Updated: May 10
by Patrice Hanlon
The creative energies of a gardener transforming a piece of land is similar to the artist beginning with a blank canvas. Seeing how each season unfolds with new discoveries is an ongoing joy. Each month I will write about a few of the blooming plants in the garden, the bees associated with the plants, what families they come from and a few ethnobotanical information because I love the stories plants tell us.
The pollinator garden is not just for pollinators - As John Muir famously said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
A pollinator garden is a habitat garden. With the first tending of the soil, the healing process for the land begins - soil organisms awaken, insects, butterflies, birds, mammals and amphibians arrive because it is a safe haven to call home.
Blooming times and flower shape are key for a successful pollinator garden, which is why you will see mostly native plants in the new demonstration pollinator garden at The Pollination Place. You might ask, “Why native plants” since bees are attracted to many types of flowering plants. Oregon is home to about 500 species of native
bees who have evolved with our native
flora, meaning the bees are likely to emerge as the plants they love begin to flower.
Because native bees are emerging throughout the year, plants in the garden have overlapping flowering times, ensuring that there is always nectar and pollen available.
Not every flower is bee-friendly. Certain plant families are best for bees because of their shape, making it easy for the bees to reach pollen or nectar. Some of the top families for bee friendly gardens include: Asteraceae, Lamiaceae, Malvaceae, Polygonaceae, Rhamnaceae, Fabaceae, Scrophulariaceae, and Boraginaceae.
Early spring in Oregon begins with two shrubs every garden should have - Manzanita and Ceanothus. The pollinator garden has Manzanita (Arctostapylos densiflora ‘White Lanterns’) and Ceanothus (Ceanothus prostratus).
Manzanita is in the Ericaceae family and flowering begins in late winter-to-early spring, when native bees are awakening and hummingbirds need nectar. Its dainty pinkish-white, urn-shaped flowers point downward - an adaptation that protects the pollen from being washed away during rainy times. Because the opening of the flower is so small it is hard to imagine how it is pollinated. Well, our native bees are expert pollinators and are able to release the pollen by grasping the flower and vibrating their indirect flight muscles. Even thought their wings are not moving, they create a vibration, known as sonication , which dislodges the pollen from the flower.
Manzanita in Spanish means “little apple”, referring to the fruit that looks like a small apple. The fruit is appealing to a wide variety of animals and birds, including quail. The berries can be steeped in hot water and brewed into a tea. Tinctures are made to help with bladder infections.
The genus Ceanothus has about 55 species that come in all shapes and sizes, which is why it is an excellent choice for creating hedgerows or ground covers. It is in the Rhamaceae family. Flowers in this family have small, densely clustered flowers with lots of pollen that bloom in early spring. Bees that like Ceanothus include the bumble bee who are actively seeking food January through October, and Mining bees, ground nesters that emerge in February and usually active until June.
Ceanothus’ honey-scented flowers are reminiscent of lilacs, which is why it is often referred to as California lilac. The species growing in the PPRV garden is (Ceanothus prostratus) - prostratus meaning it grows along the ground. Ground covers are important in habitat gardens because they provide places for birds and amphibians to hide from predators, as well as great cover for bumble bee nests!
Ceanothus has many ethnobotanical uses such as using the flowers for soap. When mixed with water, the flowers create a soapy detergent. The long, flexible stems of some species are used in basket-making.
Next time we will visit native Phacelia’s and Berberis, Oregon’s State flower.