One thing that I have found is that so few people know what is native and what is not. I recently had a job in a new development that claimed to be “green”. The information brochure said that the landscaping was done with native plants. This customer called me to do the side/back yard as the front yard was already done by the builder. I was excited because I wanted to do all natives and wanted to start getting jobs in this development. Imagine my surprise when I pulled up to the house and not one plant in the front yard was native. Not one!
Many people think that just because a plant is commonly planted in their area that it is a native plant. Not true. I like a lot of plants from around the world. European explorers collected plants and took them back to Europe and the U.S. People were intrigues by the new plants. Money was to be made by growing these plants and selling them. If people wanted native plants in their garden, they could just go out and dig them up from their natural habitat. Not much money to be made there. To make it worse, as the native plants were being destroyed by farming and development and nurseries weren’t growing them, when people did want natives they would go out and dig them up to bring home. This further helped to wipe out native plant populations. It is only a good idea to go dig up plants from the wild if they are about to be destroyed by development. Any gardener knows that when you transplant plants, you have the risk of killing the plant if it doesn’t survive the shock of the move. Protect the native plants in their natural environment.
For a plant lover, it is hard to refrain from planting exotics. I don’t plant 100% native myself. Generally, the further away from urban settings and closer to the woods, the less I plant exotics. I do not want the exotics escaping into the natural landscape. Not all non-natives are invasive. I have given up on planting some plants once I found they were invasive. To determine what plants are invasive in your area, go online and type in “Invasive exotic plant” and your State and you should be able to find a list. In NC there is a list of the invasive and the potentially invasive. Never plant the invasive. Only with extreme care plant the potentially invasive. Better to not plant either.
Because I have divided my yard into a native plant section and an exotic plant section, I can compare the two easily. One thing that I have noticed is how much more life is in the native section. The native garden is humming with life. Sit still for a bit in the native garden and you will notice loads of honeybees, bumble bees, butterflies and birds. The contrast between the numbers in the native garden and the exotic garden is astounding. Nothing is still in the native garden. By contrast the exotic plant area is a funeral home. Ok, maybe an exaggeration but if you saw it, you would notice the difference. It’s like night and day.
One recent addition to my native garden is a bee hive. I had read online about how the honey bees across the country were dying so I decided to have my own bees. Now I wasn’t wanting to study the death of bees, I’m not that morbid. But I knew I do not use chemicals in my garden. One of the suspects in nationwide bee deaths is pesticide use. If bees are gone, then so is pollination of plants and therefore fruits and vegetables. So I thought maybe I could help in the cause of keeping the bee population up. I also recognized a personal advantage for my own vegetable garden productivity with so many bees nearby. I did notice a much better crop of some vegetables last summer.
I don’t know much about honey bees yet so I’m not going to pretend to tell you how to keep bees. I am still learning myself and have yet to harvest my first honey. I will give a few pointers that I did pick up.
The most important thing to determine is the hive location. I read that the hive does better if it gets morning sun and afternoon shade. So that was easy in my native garden as I have described in earlier posts. The other important factor is paying attention to the flight path. Think of your hive as a busy airport and the bees are all these planes taking off and landing. The big difference is planes take off in one direction and the other planes land coming in from the opposite direction. This is to keep planes from flying into each other as you can imagine. However with bees, that is not a problem. They know how to avoid head-on collisions. So place your hive in an area that has plenty of landing and take off room without disturbing human visitors. It’s also good to have enough space around the hive for you to work the hive without plants being in the way. So I placed my hive with low perennials to the front and a path along the rear. This gives me room to take care of the hive without standing in the flight path.
I also spent the extra money to purchase an attractive bee hive. My bee hive is quite visible in the garden so it is a feature of the garden, not just something to try to hide out of sight. There are also bee hives that have viewing windows to watch the bees work. I considered this design but they were unavailable in my area at the time and I was impatient. But if you have children that are fascinated by nature and would enjoy watching the bees work, I think it would be a fun addition to the garden.
There is a lot of information online about raising bees. I hope I have piqued your interest. Anyone who is interested in growing their own food so that they know where it comes from and wants to eat healthy should consider the idea of adding bees to their garden. Not only will you have better crop yields but there is also the sweet honey like the icing on the cake.