The "Buzz" is Beautiful

Photos and Story by Larry Johannesman, ASLA

Photos and Story by Larry Johannesman, ASLA

One calm summer morning a few years back, I bounded out the door headed to the car when it hit me. I glanced towards my garden bench and thought STOP!  Do not let this peaceful, lovely “morning moment” pass by as usual.  So, I embraced this odd thought usually reserved for evenings or weekends and sat down on the rickety little bench in my small dooryard garden.

Within just a few moments, as I looked around at the plants, what seemed like a dead silent landscape, was absolutely buzzing with life. Sure, the “Buzz” included the usual wasp cruising by and a bumble bee hovering, but to my amazement there were so many other types of insects flying, hovering, crawling and darting about the plants and flowers all around me. For sure - not a single one of these creatures cared about me.

My Garden Bench

As a landscape architect who cherishes plants, I thought I knew pretty well what many of us are excited about and how the “Buzz” is truly a significant and beautiful thing,  but now I really knew. It was time to do more about planting natives and encouraging pollinators everywhere and in ways I didn’t imagine before. So, with that in mind I wanted to share some information with you that’s helping me do more.

My colleague and MaineDOT Statewide Vegetation Manager Bob Moosmann worked with Heather McCargo of the Maine-based Wild Seed Project and many others to promote greater supplies of native plant seeds and to encouarge roadsides as places for pollinators to thrive.  

Check out Bob’s article in Maine Trails Magazine (February – March 2018, page 53) to learn about the roadside movement happening at MaineDOT.

The effort was primarily to determine native plant species best suited for roadside native plant restoration. The project culminated in a simple, valuable guide which as many plant “guides” go - can be used for other applications we dream up. You can download the guide by clicking here.

Roadside Flowers

Now, I am not an expert on pollinators or native plants, but there’s no question bees and other pollinators are critical to plant reproduction, our food supply and to so many things we love about our landscapes. The “Buzz” on this subject matter can come at us from many angles and a notion like: use only natives to help pollinator populations can be misleading. So, lots of guidance can be found here in the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.

There are many, many places to get native plant species information, but one of my favorites for the way it can take you right down the “that’s an interesting plant rabbit hole” is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website. Click here and go to a page listing native plants suitable for Maine landscapes to pick one you’re not familiar with and give it a test run on a project or in your own garden.

Our newsletter sponsor Pierson Nurseries has a List of Native Plants they sell here in Maine. Try the Missouri Prairie Foundation’s Native Plant Database list or the University of Connecticut’s New England Native plants page to discover a few different plants.

Bee

Another fun and challenging way to engage in discovering the best plants for pollinators is to take a walk in an unfamiliar Maine landscape and use your smartphone to snap photos of mystery plants buzzing with insects. Photos in pocket, we can head back to the office to identify them. An easy on-line plant ID key I discovered is The New England Wildflower Society’s Go Botany - Simple Key. Try it out by clicking here.

I have always marveled at insects, but discovered late in life that this multitude of important creatures are “invisible” to us because we live in a different realm. We are truly connected to them and I’d like to think the questions of What native plants will we use?  and What pollinators are we trying to attract?  will go near the top of our lists to accomplish when we begin to design our projects.

Hopefully, some of the resources presented here are new or prove useful and you might nod in agreement that indeed - The “Buzz” is Beautiful.