English Cottage Gardening – Herbs Of The Mint Family

Herbs of the Mint family are a beautiful and useful addition to any cottage garden. They include such favorites as basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, hyssop, thyme, lavender, and lemon balm.

Basil flowers

Basil flowers

Sage

Sage

Originally, cottage gardens were grown for household use, not for beauty alone. Herbs were used as medicine, as flavoring for food, and to freshen the air in the damp, musty lodgings.

Rosemary

Rosemary

The concept of a separate herb garden, isolated from other flowering plants, would have been inconceivable to an early cottage gardener. Herbs and vegetables were grown side by side with roses and foxgloves, both of which also had household uses.

Bee on Lavender

Bee on Lavender

As you can see from these pictures, herbs can be as beautiful as purely decorative plantings. They are also very attractive to bees and butterflies.

Thyme

Thyme

I try to incorporate as many as I can into my overall garden design.

English Cottage Gardening – Bees Love Nepeta And So Do I

I love Nepeta aka catmint!  It’s also a favorite of honey bees and other pollinators. It’s deer resistant too!

Below one of my ever-present fluffy Bumbles enjoys a tasty snack…

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It is a beautiful plant to use in a border. Gertrude Jekyll wrote “it is a plant that can hardly be overpraised.”

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I find catmint easier to grow than lavender. If you cut it back after first bloom, it will bloom again just as vigorously.

My favorite cultivar is Walker’s Low which was the 2007 Perennial of the Year. The name, Walker’s Low, does not refer to the size of the plant, but to a garden in England.

Plant some catmint this summer. Your buzzing friends will thank you!

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The Reason Why Bees Are So Busy…

Reprinted from the New York Times:

Nectar That Gives Bees a Buzz Lures Them Back for More

By 
Published: March 7, 2013

Nothing kicks the brain into gear like a jolt of caffeine. For bees, that is.

Courtesy of Geraldine Wright

And they don’t need to stand in line for a triple soy latte. A new study shows that the naturally caffeine-laced nectar of some plants enhances the learning process for bees, so that they are more likely to return to those flowers.

“The plant is using this as a drug to change a pollinator’s behavior for its own benefit,” said Geraldine Wright, a honeybee brain specialist at Newcastle University in England, who, with her colleagues, reported those findings in Science on Thursday.

The research, other scientists said, not only casts a new light on the ancient evolutionary interaction between plants and pollinators, but is an intriguing confirmation of deep similarities in brain chemistry across the animal kingdom.

Plants are known to go to great lengths to attract pollinators. They produce all sorts of chemicals that affect animal behavior: sugar in nectar, memorable fragrances, even substances in fruit that can act like laxatives in the service of quick seed dispersal.

Lars Chittka, who studies bee behavior at Queen Mary, University of London, and wrote a commentary on the research in the same issue of Science, said that in the marketplace of plants seeking pollinators, the plants “want their customers to remain faithful,” thus the sugary nectar and distinctive scents.

“The trick here,” said Dr. Chittka, who was not involved in the research, “is actually to influence the memorability of the signal using a psychoactive drug. And that’s a new trick in the book for plants.”

Robert A. Raguso, who studies the interactions of plants and pollinators at Cornell and was not part of the study, said in an e-mail, “It makes the reader think twice about where natural products that have economic importance to humans actually came from before we ‘discovered’ and co-opted their biology.”

Dr. Wright did not set out to investigate the evolutionary stratagems of plants. Rather, her goal was to use the honeybee as a model to study drugs that are commonly abused.

About eight or nine years ago, she said, “I ran across this paper on caffeine in floral nectar.” And then, she said, she thought, “ ‘This could be quite interesting because there might be some ecological interaction between the plants and the pollinator.’ That’s how it started.”

Several varieties of coffee and citrus plants have toxic concentrations of caffeine in leaves and other tissues, but low concentrations, similar to that in weak coffee, in the nectar itself. The toxic concentrations help plants fend off predators.

But Dr. Raguso pointed out a well-known axiom that “The dose makes the poison,” a principle that Dr. Wright and her colleagues followed in lab experiments. She conducted learning experiments with bees to see if they associated a reward with an odor, the reward being either sugar water or a combination of sugar water and caffeine in the same concentrations found in the nectar of coffee and citrus plants.

The effect of caffeine was not obvious at first, but as Dr. Wright refined her experiments, it became more clear that the chemical had a profound effect on memory. “If you put a low dose of caffeine in the reward when you teach them this task, and the amount is similar to what we drink when we have weak coffee, they just don’t forget that the odor is associated with the reward,” she said.

After 24 hours, three times as many bees remembered the connection between odor and reward if the reward contained caffeine. After 72 hours, twice as many remembered. They then tested the effect of caffeine on neurons in the bee brain and found that its action could lead to more sensitivity in neurons called Kenyon cells, which are involved in learning and memory. Dr. Wright said that this was one plausible route for enhancing memory, but was not definitive.

Insect and human brains are vastly different, and although caffeine has many effects in people, like increasing alertness, whether it improves memory is unclear. But the excitation of the Kenyon cells was similar to the action of caffeine on cells in the hippocampus in a recent experiment on rats, Dr. Wright said.

Such similarities in neurochemistry that allow caffeine to affect mammalian and insect brains in similar ways may seem surprising, but insects like fruit flies and the nervous systems of even more primitive organisms like nematodes have been used to study learning at the level of individual cells and the chemistry that changes their activities.

Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University, who studies the brain and behavior of a microscopic roundworm called Caenorhabditis elegans, said that the bee findings added more support to the idea that some very ancient behaviors like learning must have very deep evolutionary roots. Finding the common neurochemistry in such diverse creatures, she said, is like “learning the vocabulary of the brain.”

Pruning Roses And Flying Bees

Sunrise on Columbia Parkway

Sunrise on Columbia Parkway

It’s a gorgeous day on Columbia Parkway! The sun is shining and it’s almost 60 degrees F. It’s perfect for doing yard cleanup, putting down some compost and checking on my bees.

I noticed this morning that my rose bushes are starting to bud. Time to do some much needed late winter pruning!

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Winter pruning is important for the well-being of roses, as it stimulates the growth of new shoots which will provide flowers.

The best time to prune is just as spring growth starts. It’s not a good idea to wait until the new young shoots are a few inches long as this wastes the plant’s energy and will delay flowering.

The basics of pruning

The first step is easy. Cut out any shoots that are dead and diseased. Spores on these stems can easily reinfect the new shoots in spring so removing them will help with disease control. Also cut out any stems that are particularly weak or rubbing against each other

The next step is to prune the remaining stems.  Most roses benefit from moderate pruning, reducing the height by 1/4 to 3/4. I usually trim about 1/3 of the average height of the stems.

If you have the time you can make sure to prune just above the bud and at a slight angle away from the bud. The angle of the cut is more of an issue for Hybrid Teas and Floribundas as they can be more susceptible to die back than shrub roses. I do make sure that my secateurs are clean and sharp.

Once you have finished pruning your roses it’s important to clean up all the cut stems and fallen leaves as they can carry disease onto the next season.

Then apply a good layer of mulch such as garden compost or well rotted manure. No bark mulch please!! This will help to bury any spores left on the soil surface, keep the soil moist and cool, prevent weeds from germinating and feed the microorganisms in the soil.

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After I finished pruning, I checked in on my bees. They were flying like crazy!

I was delighted to see they were collecting pollen, not just out for a warm weather potty visit.

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I’m adding a third hive this year, so I’m moving the original hive to the bottom of the garden. Moving day is tomorrow! I’ll be sure and let you know how it goes…

Trees For Bees – The Linden Tree

linden 1

Linden trees, also known as bee trees and basswood trees (and as lime trees in Europe), are large trees that grow in four-season climates all over the world. These trees can reach 80 feet in height and have a 40-foot spread.

The trees bloom in June and July and their yellow flowers are highly aromatic. They are extremely popular with honey bees (leading to the colloquial name of “bee-tree”), and you can buy basswood honey made almost exclusively from these trees.  Linden trees have the reputation of producing some of the best honey in the world. It has been described as “delicate and mild, and has warm herbal notes and a clean finish.”

Linden trees grow in plant hardiness zones 3 through 8. The coldest temperatures in zone 3 can reach 40 below zero and 12 below zero in zone 8. Besides temperature, soil conditions influence the success of linden trees. They like finer soils that drain well but hold enough water to support the tree.

Linden trees

Linden trees are successful when planted wherever there is excellent to good farming soils. They prefer slightly acidic soil but will tolerate pH levels as high as 7.5. Linden trees do not withstand drought for prolonged periods and are not found in the western states of the US.

The leaves are large measuring anywhere from 3″ to 6″ in both length and width. The linden tree provides much of its own food since the leaves do not lose their mineral content as they decay. Linden tree leaves are high in calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, and potassium.

Trees For Bees – The Black Locust

black locust tree

Did you know that trees provide most of the surplus nectar and pollen for bees? Or that 5 or 6 trees produce as much nectar and pollen as a whole field of wildflowers?

Most people don’t. That’s unfortunate because planting a tree, especially in an urban area, is one of the most effective things you can do to help save the bees.

The benefits of planting Black Locust for honeybees have long been recognized. Bees are drawn to the fragrance of the nectar-rich blossoms. An acre of Black Locust is said to produce 800 to 1200 pounds of honey. Moreover, the Black Locust blooms late enough in spring that the blossoms are rarely damaged by frost; thus, it is a reliable annual source for bees.

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In Europe the Black Locust tree is considered to be highly prized as an urban street specimen, because it tolerates air pollution very well. The graceful white flower racemes that hang from the branches are extremely fragrant and perfume the air for shopping pedestrians.

The aromatic Back Locust flowers begin blooming in May and are considered edible and tasty like citrus flowers. Ironically, all other parts of the Black Locust tree are poisonous and should not be planted near livestock grazing sites. The lacy leaves are airy and constantly flutter in the slightest breeze. Leaflets can grow about eighteen in number and are attached to a midrib one foot in length. At night the leaves fold up as daylight fades, and likewise, the Black Locust tree leaves will contract during rain. In the Fall the deep green leaves that are silvery green underneath, turn bright yellow, and because of their tiny size do not need raking when fallen on the ground and then disappear in the grass as a fine mulch.

The Black Locust tree is a very fast growing tree that can produce a 4 foot trunk diameter and on old trees can reach 100 feet in height. This fast growing tree characteristic will rapidly enrich poor soils, because the Black Locust tree is a legume, so that nitrogen fixing bacteria grow into root nodules loaded with nitrogen organics. The Black Locust trees are very cold hardy, native American trees that range from the North Georgia mountains to Pennsylvania and then grow Westward to Oklahoma.

The BeeSmart™ Pollinator Gardener App

   
Your Source for Pollinator Action and Information.

Plant a garden that butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees will love as much as you!

The Bee Smart™ Pollinator Gardener is your comprehensive guide to selecting plants for pollinators specific to your area. Never get caught wondering what plants to buy again!

With the Bee Smart™ Pollinator Gardener’s easy user interface, browse through a database of nearly 1,000 native plants. Filter your plants by what pollinators you want to attract, light and soil requirements, bloom color, and plant type.
This is an excellent plant reference to attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, beetles, bats, and other pollinators to the garden, farm, school and every landscape.

Features include:
• Nearly 1,000 pollinator friendly plants native to the United States.
• Customizable plant lists based on your preferences including pollinator type, flower color, soil type, sunlight and plant type.
• Regionally specific plant lists based on the geographical and ecological attributes of your location (your ecoregion) just by entering your zip code!
• A wide variety of perennials, annuals, trees, shrubs, and vines to browse.
• An easy to use search option for querying on common or botanical plant names.
• Colorful plant images.
• Once you’ve created and edited your customized plant list, simply bring it to a nursery or garden center – never forget what to buy or plant again!

* Create a note easily using the free Catch app and add text, pictures and voice recordings to your plant notes.
* Snap a picture of a new plant, your location is automatically recorded and you can add a reminder to pick a plant at the nursery.
* Use Catch to begin a garden journal, connect, and share with other garden enthusiasts.