By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Yesterday was a sunny early summer’s day in my Brooklyn garden, with many flowers in full bloom. At the front of the garden, rests a well-established Zephirine Drouhin climbing Bourbon rose, which I planted in the mid- ‘90s, soon after we moved in. I chose this variety because of its tolerance for poor soil and shade, of which I once had plenty. The plant is thriving, now that the two trees that once shaded my garden – a massive maple and a three-trunked river birch – are gone, casualties of disease. At the moment, it’s covered with fragrant carmine blooms, and if I keep up with the deadheading, will throw off repeat blooms throughout the summer.
At the the back of the garden, I planted two Abraham Darby David Austin roses in September of 2019; these are just getting settled in. The flowers are huge, apricot-colored now, and shade to coral pink as they age. They carry an exquisite scent: perhaps my favourite rose scent, I decided one day when I made a slow trawl through the rose garden of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, sniffing dozens of varieties.
Bees buzzed around the masses of bluebells that currently carpet much of the floor of the garden, popping up around a cluster of mixed heuchera – purple, gold, nearly black – and the many hostas I planted when the garden was a shady space. These bluebells are a legacy of our house’s previous owner. I’d not noticed before how much bees love them. It’s fitting that I twigged to this yesterday, as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) tells me May 20 was World Bee Day – something I didn’t know as I watched the bee activity in my garden. Buzzing bees got me thinking about what other plants I might add to encourage them to continue to visit throughout the summer.
I’m well aware of the plight of the bees, through a friend who keeps bees at his upstate place somewhere in the Catskills. He often seems to be dealing with some catastrophe or another – successfully I think, as he occasionally brings me honey. This short FAO publication explains Why Bees Matter. And at this fraught time – when things I really can’t do much about often preoccupy me – I at least can consider the bees when I select plants for the garden.
A large buddleia sits in a terra cotta pot on my front stoop. Despite its name, this butterfly bush typically attracts more bees than butterflies. These plants tend to sprawl and another buddleia in the back garden wouldn’t really fit in. I recently picked up a large rosemary plant, which I’ve plunked into a long wooden planter along with several other herb plants. I’ll add more from the plant seller at the Saturday Green Market at Grand Army Plaza, once I decide it’s safe to go back again. I was pleased to learn that bees love rosemary too, although today, they seemed more interested in the bluebells.
I’m considering adding some blueberry bushes to fill a gap in my garden’s perimeter. Last spring, I sent some blueberry plants to my mother and they did well, even producing some berries, which she harvested before the birds got to them. The bushes flower in late spring and in autumn, their leaves turn a blazing red, their foliage so striking that blueberry bushes would more than pull their weight as landscaping plants even if they didn’t produce berries. I’m also mulling adding some raspberry plants; I believe that bees like them as well. I’d like to create a small thicket, I remember picking raspberries with my mom, at the state game land a few miles from our home. She turned them into jam. When we went raspberry picking, I always seemed to get covered in scratches, as if I’d been attacked by a herd of nasty feral cats, So I think I might look out for thornless varieties – provided that I don’t have to sacrifice taste along with the thorns.
My efforts to encourage bees have been largely ad hoc so far. I don’t use any pesticides, and I’ve been lucky in that my plants haven’t suffered much from pests or disease. Seeing the bees dancing around my garden yesterday brought a smile to my face on World Bee Day and I’ll be adding plants to entice them to visit again throughout the summer. So, I ask you dear readers, to offer suggestions: what do you plant to encourage bees in your gardens?