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Sonoma County Gazette
Bee on borage.
Bee on borage.

Creating Habitat is a DEVOTION

Apr 24, 2020


By Jana Mariposa, Mariposa Habitat Nursery

Late Autumn and late Winter/early Spring can be challenging times for foraging pollinators. I spent some time yesterday observing my blooming plants to see who was visiting, and I am happy to say that creating habitat is a DEVOTION, a meditative practice in addition to being exceedingly helpful to our Flying Friends who may be short on real estate and menu options.

My first surprise was seeing a Hummingbird feeding on my blooming  Kale; I know there is a tendency to pull up that bolting stuff, but wait........not so fast! Which leads to the recommendation to let last years’ plants go to seed whenever possible; first of all, pollinators will utilize the blossoms, and you can also save seeds, which are in very short supply everywhere I have checked lately, including my mail order sources (Baker Creek, Seed Savers’ Exchange, and others).  

Secondly, plants such as  Parsley and  Queen Ann’s Lace are absolute pollinator MAGNETS when in bloom; dozens of native beneficial wasps and bees utilize them, and since they are in theUmbelliferae, Parsley family, these plants are among the ones necessary to provide larval food for the. Anise Swallowtail, one of 5 Swallowtails we have here in Sonoma County. 

So, if your garden is a bit bolting, overgrown, untidy, your righteous excuse is ‘HABITAT, SILLY!’, to quote someone whose initials are V.C.   

Blue Butterfly on bush.Don’t fight the Dandelions; many species of bees and wasps love to feast on them, and in the summer and fall, the Finches appreciate the seeds. In my garden now blooming and buzzing with color and life are a variety of shrubs, perennials, and annuals, primarily but not exclusively natives. 

Planning ahead for next spring, find a place you can devote to direct seeding native wildflowers (Baby Blue Eyes, Five Spot, Clarkias, Gilia tricolor,  Gilia capitata, California poppies, Phacelias). Non-native fall-sown annuals:   Borage,  Bachelor Buttons,  Nigella,  Coreopsis tinctoria,  Malcolmia maritima (also edible);  Alyssum is a very important forage plant and can be sown nearly any time of the year, as can California poppies.   

Le Ballister’s Seed and Fertilzer (1250 Sebastopol Rd., Santa Rosa, (707) 526-6733, will bag up ¼ lb. quantities of these for you and their prices are the most reasonable. 

Gilias  and  Tidy Tips  will have to be ordered from Larner Seeds, (235 grive Rd., Bolinas, (415) 868-9407, if they still have them. These lovelies do not need rich soil, but you cannot just throw them out onto some weedy patch and hope for the best. The ground should be prepared: cleared of weeds and slightly broken up to make a cozy spot for the seeds to germinate; cover lightly with soil and straw, if you have it. Just do this the day before our first blessed and sustained rain comes in Oct. Consult your favorite oracle........Once they have flowered and gone to seed, you’ll have your own supply to replant and share, then the patch can be rotated into some other kind of fall /winter production, or a cover crop to plow in, or Favas to eat next spring.

According to my wild audience, the most popular shrubs now, and for the past 2 months are Grevillea, and Correa, drought-tolerant Australian natives that bloom through the winter and are visited by both hummingbirds and other pollinators. In the shade,  Sarcococca  blooms perfume the air, and are appreciated by winter- foraging bees on warm days. 

One of my favorite shade-tolerant but also sun-tolerant native deciduous shrubs is  Flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum; it starts blooming towards the end of February and is bee-loved by hummers as well as many kinds of bees; a great companion in a shady setting are any of the native  Alum roots,Heuchera sp.; also native Iris,  Yerba Buena,  Redwood Sorrel.  After flowering the Ribes may produce dark blue berries, which the birdies relish.  Flowering Quince  is also surpisingly busy with hummers, bees, and often birdies feasting on the flowers; however it requires at least 5 hours of sun to thrive.

There are dozens of cultivars of Ceanothus (Wild Lilac) available, from low spreading evergreen shrubs, to mid-sized to 20’ tall trees.  Unfortunately our deer Bambi friends love to munch the soft-leaved ones, but there are many that are too tough for their tender lips,C. gloriosus, one of my favorites,C. maritimus, C. cuneatus, and others are able to deter the little darlings.Ceanothus are an essential early spring forage plants for our dear Bumblebees, as well as many others. 

Hummingbird on Ruby.

Another important evergreen native shrub are the  ManzanitasArctostaphyos sp., which also can be found in dozens of shapes and sizes, and provide very crucial winter nectar to both pollinators and hummingbirds. They sometimes make small mahogany brown berries, which are delicious and tangy; their common name ‘Manzanita’ means , in Espanol, ‘little apple’, which they resemble, though they are not in the same family (Rosaceae), but in the Heath family,Ericaceae. 

I have dozens if not a hundred favorite perennials, but I must mention  ColumbinesAquilegia sp.  There are many spectacular selections, and seeds for from all over the world can be fond in the. JL Hudson seed catalog, a public-access seed bank @  I have I think about 6 kinds, including both of our native Columbines, daintyA. formosa, a woodland dweller, and statelyA. eximia, a giant (5’) beauty that lives on Serpentine soil by nature, but is amenable to any old garden soil.  I do plant them in baskets to protect them from gophers. Another hummingbird favorite, and absolutely spectacular.

So many perennials, so little space… Consider. Abutilons, which also bloom through the winter and tolerate sun and light shade. For a fast-growing, pest free mid-sized tree, you cannot beata Catalpa.  In June, when it is in bloom it is completely abuzz with bees foraging; saves them miles of flying and conserves energy! I have a.Clematis. montana rubens planted at its base, and now that there are no leaves on the Catalpa, the Clematis is starting to bloom all over the tree. It is lovely!

I must mention all of the  Phacelias, in particular  P. californica, and P. bolanderi, both very sturdy and reliable perennials; and for your fall direct seeding, do plant some.P. tanacetifolia.  Phacelia is on the top 10 of Bee forage plants, both annual and perennial.  P. campanularia is stunning with its deep sapphire blue flowers, but seems a bit more finicky than  P. tanacetifolia.  I tend to put P. campanularia  around the edges of pots.

Last week my grandchildren and I had the honor of watching a swarm of Bees from one of the hives on our property. It was early by at least a month, but Roger came and gave them a new home...we had 4 more that week!!!!  Plus we also got to watch a Gulf Fritillary hatch from its  ‘sleeping bag’  on my Passiflora caerulea.

If you have questions, feel free to email me at .; request a copy of my inventory list if you want to jump-start your Pollinator Garden. 

Keep planting and Bee happy and healthy!


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