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Margaret Hartley's Greenpoint
by Margaret Hartley

Greenpoint

A Daily Gazette community blog
Ideas on greener living
 

Forget spring

By Margaret Hartley
Monday, March 24, 2014

My friend Tommy has asked me to stop predicting that spring will be here soon. He seems to think I’m jinxing things, and that it’s my fault that winter won’t let loose its grip.

So I’m not saying a thing about the snow melting, the coming planting season or the seedlings sprouting in my window sill. Spring is never coming and we all know it.

I’m jumping right ahead to summer, dreaming about flower gardens with blue bachelor’s buttons, bright zinnias and golden glows drooping under the weight of their blossoms.

I’m thinking about honeybees, with their pollen pouches full, returning with nectar to their hives. I’m thinking about hummingbirds hovering around the lilies, bumblebees on the bee balm and solitary bees feeding on the flowering thyme.

With the distressing decline of honeybees worldwide, it’s important to nourish pollinators of all kinds. They are, after all, responsible for making sure we have food to eat.

One way to aid our pollinators is to add plants that bloom at different times — from the first warm days that we know are never coming, to the high heat of midsummer, to the early fall days before the first frost.

In those last days of warmth, wild goldenrod and asters are an important nectar source for all kinds of bees, butterflies and other flying insects, as well as birds. You can add sunflowers, cleome and bee balm to the mix, and let some of your herbs — oregano, mint, sage, basil — go to flower to feed the pollinators.

The first blossom of the year is one we hardly notice — the maple. Before the trees leaf out, they produces clusters of either red or pale-green flowers. All the maples — Norway, yellow, red, sugar and box elder — produce these early blossoms that bees and other flying insects rely on as their first food after winter.

Wild food foragers say that the flower clusters, especially when the blossoms are still closed, are delicious. They can be steamed, or eaten raw in a salad. I haven’t tried them yet, but I’ll watch for them this spring — which is not coming, as we all know.

Plant guides can offer hints on keeping your garden in flower all season. Encouraging — or not killing — the wild plants also helps the pollinators. Clover, dandelions, milkweed, trefoil and wild asters all grow unbidden in our yards and along the roadsides. If we stop cutting them down, digging them up and poisoning them, they’ll go a long way toward feeding birds, bees, butterflies and more.

They’ll feed us too. Early dandelion greens are good raw or steamed. Milkweed buds — a little cluster that looks something like a broccoli floret — can be steamed too, as can day lily buds. Clover makes a nice tea.

If you’re putting in a flower garden, or adding plants to an existing one, do a little research first. Look for native plants, and those with flowers that attract birds and insects.

Some plants have been cultivated to have showier flowers that make it harder for birds and bees to get to the pollen. Simple flowers are easier for the pollinators than the ruffled “double” flower types, bred for extra layers of petals.

Planting in masses helps attract butterflies, and planting night-blooming flowers will attract pollinating moths and beetles.

Planting a wide variety of flowers — perennials and annuals, short and tall, early blooming and late — will ensure there’s something all season for the pollinators, and for us to enjoy and share.

Spring’s not coming this year. But when summer arrives, I’ll bring Tommy a big bunch of flowers from the garden. And leave some in the ground for the bees.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday editor and features editor. Reach her at href="mailto:mhartley@dailygazette.net"popup="800,600">mhartley@dailygazette.net or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter.

 
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