Designing A Pollinator Garden

PHOTO: A hummingbird hovers near hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea).

As I write, the first rain of the fall season (which coincidentally begins according to the calednar on Sunday the 22nd with the Autumnal Equinox) is cheering up the forecast. The whole North State seems to breathe a sigh of relief. The color green will begin to slowly return (naturally) to our fields and hills. For gardeners, the longed for fall planting season is finally here.

PHOTO: A yellow-faced bumble bee gather pollen on late-summer blooming asters.

While there are a whole handful of things to keep in mind when considering planting a new garden, or overhauling or adding to an existing garden, an upcoming day-long class offered by the Friends of the Chico State Herbarium encourages us and more importantly will provide in-depth knowledge to attendees on how to take our region’s native pollinators – butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, moths, flies, beetles and more – into consideration when planting – this fall or anytime. Instructors for the course Adrienne Edwards and John Whittlesey, assure us that creating a garden is about beauty, about a place of refuge and wonder, about flowers and fruit and shade and walkways, and that by gaining that extra bit of knowledge and taking that extra bit of time to understand a little more about the plants that you choose and about the needs of beneficial pollinators, your garden will be all that you want it to be, simply with more life, and more health.

PHOTO: Mirror image of a nectaring wasp and a cuckoo bee on silver mint. Photo courtesy of John Whittlesey.

Adrienne refers to the many beautiful and colorful pollinating creatures as the “flying flowers” around us.

PHOTO: A bright yellow pollinator (wasp or fly?) stands out cheerfully against the saturated purple of verbena bonariensis. Photo courtesy of John Whittlesey.


Pollinators are essential for reproduction in a majority of plants worldwide – plants provide food, fiber, medicines, and beauty. Yet pollinators quite often are rare in our modern urban and suburban landscapes.

PHOTO: A tiny green bee covered in the pollen of native hibiscus.

Learn how to design a garden to encourage native pollinators by a) using plants that provide overlapping nectar, pollen, and larval food resources, b) providing pollinator nesting habitat, and c) eliminating the use of pesticides that kill non-target pollinators.

We will discuss the various pollinators (and associates) that can be encouraged in our gardens through thoughtful planning. We will also visit some pollinator-friendly gardens to discuss plant selection, placement and care of a garden that cultivates a thriving habitat for a wide range of pollinators and insect life, enriching the color, diversity, and health of your garden!

PHOTO: A yellow swallowtail hangs from the mellow mauve of a joe-pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) flower head. Photo courtesy of John Whittlesey.

The instructors for this workshop are John Whittlesey, founder and owner of Canyon Creek Nursery, outside of Oroville, until recently Horticulture Chair of the Mount Lassen Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, and part-time instructor for the California School of Landscape Design, outside of Auburn, and Adrienne Edwards, Adjunct Faculty at Chico State, botanist, ecologist, and arborist. Both are board members of Friends of the Chico State Herbarium.

The workshop will meet Saturday, September 28, 2013, from 9:00 a.m. to around 3:00 p.m., starting in Holt Hall room 129 at CSU Chico, and later car-pooling to garden sites. Registration is $100.00 personal, $90.00 for members of Friends of the Herbarium, $40.00 student (only 2 seats available at the student price). Please register in advance; class size is limited to 25 participants, class cancelled without a minimum of 8 participants. For more information about workshop content please contact John Whittlesey at or Adrienne Edwards at For information about workshop registration please contact the Biology office at (530) 898-5356 or

Adrienne and John are both native plant experts, active members of the Mt. Lassen Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, and both involved in the design and construction of several regional public gardens, including a Native Plant Pollinator Garden at Gateway Science Museum in Chico.

PHOTO: Squash bee gathering pollen. Squash bees are important specialist native solitary bees of two genera, Peponapis and Xenoglossa. Females forage at the flowers of squashes, pumpkins and gourds, their sole pollen hosts. Photo courtesy of John Whittlesey.

Adrienne is an ongoing advocate for educating children about the fun and wonder of native plants and healthy eco-system based gardens and landscapes. John is the co-creator of a traveling exhibit on the native pollinators, “Pollinators: Keeping Company with Flowers”, which was on display at Gateway Science Museum from April to December of 2012. Between them, Adrienne and John have years of experience and more passion for this subject than you’re likely to find in any one room.

PHOTO: A healthy vibrant home-garden designed by Bernadette Balics of Ecological Landscape Design in Davis. This garden is outfitted with plenty of food, water and shelter for visiting pollinators.

A few keys things to keep in mind, they both emphasize, when working to welcome pollinators into your garden, include:

1. Pollinators have the same needs that we have: food, clean-fresh water, shelter.
2. Pollinators have these needs at all stages of their lives, when they are eggs, whey they are caterpillars (if this is one of their life stages), when they are dormant and/or not eating, and when they are at their maturity and reproducing. They eat different things at each stage of their life and so knowing what some of your favorite pollinators eat at each stage of their lives will support them that much more.
3. Pollinators have these needs year-round. With this in mind, if you can provide 1 – 3 different pollen/nectar sources in your garden in bloom from January – November, not only will you have a full-season garden, you will also be more fully supportive of our pollinator populations.
Photo: Photo courtesy of John Whittlesey.
4. Not all flowers provide the same level or quality of pollen and nectar. When choosing among the flowering plants you love, choose ones that provide a good amount of both. Some plant families, and some individual plant species are just better at supporting a wide range of pollinators.
Photo: Photo courtesy of John Whittlesey.
5. A wide range of flower color and form will bring a wider range of pollinator types.
6. A consistent source of clean fresh water is essential. This can be an elaborate pond or fountain or as easy an element as a drip-rock or bird bath that is flushed regularly with an irrigation hose attached to it.
7. If you want to welcome pollinators, pesticides have no place in your garden. If you feel you must use one, choose carefully, read the instructions carefully and apply carefully so as not to harm more than you intend to.

8. Don’t be too tidy – a garden that welcomes pollinators will have sites for nesting and resting – small debris piles, some dead branches or twigs, good duff on some of the ground, some bare soil in other areas.
9. Have fun with it. You want your garden to be an oasis for you – it will be that much more lively and lovely if it is also an oasis for birds, bees, butterflies, flies, moths and more.

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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. It is 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 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.

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 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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5 Responses

  1. Avatar 2r says:

    Wonder~full article.. Bugs are Good! Grow Local..and buy local.. 🙂

  2. Avatar KarenC says:

    I have a large herb garden and have lots of blooming in the spring and at the end of summer. Right now I have garlic chives, and oregano blooming and the bees are all over them. I love going out there to snip herbs and seeing them buzzing all around. I have an agreement with them that if they leave me alone, I will leave them all the flowers.

    The bee in the top photo may be a yellow jacket? My husband was stung by a yellow jacket two weeks ago. We noticed them around the yard. Sure enough we had a huge nest area under a ground cover in the backyard. We were told they needed no reason to go after you, so we had the nest exterminated and dug out. I worried about us, our pets and grandkids. Apparently it was a bad year for them.

  3. Thanks, Jennifer, for a real "Jewell" of an article … one very much in keeping with what our project is all about.

    Feed The Bees is a campaign to encourage individuals, businesses, organizations and governments to support a healthy and sustainable bee population, and plant gardens to feed pollinators and encourage biodiversity in communities everywhere.

    We have a hive full of free resources for farmers, gardeners, governments and even golf courses on how to bee more bee-friendly just a mouse-click away. Come find out!

    We need you to plant more, and we need more of you to plant! And bees and pollinators need an ongoing supply of pollen and nectar to sustain them from March through to October.

    We invite you to Visit, Follow and Like us … and register your bee-friendly garden on our website too.


  4. Avatar Mamma Quail says:

    Awesome photos! All I have for pollinators in my garden are lavenders and squash so all the visitors I get are honeybees and ants …

  5. Avatar Nora Delaney says:

    Great idea- thanks for this