Who’s That Pollinator: Wasp or Bee?

flower garden poppies love in a mist sweet peas

An Amazing Spring: Everything you see here self-seeded thanks to gentle, frequent rain. The Love in a Mist are now blooming, along with California poppies and sweet peas which appear to have swallowed the trellis

Late afternoon is a happy time in the garden. With spring in full bloom, bees and possibly wasps are doing what they do best: pollinating.

One of the many joys of blogging is learning new things. Though humbling, it’s also interesting when a long-held belief is knocked off its center.

For starters, take a look at this all-black bee.

Xylocopa tabaniformis

Xylocopa tabaniformis visiting the sweet peas

Someone told me years ago that these were carpenter bees. I took that at face value, having no reason to contradict it. They love traveling between my pumpkins and sunflowers. They’re frequent and welcome visitors in my garden, moving quickly from bloom to bloom. I’m always enamored with the yellow coating after they’ve dipped into the center of a flower. They’re docile as well, a nice quality when you’re up close taking pictures.

I was also told they would eat wood, including your house and that they were “bad” bees. I’ve since read that some carpenter bees are more problematic than others, but that overall they should not be viewed as pests but as beneficial pollinators. Are you as confused as I am?

Xylocopa varipuncta

Xylocopa varipuncta gathering pollen on a love in a mist

I spotted this beauty today touching down on the love in a mist. Research tells me it’s also a carpenter bee, though the golden color is quite distinct from its shiny black cousin. Varipuncta looks like it’s wearing a golden fur coat, making it hard to distinguish between the bee and the pollen it gathers.

Xylocopa varipuncta

Xylocopa varipuncta alternate view

Rounding out the collection is a pollinator formerly known by yours truly as “A bee”, a nondescript, generic term I use for any sort of flying, pollinating “bee” in my garden. Now I’ve been forced to reconsider this description as well, allowing for the possibility that this is a wasp or a hover-fly. Any guesses?

bee or waspEvery year I find a paper wasp’s nest under the eaves, but they’ve never been aggressive. Today I read that yellow jackets and hornets are aggressive, but like most bees, paper wasps are gentle.

Why We Need Bees:

If you’re as fascinated as I am, here are a few links:

Things With Wings

Lift, gravity and thrust. It’s not the latest dance craze, but a short list of what things-with-wings need to fly.

Wouldn’t it be thrilling to have wings?  I remember an episode of Gilligan’s Island years ago that always made me chuckle. In one attempt to get off the shipwrecked island, Gilligan donned wings and jumped off a cliff.  He momentarily flew until the Skipper shouted “You can’t fly!”  Gilligan replied, “Oh’, and only then did he drop to the ground.

I love watching things-with-wings flying in and out of my garden. They move with speed, efficiency and agility like a well-trained gymnast flying over the bars. What a thrill.


bird collage july 2014

Visiting birds

I worry about the birds as our drought drags on. They’re traveling in circles, searching for food, water and seed. Reservoirs are low and plants are under a lot of stress.

I keep our bird bath topped off so that our visitors can quench their thirst. The garden takes care of the rest. It’s satisfying watching birds sip nectar from a flower or pilfer seeds from the compost bin. They sing, trill, hum and yes shriek but it’s all a reminder of our garden diversity.

According to Discovery.com

{birds} can play any number of roles in a given ecosystem, most of which fall into four main categories: provisioning, regulating, cultural enhancement and supporting services. Supporting services, for example, include tasks such as predation, pollination and seed dispersal.

All that and they’re cute, too.


bee collage july 2014

Bees pollinating sunflowers, pumpkins and Salvia

Through the camera lens, I’ve witnessed the extraordinary movement of bees gathering pollen. Shiny black bodies lift in and out of the pumpkin flowers, coating themselves a golden-yellow. The buzzing sound stops when they land, and within seconds they lift off again They are all business. If another bee is in the center of the flower, the second bee backs up and continues on. What they accomplish is extraordinary and relevant to our survival.


butterfly and statice

Butterfly and Statice

This beauty landed in the flower bed sending me racing indoors to grab my camera. Who doesn’t love a butterfly? When my boys were young, we visited the ‘caterpillar tree’ at our local park. One particular tree would be laden with cocoons. It was a yearly treat.  After a few years we stopped seeing them.

I’ve since learned that in the United States, Monarch butterflies have declined for the last twenty years. In the UK, certain species of butterflies are down by 50%. From an environmental perspective, butterflies are a bit like the canary in the coal mine. They’re extraordinarily sensitive to environmental changes around them and are apparently the most closely watched insect in the world.

I’m glad this special guest found something to eat in my garden.

Further Reading:

Declining Monarch Populations in the US

Habitat restoration efforts in the UK to combat butterfly decline

What’s That Buzz?

bee covered in pollenThe clichés are true. Bees are busy and they do buzz when they move from flower to flower.  My gardening confidence bumps up several notches when they come to town, knowing my pumpkin plants are in good ‘hands.’

I’m terrible at sitting or standing still for long, but find the garden helps slow me down.  While standing still, I notice so much more. This morning I saw three different birds in the orange tree, a snail meandering on an orange peel and a group of industrious, shiny black bees.

The standing still part didn’t last long as I followed the bee from flower to flower, snapping as many pictures as I could before the pollinator moved on. Within a few minutes another bee arrived and as I darted from flower to flower, so too did the bees. They make a frantic bzzz sound before landing, then silence as they dip head first into the flower, rolling their shiny bodies in golden pollen. No time to lollygag, they quickly emerge, darting to their next destination.

bee coated in pollen

A nice dip in the pool

Pumpkin plants produce several male flowers at the start of their growth. Within a few weeks the female flowers appear. Without those bees, all the flowers would eventually shrivel and die, leaving a healthy but fruitless vine.

pair of pumpkin flowers

A pair of male pumpkin flowers

What’s that buzz? It’s music to my gardening ears!

bee with glassy wings

Spreading glassy wings

bee ready for lift off

Ready for lift-off

bee and his shadow

A bee and its shadow

You can learn more about the critical role of pollinators at Pollinator Partnership.  The site has a fun, downloadable poster as well.

Blooming Thursday: Lemondrops and Sage

Today’s blossoms are lemony yellows and vibrant purples, with just a touch of white.

According to Sensational Color, “Yellow is psychologically the happiest color in the color spectrum.”

The color purple uplifts.  “It calms the mind and the nerves and encourages creativity.”

Yellow and purple are complimentary on the color wheel. They always look beautiful together. No wonder these flowers make me happy.

Mexican Sage, a Hummingbird Favorite

Salvia Leucantha ‘Mexican Sage‘ thrives in our planting zone. Its drought-tolerant, requiring virtually no water once established. It’s also a magnet for beneficial bees and hummingbirds and neighborhood kids.  Those beautiful flowers are as soft as they look. This one occupies a small space in our “sidewalk strip” next to the driveway.

Pittosporum Blossoms

Our well-established Pittosporum is probably as old as the house. We’ve lived here for 16 years and it was fully grown when we moved in. It produces beautiful yellow flowers in the spring, and variegated leaves year round. The squirrels use it as a stepping stool to the neighboring pine.

Orange Blossoms

Not only does our orange tree produce a bounty of fruit but it blooms these sweetly fragrant blossoms every spring. Our tree currently houses a squirrel’s nest! It provides great shade in the summer months, but we stay clear of it at dusk when the rats stop by for a treat.

Campanula: 'Serbian Bellflower'

These Serbian Bellflowers are new to our garden this year. This is the first of the plants to bloom. I’m looking forward to the day when they are all covered with these tiny, star-like flowers.  Aren’t they sweet?

Abutilon: 'Moonchimes' Chinese Lantern

Hummingbirds love these gorgeous yellow flowers. This lovely graces our front side yard near the smaller Magnolia by our deck.

What’s blooming in your garden today?

Bellagio Botanical Gardens: Flowering Whimsy

Charming Display Markers: Children's Clogs

It’s Las Vegas after all, a larger than life playground for adults. I expected over the top everything on my first visit to sin city, but was pleasantly surprised to find delicate blooms, charming displays, and happy children working their way through the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

The Conservatory transforms five times a year, once for each season and a special display to commemorate Chinese New Year. The 2012 Spring Garden display is on view through May. Potent hyacinth were in bed with tulips, while mums lined the walkways. Larger than life wooden clogs housed flowers, with their miniature counterpart used as display markers to describe the scenes. I loved the bicycles, propped up against the landscape and the stunning floral reproduction of a Monet.

Bicycles at the Ready

The over-sized and somewhat silly swans seemed out of scale to the rest of the garden, but the artificial flowers and bees were fun. Whimsical hanging parasols had me mentally redecorating my bedroom at home. The overused catch phrase, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” needn’t apply to a beautiful set of floral parasols hanging from my bedroom ceiling at home. A gardener can dream, can’t she?

'Flapjack' Tulips

Chrysanthemum Ying and Yang

If only they were real

For My Room at Home?

Reminds me of me: I'm always the tall one in the bunch

I guess they meant "literally"

√ You can see some of the past Bellagio displays here.

√ For a time-lapse photo slide show of the garden installation click here.

Such Promise in a Packet of Seeds

Organic Sunflower Seeds from Botanical Interests

Just imagine:  for $1.99 (plus tax) you can hold a handful of summer potential in a slim packet of seeds. I’ve been dropping seeds into the earth since I was five, forever optimistic that what I planted would grow.  And grow they did!  Given the right amount of water and sun that slip of a seed knows to break through the earth, set roots below and then do what it does best: grow up and out as it morphs into leaves, branches, flowers and fruit.  When the cycle is complete, that clever plant turns to seed so the process can begin anew.

Nothing epitomizes this cheerful process like sunflowers.  Helianthus annuus are easy to grow and spectacular in size. A regular show-stopper along the garden path, they follow the sun throughout the day, then reset at night. Glorious flowers and abundant seeds attract wildlife as they reach skyward.

Once these cold spring days are behind us, I’ll tear open that packet and gently tuck each seed beneath the soil.   All that promise in a packet of seeds.

Here’s what we’ll plant this year (descriptions from the seed packets):

Sunflower ‘Mammoth Russian‘ from Botanical Interests®

Heirloom Towering in the garden, the tall plants produce a single, magnificent flower reaching 1 foot across.  Ripe seeds attract birds and wildlife.  Annual full sun, blooms summer to fall 6′ – 10′ fall”

Sunflower ‘Evening Sun‘ from Botanical Interests®

Heirloom Fiery shades of vivid gold, autumn orange, warm mahogany and blazing bronze! A dazzling cut flower and enticing treat for birds.  Annual full sun.  Blooms summer to fall, 6′ – 8′ tall”

One of last year’s sunflowers: From Seed to Tower in an Hour

The default direction of the sunflower head is to point east towards sunrise: Helianthus: Flowers of the sun

Vernal Equinox in my own Backyard

Happy spring!  Here’s what’s happening in my own little slice of garden paradise.

To Bee, or Not To Bee?

Raspberry Vines

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn. ~Hal Borland

Flowering Bulbs and Budding Fuchsia

I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden. ~Ruth Stout

In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours. ~Mark Twain

Flowering Carrot

Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men. ~Chinese Proverb

The Bees Arrive on Schedule

All things lavender:

Cowichan Valley Lavender Farm: Beautiful drawings and additional links

Lavender Crafts: How to make lavender wands.

Learn more about the relaxing properties of lavender at The Hub

Provencal Lavender Field Maps (for that fantasy vacation to France)

Lavender in art: Watercolor on Etsy.com


For additional garden quotes, visit the Quote Garden.

Blooming Thursday: Around the Garden

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does your Garden Grow?

Today’s garden surprise blooms in the side-yard: periwinkle. I bought a flat last summer and planted most of it in a pot on the deck with some annuals.  I envisioned beautiful trails of purple flowers cascading over the edge of the pot.    I stopped watering the pot when the annuals went to seed, assuming the rain would take over.  So much for assumptions; rain has been sparse all season. Then the squirrels began stashing peanuts in the planting mix, digging and scooping mounds of dirt on the deck. By February the neighbor’s cat was napping in the pot and I threw up my hands in defeat.

On my rounds today I discovered a handful of periwinkle plants survived the winter in the children’s garden.  Four tiny plants in bloom, each sporting one purple flower.  Also blooming today: The pink and white azalea, one of the camellias, and the broccoli now in bloom.  Against the backdrop of cool, gray skies I spotted one lone bee at work.  Perhaps tomorrow news will get back to the hive.

“For so work the honey-bees, creatures that by a rule in nature teach the act of order to a peopled kingdom. “~ William Shakespeare

From Benefits of Honey

Camellia Perfection

Broccoli Blooms

A Welcome Visitor

Periwinkle aka Vinca

Early Azalea

Bagby Garden: How Does Your Garden Grow?

We lucked out with two weeks in the Bagby Garden this summer.  We harvested a few summer squashes but the berries weren’t quite ripe for picking. The greatest treasures, however, always lie in the unexpected: a lizard panting in the sun, bees among the petals of a flower and that earthy, damp smell after an uncommon summer rain.

Bee in the Borage

Latin name: Borago officinalis

Lounging Lizard

This little critter is probably a Western Side-blotched lizard, abundant in the warm, western areas of California.

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” -Aldo Leopold. A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press, 1949.

All Out Artichokes

Green Thumb Gardener

Pumpkins Go Viral!

Well…not exactly. But when you say “viral” these days, people notice. In bygone days, it meant you had “the clap.” Now we’re usually referring to our email account, Facebook or Twitter.

I digress…

We have a bumper crop of pumpkins this year. It’s been pretty exciting. Even with the disappointing weather which has been ten degrees below the seasonal norm, the plants continue to send out shoot after shoot. We have five or six varietals, some with leaves the size of dinner plates. We mourned a few losses this afternoon (squirrels!) but the plants are so prolific, that we felt we could afford to be cavalier about our losses.

Bumper Crop