The best thing about the dark months of winter is the truckload of seed catalogs that comes in the mail. I don’t know how it works, but if you order seeds from just one company, about 105 others will somehow obtain your mailing address. Someone must collect and sell this information because it happens like magic, and the catalogs arrive whether you want them or not. Each winter my husband jokes (I think he’s joking) about building a warehouse for these unsolicited documents.
But the glossy photos of flowers and vegetables in mid-winter awakens a primal desire to grow stuff. I’m sure of it. Never mind that the things I grow never look like the pictures. For example, my radishes have serious holes in the leaves, assuring the radish on the other end is no wider than a toothpick. My potatoes have tunnels, compliments of the moles. And if I plant long carrots, I get medium ones, medium ones turn out short, and short ones? Well, I can’t even find them.
No one watching me would think I have a four-year degree in agronomy. I’m supposed to advise other people on how to grow things, but fat chance. Instead, I keep it under wraps, sort of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of thing.
Sorting through the icons
In this age of pollinator-friendly gardening, seed catalogs have gotten infinitely more interesting. The different cultivars used to have little icons of deer and rabbits with slashes through them, or icons of hummingbirds without. Others had pictograms of the sun and a raindrop, partially filled to indicate how much of each you need. Those symbols were fun, but now we have icons of bees and butterflies! People like me are suckers for a seed packet with a bee stamped on it.
Unfortunately, the retailers of seeds know all this. They could draw bees next to lawns of Kentucky blue grass and we’d go out and buy it. Right? I’m now looking at a catalog showing a bee icon on a lettuce packet. Now, I’m sure a bee could find some pollen in a lettuce flower, but how many people who plant lettuce let it flower? Let’s just say that some of the symbols are subject to interpretation.
Still, don’t let that spoil your fun: you can eat the lettuce even if the bees don’t. I’ve spent the last several weeks drooling over colorful collages of perfectly photoshopped produce even though I know what my garden will look like. It always turns out the same—weedy and unkempt, too shady by far, and brimming with all sorts of insect life that consumes more than its fair share. But that’s okay. Bugs gotta eat too.
Sticking to the list
Nowadays, I try to resist all the icons and write-ups and stick to my list. All during the growing season I take down names of pollinator plants. Sometimes I see a plant loaded with bees and write it down. Other times, people tell me about such a plant, or I read about one in a pollinator book. By the time the catalogs arrive, I’m ready.
But I’ve winnowed my purchasing down to basically one company—Prairie Moon Nursery. They don’t have the biggest selection or the best pictures, but whether you choose seeds or starts, they are neonicotinoid free. This is important to me because my garden is my photo studio, a place where bees come for portrait work. The last thing I want is for the bees to keel over dead before they’ve paid the bill, so I’m happier to forego the neonics.
Honestly, I don’t know how much effect neonicotinoid treatment has on bees and other pollinators. Whether the danger is overstated or not, I don’t know. But I don’t use pesticides at home, and I especially don’t like the idea of treating a plant before a problem exists, so this company works for me. It’s true that every new plant comes with its own set of bug problems, but they don’t come with the plants, they come because of the plants. You just have to deal with it.
Choices for the coming year
In case you’re wondering, my list this year includes mountain mint, wild geranium, motherwort, phacelia, hairy beardtongue, blue sage and spotted bee balm. Other seeds have arrived from friends, and some I was able to harvest on my own. I’ve also added a couple of dahlias to my collection because they are such great backdrops for those portraits.
Until now, I’ve concentrated mostly on fall-flowering plants, but this year I want to include more spring flowers. Spring, after all, is the best time to see a wide variety of bees. I’m not quite finished ordering, so if you have any gotta-have-it pollinator favorites, please let me know.
Honey Bee Suite