Our Precious Pollinators: The Pollinator Display Gardens at UC Davis Arboretum & Nursery

Did you have to read William Butler Yeats when you were in school? I can’t recall too many things I had to read in school and can still remember, but this poem continues to be one of my favorites: Photo: A happy black bee on a salvia.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, 5
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; 10
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

If you are a gardener, you have no doubt had the formative experience of a “quiet” moment working in the garden – trimming, weeding, harvesting – your head lost in the shrubbery, your hands in the dirt, your labor accompanied by the happy hum of bees at work on a nearby plant in bloom. Or the experience of being dive-bombed by hummingbirds trying to get to the plant you happen to be working in. Or of realizing that you’ve been standing stock still for several minutes completely riveted by the dance of the butterflies across the tops of the flower bed. Photo a bee flying into the tubular flower of a California fuchsia.

As gardeners and plant lovers, Yeat’s “bee loud glade” is firmly in our “heart’s core” too, a subconscious acknowledgment that these humming, diving, frolicking creatures are our allies, colleagues and partners in the places we love: the garden, the outdoors, the world around us.

Whether almost invisibly plain or outrageously and flamboyantly pretty – all of our pollinators are precious. While out hearts may hold our love for these creatures in the abstract, it is critically important that our actions speak VERY LOUDLY in saying that we value them not just in the abstract, but concretely through our every gardening action. Photo A bee sitting inside the bright yellow flowers of a flannel bush (Fremontodendron californicum).

Ellen Zagory, the Director of Horticulture at the UC Davis Arboretum, and an avid home gardener herself, wants us (and everyone) to be able to experience happy, humming “bee-loud glades,” for our our own enjoyment, as well as for the overall health and well-being of our environment and planet. She feels sure that the new Pollinator Display Gardens adjacent to the Arboretum’s Teaching Nursery will give us ideas to create healthy bee-loud glades in our our own home gardens: “At the Arboretum, we believe that gardens and other constructed landscapes, if properly designed and correctly planted, can provide support for our native fauna and flora, ” Zagory wrote of the new display beds’ purpose. “The UC Davis Arboretum’s Valley-Wise gardening program and the Arboretum All-Stars, our top recommended plants, provide a template for an ecologically-friendly (and gorgeous) garden.” Photo View down the pollinator display garden at the UC Davis Arboretum.

The pollinator display bed is one of a handful of new teaching beds that grace the entrance to UC Davis’ relatively new Teaching Nursery (it celebrated its opening in 2009) on Garrod drive in Davis. Several of the beds highlight the Arboretum’s All Star Plants – an plant education initiative launched by the Arboretum to introduce Central Valley gardeners to “tough, reliable plants that have been tested in the Arboretum, are easy to grow, don’t need a lot of water, have few problems with pests or diseases, and have outstanding qualities in the garden. Many of them are California natives and support native bird and beneficial insects” – such as hummingbirds and butterflies. Along with the All-Star and pollinator display beds is a “wildlife bed, focusing on plants with fruit or seed as well as those with nectar flowers for hummingbirds and butterflies.” While the pollinator bed focuses more on bees, including several demonstration bee houses, it of course gets butterflies and hummingbirds, too!” Photo View down the pollinator display garden at the UC Davis Arboretum.

Most of us have heard about the urgent need to protect our pollinators whose numbers are decreasing due to decreasing or fragmented (meaning broken up into pockets far away from one another) native habitats and the chemical warfare wrought on them in the form of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. In many cases, these chemicals are “intended” only for the “bad” bugs or “disease,” but every broad spectrum chemical we choose to use in our homes and gardens impacts ALL insects and then the entire ecosystem. The mainstream agricultural and garden media have been writing for years about the the many controversial issues swirling around the practice of importing honeybees to the Central Valley in order to pollinate the almond orchards in early spring. Photo One of the bee houses on display in the pollinator garden at the UC Davis Arboretum.

Many researchers and experts now see the home gardens (and their gardeners) that stretch across suburban neighborhoods and dot even dense urban areas as being the keys to helping stressed pollinator populations.

That’s us! We can help!

Pollinator.org defines pollination as: “The act of “pollination” occurs when pollen grains are moved between two flowers of the same species by wind or animals. Successful pollination results in the production of healthy fruit and fertile seeds, allowing plants to reproduce. Without pollinator
visits to tomatoes and other fruit and vegetable plants in our gardens, we would have
no produce!”

According to Pollinator.org: “Estimates as high as 1 out of every 3 bites of food comes to us through the work of animal pollinators…..(whose) function is vital for plant reproduction and food production.’ This includes the vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, shrubs and trees in all of our gardens.

According to the Forest Service’s Wildflower and Pollinator educational materials (the motto for which is: Our future flies on the wings of Pollinators):

“• Almost 90% of all flowering plants rely on animal pollinators for fertilization, and
about 200,000 species of animals act as pollinators. Of those, 1,000 are
hummingbirds, bats, and small mammals such as mice. The rest (meaning 199,000 types of pollinators) are insects like
beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies, flies and moths. Wind and water also play a role in the pollination of many plants.

• Bees can fly at about 7 miles per hour, and have to beat their wings 190 times per second to do it! Bees are constantly on the lookout for brightly-colored flowers with sweet scents. Bees tend to prefer flowers that they can walk on to sip nectar.”

So how do we garden to show we value and want to support and welcome our pollinator friends?

“All pollinators, like all creatures, need the basics: they need food, water, shelter and a place to have their families,” said Ellen as she walked me around the new display beds last fall. “And we need to support them all year – not just in the spring and summer. So as we choose plants, we have to ask how can our gardens function within the tapestry of native vegetation around us, so that our gardens serve as oases, especially in urban and suburban gardens. Migrating insects may be traveling long distances over urban/suburban corridors; they may not have fresh water, pesticide-free food or appropriate shelter for many, many miles.”

“Using California native plants can be especially important,” Ellen, explains, since it is clear that some pollinators will not eat or be fully nourished by non-native plants, even those that appear to be butterfly or bird friendly. Some pollinators (including most bees) are generalists, meaning they can gather food from many, many kinds of plants. But other pollinators are very specific. For instance, the caterpillar stage of the Pipevine Swallowtail can only eat from Pipevine plants (Aristolochia species), including Aristolochia californica, “and food plants for the caterpillar stage are essential for butterfly reproduction.”

We have around 1500 species of native bees in northern California, and while it may be unrealistic for every gardener to understand the feeding, reproduction and travel patterns of each one, Ellen explains that “the plant choices at the UC Davis Arboretum pollinator display beds have been researched and shown to provide food, nectar or habitat for, and the beds have been designed to attract, the greatest diversity of pollinating insects possible in a small area. And they are beautiful gardens to boot!”

“Using sustainable landscaping principles (which include landscaping appropriately for our region and its climate, reducing our waste and synthetic fertilizer inputs, conserving our existing resources, eliminating the use of toxic chemicals in our gardens, reducing our stormwater runoff, and incorporating native plants to support wildlife), we have the opportunity to create patches of habitat in our gardens and community landscapes. If enough gardeners, landscapers, and public agencies implement plants that will support pollinators and these sustainable practices, we will be able to piece together habitat corridors between larger natural areas, allowing native birds and insects to continue their age-old patterns of migration. Our gardens can become a commitment to the preservation of resources and creatures that sustain us, and help ensure a more diverse and more stable environmental future.”

It will also ensure the joy of experiencing that sublime “bee-loud glade” for many generations of gardeners to come. Heck, it will ensure gardens for many generations to come.

I’m so in!

The Pollinator display beds include the following plants – look for them in a nursery near you now or next fall:

Manzanitas: Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’, Arctostaphylos pajaroensis ‘Paradise’

California Lilacs: Ceanothus ‘Concha’, Ceanothus maritimus ‘Valley Violet’, Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’

Red Bud: Cercis occidentalis

California fuchsia: Epilobium (also known as Zauscheneria) canum ‘Bowman’s #`1, Epilobium canum ‘Everett’s Choice’

Daisies: Erigeron karvinskianus, Erigeron ‘W.R.’

Buckwheats: Eriogonum grande var. rubescens,
Eriogonum fasciculatum
‘Theodore Payne’, Eriogonum giganteum

Bunch grass: Festuca californica

Toyon: Heteromeles arbutifolia

coastal California honeydew: Horkelia californica

Lavender: Lavandula ‘Goodwin Creek Gray’, Lavandula ‘Otto Quast’

Catmint: Nepeta x faassennii

Oregano: Origanum ‘Betty Rollins’, Origanum libanoticum

Penstemon: Penstemon Margarita BOP

Coffeeberry: Rhamnus tomentella

Ribes: Ribes aureum

California coneflower: Rudebeckia occidentalis

Sage/Salvia: Salvia ‘Allen Chickering’, Salvia apiana, Salvia greggii ‘Flame’, Salvia X jamensis Scotts Red, Salvia X jamensis ‘Sierra San Antonio’

Sedum: Sedum palmeri

Goldenrod: Solidago ‘Cascade Creek’

Germander: Teucrium chamaedrys ‘Nanum’

Veronica: Vernonia nudiflora

The UC Davis Arboretum is open year-round. The Nursery is open several times each year for plant sales offering hundreds of different kinds of uncommon garden plants that have been locally grown, including the Arboretum All-Stars, our top recommended plants for Central Valley gardens. Members enjoy a special preview sale and receive a 10% discount. Upcoming Sales include: Photo: A Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar.

Member Preview Sale
Saturday, March 13, 9 a.m.–1 p.m.
Early-bird opportunity for members to pick from our huge spring inventory. Join or renew at the door for 10% member discount. New members get a free plant! Enjoy a great morning of shopping plus complimentary refreshments, music and children’s activities.

Spring Plant Sale
Saturday, April 10, 9 a.m.–1 p.m.
Spotlight on outstanding water-conserving plants that require less frequent watering but still look terrific in our Mediterranean climate and make great additions to any Valley-Wise garden. What a great way to make your garden more “green” by saving water. Photo One of the bee houses on display in the pollinator garden at the UC Davis Arboretum.

Spring Plant Sale
Saturday, April 24, 9 a.m.–1 p.m.
Spotlight on plant combos for terrific container gardening—inspiring ideas with combinations of All-Stars and others high-impact plants. Many of our suggested combos will highlight groupings you might see in the Arboretum’s popular Terrace Garden.

End-of-Season Clearance Sale
Saturday, May 15, 9 a.m.–1 p.m.
Don’t miss the last spring sale, where you can find some deep discounts on remaining plants.

Photo: A fabulous pollinator-friendly planting at the entrance to Turtle Bay in Redding. Turtle Bay’s McConnell Arboretum and Gardens has plenty to teach us about pollinator supporting plants and practices as well.

Some Other Upcoming events and Pollinator resources include:

March 14 – Chico: Chico Organic Gardening: Beekeeping Workshop 1:30 – 3:30 at the Chico Grange; $10 fee per person payable at the door. In this how-to workshop with Lee Edwards you will learn what you need to know in order to set up a hive and enliven your own garden with bees. The season to start your own bee hives is now. Hosted by Chico Organic Gardening and Valley Oak Tool. To register follow links at: www.valleyoaktool.com; More info: hazel@valleyoaktool.com 530 342-6188.

urbanbeegardens at UC Berkeley – wonderful website reporting on on-going pollinator research.

North American Pollinator Protection Campaign
Working to protect the pollinators of the North American continent

Directions To the Arboretum Teaching Nursery:
Take I-80 to Highway 113 North towards Woodland. Take the Hutchison Drive exit and turn right towards the central UC Davis campus. Turn right (south) on La Rue Road and pass the stadium. Turn right on Garrod Drive. Follow Garrod Drive as it curves to the right and you will see the nursery on your left-hand side. At the stop sign, continue straight to park in the visitor parking lots across the street from the nursery: #55 (to the left) or #50 (to the right). Please do not park in marked spots that are reserved for clients of the veterinary clinic.

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In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In A North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here. Weekly essays are also posted on anewscafe.com a regional news source that is simultaneously universal and positively North State.

Jennifer Jewell
In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.
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3 Responses

  1. Avatar pam says:

    Jennifer you are a poet yourself! I love the depth of your comments about your subject matter…a true journalist:)

    Thank you!

  2. Avatar pam says:

    Hi Jennifer

    I can't believe I am the only one to respond to your delighful article! So much information and wonderful pictures too!

    Any of us who have the capability(space, dirt, inclination..) really need to take advantage of the information here.

    Growing our own food is important and also helps our environment..

  3. Jennifer Jewell Jennifer Jewell says:

    Thanks so much Pam – I really appreciate your encouraging comments! And many people do comment to me by email, so no worries! 😉