pollinators

Hi! You've come to the PG blog...we're a group of people who want to help native pollinators like birds, butterflies, and bees (BBB for short).

We're doing that by planting gardens of native plants. Our flowers will give nectar and pollen to BBB's. Leaves and stems of these plants will provide food and nesting sites.

Most of all, a Pollinator Garden helps make people aware - aware of the many kinds of native pollinators we have, of how we can help them (many are in trouble!), and of how they help us. Each PG is a small step towards rebuilding native ecosystems for some of our most colorful, most interesting, most essential, and most misunderstood wild creatures.

My name is Clement Kent. I'm a gardener, a biologist, and a big fan of birds, butterflies, and bees.

As a gardener, I know how much many of us enjoy helping others grow beautiful gardens and learning from each other how to be better gardeners. I've enlisted the help of a great group, the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto (what a mouthful - the Hort from here on - check them out!). They are helping fund this project and many of them are some of the first to have Pollinator Gardens. But the PG project isn't limited to Hort members - anyone can join.

As a biologist, I work with specialists in birds, butterflies, and bees. I know from these good folk that many of our native species are having a hard time coping with all the changes we've thrown at them - loss of habitat, poisoning by pesticides - and some are endangered. A few have even gone extinct. Don't take my word for it - follow these links to find out more about risks to birds, butterflies, and bees.

As a big fan of these beautiful, interesting, and useful creatures I know that they will benefit immensely if more of us know about them and how they live. Each of us can make a difference! That's why we're planning and planting Pollinator Gardens. Plus, it's win-win. They benefit, but so do we. We benefit from the essential ecosystem services they provide (pollination, being part of many food chains) but we also benefit from just having more of them in our yards and public places. They're fun to watch, great for kids and teachers.

Next time I post I'll describe how to join our project and give some details on plants and pollinators. Meanwhile, looking forward to your comments!