The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist in Residence

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Diversity in the Rose Garden. Avoiding the Monoculture By Filling the Holes with Beneficial Insect Plants

This purple Bee Balm produces clumps
rather than running through the entire garden.
Bumble Bees love it.

Every so often a hole opens up in the rose garden. Some roses never quite get started and others die from various causes. Apart from the Manifest Destiny of planting roses in more and more yards, I also want to balance roses with the creatures that care for the roses.

When I gather roses for the altar or our friends, I often park the vase on the Ichaboat hood so I can fill it where it will not fall over. Once the vase has several roses in it, something is quite obvious. Flower Flies, which look like tiny bees, and Ichneumon Wasps, which are tiny wasps. hover around the roses. When I take their workplace away, they follow it.

Assuming that most beneficial insects need pollen or nectar in their adult stage, the babies need pests to eat. One exception is the famous Ladybug, which eats pests in both stages.

I am loathe to kill the pests with poison, because that knocks off the food supply for the beneficial babies and kills all the beneficial adults, plus spiders and heaven only knows what else. Insecticides kills everything and harm soil creatures too. That is like using Agent Orange for crabgrass when regular mowing and more clover would end its seedy reign.

My current plan  is for using mints to fill in the gaps in the rose garden. One advantage of alternate plants is to cut down on roses sharing disorders because of crowding.

Some people will say, "Oh no, mints. Bee Balm can spread like Bermuda grass. Peppermint and Lemon Mint never go away. Catnip is mean, tough, and ever-growing." And they are right. Our helper threatens me with a midnight planting of his mint, which I warned him about. He went from saying, "Look at how well it grows!" to asking how to stop it.

"Resist the beginnings," Synod President Pfotenhauer said. That is how to stop it.

I am hoping that the two mints I am using in the front will do their job and will clump rather than display a stoloniferous nature, sending underground stems to spread faster than official studies and government commissions.

The red Bee Balm was attractive and odd in the backyard the first year. This year the same plant was all over the bird feeding garden and not very attractive. Norma Boeckler tore hers out. I mowed mine down and covered the area with cardboard.

 This is another reason to grow Bee Balm - hummingbirds.


Monarda - One Mint
In contrast, Monarda - the purple Bee Balm - formed a large clump that I was able to divide. When it reached its peak and bloomed the second year, the beautiful flowers attracted a posse of bumble bees, which were fun to watch.

Spreading by division is easy - dig up the clumping plant and divide the root system. One clump has started in the rose garden. Two more will go there soon, between two KnockOut shrubs.

Mountain Mint attracts butterflies.

Mountain Mint - Another Choice
Mountain Mint is enjoying more attention in gardens. I saw it first in Washington DC, about 30 years ago. I planted several this year, so I expect them to thrive next year. Mountan Mint is supposed to attract a lot of insects, something I observed in DC when they were swirling around in a mad frenzy.

Around the corner in the Sunny Garden will be a Butterfly Garden, mostly aimed at the larvae, so there will be a nearby supply of plants for pollinators.

That is the fun part. I do not need to figure out which plant to create the total effect, because a list of these plants will attract and support the right insects in general.

Butterflies are especially choosy so I know that a given butterfly requires a certain plant - such as Milkweed for Monarch larvae, Parsley for Swallowtails.

Clethra

Clethra - Summersweet
I bought two Clethra from Almost Eden last year. I did not think much of them until I watered them this summer and saw tiny insects fly away from the tiny flowers, like dust in the wind. I found this account on the Net - Gardening in Tune with Nature

Carefully moving branches aside, I positioned my legs and those of my tripod in the middle of the summersweet colony and waited for the wake of my disturbance to settle.  Soon the spikes of flowers, only a few inches from my nose, were crawling with bees, wasps, hoverflies, beetles, and several insects whose images remain on my computer desktop, waiting to be identified.  Bumblebees of all sizes and colored markings outnumbered all other insects.  A lonely honeybee joined the symphony of buzzing, along with several small native bees, some metallic green, others gray or black.  Two distinctly different hoverflies tormented me with their inability to settle down long enough for a photograph, but a tachinid fly obliged, stopping in its frenetic foraging for nectar long enough for me to get a decent shot.  (Both hoverflies and tachinid flies are predators of herbivores such as aphids and various leaf-munching caterpillars.  Hoverflies feed on nectar and pollen as adults, but their larvae feed on other insects.  Tachinid fly females lay their eggs on other insect adults or larvae.  When these eggs hatch, the tachinid larvae bore into the host’s body and slowly consume it.) 
In terms of diversity of insects attracted to a single plant in bloom, nothing in my experience compares to what I witnessed on that August afternoon. 
Reeser Manley has a BS in Biology, a MS in Botany, and a Ph.D. in Horticultural Science. He'll help you learn more about gardening based on his 40 years of gardening experience, 15 of those years in Maine. 

Pokeweed is a perennial herb or pest or bird-feeder
and benefical insect host.
I did not look for Pokeweed - the plant found me. The birds planted it in the backyard and in the cracks of the sidewalk. I called it Pigweed at first, for its resemblance to that reddish weed. Later I learned this giant plant volunteers freely and provides leaves for Poke Salad. The berries are toxic to humans but attractive to birds and many animals, including nocturnal ones.

 This tiny Flower Fly is feeding on the Pokeweed flower.

I recently learned that more birds like Pokeweed berries than sunflower seeds - and Pokeweed is free.

Considering the immense number of berries on a given plant, I hoped it was also a beneficial insect plant - and it is - as I learned tonight. The first flower photo I found featured a Flower Fly, aka Hover Fly, aka Syrphid.

How little we value what the Creating Word gives us for free, from the wildflowers to the beneficial plants that God sends for our good. Most herbs - like the mint family - provide medicine and harbors for the very insects we want to improve our gardens. And yet herbs are not only found in the wild but are incredibly easy to grow.

Around the bird feeder area is one very large White Profusion Butterfly Bush, which attracts butterflies and bees, a smaller Bonnie Butterfly Bush, which may reach 12 feet in height next year, and a Pokeweed, which can grow 20 feet tall. Corn volunteered so much that I had to cut those stalks down, but I have pushed my way past the Pokeweed without harboring any thoughts of cutting it down.

I was thinking - a free bird feeder and perch. Now I am thinking, "I need more of these beneficial insect plants in the backyard."

Milkweed for Monarch butterflies