I recently spent the morning on a tour of The Melissa Garden in Sonoma County, and besides the beauty of the flowers and the natural landscape, I was impressed with how much the bees are cared for. Here is a short introduction to the garden on their website: "The Melissa Garden is a new project that began in the fall of 2007 by Barbara and Jacques Schlumberger at their home. The goal is to provide honeybees, native bees and other pollinators with an almost year-round source of floral resources- free from pesticides. Studies have found that native bees and honeybees both benefit from feeding on a variety of flowers, so season-long the garden is kept filled with an abundance of annuals, perennials and shrubs that offer attractive pollen and nectar to insect visitors. There is a mixture of plants native to California, many Mediterranean plants and others that are appropriate for the site and climate."
As the Schlumbergers have understood more about the bee's needs, they've shifted their philosophy to be more and more hands off. For example, because this summer has been so cool and overcast every morning, the bees need to eat the honey they've made to stay warm, so no one collects their honey. They've noticed the bees are happiest in the most natural hives, so as the bees have swarmed, instead of to the typical hive boxes, they have placed hollow logs in various trees, which the new colonies have happily moved into. They've been focused on the project for four years and started with one hive colony - as new queens have led their young drones to other hives, they have split into nine active hives on the property. Another discovery that seems to make a difference to the health and happiness of the colonies is having lots of space between them, in fact about a football field's worth! So, the hollow logs have been placed with just that much land between them. Of course, in tending the land for the bees, many other beneficial insects and birds are enjoying the garden, a sanctuary for bees became a sanctuary for other pollinators as well.
We were led on the tour by Kate Frey, the master gardener who designed and landscaped the four gardens on the property. She was extremely knowledgeable about the plants, rattling off the Latin and common names, telling us whether they are primarily pollen or nectar flowers, what time of the year they flower, whether they're perennial or annual, how much water they need, which pollinators enjoy them, etc. I took copious notes! We were also given lists of plants that pollinators love from both a UC professor, Gordon Franckie, who is studying urban beekeeping at Cal, and Annie's Annuals and Perennials, a local nursery that specializes in plants that attract bees.
I'm even more inspired to plant year-round flowering plants in my garden. According to Kate Frey, bees love masses of flowers, so no wonder the row of lavender in my backyard is often covered in bees. They also need flowering plants year-round. In California, we have many natives that flower in the winter and early spring; manzanita and redbud are two that come to mind.
Visiting The Melissa Garden is a wonderful experience, I look forward to going again soon. The garden certainly attracts more than insect and bird pollinators to return again and again!