True story, when I first started gardening, I didn’t grow flowers. I had a small space, and my priority was to grow food. But as I learned more and more, and experienced time in my garden, I had a change of heart. Flowers are crucial for any healthy garden, and I think, regardless of how much space you have, you should make flowers a priority and grow a flower garden.
Flower gardens might have the stigma of fussy grandma gardens, but a flower garden can take many forms. It can be its own entity, or flowers can be interplanted with your vegetable garden. You can have annuals in a cutting garden, or choose flowering trees, shrubs and perennials for your landscaping. Even with my small space, it’s tempting to fill every square inch with edibles, but as I design my new garden, I’m making sure to save space for flowers. I’ll use shrubs that flower to add structure to the garden, and create a perennial border around my raised beds. Then, I’ll interplant annuals with my vegetables.
In addition to color and added beauty to the garden, many are edible or can be used for teas or other herbal preparations, or can be used in natural dye projects. And let’s not forget about the joy of a freshly cut bouquet brought into the kitchen! But flowers also support life, and what is a garden without the sound of bees buzzing? I’ve been in gardens that are both sterile and still, and those are alive, filled with birds and bees. My soul is happy in the later!
Flowers Support Our Honeybees
It’s no secret that our bees are having issues, but you don’t have to keep your own beehives in order to be a steward to the bees. No matter how large or small your space is, you can help fight the worldwide decline in bee populations. Cities and suburban areas can actually provide better forage than rural farmlands, as metropolitan areas have a higher diversity of plants from the variety of gardens, as well as year-round blooms. By adding flowers to existing vegetable beds, or by creating pollinator friendly borders, you can provide them with food and nectar.
Flowers Support Native Bees
Honeybees are the poster-child for pollination, and as 70% of our food crops benefit from their pollination, rightfully so! But native bees are also excellent pollinators. For example, it only takes 250 orchard mason bees, one species of our native bee, to pollinate an acre of apples, while it would take at least 20,000 honeybees.
Honeybees are actually native to Europe, and where brought over by colonial settlers in 1622 for wax production. Over time, honeybees have left managed hives successfully lived in the wild without a human beekeeper. Regardless of their immigrant status, honeybees are now a crucial part of our society and food system. In the United States, there are approximately 4,000 native species, with about 1,600 native to California.
Many native bees can actually be better pollinators than honeybees, because they come out earlier in the day, and stay out later in the evening. Honeybees need specific conditions to leave the hive and forage, dry days and warmer than 57 degrees. Some of the larger native bees, like bumblebees and carpenter bees, can forage in cooler temperatures, and even forage in the rain.
Flowers Encourage Beneficial Insects
When we think of beneficial insects, our bees are often the first that come to mind, but there are many others, like ladybugs or lacewings. If your goal is to garden organically and utilize beneficial insects as a way to control pests, you need to plant flowers. Thankfully, many varieties support both beneficial and bees.
Beneficial insects are the insects you want to ENCOURAGE into your garden. These are the ones that prey on the bugs who are eating your lettuce or put holes in your roses. Of course, they aren’t doing these things as a favor to us, but simply because they are surviving. It’s a simple relationship between predator and prey. The ‘bad’ bugs, or the pests, are the prey, the ‘good’ bugs, the beneficial, are the predators.
Surprisingly, most beneficial insects aren’t strictly carnivores. So they need more to eat than just the bad bugs in your garden. They get their protein from both insects and from pollen. And in order to encourage a beneficial bug to stick around for the next inevitable aphid infestation, you need to create a hospitable garden for them to live in, which includes a well-balanced diet.
This is the first post in a series about pollinator gardening. Check out the other posts!
Why You Need A Flower Garden (you are here!)
7 Basics Every Pollinator Garden Needs (coming soon!)
How to Build A Mason Bee House (coming soon!)