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Tips for the Compleat Gardener: Odds and ends


We are coming to the end of an odd year in all aspects. Turmoil is manifesting in all kinds of forms: tornados in unusual numbers, intense rain drowning crops and washing cars away, fires turning whole towns to ash in California being followed by torrential rain and mudslides and bugs are disappearing.

Everything is uncertain, even Christmas across the country is supposed to be milder than normal. Nature has a way of making one humble, what can we do?

Of that list the disappearance of insects is the scariest, somehow storms are at a distance, very much larger than us but bugs are tangibly woven in our lives, without bugs life ends. For years people have been focusing on the honey bee and the problem of hive collapse but the honeybee is just one out of hundreds of species of bees, most solitary, that live in the stems of plants and tunnels in the garden.

These important members of our environment need native plants that provide adequate nectar and can in some cases host the development of their larva. We can plant the right things to encourage bugs to return. I have been planting mountain mint, a native, in my gardens and finding it filled with honeybees.

People have been focusing on providing for the monarch butterfly the last few years, planting native milkweed for it to eat and lay eggs upon.

Interesting to purposely plant something that you hope will be decimated.

People plant fennel for the swallowtail butterflies expecting a similar outcome and bare stalks of fennel brightened by growing caterpillars.

This past season while gardening I saw more monarchs than usual but fewer other butterflies and moths.

The trick is figuring out what to plant in the uncertain climate. There are many native shrubs that can take wet or dry conditions while feeding pollinators. The button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) that has white, ball-shaped flowers that look like a pincushion and attract certain species of butterfly especially the skippers. I always enjoy seeing them on the edges of swamps.

The common elderberry enjoys similar conditions, blooming in large, flat white flowers it pollen feeding insects but its real contribution to life is the clusters of ripe drupes loved by many species of birds and some small mammals. It is a larval host to the robin moth, North America’s largest.

As you are mellowing in to winter, gardening tools put away, think about the coming spring and how you can add good things to your home environment. The nice thing about most natives is they do not need a lot of special prep. Still time to get gift certificates from your local native plant nurseries for that special present, maybe include the actual planting of a gift.

As the year changes so does Congress and the chance to ban pesticides from the big chemical companies that have been found to be toxic to our children and bugs by asking your representatives to fight for tight restrictions if not total ban of these harmful materials before what the New York Times called “The Insect Apocalypse” is complete. Find out from whom your Representative gets money.

Please feel free to ask questions or suggest something you want to know more about, I enjoy your feedback even when you are correcting me. One of the interesting (and humbling) things about writing a regular column is I sometimes find out that something I have always thought to be a fact actually isn’t.

Enjoy the moment.