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April’s Heights Garden Club tour was at the lot next to the home of Micki Fines and John Pavlicek. They have created an urban bee haven right here in the Heights. I have been by many times but never had a real tour. Shawn met John last fall, when he hired our company to install an irrigation system to help water all the beds of flowering plants (including the raised vegetable garden).Height Garden Club The garden is a work in progress and adding supplemental water will assure that there will be something in bloom all year long. There are many flowering shrubs planted around the property.  I noticed a Texas Mountain Laurel, what looked like a cherry laurel, a Retama, a lespedeza little volcano, several blueberries, fruit trees and vines in addition to the beds. The lot looks to be similar size to ours, which is 50’x130′. I love the blue door and simple welded wire fence.This month brought out 35 to 40 people to tour the bee garden.

This month garden club brought out 35 to 40 people to tour this Heights Bee Haven!

flowers in the bee garden in the Heights

To the far right you see a young Retama tree, Parkinsonia aculeata L. Retama.

Micki and John are passionate about bees and happy to share the information they have gleaned on how to attract bees and keep hives happy and healthy. They have planted a variety of plants including herbs and veggies that bees love. This is important work because bees are nature’s most important and efficient pollinators. Heights bee hiveIn the foreground of the picture below you see what looks like onions allowed to flower. Certainly some kind of Allium.The combination of poppy seed heads and allium flowers looks almost like something out of an alien garden. Onions allowed to flower.

With all the rain we are getting this year everything is so lush. This picture reminded me of an English meadow!Bee garden in the HeightsHere in Houston we have a large variety of plants that are easy to grow and will attract bees and other pollinators. Pollinators love all our Texas wildflowers. But they will sample the nectar from any flower whether is is native or not. There is so much to learn about bees it could easily become a lifelong study. Bees also like the flowers of herbs, so if you plant an herb garden leave some of it to flower. It was not until recently I understood that many of the bees we see were imported from Europe in the early 1700’s to help produce beeswax and honey. They continue to be kept commercially to help with crop pollination.  It is native bee we need to help. We can do this by making sure to plant native plants and flowers that they have evolved to pollinate.Tour of bee habitat in Houston HeightsThere are quite a few low maintenance plants you can plant in your garden to attract pollinators; lantana, buddleia, mist flower, catmint, Mexican sedum, salvia greggii, porterweed, guara, black-eyed Susans, Turks cap and bulbine, just to name a few. Some of them will even flower spring till frost. You can add annuals for each new season to keep a steady food source. If you have fruit trees you will get more fruit if you attract pollinators to your garden. Coral honeysuckle is planted on the fencing around the hives.

Coral honeysuckle is planted on the fencing around the hives.

A top-bar hive is a single-story frameless beehive in which the comb hangs from removable bars.

A top-bar hive is a single-story frameless beehive in which the comb hangs from removable bars.

This morning we found the beds covered in poppies. Some had already formed seed heads but the smaller more delicate varieties were everywhere. There are 50 species of poppies worldwide in the family Papaver spp. All the Oriental poppy varieties (Papaver orientale) are beautiful and suited for flower gardens. poppy flowersI love the red poppies it reminded me of field of them in England.This flower must have been tasty!

Bee trio!

Poppy seed headsPoppies are one of my favorite flowers. As if a gardener can have a favorite. Micki told me she sowed the seeds in October. It looks like they had two varieties. I planted red corn poppies last fall but I have seen no sign of them. Seeing this garden full of poppies has me excited to try again. Here is a great article on how to grow poppies in Texas. Pink and red poppyAnother poppy, the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is also beautiful but it is illegal to grow them in the United States without a permit ensuring they are not being cultivation for production of narcotics. I am pretty sure we did not see any of those. Poppy flowersSuch subtle and exquisite beauty! We did go a bit crazy taking pictures of poppy flowers. I have tried to cull it down to a few of the best. I don’t know the varieties and when I asked John he apologized for not remembering. I am hoping to go back and see if Micki can give me more information and maybe some seeds!Pale pink poppy pink poppy I am fascinated by the seed heads as much as I am the flowers. I think it is the potential for survival packed inside that draws me to them.Poppy seed headWhat Micki and John recognize is that we are interdependent with bees at this point in time. So they have committed themselves to helping bees. Doing a bit of research I read that here in Texas we have 800 native bees species. They have seen some in their garden. I see some in our garden on occasion too. Native bees are integral to the  pollination of our food crops and ornamental flowers industry. The Native Plant Society of Texas has a great article about our local Texas bees. In the article is a link to the Pollinator Partnership where you can find out what ecoregion you are in. Once you find that you can you can find out what plants are native to your ecoregion. Houston is in the Prairie Parkland (Subtropical) Provence.  Looking further I found a PDF which included a detailed document about pollinator in our ecoregion and a thorough list of plants for our specific area. Pink poppy with beeI am sure you have heard or read something about the bee decline in the last few years. Researchers have determined their are several factors involved in this decline of both the honey bee (imported from Europe) and the native bee populations. One is the high use of pesticides in both farming and residential applications, another is loss of nectar plants, but one of the biggest cause is loss of habitat. What Micki and John are doing is important and hopefully will inspire more gardeners to create bee friendly gardens. Bees entering the hiveAs more people become more aware of the plight of bees and the important role bees play in our survival, perhaps we can all work together, like members of the hive, each doing our part. This year we over-seeded our lawn with a mix of rye, clover and other flowering grasses. We have been pesticide free for years. We also keep various water sources around the garden for the birds and pollinators. You can add clover seed to your lawn, yes, let go of the idea of the perfectly manicured lawn. The

You can add clover seed to your lawn, yes, let go of the idea of the perfectly manicured lawn. The flowers feed the bees and the clover fixes nitrogen in your soil.

I do remember stepping on a bee as a child and the future fear of getting stung. It should be noted bees have no maliciousness towards people and would just as soon not sting you. A honey bee is caused such great damage losing its stinger that it will die. Bees sting if they feel threatened. Most of the native bees of North America, ( 4,000 native bee species) are unlikely to sting you under normal conditions. Gardeners can find natural alternatives to pesticides and flowers can grow in pots on tiny balconies. Micki and John have a nice large lot but it is not necessary to have this much room to become a popular pollinator cafe. It is important to stop using pesticides!no spraying of pesticides Since bee decline has reached the national media, big companies like Lowe’s are starting to making changes. Just last week I read on Reuters U.S. edition, “Lowe’s to eliminate pesticides that hurt crop pollinating honeybees”. This is a step in the right direction. Micki and John’s hives have honey bees but they have seen visiting native bees along with many other pollinators. Monarch in gardenThe garden was the source of great interest and entertainment to my husband. He loves to photograph insects.Shawn Michael I think he is the bug whisperer. They seem to love to pose for him, like this lady beetle below.Lady Beetle It is good news that bees happily adapt to urban settings.  Here they can find a variety of plants and flowers to gather nectar from and help us pollinate our flowers. They actually prefer this to acres and acres of a single crops. We have found that having a little bit of local honey helps with allergies. There are several conflicting studies but it has worked for many people I know. Here is a recent article on it. I imagine we are just beginning to understand bees!Shawn Michael and John Pavlicek

It was good to see Shawn enjoying a conversation with a like minded person.

As we were leaving Micki noticed a Monarch chrysalis on the blue door. So totally fitting!

Blue door of Heights Bee gardenThe image below reminds me of a modern mixed media art piece. And the chrysalis brought to mind a quote I read recently. “If an egg is broken by outside force, life ends. If broken by inside force, life begins. Great things always begin from inside.” – Jim Kwik

The art of nature!

The art of nature!

Happy Gardening!