Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Our garden at Canada Blooms!

The last 6 days have been a whirl, and I'm a bit dazed due to lack of sleep. But I'm happy to report that our pollinator garden at Canada Blooms has been a great success. Many thanks to the donors and volunteers who have made this possible!

I've been too busy fetching, hauling, sawing, fastening, shoveling, planting, watering, and tidying to take good pictures of the final result, but I will share a few interim shots now and more tomorrow after I've had some sleep...

Jonathan Wong in the garden at the start of construction

my brother Gene came all the way from Timmins to help!

filling the pond in the wetland area

planting at last! Heather Matthews, Kelly Mullan, Rachel Weston, and Mary-Louise Craven

Katie Kurtin arranges pussy willow and red osier dogwood stems

one view of the almost finished garden

A final quick note - a very early, very rough draft of our website is now taking form at This blog is part of it, and there will be a lot more added over the next few weeks.

Saturday, March 5, 2011 is the new home of this blog - more plant pics

I'm slowly catching up with my to-do list, which included getting a real website for the Pollinator Gardens Project. Not quite there yet, but the domain now exists, and should take you right to this blog. In the coming weeks we'll add real web pages.

Back to the increasingly fraught saga of forcing plants for our garden at the Canada Blooms show in less than two weeks time. Last post I showed you pictures of bloodroot or "Canada Puccoon", a name I still love. Today I'll show you a few more of the plants that are doing well, and talk about some of the ones that aren't and why they aren't.

York University greenhouses
But first, let me introduce you to our sponsors...or some of them. The folks at the York University Dept. of Biology (where I work) have been very kind in allowing us to put a few plants in their greenhouses to wake them up.

The greenhouses are warm, and have high-intensity lights to help deal with the weak sun at this season. This has been ideal for the Scarlet Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica.

Asclepias curassavica buds
Although the Scarlet Milkweed is not native to Ontario, it is gorgeous, easy to grow, and monarchs do encounter it at the south of their migration range. And, since there was no guarantee that I was going to be able to get the mid-summer blooming native milkweeds into flower, I thought it would be prudent to go Scarlet. I grew some plants last spring from seed that were kept in pots far too small for them, and then allowed to languish miserably in a cool window in my house from November through January. They looked terrible when I took them into the greenhouse, but began to perk up in just a few days.

Asclepias curassavica in bloom
A few weeks later, here they are in full, wonderful bloom. They tend to get scraggly, but in a warm greenhouse (thank you, York!) they can be cut back and will grow new blooming shoots in less than a month. Currently I am playing a dangerous game of cutting back lots of the plants, hoping they will recover in time for the show.

Viola canadensis bud
Meanwhile, a number of potted plants have been languishing in durance vile in our very cold, dark, unheated garage. They have been frozen solid since December. Many of our natives won't grow though unless they get a cold dormancy. So, a month ago I started taking them out and trying to get them to grow. This Canada Violet looks ready to rock so is back in my cold greenhouse, saving itself for the show.

Solomon's Seal in bud
As a rule once I get plants to show flower buds in the warm greenhouse I bring them back home and keep them cool. They will have a few days in the show garden before the public arrives to warm up and get going. This Solomon's Seal is about there, but may need a few days more of warmth before the show starts. I'm feeling a bit like a soccer or hockey mom, shuttling my "kids" back and forth between greenhouses.

At the suggestion of some kindly folk in the North American Native Plant Society (NANPS) I cut stalks of pussy willow (Salix discolor) and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) from a wild area in February and put them in a bucket - out of doors! We've had several warm spells, so the "pussies" are beginning to show already. They won't need any help from me before the show, but the red dogwoods will get some days in a warmer spot to liven them up.
Pussy Willow bud close up

 So, those are some of the successes. What about the others? Some native plants judge when spring has come simply by the warmth - those are my success stories. Others, to avoid being tricked into growth only to be caught in late frosts, wait until the days reach a certain length before starting. These "photoperiod-sensitive" plants are my failures, because I didn't have a warm greenhouse where I could keep the lights on for 14 hours a day. So, my jack-in-the-pulpit, columbines, and other wonderful treasures are sitting cynically below the earth in their pots, muttering "you can't fool me! I know there are going to be 5 more snowstorms still!". Sigh...I've put a few of them in a light box where the fluorescent lights do give them the magic 14 hour days, but I did it too late and will probably have to do without these plants.

Monarda didyma, Beebalm, being forced
One interesting intermediate case was the wild bergamot or bee-balm (Monarda). I had many pots of this from my own garden, and high hopes for it even though it's a summer bloomer. It started growing promptly in the greenhouse, so it doesn't require long days to get started. However, it then stalled at a few inches height, apparently waiting for long days to get  going. Alas!

It's important to talk about your failures as well as your successes, so others can learn from them. My advice to anyone planning to force native plants is to go to a greenhouse that keeps potted stock indoors at this time of year. The warmth-lovers will be up and showing green but the long-day plants will still be hidden. You can make a list and plan next winter's activities accordingly. I started this project too late last year to benefit from this, but am making notes for next time.

See you at Canada Blooms!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Getting ready for the Show - bringing the "Canada Puccoon" into bloom.

In just three weeks we'll be setting up our native plants pollinator garden at Canada Blooms. I found that there were several challenges getting ready for this.

First, where to get plants? If you want to decorate your garden with tulips or daffodils, lilacs or magnolias, the people at the show have a good variety of stock for sale which is forced into bloom at just the right time by professionals. My problem was that the list of plants wasn't available until December, and I feared it wouldn't have many natives.

Sanguinaria canadensis bud
first signs - leaf wrapped around bud
So, in early October  I potted up about 40 Solomon's Seal, Monarda, Milkweed, and Bloodroot from my own garden and let them sit outside until we had a hard frost, so they would be fully dormant. I then moved them to a wire-mesh enclosure (to keep out hungry mice) in our unheated detached garage.

I also began looking for potted plants for sale. I ended up buying several flats of natives from Humber Nurseries, a very reliable grower not too far from where I work. Humber was willing to store the plants in one of their cold greenhouses until February, as I didn't have room in the garage for everything. I drove out and picked them up in several trips over the last 3 weeks.

Sanguinaria canadensis bud
bud emerging from leaf
Next challenge: how to bring them into bloom for March 15? - there are no instructions out there for doing this, the way there are for crocuses and tulips. I've been experimenting and will record some of the results over the next few weeks as we get ready for the show.

Sanguinaria canadensis growing
Sanguinaria canadensis bud white showing
Valentine's Day
On January 21,  I moved some blood- root pots from the garage to my cold greenhouse, which is usually 1-5°C at that time. This allowed the roots to thaw gradually and is my way of imitating late March in Toronto. On February 6th, there was NO sign of life in the pots but ever optimistic I moved one pot to a cool window in the kitchen, where temperatures may reach 18°C by day and 10-15°C by night. One week later the first shoots began to show, by Valentine's day there were white buds, and over the next few days they all opened. Now, on February 20 only one flower is still blooming but the beautiful leaves are just getting going.

Sanguinaria canadensis flower
sepals (green) open to reveal petals
So, what did I learn? It took about 3 weeks from thaw to bloom, but the flowers I got were a little thin. I suspect they were just a bit too warm the last 2-3 days before blooming, so for the next batch I'll move them to a cooler place once buds begin to show. Since I know a pot that looks good on March 15 will have dropped its petals by March 20, I will divide the two dozen pots I have into 6 groups, each one day behind the next so I'll have a continuous supply of flowers throughout the show. Then once the show is over, I'll try to keep the plants quite cool with a goal to putting them outside in mid-April. They should be nicely hardened off by the time of our benefit Plant Fair and ready to move into new homes.

Sanguinaria canadensis flowers finishing
full bloom - click to enlarge
Bloodroot is known by many common names - my favorite is "Canada Puccoon" - so the best way to find it on the web is to use its scientific name, Sanguinaria canadensis. It's a beautiful and undemanding early spring wildflower, while the leaves make an excellent 6-12" groundcover in shady places most of the rest of the season. The name refers to the orange-red sap, which contains the toxic compound Sanguinarine. Although the web contains reports of native herbal uses of bloodroot, I urge extreme caution: the toxin is very strong and there are cases of people suffering permanent skin damage (Journal of Alternative and Contemporary Medicine) from using salves and other formulations. The Wikipedia article gives more examples of uses and misuses. If you get sap on your skin when transplanting, use soap to clean it off promptly.

beautiful but short bloom in a warm house
Bloodroot flowers are pollinated by early native bees and some flies, but it isn't done with insect help then. The shiny black seeds have tasty fleshy bits called elaiosomes attached. Ants take the seeds into their nest, eat the elaiosomes, and leave the hard seeds alone, where they will sprout next spring enriched by the compost inside the nest and having been carried some distance away from Mom.

Bloodroot is a member of the huge Poppy family (Papaveraceae), and has a second-cousin relative in China called the snow poppy or dawn poppy.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Upcoming talks and events on Pollinator Gardens

Just a quick informational update - here are a few events/talks about pollinators or pollinator gardens that may interest you this winter.

name this Ontario orchid! Is it a "rare woodland plant"?
Tuesday February 1, 2011. "How to make a Pollinator Garden" by Clement Kent. TBG, for the Toronto Master Gardeners. Unfortunately, I think attendance at this event is restricted to Master Gardeners. However, I plan to drop in beforehand at the NANPS (North American Native Plant Society) meeting, also at TBG, 6:30 onward. Sean Fox is speaking on "Rare Native Woodland Plants of Ontario". Unfortunately this overlaps my Master Gardeners talk so I'll miss most of the NANPS meeting, but hope to touch base and meet those of you who are NANPS regulars there.

Also, I will be distributing a few pre-publication copies of my new booklet, "How to make a Pollinator Garden" by Clement Kent (what a coincidence - same name....wonder how that happened?) to those willing to be constructive critics, at NANPS and at the Master Gardeners. See below, Canada Blooms, for the publication launch of this booklet.

Thursday February 10, 2011. "How to make a Pollinator Garden" by Clement Kent for the Huronia Beekeepers Association, in Orillia at the Highwayman Inn, 7:30-9. Gosh, same title again? Well as it happens I shift the content of the talk depending on the audience. The HBA folk don't need a ton of details about bees (although I will be going into some detail on native bees that differ from honeybees), just as the Master Gardeners don't need detailed advice about how to care for plants. At the HBA, I'll be focusing on what kind of pollinator gardens are (a) suited to a cooler, less urban climate than southern Ontario, (b) provide maximum benefit to a suite of native bees and other pollinators, and (c) what some of steps are to use public spaces for these gardens. I hope potential pollinator gardeners in the Orillia/Barrie/Muskoka area will drop in, even if you're not beekeepers - the HBA folk say the meetings are open to all and they seem like very nice people to meet. Bee careful though - after you've sampled good Canadian honey (not the Asian imports you get in most grocery stores) you might feel a new hobby coming on...

Saturday February 26, 2011. "Pollination Symposium" of Pollination Guelph, at the Harcourt Memorial United Church, located at 87 Dean Ave in Guelph from 9am - 3:30pm ($30 in advance - email  Talks will cover such topics as the current plight of bumble bees, the importance of flies as pollinators, collecting and sourcing seeds for planting projects, creating sustainable and pollinator-friendly landscaping and school gardens, the value of native vs non-native plants for pollinators, ways to get involved as pollinator stewards in your community, and updates from Pollination Guelph.

 Liriodendron tulipifera. "wildflowerbob", Wikimedia
Monday February 28 2011. "Trees in the Urban Setting" by Linda Hawkins, for the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto, in Toronto at the Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian Church (250 Dunn Ave., just south of Queen St. West). This might seem a bit off-topic until you realize that spring and early summer flowering trees are crucial resources for pollinators during seasons when there aren't as many flowers blooming as later in the summer. Think buckeye, honey locust, tulip tree, catalpa, redbud - these are some of our most beautiful street trees. Come and hear more about them! Also, if you want to help at the Pollinator Gardens/Project Chirp booth and Feature Garden at Canada Blooms (see next item), this meeting is your last chance to volunteer.

 Tuesday March 15 - Sunday March 20, 2011. "Pollinator Gardens/Project Chirp" at Canada Blooms.We (the Pollinator Gardens project of the Parkdale and Toronto Horticultural Society) and Project Chirp are collaborating to have a booth and a Feature Garden at this well known gardening event in the CNE grounds of Toronto. These will be on display each day of the show - come and visit us. We definitely need volunteers to help with these - if you want to help, send email with "Pollinator Gardens volunteer" in the subject line to 

Design for Feature Garden - Clement Kent

Our Feature Garden will have native wildflowers in bloom, including trees, shrubs, and perennials. They will be colorful, fragrant, and all are beneficial to pollinators. There will be water plants, berry-bearing shrubs for hungry birds, butterfly flowers that also are food plants for caterpillars, and more. Drop by our booth after viewing the garden to ask questions or browse our literature.

In addition we have three seminars, all in Garden Solutions Rm 105, Hall A in the Direct Energy Centre:
  1. Wed. Mar 16, 11:00 a.m. "Wild Things in the City: How to Make a Pollinator's Garden" , by Dr. Clement Kent. This is a short, to the point version of my talk that should be accessible everyone, gardener, pollinator enthusiast, or not. Plus, we'll have copies (first edition, get yer collectable copy at Canada Blooms, signed by the world infamous author!) of my new booklet, "How to make a Pollinator Garden" by Clement Kent. This booklet gives the who, what, when, why, where, and how of pollinator gardening in a step-by-step manner. It's a non-profit publication being sold at a cost-recovery price (probably $5, TBD). It's a good way to spread the word about pollinator gardening to your club, school, or friends and relations.
  2. Wed. Mar 16, 2:00 p.m. "Gardening for Songbird & Pollinator Conservation" , by Christina Sharma of Project Chirp. Christina is passionate about making gardens a friendlier place for birds - so if you are a bird watcher, catch this talk.
  3. Sat. Mar 19, 11:00 a.m. "How You Can Help Preserve Canada's Pollinators" , by Prof. Laurence Packer of York University. Laurence is an internationally known expert on bees of the world, plus he's a great and entertaining speaker. He works hard to preserve threatened pollinators by speaking, serving on COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada), and through his book, "Keeping the Bees".  David Suzuki says "Laurence Packer's wonderful book about the world of bees offers the sheer delight of learning about these diverse animals, their basic biology and the role they play in ecosystems. Keeping the Bees revels in the lives of bees but clearly shows how much more we have yet to learn and therefore makes a powerful case for being far more cautious in the way we exploit the Earth. A world without bees would be a world without people."You can also read the Globe and Mail's review. This should be a great talk!

 p.s. I'm sure I've missed some good events. If so, let me know about them and I'll add them to the blog....

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Many Monarchs – Too Much of a Good Thing?

No, this article is not about royal weddings, but it is about monarchs – Danaus plexippa, the monarch butterfly, to be precise.

migrating monarchs in my pollinator garden
A year ago I spoke to the Toronto Horticultural Society about “Wild Things in your Garden”. I mentioned monarchs in that talk. Did you know that monarch studies have a special link to Toronto? Fred A. Urquhart, a University of Toronto scientist, studied monarchs since 1940 tracing their migration routes, but he couldn’t find their winter roost in the rough mountains of Mexico. So, he placed ads in Mexican newspapers. An US engineer living in Mexico, Kenneth C. Brugger, saw the ad and in 1975 told a delighted Prof. Urquhart that he’d found the roost. 35 years of work had paid off! Spectacular pictures ensued in places like National Geographic, and eventually the Mexican government created a Monarch Preserve to protect the trees in which the monarchs roost. More details about this quest are at the site of the Urquhart Memorial Garden, and you can read a detailed history of Urquhart's story in this 1999 Vanity Fair article by Alex Shoumatoff.

In my 2010 talk I highlighted declines in monarch butterfly numbers during the winter of 2010, when one quarter the number overwintered in Mexico compared to 2009.  All this gloom had one good effect: it mobilized many people, including me, to think and act to preserve Canadian habitat for pollinators, including monarchs. With the support of the Hort and many of our members, this has grown into our Pollinator Gardens (PG) project. As part of the project, I planted a number of milkweed plants (the only food for monarch caterpillars) in my cottage garden with an eye to finding out which species were most attractive to the butterflies and which grew easily. I can now report preliminary results from one year’s observations.

monarchs on swamp milkweed, my PG
My veggie garden is surrounded by a wild garden with common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and butterfly weed (A. tuberosa). In previous years the wild garden had raised respectable numbers of monarchs, and I thought perhaps the presence of lots of common milkweed might make the butterflies ignore the swamp milkweed (A. incarnata) and Scarlet milkweed (A. curassavica) I planted among the veggies. Nothing could have been farther from the truth! The new species were covered with caterpillars by August, so much so that some of the plants would have been eaten down to nubbins if I hadn’t moved caterpillars to less crowded quarters. Most popular was the Scarlet milkweed (with both caterpillars, adult butterflies, hummingbirds, and people, all of whom liked its bright red and gold flower – to eat, in the case of the caterpillars!). However, by the end of August the stand of swamp milkweed had caught up more than a dozen caterpillars visible on any sunny noontime, among the big pink, fragrant flower clusters.
caterpillars eat scarlet milkweed

I did some research, and found that monarch moms prefer to lay their eggs on milkweeds with (a) soft leaves, and (b) high levels of the noxious compounds which make birds throw up when they eat monarchs. Sure enough, scarlet and swamp milkweeds both have softer leaves than the common species and higher levels of icky goo. So far, so good.

Because I had many, many monarchs in one area I had much more luck in locating the critical stage between caterpillar and butterfly: the beautiful sea-green, gold-speckled pupa. These can be very hard to find in wild sites, as the caterpillars wander far from their milkweed restaurants before pupating. But I had enough to actually learn to recognize their habits. I found that caterpiggles typically wiggled about 2 to 5 meters away from their plant before pupating. I found many pupae under horizontal surfaces about 30 cm to one meter above ground level. They liked the bottom of  the board fence that rings the garden, and especially the underside of wild grape leaves in the wild garden. My first research conclusion for the PG is that in settings like a school garden, planting milkweeds a few meters from benches or horizontal boards on posts may allow children to see the stunning pupae when they return to school in September.

monarch pupa, about 1 day since pupation
Although monarch adults have few natural enemies, caterpillars and pupae are eaten – not by birds, but by tiny fly or wasp parasitoids whose eggs eat the larval stages from the inside out. Ugh! I was worried that concentrating good food plants in a small area might increase losses to these parasitoids, but encouraged by reports that they are not nearly as destructive in Canada as in the US (where up to 90% of monarchs are killed in larval stages by them).

parasitoid wasps on caterpillar ready to pupate
There are programs to monitor the number of caterpillars attacked by fly parasitoids, but because pupae are so hard to find, not much study has been done on the tiny wasps that attack them. So, with my newfound search pattern for pupae, I did some preliminary research. I’ll need a second season to make the results scientific, but I can tell you today that monarch pupae are indeed attacked by wasps in Ontario, that the damage is minor in July but rises in August, to the point where almost half the pupae in my garden in September were parasitised. Was this because I had created an ideal breeding site by planting very attractive milkweeds densely? That’s a question I hope to follow up this year, by moving some of the milkweeds to another location in lower densities and monitoring pupae there, compared to the main cluster. Then I’ll be able to tell you whether many, many monarchs are too much of a good thing.

The goals of the PG project include education and scientific research in how best to make a pollinator garden. As the example I’ve just told you shows, you can contribute to both these goals in your own garden with nothing more complicated than some milkweed plants and a pair of sharp eyes. Nothing I did required a microscope or test tube! Plus, I got to do all my research out of doors in my garden in some of the finest weather of the year…unlike, for example, studying the effect of vanishing Arctic ice on polar bears.

p.s. all photos in this blog post were taken by me, Clement Kent, in my country Pollinator Garden during summer/fall 2010.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tea at the Pollinator Garden - Thursday October 7

We'll be meeting at the High Park Pollinator Garden for afternoon tea and planting this Thursday, October 7, 3:30-5:30 p.m. NOTE that this is the rain date - we were going to meet Wednesday, but rain is predicted while Thursday is supposed to be very pleasant.

If you haven't been there, there's a map that can guide you. From the restaurant in the park, go south (towards Lake Ontario) on Colborne Lodge Drive. A small drive called Hillside Road leads you to the buildings where the park gardeners work, and a paved walking path goes down past the rock gardens to our garden.

There will be tea and goodies! Those of you who can come, consider bringing any of these items:
 - a thermos of hot water, or
 - a few tea cups, or
 - some tea-time snacks, or
 - garden gloves and a trowel, or
 - a pencil!
You can help us out if you bring any of the above...we'll be having tea, viewing
the garden, planting some new plants and labelling some established ones. There
will be a few plant giveaways...

Traditionally one plants spring and early summer blooming plants in the fall. That's why I'll have flowers like bloodroots, violets, and columbines to plant. There will be some bloodroot tubers to take away for volunteers who help plant!

Oenothera missouriensis, Missouri Primrose
I'll also have some plants specifically for dry, sandy spots. Evening primroses work well there and have a very specialized bee that pollinates them. There will be a few other less known flowers to see and help plant.

And, there are still plants blooming - such as the sky blue aster, the willow-leaved sunflower, and the Meadow liatris.

Willow-leaf sunflower, Helianthus salicifolius
Liatris ligulistylis

Sky blue aster, Aster ooletangiensis

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Subterranean Pollinators: of chipmunks, bumblebees, tomatoes and coal furnaces

 Why does it take a chipmunk to get a nest of bumblebees going? At our September 15 tea party in the High Park Pollinator Garden I had a chance to show Pollinator Gardens project members Joanne Jenkins and Judy Whalen why.

Actually, a mouse will do just as well as a chipmunk. Many species of bumblebees nest in old rodent tunnels. Typically the mouse or chipmunk mother has left behind nesting materials (grass, bits of fur) in a deep, protected part of the tunnel. Her babies were kept warm in these cozy nests. That's what bumblebee queens are looking for: a safe, protected spot where bumblebee babies (say that 3 times quickly!) can be kept warm - around 32 degrees Centigrade or or 88 F.

bumblebee nest in a compost pile

Some species of bumblebees will nest in tufts of grass like the one shown above. The main thing seems to be good insulation. Some will nest aboveground in holes in wood or similar spots. Bumblebees can't cool their nests down as easily as honeybees. Honeybee colonies will have large numbers of bees fanning at the nest entrance on hot days; there just aren't as many bumblebees in a colony so being underground may be good protection against overheating.

You can make an artificial bumblebee nest early next spring. Just remember to get it out early enough - queens fly about when the first flowers come out, looking for a good site. Don't put it where it may get soggy, and avoid nearby ant nests. There are also designs for above-ground nests.

Why should we make artificial bumblebee nests? Many people tidy their yards up very thoroughly, rake garden beds, and generally remove sites where bees might nest. If this describes you, consider putting out a nest or three.

The bumblebee on the right came to early blooms in Amro Zayed's pollinator garden - thanks for the great picture, Amro! Like many bees, bumblebee populations have declined in the last few decades, and some species have gone extinct.

This ought to be a particular concern to all of us who love to grow and eat tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, blueberries, and cranberries. These and about 8% of the flowering plants in the world need "buzz pollination" to set seed and grow fruit properly. These plants hold their pollen tightly and only release it when a pollinator buzzes, and bumblebees buzz much more than honeybees. That's why bumblebees are used to pollinate greenhouse tomato crops. This was a considerable improvement on the "electric buzzers" previously used to pollinate greenhouse tomatoes.

Unfortunately, as often seems to happen, good intentions have led to problems. Bumblebees are now grown commercially and distributed to greenhouse growers. Unfortunately, commercial bees are often infected with various diseases, and can easily escape from greenhouses. York University researcher Sheila Colla has shown that wild bees near greenhouses are victims of "pathogen spillover".

All of which helps explain why I was so pleased on September 15 to see bumblebees apparently appearing from nowhere in the High Park lawn just 2 meters (six feet) from our pollinator garden. I strolled over and saw many workers flying into a chipmunk burrow with the pollen baskets on their legs full of yellow grains of pollen and emerging pollen-less for another foraging trip. I might not have noticed them if I hadn't been there a bit early setting up the tea table. I sat down with my dog to enjoy the view. Just where the garden bed bends, I saw many bumblebees flying.

This is the ex-chipmunk hole I found, with a pollen-laden worker flying in. A week later I visited the same spot. There were still some workers collecting pollen, but many more very large bees - new queens and drones - coming and going.

The new queens will mate with drones from other colonies and then find themselves a safe place to spend the winter - not in their parental colony but often buried in soft earth or gravel.

Our previous house was semidetached. One late fall day I was planting some daffodil bulbs next to our house. I had some left over so decided to give our neighbors a surprise spring gift. I started digging next to their house wall and to my amazement began to uncover one huge bumblebee after another! I found over a dozen before I stopped. The reason was simple: they used to have a coal furnace, and over perhaps 50 years had thrown the clinkers out their basement window (they were fine folks but definitely not neat-freaks!). Under the window the soil was almost all loose clinker, very free-draining and soft, and here it seems many of the next year's queen bumblebees had decided to spend the winter.

You too can create an overwintering spot for queens. Just find a spot, ideally under the eaves of your house or garage, dig a small pit, and fill it with the lightest, loosest gravel you can come by. No need to clean out a coal furnace for half a century - if you can find "lava rock" of the kind sold for barbecues, that will do very well.

Since queens choose their new nest site in early spring, before we had planted the pollinator garden, this year's colony simply got lucky. There are lots of chipmunks in the park though so I hope next spring the new queens will house-hunt based on location - good holes in the grounds and a good supply of flowers nearby.

We had a fine time in the park on September 15, and a fine late flower display. The tea wasn't bad either, and the cookies were good (thanks, Joanne & Judy!). We'll repeat the tea party on October 6 - please drop in. There will be tea (bring your own cups) and flowers to plant for next spring. See you there!