Friday, May 6, 2011

Kale for Bees?

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — marvelous error!
that I had a beehive here inside my heart.
And the golden bees were making white combs
and sweet honey from my old failures.
~Antonio Machado

So, we attend the meetings of three different bee associations in the region, and at one of them last month a fellow mentioned that he lets his kale go to flower for the bees. Hmmm, I got to thinking, I grow kale, the Tuscan variety (aka Dino kale or Black kale), and usually when it begins to flower I yank it out and start the garden over again. I didn’t know bees would go for it. This spring, if you can call it that, has been so cold and wet for so long that I’ve not been able to get any new seedlings other than peas and leeks in the ground. The garlic and remaining leeks have wintered over well, the asparagus is coming up, the alpine strawberries are blooming and now the kale is in full bloom.

Woo hoo! Not only do the bees love it but the hummingbirds are going for it too! Not in droves but the other day I saw a hummer flitting around and sampling all the flowers. In addition to honey bees and hummingbirds, there were also other different tiny pollinator bees going for it. Check out the honey bee in the picture here. Honey bees have shorter tongues than bumblebees and hummingbirds who could easily reach into such a deep flower. These flowers are a little too tight for the bees to get their heads in far enough for their tongues to reach the nectar so the smart little bee is accessing it from between the petals from the backside of the bloom nearer the stem end. Smart huh?

Who knew?? Not me, that’s for sure but I learned something new that I will continue in the years to come. Leave the kale to bloom for your pollinators.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Alpine strawberries, Bergenia, Ajuga, Kale, Tulips, Geum, Erythronium ‘pagoda, Fritillaria, Brunnera macrophylla, Anemone nemorosa, Dicenta alba (white bleeding heart), Skimmia, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), Rhododendron, Mahonia, Clematis, Wood Hyacinths, primrose (double English), Heleborus, Bellis perennis (English daisy),

Author’s photos

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Take thy spade,
It is thy pencil;
Take thy seeds, thy plants,
They are thy colours.
~William Mason, The English Garden, 1782

Are you one that thinks red and magenta shouldn’t go together?

Perhaps Bergenia ‘Evening Glow’ will change your mind. The color combination is truly eye-candy, grabbing your attention from across the garden. When I originally purchased this plant, the tag was labeled Bergenia ‘Abend Glut’ which is German for Evening Glow. For some reason all the tags I see now have been translated to Evening Glow. I think I liked the German vernacular better but it seems to be changed, at least here. Look for either to be sure to find the correct hybrid.

Bergenia, also known as ‘pig squeak’ (I have no idea why) or ‘elephants ears’, is hardy in USDA zones 1-9. This variety seems to do better in my garden with more sun, providing they don’t completely dry out too often. I have some in less sun but they don’t bloom as well, the leaves are smaller and they don’t have as much winter color. Those planted in morning sun or early afternoon sun with partial shade in the hottest part of the day give me the best blooms. You may want to experiment with locations to find the best spot in your garden. As always, the further north you live from the equator the more sun these plants can handle. If you live in a hot region, try them in some afternoon shade or light dappled shade all day. If they get too much sun, you could see shriveling leaves, spotting on the leaves, crispy leaf edges, and/or general unhappiness in the plants appearance.

Left are the lovely, large leaves of ‘Evening Glow’ …green in summer turning a gorgeous wine color in winter’s chilly temps (below). The more winter sun they get the more the leaves color up. This variety also keeps its leaves all year. While other varieties I’ve seen become a mass of dried or mushy leaves after a freeze, ‘Evening Glow’ stays strong in the garden. The photo below was taken in March after an especially cold, icy, snowy winter; obviously unaffected.

Bergenia is a great ground cover filling in to form a nice mass of large leaves. Our city has it in these sidewalk plantings. It can handle a little abuse from pedestrians concentrating on texting when they should be watching where they’re walking. Also when the clump is established it can take some drying out. This city planting is not irrigated.

To divide your mass, simply begin lifting the plants out of the ground with the help of a garden fork. They’ll break into smaller chunks. You can trim the rootstock to manageable size and plant them.

Even if you don’t get any smaller roots with the main rootstalk, it’ll root out. A piece as small as seen below will be fine, providing you don’t let the surrounding soil dry out. They store a lot of water and energy in the rootstalk, stems and leaves.

Plant it and water it in…notice how the leaves look chopped off in the next photo? They are. That piece of root can’t support full leaves anymore so cut them in half. That will allow the energy to go into producing new roots and not be wasted on trying to keep the whole leaves hydrated. It will put out new leaves as the roots grow and strengthen. Cut all the leaves in half on all your root pieces, even if they look like the bigger one. This practice also helps the plants stability. On windy days leaves can act as a sail, wiggling the plant out of the soil. Cutting the leaves down (but not off) keep the plant stable so new roots won’t be damaged while they are trying to grow.

Not all varieties are as nice as ‘Evening Glow’. I used to have Bergenia ‘Silber Licht’ aka ‘Silver Light’. The leaves did not seem to be as sturdy so was constantly eaten by slugs, not as nice in winter and they spotted with red spots. It’s white flowers spotted too so I got rid of it and divided my ‘Evening Glow’ to replace it.

So now what do you think of red and magenta together? Bergenia ‘Evening Glow’…it’s a stunner!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Bergenia, Ajuga, Kale, Tulips, Geum, Erythronium ‘pagoda, Fritillaria, Brunnera macrophylla, Anemone nemorosa, Dicenta alba (white bleeding heart), Skimmia, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), Rhododendron, Mahonia, Clematis, Wood Hyacinths, primrose (double English), Heleborus, Bellis perennis (English daisy), violet primrose

Authors photos