Bee Swarm Videos

I captured some incredible bee swarm videos this week! The first is a video of the swarm booking out of the hive. Turn the volume up to hear how loud they are. I could hear them from the other side of my property about 100 yards away and came running.

 

 

The bees have made landing on a nearby tree branch and are forming their swarm formation. It takes about 20 minutes for them to pour out of the hive to form their trademark tear drop formation.

Unfortunately, by the time I gathered my equipment to capture them, they decided to leave and I lost them. For more info on swarming, look at my post Swarming of the Bees. 

The last video is of the complete swarm which is pretty big!

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Help! What Can I Plant Besides Impatiens???? Some Alternatives

Common Impatiens

Common Impatiens

If you haven’t heard by now, common Impatiens, Impatien walleriana, are in trouble.  Lots of shade gardeners are bemoaning this right now, and wonder what should they plant instead!!??

Downy Mildew is the Culprit

First, a little background. I found out about this when I visited a client three summers ago who gardens in the shade, and took a look at all her wilting, disgusting impatiens, and was at a loss to explain their demise. After calling around to different help desks at county and state offices for gardeners, I found out that impatiens are taking a direct hit from Impatiens Downy Mildew (Plasmopara obducens), a new disease that has recently has reared its ugly head in the states, and has killed off masses of Impatiens throughout the U.S. It started as long ago as 1942, with only sporadic outbreaks, but really starting getting going in 2004. In 2011, widespread kill-offs of Impatiens were reported and things aren’t expected to get any better.

This is a relatively new disease that only targets the common Impatien, not the other Impatiens like the  New Guinea, Big Bounce or Sunpatien. Sunpatien and Big Bounce are new on the market in the last few years and are husky vigorous plants, unlike the common Impatien.

Big Bounce Impatiens are resistant

Big Bounce Impatiens are resistant

New sunpatien takes partial shade and the flowers are larger

New sunpatien takes partial shade and the flowers are larger

Symptoms

If you experienced it in your annual plantings last year, then this year watch out! The pathogen overwinters handily and can persist for years. Here are the things to look for:

  • Yellowish or pale-green foliage
  • Downward curling of the leaves
  • Distorted leaves
  • White to light-gray fuzz on the undersides of the leaves. There are excellent images on the web if you search for “Impatiens Downy Mildew.”
  • Emerging, new leaves that are smaller than normal and discolored.
  • Flower buds that either fail to form or abort before opening.
  • Stunted plants
Impatiens with Downy Mildew

Impatiens with Downy Mildew

Sounds like a horror story for any gardener who relies on Impatiens for color in the shade.  And there are a lot of gardeners who plant them exclusively. So, now is the time to look for alternatives until plant breeders come up with some resistant varieties and that could be a while. There are lots of beauties out there for the taking if you know what to look for.

Alternatives for Shade Color

1. Lobelias

There are newer varieties of the old standard Lobelia that are worth a try. Many people thinkk of Lobelias as early season performers that fizzle in our heat here in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S.. The reason these new varieties are garnering such attention is that they are showing a new heat tolerance, blooming like superstars from spring through midsummer. Cooler regions of the country will find them blooming even longer. They are tolerant of shade. Try the Laguna Sky Blue cultivar.

Annual Lobelia

Annual Lobelia

Purple Lobelia with Begonias for shade windowbox

Purple Lobelia with Begonias for shade windowbox

2. Begonias-Foliage and/or Flowers

Begonias are a huge shade loving group and I use them either for their striking foliage or colorful large flowers or both.

Tuberous begonias are great for shade

Tuberous begonias are great for shade

Tuberous begonia

Tuberous begonia

Foliage

 I love this big-leaved heirloom begonia. It has a black palmate leaf with green marbling and appealing tufted edges. Begonia ‘Black Fancy’ is a rhizomatous heirloom variety. Of course, the flowers are insignificant, but the foliage is stunning!

Begonia 'Black Fancy'

Begonia ‘Black Fancy’

Fancy leaved begonia

Fancy leaved begonia

Flower–  Pretty new to the market, this begonia ‘Bonfire’ positively glows. Easy to take care of with filtered light, it looks good in hanging baskets as well as planted into borders.

Colorful shade container with tuberious begonias

Colorful shade container with tuberious begonias

Begonia bonfire

Begonia bonfire

Begonia bonfire with honeybush

Begonia bonfire with honeybush

3. Fuchsia-These have elegant two-toned hanging flowers for the shade.  They look good in pots and if you plant them in beds, be sure to water regularly. Fuchsia aren’t as easy to grow as Marigolds but are well worth the effort. Chillier temperatures and partial to full shade is required for the best performance of this beautiful plant so they do not do well in the south.

Fuchsia

Fuchsia

Fuschia

Fuchsia

Fuschia

Fuchsia

4. New Guinea Impatiens –The old standby New Guinea Impatiens are more tolerant of sunny conditions and are great for containers.  If you plant them in the ground, be sure to add plenty of compost, water regularly, and dead head to get rid of the ugly spent blossoms.

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5. Torenia (Wishbone Flower)- This is an underused plant for the shade. Tough and colorful, Wishbone Flower comes in shades of pinks, blues, and violets. It is a ground hugging plant that when happy in the shade, will produce loads of colorful oddly shaped flowers-like a wish bone!

Torenia or Wishbone Flower in Violet

Torenia or Wishbone Flower in Violet

6. Scaveola (Fan Flower)- I found out by accident that this lovely blue mounding plant is tolerant of shade. I was desperate to get some color in a client’s shady border and threw some in and it grew wonderfully. There are also some varieties in pink and white, but I love the blue.

 

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Scaveola or Fan Flower

7. Coleus –    This is not your grandmother’s coleus with a limited color palette. Breeders have been very busy making new varieties for sun and shade.  Take your pick and go for the colors that you like best!

Coleus with Sweet Potato Vine and Fuchsia

Coleus with Sweet Potato Vine and Fuchsia

coleus

coleus

 

8. Euphorbia Diamond Frost An annual euphorbia that resembles babys breath, Diamond Frost gives an airy light touch to shade plantings, whether in planting beds or containers.

Euphorbia Diamond Frost

Euphorbia Diamond Frost

 

9. Caladiums – These have been around for a long time but there are some really beautiful variations. Some have huge ruffled leaves, beautiful colors, and they brighten the shade with a rainbow of colors using just foliage.

Calaldiums in a shade container

Calaldiums in a shade container

Caladiums come in a wide range of colors

Caladiums come in a wide range of colors

10. Sweet Potato Vine-There are several colors of this vine – purple, tri-color, and lime green.  Try the lime green in a bed and it will cover the ground very quickly. One plant goes a long way in the sun or shade.

Sweet potato vine does well in shade or sun

Sweet potato vine does well in shade or sun

Sweet potato vine with Caladium

Sweet potato vine with Caladium

 11. Mona Lavender (Plectranthus)

Mona Lavender with a Colocasia

Mona Lavender with a Colocasia in the shade

Mona Lavender

Mona Lavender

 Mona Lavender or otherwise known as Swedish Ivy, has glossy, dark green foliage that set off the lavender tubular flowers like a charm. Flowering quite happily in the shade, you have to keep this plant on the moist side. The one called “Velvet Elvis” is a superior variety with larger flowers, a deeper green leaf, and a more compact habit.

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Swarming of the Bees

Yes! It is that time of year (Honey Flow) when the bees build up quickly. Before you know it you are looking at a huge moving bee mass perched on a tree branch like the one below when you come home from work. And you must do something quickly before they move on to roomier and more distant pastures! 

Honey Flow

Honey flow is a term used by beekeepers indicating that one or more major nectar sources are in bloom and the weather is favorable for bees to fly and collect the nectar in abundance. For me in Maryland, honey flow happens when the black locust is in bloom, starting in mid May into June.  I can see the heavy creamy white hanging blossoms dangling from the trees lining the wooded roads around my house and I know that my bees will be in tip top form ferrying nectar to the hive and capping it with wax to make honey stores for the winter.

Black Locust blooms

Black Locust blooms

This is the beginning of the peak honey-producing season, when bees, taking advantage of the pollen available from spring blooms, make as much honey as they can to store for the cold days of winter ahead.

Bringing nectar and pollen into the hive

Bringing nectar and pollen into the hive

With the coming of spring a couple of weeks late this spring, I haven’t worried so much- but honey flow arrives quickly when I really busy with the garden and my landscape business that sometimes I am taken by surprise by swarming activity. If you ask any beekeeper how to prevent swarming, you will get 10 different answers and opinions. Other non-beekeeper friends who don’t understand will ask me, ” Why don’t you want your bees to swarm?  You can increase your hives !”  The answer is really simple.  Say goodbye to any honey production for that year! And there is no guarantee that you will catch the bee swarm.  The bees have a mind of their own.

Swarm Production

As a beekeeper, I am sometimes called by a panicked home owner when a huge ball of noisy bees appears in their backyard. They are afraid of them stinging and just want the bees to go away or be killed. In fact, swarming bees are loaded up with honey and are very unlikely to sting. They are not dangerous and are just looking for a new home.

Peanut shaped swarm cell

Queen bee in the makingSwarming is a natural duplication process for honey bees to form a new colony.  When a colony is bursting at the seams in their home with little room to grow, the bees will raise a new queen on their own. The old queen will take off with up to 10,000 to 15,000 bees from the home colony and fly a short distance and cluster on a tree branch, shrub or other object to form a large ball or cone shaped mass which can weigh 10 pounds or more.  The queen is usually centered in the cluster and scout bees leave looking for a suitable new home such as a hollow tree or the walls of your house! The swarms can stay in their temporary location for several days as the scout bees do their job and find a new home.

A swarm starting to form

The Big Event

I have observed a swarm in progress from my hives several times and it is very impressive and exciting.  One of the signs that precedes a swarm is the sound! The tone of the hive increases greatly in volume and the bees start to exit in a huge undulating wave from the hive body and head for some nearby structure- usually a tree, to land. The bees seem to have a unified purpose and know exactly what to do.


The Honey Bees have made a bee hive on the bra...The new queen that the hive produced in preparation for swarming, will remain with the original colony in the hive and the remainder of the worker bees and start building up a viable hive once again. But they are a much smaller population so won’t produce that honey surplus. Beekeepers try to avoid a swarm because it splits their population and reduces the likelihood of producing honey to harvest that season. The advantage to swarming is that now you have two hives instead of one but again you have to put off harvesting any honey because both colonies will need honey stores to get through the winter.

Capturing a swarm

Capturing a swarm

Capturing the Swarm

If the swarm is from a beekeepers own colony the beekeeper will try to capture it and put it in a new hive. But if it is a wild colony that swarms it can land in a unsuspecting homeowners yard and they start calling 911 in a panic. If a beekeeper gets the call, and the swarm is not that far off the ground, the beekeeper can knock the swarm with a firm yank into an empty hive box and take it away. As bees can be expensive, about $125 for a laying queen and brood, beekeepers are usually delighted to take them off your hands. Sometimes beekeepers will charge the homeowner a fee, especially if the swarm is located in a difficult to access place. Go to https://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/hiving-a-swarm/ to see a slide show of me hiving a swarm.

Swarm high up in a tree

Swarm high up in a tree


I have heard of swarms under picnic tables, on grills, on the bumpers of cars, and in the walls of houses.  If they are in your walls, the bees are almost impossible to extricate and should be euthanized. April through June is prime swarming season when the hive is at it’s strongest. If you discover a swarm in your yard, the best thing to do is call a local beekeeper by looking on the internet for the CMBA, the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association which keeps a database of beekeepers interested in capturing swarms. If you are not in MD, just look up Beekeepers in your area and someone will take them off your hands.

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Preventative Steps

Here are my pointers on avoiding this catastrophe:

Ventilation

I like to give the bees plenty of ventilation by not only having the entrance unimpeded with reducers but also by shimming my upper boxes open slightly to give the bees more openings for air flow.

To ventilate, I place matches between the inner cover and hive body

To ventilate, I place matches between the inner cover and hive body

Plenty of Room

 I have already added supers (extra honey boxes) on top of my brood boxes to make sure that the queen has plenty of room to lay eggs. I have stopped using a queen excluder to the horror of many beekeeper friends. I feel that this keeps the queen from going where she needs to go and if she feels restricted, swarm production will start.  When I harvest my honey, if there is brood in the supers, I just move it down to the brood boxes.

Give the bees lots of room

Give the bees lots of room

Young Queens 

Requeen when your queen is a couple of seasons old.  Some beekeepers say every year, but there is so much supersedure going on (bees making their own queen) that sometimes this isn’t necessary.

New queens come in small cages

New queens come in small cages

Splits

Split up your hive early in the season if it is going strong.  This simply means take a few frames of brood with some nurse bees and place them in a new hive.  You can add a new queen or let them make their own.  This can be a gamble because it takes time to make a new queen but by separating the hive you reduce the urge to swarm.

Removing Swarm Cells-Forget it!

Beekeepers recommend to go through your boxes frequently and remove the queen swarm cells that are ready to hatch out new queens.  I think at that point, it is too late. Bees are programmed to swarm and you are swimming against the tide by trying to stop the process. Also, I don’t think it is a good practice to open up your hives too frequently.  Leave them alone!

Sweet Rewards!

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Alliums All Season Long

Allium schubertii

Allium schubertii

Once in a while a plant comes along which I fall in love with instantly and I can’t do without – in this case Allium schubertii! It is in the onion family so is unpalatable to deer-hooray! A pink or purple fireworks display, Alliums are under-appreciated perennials that will persist for years in your garden with little care.

 Another allium which is a little bit smaller


Another allium which is a little bit smaller

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Sprayed seed head in garden

 

Alliums are great for long-lasting color in flower, and the seed heads live on for years afterward and can be used for decorating, especially for fairy gardens and Christmas.

Dried allium seed heads sprayed gold and silver

Dried allium seed heads sprayed gold and silver

A showy starburst pink flower 12 to 18 inches wide is its trademark (Schubertii), held only 8 inches high, and then it dries right on the plant to a sturdy seed head. If you don’t pick it by early summer, it will become a tumbleweed in your garden. I find the seed heads everywhere after a windstorm as I have dozens of these plants.

Alliums in my garden

Alliums in my garden

Alliums

Of course, there are lots of alliums out there, but I love the soccer ball size of the Schubertii! The bulbs require good drainage and my alliums must be happy as they come up year after year. Planted by bulb in the fall, alliums are not eaten by squirrels either as they have an oniony taste.

Alliums

Alliums planted with Amsonia

 

A large grouping of a smaller allium

A large grouping of a smaller allium

 

So- hardy, deer, rodent and deer resistant, and no care- why aren’t they more widely planted? Probably because they are pricey. In the fall, you frequently see the 3 to 4 foot tall Globe Master allium which could set you back $10 for a single bulb. The other varieties are a little less expensive, but not as easily available in stores.Allium Schubertii

Allium Schubertii

Bees love alliums

Bees love alliums

For the recent Baltimore Symphony Decorator Show House, I strung a half dozen dried seed heads together and suspended them over the fairy garden in the landscape. I had a lot of comments about this feature and most people had never heard of alliums or ornamental onions. This fall I will be adding to my collection.

Seedheads of allium suspended over fairy garden

Seedheads of allium suspended over fairy garden

PicMonkey Collage

 

Allium

 

 

Alliums intermingle with other flowers nicely

Alliums intermingle with other flowers nicely

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Gnomes on the Loose

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The gnome on the left is a fishing gnome and the gnome on the right was supposed to be carrying an egg

 

One of my most popular posts on The Garden Diaries was Gnome Home, and has gotten more hits than any other post except for Decorating the White House, so I know that they are popular!  When I started decorating the Baltimore Symphony Show House this spring, I was delighted to find two old gnomes still kicking around in the basement of this house that was built in the 1920’s. Bringing them out in the light of the day, I set them up next to the fairy garden which I created on a mossy hill. The larger gnome above has an inscription “Made In Germany” so I knew that I had some authentic gnomes, made in Germany where they originated.

Fairy garden in a mossy setting

Fairy garden in a mossy setting

Gnome Origins

fishing gnome

Garden gnomes go way back to 1870’s Germany where they were first sculpted out of clay by Phillip Griebel, a sculptor of terra-cotta animals, in the town of Graefenroda. Gnome legends were very popular in Germany and Griebel made Gnome statues that spread throughout Europe. They are still being made there today by Phillip Griebel’s descendants and knowing that, I just am dying to go there. I would love to see their birthplace! You can tour their production facilities and see their informative museum. To see pictures, go to http://gardengnomeshome.com/gnome-directory/gartenzwerg-museum.

Philip Griebel produced gnomes based on local myths about the gnomes’ willingness to help in the garden at night. The garden gnome quickly spread across Germany and into France and England, and wherever gardening was a serious hobby.

Mickey Mouse gnomes?

Mickey Mouse gnomes?

 Just to check on the authenticity of the basement gnomes, I emailed Reinhard Griebel in Grafenroda, Germany and sent a picture of the found gnomes. He confirmed that they were in fact made in Germany and the little guy was still in production.

Fairy garden at the show house was the perfect spot to place the old gnomes

Fairy garden at the show house was the perfect spot to place the old gnomes

Controversial Gnomes

Garden Gnomes are not without their controversy, and were banned from the high-class Chelsea Flower Show until just 2013. Accused of garden snobbery, Chelsea lifted their ban, caving to pressure, and started to allow these popular garden sculptures. Serious gardeners don’t seem to appreciate these cute creatures, so I guess that makes me an amateur gardener!

German gnome, by Wikipedia

German gnome, by Wikipedia

Also, gnomes are the subject of pranks, called gnoming, which is the return of gnomes to the “wild”. Many gnomes have been “liberated” or “kidnapped”, sent on trips around the world, and have become quite famous.  The best known example was a kidnapped gnome taken from a garden in California, and it ended up being photographed with Paris Hilton  in People magazine. These antics just add to the “tongue in cheek” appreciation of gnomes for me. I enjoy that people can have fun with gardening and gardening tchotchkes. There are many clubs and organizations dedicated to the prank of gnoming.

Protest Gnome from wikipedia

Protest Gnome from wikipedia

The best-known of these is the Garden Gnome Liberation Front. Their website is hilarious and says that, “For too long we have let our neighbors usurp the rights of these gentle woodland creatures“. They entreat people to report any gnome in captivity! Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaEh8EABR-s to watch a moving video.

Polish Gnomes

The hot spot of gnomes is Poland. More gnomes are made in Poland and China than anywhere else on the planet, even in Germany. In the Wieliczka Salt Mine, called the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland, gnomes were carved underground out of salt.

Gnomes in Kunegunda Shaft Bottom of the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland, photo by Adam Kumiszcza

Gnomes in Kunegunda Shaft Bottom of the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland, photo by Adam Kumiszcza

Popular in Polish folklore, in Wroclaw Poland, gnome statues dot the city everywhere and have become a major tourist attraction. A legion of little people cast out of metals, are ubiquitous – in doorways, alleyways, and street corners, but easy to miss because of their size. You can actually do a tour of these gnomes which number over 250, and they have become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, more so than the magnificent cathedral.

Gnomes in Wroclaw Poland from Wikipedia

Gnomes in Wroclaw Poland from Wikipedia

gnome

For directions on making your own Gnome Home, go to Home Sweet Gnome

Tutorial on making a gnome home

Tutorial on making a gnome home

Below is another of my broken pot gardens in a much wider pot to give you a totally different look.

Broken pot garden for a gnome

Broken pot garden for a gnome

Happy Gnoming!!

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The Great Sunflower Project – The Backyard Bee Count

Lemon Queen Sunflowers in my backyard

The Great Bee Count

Within the past couple of years, you might have heard that bees are in trouble, growing scarcer, and suffering from a mysterious ailment called Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. A variety of culprits have been fingered in causing this syndrome, including pesticide use, parasites, loss of habitat, and diseases. To study bees, both native and the non-native honeybee, scientists decided that they needed a method to determine the numbers and spread of different pollinators. To accomplish this, in 2008 a survey was launched enlisting and empowering local citizens in reporting observations about bees in their own backyard or deck called The Great Bee Count.

Citizen Science

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The Great Bee Count, recruits citizens across the United States and Canada to plant sunflowers and observe all types of bees visiting the flower in a 15 minute time period daily for a week and record their findings on-line.  The first Great Bee Count took place about 7 years ago and countless volunteers recorded their findings to help scientists to check on the prevalence of our tiny pollinators in North America.

Sunflowers are bee magnets

Sunflowers are bee magnets

By creating a map of bee visits, scientists will be able to direct conservation efforts exactly where they are needed.

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The data is called ‘trend data’ and showed that in some parts of the country the bees are doing very well, but in other parts like Florida where pesticide use is widespread, the bees are not nearly as numerous. I participated last year and counted at least a dozen bees on my sunflowers in a 15 minute period daily in my backyard in Maryland which shows that this part of the country is above average ‘bee friendly’!

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Each of the many seeds of a sunflower has been pollinated

 

For an interactive map of the country go to https://www.greatsunflower.org/Map

Now is the time to order those seeds and get your garden ready to plant your sunflowers. Lemon Queen is the preferred variety of sunflower seeds. It is important to check to make sure that the seeds did not receive a neonicotinoid seed treatment or even better, are organic.  The Great Sunflower Project recommends that people look for Renee’s Garden Seeds because they have partnered with Renee for a number of years and she has offered to pass along 25% of her proceeds from seeds bought at her website to the Great Sunflower Project.

Lemon Queen are the best ones for this project because they have visible pollen

Lemon Queen are the best ones for this project because they have visible pollen

The typical observer saw 2.6 bees every 15 minutes on their sunflowers. Up to 20% of the volunteers observed no bees at all which is very disheartening. Sunflowers were chosen as the standardized plant because they are ‘bee magnets’ and are easy to grow in every state. ‘Lemon Queen’ is the preferred variety because some sunflowers have been developed that have no pollen, but ‘Lemon Queen’ has visible pollen. Even if the grower did not observe bees during the 15 minute interval, that information is valuable also in informing scientists. Keeping tabs on our bees has become an important tool in studying this essential aid to our food supply. Up to one-third of our food supply relies exclusively on bee pollination.

Sunflowers attract many pollinators besides bees

Sunflowers attract many pollinators besides bees

Anyone in North America can participate in The Great Bee Count even if you just have a single container planted outside on a balcony or deck. To find out how to sign up, go to http://www.greatsunflower.org/, register, and plant your sunflower seeds so you can start counting this summer! This is a great project for an ordinary person to have help out the scientific community to study our local bee populations.

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I would love to hear from people who are not in North America to see if there are any similar projects in their country.  Please let me know if you have heard of any or participated.

Don’t forget that there are many plants that you can plant to encourage bee visits. Go to Plant For the Bees post to see more suggestions.

 

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Happy Hollow- Hosta Mecca

Hosta Heaven

Hosta Heaven

Do you want a  garden trip to a run of the mill big box store? Or do you want personal attention? And do you have shady areas in your garden that need TLC and need the ideal plant for that perfect spot? Look no further than Happy Hollow nursery in Cockeysville, MD. Specializing in hostas and other shade loving plants, Sue Bloodgood grows the most extensive collection of hostas around and can share excellent advice on plantings in difficult shady areas that you are scratching your head about.

Selections of miniature Hostas at Happy Hollow

Selections of miniature Hostas at Happy Hollow

Carrying over 200 hosta varieties, Happy Hollow nursery is tucked away in a suburban neighborhood in Cockeysville, MD, and a great place to see the many varieties of Hostas. These can vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that are puckered, wavy-edged, white or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged — the variations are virtually endless. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plaintain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shape or flared flowers in summer which are attractive to pollinators.

Sue Bloodgood surveying her dizzying array of hostas

Sue Bloodgood surveying her dizzying array of hostas

A tray of miniature hostas showing the variety that the 'littles' come in

A tray of miniature hostas showing the variety that the ‘littles’ come in

Two large greenhouses full to the brim with hostas and other shade companion plants, like Brunnera, Pulmonaria, Tricyrtus, and shade grasses, Sue carries many unusual and hard to find plants, like “Praying Hands” Hosta.

Praying Hands Hosta

Praying Hands Hosta

Praying Hands is a 2′ wide clump composed of strangely folded, dark green crinkled leaves, each with a narrow, creamy yellow border which resembles a multitude of hands folded in prayer.

Praying Hands Hosta

Praying Hands Hosta

I went to Happy Hollow when I needed some miniature hostas for some clients. My local wholesaler carried about 3 varieties of minis and I needed more. Sue Bloodgood carried at least 2 dozen varieties of minis and it was hard to choose from them all.

I was designing plantings for a boulder garden in the shade and wanted miniature hostas

I was designing plantings for a boulder garden in the shade and wanted miniature hostas

 I fell in love with one of her hostas, called ‘Striptease’ and had to take one home.

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Hosta ‘Striptease”

Hostas are the perfect foil for so many plants

Hostas are the perfect foil for so many plants

 

 Boutique nurseries are becoming more and more popular when you are looking for something unusual and the selection at the big box stores can be limited. I haven’t seen miniature hostas other than ‘Mouse Ears’ or the one pictured above called ‘Striptease’ anywhere before, and I do a lot of plant shopping. Catering to a small segment of the discerning buying public, boutique nurseries are struggling to stay in business and are competing with larger nurseries that carry a little bit of everything. But Happy Hollow doesn’t sell fertilizer, pots, or bird houses – they simply sell the best hostas anywhere. And for personal attention and advice for gardening in the shade, stop in at Happy Hollow Nursery.

Hosta "Mouse Ears" is adorable!

Hosta “Mouse Ears” is adorable!

For more ideas on shady ground covers, go to my post “From the Ground Up-Choosing the Right Ground Cover For Shade “.

A simple ground cover of hostas can be very effective-Blue Cadet

A simple ground cover of hostas can be very effective-Blue Cadet

Millbourne 176

This one is Kabitan

 For more info on Happy Hollow Nursery, go to https://www.facebook.com/pages/Happy-Hollow-Nursery-hours-10-5-Wed-Sun-call-for-special-appointment/1459714117597679?fref=ts

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Macy’s Flower Show-Art In Bloom

bloom

Shopping and a flower show – what a combination!! I was in heaven when I visited NYC’s Macy’s Herald Square store and saw the phenomenal floral creations covering every available inch of the store. Along with the clothing and shoe displays, you can enjoy over the top floral creations and artwork. Designers even bedeck an escalator area with flowers!

A springtime scene between Macys escalators

A springtime scene between Macys escalators

All of the support pillars had gardens

All of the support pillars had gardens

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Many of the support pillars had hanging gardens of Babylon! Just think of watering these for the entire run of the show, Sunday, March 22 to Saturday, April 4. This years theme was “Art In Bloom” and the artworks were outstanding and memorable.

Framed works of floral art

Framed works of floral art

A veritable horticultural art gallery greets you when you step through the doors, with floral displays depicting different major movements in art history.

Simple but effective

Simple but effective

macys flower show

 Classical art, pop art, impressionistic art was all represented.

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Statue of David clothed in pop art flowers

Statue of David clothed in pop art flowers

Flowering full size cherry trees lined the aisles.

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macys flower show

Floral seminars, painting sessions, and other special events occur throughout the show with famous floral designers like Martha Stewart and Jes Gordon performing their magic. The central arrangement, a celebration of Easter and Springtime was a show stopper. Three or four bunnies were peeking out behind the flowers and people gathered around trying to find them all.

Springtime basket

Springtime basket

 

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Orchid Mania at NYBG (New York Botanical Gardens)

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Orchid chandeliers! Orchid planters! Orchid islands! Just think orchid everything at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. I saw orchids there in colors I have never seen before like this mint green hanging orchid ( I love green flowers!)

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Miltonias are my favorites-They look like orchid pansies

Miltonias are my favorites-They look like orchid pansies

Orchids are at their peak at the end of winter/early spring and the various botanical gardens make the most of it. Longwood gardens has their opus and the New York Botanical Garden chimes in with their twist. And their twist is stunning! Orchid Chandeliers were touted as the star and just look up and you will see the beautiful ceiling mounted floral creations that make your jaw drop! –  Aerial flowers!

Orchid Chandelier

Orchid Chandelier

As soon as you step foot into the conservatory, cylinders and enormous hanging creations with a kaleidoscopic symphony of colorful orchids such as Cattleyas and Phalaenopsis  are framed by the magnificent architecture of the crystal palace Conservatory.

Orchid Chandelier

Orchid Chandelier

The floating islands of orchids were just as incredible and greeted you at the door of the historic Victorian inspired Enid A. Haupt conservatory. But the theme of this year’s orchid show is “Look up!”, not “Float like a boat” and you can see how they made these creations at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6q4BQH8vn0

NYBG conservatory

NYBG conservatory

The gardens at the NY Botanical Gardens were still in winter mode

The gardens at the NY Botanical Gardens were still in winter mode

Floating islands of orchids greet you at the entrance of the Conservatory

Floating islands of orchids greet you at the entrance of the Conservatory

There were other chandeliers, like the  Staghorn ferns!

There were other chandeliers, like the Staghorn ferns!

More chandeliers

More chandeliers

Guerlain, a perfume and makeup company teamed up with the New York Botanical Garden on its Orchid Evenings to promote its orchid scent focused on the flower.  And talk about fragrance! It was wafting everywhere in the conservatory. All the orchids were so fragrant, I couldn’t figure out where the fragrance was originating-it was just everywhere.

The Cattleyas are particularly fragrant

The Cattleyas are particularly fragrant

Other tropicals were showcased along with the orchids as they bloom at the same time- Bromeliads, Anthuriums, Bird of Paradise, and Gingers were all in exquisite form.

Yes, Anthuriums!!

Yes, Anthuriums!!

Let's not forget the Bromeliads

Let’s not forget the Bromeliads

Planters full of multiple orchids

Planters full of multiple orchids

Go to http://www.nybg.org/exhibitions/2015/orchid-show/ to read about the popular orchid evenings, dance exhibitions, poetry readings, and tips on orchid care that you can enjoy until April 18 in NYC in the Bronx.

White Orchids

White Orchids

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Home Sweet Home-Providing the Perfect Habitat for Mason Bees

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A bee house mad out of stacked pallets

 Custom Condo

Attracting bees with the right plants is important, but what about inviting them to make a home nearby with attractive ready-to-move-in housing? A custom condo became my project in the winter for solitary mason bees, otherwise known as orchard bees, because they are excellent at pollinating fruit trees.

Natural habitat for wild bees from www.wildbienen.com

Natural habitat for wild bees from http://www.wildbienen.com

Curb Appeal

Mason bees start looking for homes in early spring so I wanted to have it in “move in condition” with lots of curb appeal  in early March. They use clay to make partitions and seal the entrance to their nesting tubes. This unique building behavior leads to their common designation as masons.

Mason Bees, from Wikipedia

Mason Bees, from Wikipedia

When I did my research on solitary native mason bees, I discovered to my surprise that they are a much more efficient pollinator than the social honey bees which were originally imported from Europe with the colonists. Mason bees are one of the few managed native pollinators in agriculture because of this terrific pollinating ability.

If you would like to help bees, you can participate in their Indiegogo campaign and you can contribute and get your own mason bee kit, become a bee booster, or adopt a bee. Crown Bees is raising money and awareness with their effort.

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Mason bee on apple blossom, from Crown Bees

Mason bee on apple blossom, from Crown Bees

 

Differences Between Mason and Honey Bees

Mason bees are about the same size or slightly larger than a honeybee and color is your best way to tell them apart.They are a dark metallic blue, not striped brown and orange like the honeybee.  Being solitary, the mason bee tends to its own brood, instead of having a queen and worker bees like the social honey bee. They seem to appreciate the company of others of their kind and happily build their nests next to each other. They also readily accept the hollow tubes provided by the orchard grower for this purpose. Mason bees don’t produce honey like the honey bee, but collect pollen and nectar just like the honey bee for feeding their young.

 

Tubes in a nesting box

Tubes in a nesting box

Home gardeners can attract mason bees in their own gardens by placing home-made bee houses and blocks in their own yards. Scroll down to see my version of a DIY house for mason bees.

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Life Cycle

Unlike the honey bee, the mason bee flying season is early spring because they can tolerate lower temperatures. The honeybee will only fly when it reaches the 50’s, but the mason bee flies in the 40’s. Once a mason bee emerges from their over wintering tube, they mate, search for empty holes that are the right size and shape, and start to work. They collect food for their brood, which is tree pollen plus nectar. Females collect this food, bring it to their nests, and knead it into a ball, mixing it with nectar and their own saliva. Once they have a food store that is big enough, they lay an egg on top of this mass and seal-off the chamber or cell with mud.

Mason bee egg surrounded by food stores of pollen and nectar, Wikipedia

Mason bee egg surrounded by food stores of pollen and nectar, wikipedia

Then, they start the process all over again until there are five to eight eggs each with food, each separated by a thin wall of dried mud. They seal the entrance to the hole with a thicker mud wall. The larvae grow and, by the end of summer, metamorphose into pupae and later into adults, and remain safe and sound inside the nest in a cocoon until the next spring. The new generation emerges the next spring, usually in perfect timing with the blooming peach or apple trees.

Mature mason bees break through the mud wall

Mature mason bees break through the mud wall

Bumble bee on Azalea blossom

Bumble bee on Azalea blossom

 

Nesting House Basics

You can make suitable nesting sites with readily available materials. The web site http://www.wildbienen.info/index.php, a German website is excellent. There are lots of examples of wild bee houses on this site. Since many wild bees are sedentary, residing where they originated, they will stay nearby, provided there are suitable nesting sites. The greater the variety of species and population density in the area, the faster colonization.

Pollinator house from www.wildbienen.com

Pollinator house from http://www.wildbienen.com

Location, Location, Location

For locating your house, look for a south or westerly facing aspect to make full use of the morning sun. Protected from wind and rain by locating the house under a roof, will increase your chances of  bees and other insects of moving in. A ready source of uncovered soil for the mason bee to use as mud in sealing the eggs, is also important as well as proximity to floral sources. For help in planting the right plants, go to https://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/plant-these-for-the-bees/

How to site a bee house

How to site a bee house

 Easy DIY Mason Bee House

Mason Bee House

Mason Bee House

For an easy mason bee habitat out of wood, I created this simple box with a roof out of cedar wood. The house measures 18″ x 22″ high with a peaked roof, 6″ high. The depth of the house is about 4″. I took an untreated 4 x 4 timber and cut it into chunks the depth of the house, and drilled holes into the blocks of different diameters. The various sized holes give pollinators a choice in picking out the most suitable hole for their species. This house would be appropriate for different varieties of native bees. The back was just a piece of plywood to give the house stability.

 Move In Day

Filling in all the spaces with lotus pods, pine cones, and hollow stems of sunflowers that I cut down from my garden last year took some time. Topping it off with plastic covered hardware cloth, the bee condo was ready to hang and open for business.

Completed mason bee house attached to a shed

Completed mason bee house attached to a shed

Tubular Housing

Tubular is the main feature that mason bees are interested in. Finding something round is critical for their success. I keep looking for tubular shaped objects that I can use in future housing projects.

Wood blocks with grooves for egg laying bees

Wood blocks with grooves for egg laying bees

Wooden blocks that split apart revealing the cocoons made by the pupae of the bees for harvesting are simple but effective. Easy tear tubes made of paper are convenient to use but once you tear them apart, that is the end of them.

Easy tear tubes with cocoons revealed

Easy tear tubes with cocoons revealed

Go to www.crownbees.com to browse ready-made houses and tubes, if you don’t have time to build from the ground up. You can also get an attractant pheromone that will be sure to entice the mason bees to nest in their new home. The site is also a wealth of information about many native bees.

Mason bees are gentle, from Crown Bees

Mason bees are gentle, from Crown Bees

Crown Bees recommends that once summer is over, that you harvest the mason bee cocoons and place them in a humidity tray with a moist cloth in your refrigerator to keep conditions right for surviving until next spring.

Humidity box for overwintering cocoons in the refrigerator

Humidity box for overwintering cocoons in the refrigerator

When warmer weather rolls around, bring the humidity tray outside in the warmer air and wait for the cocoons to hatch and release the bees. I ordered some cocoons from them and a few hatched in transit which I released outside when they came.

 

Mason bee hatched out of cocoon

Mason bee hatched out of cocoon

There are many other strategies that you as a homeowner can do to help out with our pollination crisis. See my action plan outlined at https://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/sex-in-the-garden/

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