Part of the joy of gardening and being immersed in nature is that all of your senses are engaged. The wind tousles your hair and strokes your cheeks. Roses and peonies waft a fragrance through the yard. Ornamental grasses rustle and bend with the breeze. The bees buzz from flower to flower.
Wait a minute! How many of you have noticed how quiet your garden is this summer? I’ve noticed the quiet, and other local gardening friends are sharing their concern about the lack of pollinators flitting about the garden ready to help create a bumper veggie crop. Non-gardeners have reason to be concerned as well. Bees pollinate 70 of the 100 crop species that feed 90 percent of the world.
And this will really get your attention: the University of Vermont states that bees are responsible for 25 percent of coffee production by increasing the plants’ yield. Imagine walking into Starbucks to get a cup of that brown ambrosia and seeing that the price had jumped to $10 a cup. Or what if you wanted to buy some watermelon for your backyard cookout, only to see an empty bin. The world will not starve if pollinators disappear, but it will be a much less enjoyable place.
It’s not my intention to leave you in a coffee-less funk, as there are things you can do to help our buzzy little friends feel more welcome. Most of the drought-tolerant trees, shrubs and perennials I plan to introduce in these articles also function as a source of food or habitat for many pollinator species. Let’s start with a couple of low-growing shrubs that have just finished their bloom cycle. Panchito manzanita (Arctostaphylos x coloradensis) is an evergreen native of western Colorado with tiny white urn-shaped flowers followed by red berries. Panchito grows to 2’ high by 4’ wide with a beautiful cinnamon colored bark. Another good plant is Pawnee Buttes Sand Cherry (Prunus besseyi), an 18” high by 5’ wide version of our native sand cherry. It is covered with fragrant white flowers in the spring, and the foliage turns an attractive burgundy shade before dropping in the late fall.
If you’re looking for a tough-as-nails plant that blooms throughout the season, Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa) is the plant for you! The white blooms that start in mid-May turn into pink, silky plumed seed heads that last most of the season. The semi-evergreen foliage has a delicate feathery texture and looks stunning when underplanted with a low blue-green juniper. Placing contrasting textures next to each other is an attention-getter in the garden.
Moving on to perennials, you can’t go wrong with most ice plants. Although they’re not natives, these early spring bloomers are important for bees. I planted Fire Spinner Ice Plant (Delosperma ‘Fire Spinner’) last summer, and did it ever deliver this spring! I will admit to being a plant snob, so the unusual color combination of orange, red, and lavender has me hooked. Note the gravel mulch in the photo, as xeric plants prefer a gravel mulch over wood chips. Wood chips tend to hold too much moisture in the winter, which encourages crown rot.
Another large group of tough perennials are called beardtongues. A native of our foothills and mountains, Rocky Mountain beardtongue (Penstemon strictus) has showy 24” spikes of blue-purple flowers blooming in late spring for well over a month. This evergreen perennial is easy to grow and long-lived, spreading to over 3’. Desert beardtongue (Penstemon pseudospectabilis) has deep pink flowers that bloom from late spring to mid-summer. The shiny blue-green leaves turn a pleasant burgundy color in the fall that goes nicely with fall colors. It grows 30” tall by 15” wide.
If you have gardening questions or just want to look at pretty pictures, cruise over to Purgatoire Valley Gardeners on FaceBook.There’s a lot of local gardening expertise to be had for the asking. Finally, when you’re out in the garden, raise a cup of joe in honor of the unsung heroes of the insect kingdom.