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I’ve Been Stung by a Bee!!! - (With a List of Plantings that Support Native Pollinators)

I’m kidding, I don’t get especially alarmed by a bee sting.  I realize that not everyone has the luxury of such an attitude, but I come by it rightly enough.  My earliest memory is of finding a bee dead on my t-shirt, then finding its stinger still stuck in the skin of my left.

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Certainly, however, the world has become a much scarier and more complex place since 1986, and the world of both melissophobics and bee lovers alike has grown far more complex as honey bee colonies collapse, Africanized bees invade new territories and, this year in particular, bee populations continue a recently documented recovery that has many of our clients and local members of our Nextdoor.com community inquiring about bee removal or relocation services.

I should, therefore, start with some local-business-love and not bury the lede:

Campion Walker highly recommends the services of Beecasso Live Bee Removal, Inc., a friendly and highly professional team of experts familiar with the local microclimate and both the native and common introduced species in Topanga Canyon.

But that is not why I have decided to devote my second blog posting to these wondrous and vital members of the environment and the agricultural economy.  In fact, I intend to range far beyond the scientific clade Anthrophila to discuss other pollinators who commonly visit the Canyon, from the beautiful but transitory Monarch butterflies who were migrating through the pass when I first started work at Campion Walker to the eleven different species of bats that have been confirmed in the Santa Monica Mountain Range, because ultimately I want this posting to inform our neighbors about all of the wonderful pollinators who share responsibility for the propagation of the beautiful native plant varieties we promote whenever possible in our design work.

For those not aware, pollination is the plant equivalent of sex.  Plants that flower, from fruit trees to dandelions, have organs that produce a (usually) powdery substance called pollen that contains the ‘male’ reproductive material.  Usually this is found at the center of the flower, often it is a prickly mound or even an elongated cone, like the ‘eye’ at the center of a daisy, the large brown hump in the middle of a sunflower or the fuzzy lumps on the multiple stems at the center of a lily.  Deeper inside the center of the flower is the ‘stigma,’ the receptive region containing the ‘female’ half of the flower’s reproductive DNA.  This area often produces nectar, a sweet compound that gives off the scent that attracts the animal or insect actors who are responsible for providing the energy that transfers reproductive material from the stamen (the ‘eye’) to the stigma.

Had enough biology to make your head hurt?  (Me too!)  Sadly, the rest of this post won’t be much less sciencey.  But I’ll try and keep it as simple as possible, since I’m a books and research nerd myself, and not the safety goggles kind.

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Some insects and animals eat pollen, and some subsist entirely on in.  Others prefer the sugar-based nectar of a flower that has no other purpose but to draw their attentions.  Many pollinators have evolved in ways that directly leverage particular features of one or multiple species of plant, while many plants have evolved to make it easier for some pollinators to access their organs and more difficult for others.  When both plants and animals have adaptations that increase the effectiveness of the feeding/pollination process, their interactions are called a symbiotic relationship, which, if you haven’t heard it elsewhere, is a minor plot element in the Episode 1 movie from the Star Wars franchise (Star Wars: A Phantom Menace).

Bees are the most common and best known of these pollinators, and, notably, honeybees have an adaptation unrelated to pollination which makes them particularly interesting to human beings (and many other animals).  In addition to being crucial to the growth and production of farmers’ crops, honeybees produce a preservable, preservative, husbandable resource (honey) on which they may subsist in lean seasons or years.  In addition, honeybee ‘wax,’ the semi-solid substance used to plug holes and build walls within the bees’ nests, is a highly useful resource with a variety of health and industrial applications.

Now, full disclosure, this blog’s author firmly believes that animal husbandry is affirmatively moral and that dietary choices from omnivorism to veganism are entirely amoral, that is, have nothing to do with morality and only concern body chemistry and personal preference.  For a start, without bee husbandry, the levels of vegetable (fruit and nuts especially) food production that sustains 7 billion human beings in (on average) sustainable nutritional conditions would. not. exist.  And if your response to this is “good, better for the planet,” then you are changing the subject and not interested in reasoned morality but rather are indulging your personal whims.  7 billion people do exist, they came to be here by the natural method, and the only route through history to lower numbers involves constant, widespread famine (and, by the way, more extreme disparities of wealth than Imperial Rome).

In the case of honeybee husbandry, the commercially useful resources are in constant production both in good years and in bad, and surplus is produced regardless of the need, a lot like wool on a sheep.  Prior to the discovery of so-called “bee space” by the Rev. L.L. Langstroth in 1851, entire colonies would be destroyed in order to harvest the collected honey.  While new colonies were propagated (where they would not otherwise have existed), and kept in specially designated baskets, hollowed logs or boxes, the outright destruction of habitat in the harvesting of resources can fairly be described as a violation of the ethical-and-sustainable principle.  Modern bee-boxes, however, have the requisite ¼” to 3/8 inches of space between hanging frames and between the edges of frames and the sides of boxes require no damage to the habitat of husbanded bees.  Proper parceling of resources, therefore, can easily ensure that kept bees will always have sufficient stored honey for their own needs even as the surplus honey—and the attendant wax plugs—are harvested for human use.

Campion Walker owner Nicholas Walker keeps several bee boxes himself and is always happy to talk to another bee-lover about his own challenges and triumphs

Campion Walker owner Nicholas Walker keeps several bee boxes himself and is always happy to talk to another bee-lover about his own challenges and triumphs

What remained unsustainable in the beekeeping industry for many decades (right up until…2015 appears to have been the watershed year), and is considered a major cause of colony collapse, was the extreme levels of stress put on colonies, and the frequent (untracked) use of bee colonies to pollinate the same type of crops over and over again.

Wait.  Seriously!?  That turned out to be the big problem?  That bees were being sent north and south, over mountain and under dale and were fed only corn or only wheat or only almond-flower nectar for years at a time?  Really?

In a word, yes.  Except the dale part, I have Tolkein on the brain.

Seems a bit simple for a widely-touted ‘disease’ that threatened the total collapse of civilization as we know it, huh?  But bees tell the time of year by the temperature.  They get more active in the months when the flowers common in their home territory are in flower and they go dormant through the winter, feeding off the honey they’ve produced over the warmer seasons, or, in the case of non-honey producing species, they hibernate.  As for the diet question, one scientist I read compared feeding only off one type of flower to eating at the same fast food outlet every day, and those meals come garnished with lettuce and tomatoes on top of the meat.  If you recall the drastic health effects suffered by the human subject of the documentary film Super Size Me, then pile on the effects of a car being constantly red-lined, then left to cool outdoors in a snowdrift, you get some idea of the level of stress being put upon semi-domesticated colonies in the commercial beekeeping industry.

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Are you with me still?  I know it’s a lot, and we still haven’t even gotten to the landscaping part.  Honeybees are referred to by entomologists and environmental scientists as ‘generalized pollinators,’ pollinators who operate throughout the warm months and across many, and in the case of honeybees, basically all plant species, so long as the flowers are accessible to their tiny ‘proboscis’ mouths.  Many plant species, however, particularly important threatened native plant species are closely adapted, if not symbiotic with a native pollinator, like native bees, while others are adapted to the long, narrow beaks of hummingbirds, or the nocturnal activities of moths or bats.  So while honeybees are highly efficient pollinators on a monocrop industrial farm, they can be rather less efficient when in the wild, visiting a wide variety of flowers, each of which will begin a reproductive cycle with whatever pollen granule lands upon its stigma, whether of the same species, a hybridizing one, or a non-crossing plant.

Native bees tend to visit the same type of flower for weeks at a time, and if they have a variety from which they feed, that variation is distributed across flowering seasons, so that they go from one flower of a certain type directly to another flower of the same species, ensuring maximum effect from whatever pollen is shaken loose at the new flower.

So, long story made short (I know, it’s a character flaw…) healthy native pollinator populations increase fruit, nut and seed yield, size and even quality, due to the lower likelihood of native bees fertilizing flowers of the same plant with its own pollen (something to do with the way they evolve together).  To improve your garden’s support of native populations, I have collected as short a list as I can of the most effective strategies from a number of sources, including the U.S. Forest Service, the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Laboratory and the Xerces Society.

So here goes:

1.       In order to provide nectar to native pollinator species throughout the active seasons (and have flowers in your garden all summer!!!) you are looking at having at least 20 different plant species in your garden.

 2.       These plants should be kept in like-species plots, so that once the pollinators find one, they can do the whole tour in a set, maximizing the probability of fertile pollination (and also increasing the yield and size of whatever fruit, berry, nut or vegetable your plants produce!!!).

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 3.       There should be a water source, with a little landing spot for the bees, moths, butterflies and other insect pollinators to land on.  This could be a little mound of sand in the middle of a birdbath, a piece of cork floating in a bucket or a little fountain with the water level kept near the brim.  Ideally, a muddy creek bed with a tree containing hollow spaces will run right beside your garden, giving you the chance to play host to the real jewels of the Southern California native bee community, the Valley Carpenter Bee, the Mason Bee and the Ultra Green (yes, green!!!) Sweat Bee.  These bees range from black to blue to a shiny metallic green.  Don’t be alarmed if one of the sweat bees lands right on your skin to lap up salt and moisture, and the large black carpenter bees don’t even have stingers!!!  Don’t forget that mosquitoes pupate in standing water, so either find a way (like a fountain pump) to keep the water circulating or remember to refresh it frequently.

 4.       Remember that many flowering plants prefer full sun, so a few trees are ok, but save the shaded canopy spaces for your own activities!

 5.       Consider leaving an open patch of ground with a few sparse native weeds and wildflowers.  Many local bee species nest underground, so leave the patch untilled and don’t pull the weeds until you see them seeding.  You may lose some ground in your battle against the outsiders in other parts of the garden, but the resident pollinators nesting beneath should more than offset the extra effort and often these native bee species have parallel adaptations for local flowering weeds that can help smooth over any gaps in your season-oriented plantings.

 6.       Don’t forget to include plenty of white flowering plants, for the moth and bat species who come out in the evenings, and, of course, milkweed to support the Monarch butterfly migration.  Wooly bluecurls, Cleveland sage (any sage really) and Manzanita are all great for hummingbirds.

 7.       On mulching: thickly laid mulching (3 to 4 inches) can inhibit bees from ground nesting, but a more penetrable layer, perhaps an inch thick, should not cause the same challenges.

Finally, below is a list of native plantings and common introduced species that work well in most Southern California gardens to encourage healthy, diverse pollinator populations.  Sadly, I made the mistake of compiling lists from three different, highly reputable sources and the number of plants, while not exhaustive, may be quite exhausting to read through.  To help, I have organized them (very roughly) by flowering season.  This, however, might be slightly misleading because a month-by-month detail would have been even more overwhelming and some of the flowers, of course, straddle the seasons.  As a rule, I included the plant on the list for the first season it fully covers, or, if equally split, the earlier of the seasons.  For plants that flower throughout more than one season, like California Poppies, I have entered them during every season during which they can be expected to flower throughout the whole season.  While this ignores a month of flowering or not flowering here and there, the result is more than one hundred and fifty plant species you can grow (or, better yet, Campion Walker will grow and maintain them for you!) to improve local pollinator species diversity and the health of your entire yard.

Have fun in those gardens and be sure to call Campion Walker for assistance with all of your bee-friendly landscaping projects!

WET SEASON - JAN, FEB, MAR

Bladderpod

Peritoma arborea (Isomeris arborea)

Lavender

Lavandula spp.

California buttercup

Ranunculus californicus

Nevin's Barberry

Berberis nevinii

California Evening Primrose

Oenothera californica

Pacific Bleeding Heart

Dicentra formosa

California fairyduster

Calliandra californica

Padre’s Shooting Star

Dodecatheon clevelandii

California peony

Paeonia californica

Red Larkspur

Delphinium nudicaule

California Poppy

Eschscholzia californica

Red Flower Currant

Ribes sanguineum

Chiapas Sage

Salvia chiapensis

Seaside alumroot

Heuchera pilosissima

Desert Globemallow

Sphaeralcea ambigua

Wavyleaf Barberry

Mahonia pinnata

Hairy ceanothus

Ceanothus oliganthus

Western columbine

Aquilegia formosa

Hollyleaf Cherry

Prunus ilicifolia

White Mt. Lilac

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus

Lantana

Lantana spp.

Woollyleaf Manzanita

Arctostaphylos tomentosa

SPRING - APR, MAY, JUN

Autumn Sage

Salvia greggii

Heartleaf Keckiella

Keckiella cordifolia

Baby Blue Eyes

Nemophila menziesii

Hoaryleaf Ceanothus

Ceanothus crassifolius

Beach strawberry

Fragaria chiloensis

Hummingbird Sage

Salvia spathacea

Big Leaf Maple

Acer macrophyllum

Imbricate Phacelia

Phacelia imbricata

Black Sage

Salvia mellifera

Kinnikinnick

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Bladderpod

Peritoma arborea (Isomeris arborea)

Lacy Phacelia

Phacelia tanacetifolia

Blue Flax

Linum lewisii

Lanceleaf Coreopsis

Coreopsis lanceolata

Bluehead Gilia

Gilia capitata

Lantana

Lantana spp.

Brandegee's Sage

Salvia brandegeei

Lavender

Lavandula spp.

Broadlead Stonecrop

Sedum spathulifolium

Lemonade sumac

Rhus integrifolia

Brown dogwood

Cornus glabrata

McMinn Manzanita

Arctostaphylos 'McMinn'

Bunchleaf Penstemon

Penstemon heterophyllus

Mendocino Bushmallow

Malacothamnus fasciculatus

Bush Snapdragon

Galvezia spp.

Minor Phacelia

Phacelia minor

California Desert Bluebells

Phacelia campanularis

Mission Woodland-star

Lithophragma heterophyllum

California Buckeye

Aesculus californica

Monkey Flower

Mimulus aurantiacus

California Buckthorn

Frangula californica

Mountain Blue Penstemon

Penstemon laetus

California buckwheat

Eriogonum fasciculatum

Narrowleaf Willow

Salix exigua

California False Indigo

Amorpha californica

Oregon Grape

Berberis aquifolium

California Flannelbush

Fremontodendron californicum

Palmer's Indian Mallow

Abutilon Palmeri

California Gilia

Gilia achilleifolia

Pincushion Flower

Scabiosa atropurpurea

California Hedgenettle

Stachys bullata

Pink Sand Verbena

Abronia umbellata

California Lilac

Ceanothus 'Concha'

Pot Marigold

Calendula officinalis

California Milkweed

Asclepias californica

Purple Chinese Houses

Collinsia heterophylla

California Phacelia

Phacelia californica

Red Willow

Salix laevigata

California Poppy

Eschscholzia californica

Redbud

Cercis orbiculata

California saxifrage

Saxifraga californica

Rosemary

Rosmarinus officianalis

Canyon Gooseberry

Ribes menziesii

Rosilla

Helenium puberulum

Cardinal Catchfly

Silene laciniata

San Luis Purple Sage

Salvia leucophylla

Cascade Barberry

Mahonia nervosa

Santa Barbara Milkvetch

Astragalus trichopodus

Caterpillar Phacelia

Phacelia cicutaria

Scarlet Bugler

Penstemon centranthifolius

Chamise

Adenostemma fasciculatum

Scarlet Larkspur

Delphinium cardinale

Chiapas Sage

Salvia chiapensis

Scarlet Monkeyflower

Mimulus cardinalis

Chinese Wisteria

Wisteria sinensis

Shortspike Hedgenettle

Stachys pycnantha

Coastal Prickly Pear

Opuntia littoralis

Silver Bush Lupine

Lupinus albifrons

Common Tidylips

Layia platyglossa

Starflower

Trientalis borealis

Desert Globemallow

Sphaeralcea ambigua

Sticky cinquefoil

Potentilla glandulosa

Desert Willow

Chilopsis linearis

Tacky Phacelia

Phacelia viscida

Distant Phacelia

Phacelia distans

Tansy Phacelia

Phacelia tanacetifolia

Dwarf Cherkerbloom

Sidalcea malviflora

Telegraph Weed

Heterotheca grandiflora

Dwarf Coastal manzanita

Arctostaphylos edmundsii

Western Azalea

Rhododendron occidentale

Elegant Clarkia

Clarkia unguiculata

Western Vervain

Verbena lasiostachys

Fringe cup

Tellima grandiflora

White Sage

Salvia apiana

Garden Cosmos

Cosmos bipinnatus

Yarrow

Achillea millefolium var. californica

Globe Gilia

Gilia capitata

Yucca

Yucca

SUMMER - JUL, AUG

Apache beggarticks

Bidens ferulifolia

Hollyhock

Alcea rosea

Autumn Sage

Salvia greggii

Hyssop

Agasache spp.

Baby Sage

Salvia microphylla

Indigo Spires

Salvia 'Indigo Spires'

Bladderpod

Peritoma arborea (Isomeris arborea)

Lantana

Lantana spp.

Blue Flax

Linum lewisii

Laurel Sumac

Malosma laurina

Bog Sage

Salvia uliginosa

Monkey Flower

Mimulus aurantiacus

California Goldenrod

Solidago californica

Moonflower

Ipomoea alba

California Poppy

Eschscholzia californica

Mountain Monardella

Monardella odoratissima

Chiapas Sage

Salvia chiapensis

Narrowleaf Milkweed

Asclepias fascicularis

Cleveland Sage

Salvia clevelandii

Orange Eye Butterflybush

Buddleja davidii

Coast Buckwheat

Eriogonum latifolium

Orange Sticky Monkey Flower

Diplacus aurantiacus

Coyote brush

Baccharis pilularis

Pot Marigold

Calendula officinalis

Coyote Mint

Monardella villosa

Red Monardella

Monardella macrantha

Deerweed

Acmispon glaber

Rosemary

Rosmarinus officianalis

Desert Buckwheat

Eriogonum spp.

Slender Sunflower

Helianthus gracilentus

Desert Globemallow

Sphaeralcea ambigua

Summer Lupine

Lupinus formosus

Evening Primrose

Oenothera biennis

Sunflower

Helianthus annuus

Foothill Penstemon

Penstemon heterophyllus

Telegraph Weed

Heterotheca grandiflora

Germander Sage

Salvia chamaedryoides

Toyon (California Holly)

Heteromeles arbutifolia

Gumplant

Grindelia camporum

Wollypod Milkweed

Asclepias eriocarpa

Gumweed

Grindelia stricta

Woolly Bluecurls

Trichostema lanatum

FALL - SEPT, OCT

Autumn Sage

Salvia greggii

Gray Rabbitbush

Ericameria nauseosa (Chrysothamnus nauseosus)

Bladderpod

Peritoma arborea (Isomeris arborea)

Lantana

Lantana spp.

California Aster

Symphyotrichum chilense

Lavender

Lavandula spp.

California Fuchsia

Epilobium canum

Mexican Sunflower

Tithonia rotundifolia

California fairyduster

Calliandra californica

Pot Marigold

Calendula officinalis

Chiapas Sage

Salvia chiapensis

Purple Top Vervain

Verbena bonariensis

Desert Globemallow

Sphaeralcea ambigua

Telegraph Weed

Heterotheca grandiflora

Subject: Re: 2nd Edition of Time Saver Standards available in office

Landscape design is about fitting the wild, uncontrollable growth of the natural world inside the rigid boundaries of contemporary (or ‘postmodern’ as historians and other equally boring types call it) living.  It’s about building connections through reverence for the old way of doing things, the weathered textures of passed ages of utility and value interleaved seamlessly with the economies of the present day: optimal productivity; peak efficiency; ethical growing and local sourcing.

Books offer another kind of connection, one that I am more familiar with, but one that is no less fundamental to the old ways of doing things…

Read More

5 Sustainable Features for your Garden

If we had to come up with Campion Walker studio trademarks, they wouldn’t be features or plants-- they would be philosophies. Our designs are informed by many things: the site, client needs, aesthetic ideas. But the point of view we bring to our many and varied projects always orbits around the ideas of simplicity and sustainability.

We like to see that we listen to the land, and what this translates to is how we recognize the need to interact with the native environment. In short, that is the definition of sustainability. The most natural thing we, as garden designers and stewards of the land, can do is to simplify how we tread on the earth, and lean on sustainable practices to work with nature to create beautiful spaces.

Some of our favorite elements of sustainable design:

Watershed

In a garden setting, we refer to rocky swales and/or rain gardens as watersheds. These features are tools for retaining rain water on-site, which has significant impact on both groundwater supply and stormwater management-- both of which have far-reaching effects on the ecological health of our world. A watershed is a low point of a garden, designed to have rainwater drain to it, and designed with rocks and/or riparian plants that thrive in dry conditions with occasional flooding. On top of their function, watersheds are a dramatic and stunning feature in gardens, especially in rustic modern or xeriscaped designs.

Greywater

If a project allows, or a homeowner is willing to invest in some plumbing adjustments, we advocate installation of greywater systems. These systems allow clean used water, called greywater, from bathroom sinks, showers, and laundry, to drain into a garden, either irrigating plants or percolating down into the earth if channeled to a watershed. It might seem unusual to reuse water in this way, but greywater is 100% safe to recycle in this manner. As a bonus, using phosphate-free soap/detergent and epsom salt is actually a fertilizer-- which is even more reason to recommend using greywater to water your landscape plants.

Composting

The subject of composting can raise an eyebrow from less than enthusiastic gardeners, but in truth, its practice is spectacularly simple. Setting aside organic waste from your kitchen (trimmings from fruits and vegetables, egg shells, coffee grinds) and your garden (grass trimmings, fallen leaves) can reduce as much as 60% of landfill waste-- that makes composting more green than recycling! You can compost in your own yard, either in a tumbler, or a bin, or a simple hole dug in the soil in a dark, secluded corner of your garden. Keep your kitchen waste in a pail under your sink, and bring it out every 3 days, and then layering in your green garden waste instead of throwing them away in your green waste trashcan. Allow the compost layers to sit, turning once a month or so to aerate, and in about 3 months, that compost will become rich organic matter, perfect as a natural fertilizer for your garden plants. For more information on how to start composting, we recommend this article.

Firewise Gardens

As longtime residents of LA’s Topanga Canyon, we’re no strangers to wildfires. When naturally-occurring, they are a part of the earth cycles, but containment is key to limiting their devastation. Because many of our projects are in the Santa Monica mountains and are close to areas where fire danger is high, we design firewise gardens: plantings chosen specifically for their ability to mitigate the spread of flames. Firewise knowledge can be as simple as tree choices: native oaks are slow to burn and fast to recover from flames, while many other tree choices incinerate fast and feed a fire. Other tactics we recommend are choosing high water content plants, such as succulents, and designing them in wide swaths to act as moisture barriers should a fire approach.

Plant Communities

The practice of designing communities of plants is one of our favorite strategies for a healthy, beautiful garden. Our horticultural background has taught us that placing symbiotic organisms next to each other takes a lot of the guesswork out of maintenance because it creates self-sustaining ecologies. We like to educate our clients about the importance of choosing such complimentary plant palettes, such as planting low-water, chaparral natives like Heteromeles arbutifolia (Toyon) with Erigonium fasciculatum (California buckwhat) and salvias, in order to create a happy landscape.