While it’s a small pollinator, the rusty patched bumble- bee made a big impact in the national news in January when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its designation as an endangered species — the first ever for a bumblebee and for a bee species in the continental U.S. (Canada has been protecting the rusty patched since 2012.) The protected status, which went into effect in early February, includes requirements for federal protections and the development of a recovery plan. It also means that states with habitats for this species are eligible for federal funds. 

As recently as two decades ago Eastern and Midwestern states had healthy populations of this bee, but their population has experienced extreme decline due to habitat loss and degradation, as well as pathogens and pesticides. Since 2000, populations have been reported in only 13 states and Ontario, Canada; Maine is included in these states. So it’s only fitting that one of the five outstanding gardening books published in North America in 2016 and selected by the American Horticultural Society for its annual Book Award is “The Bee-Friendly Garden,” written by award-winning garden designer Kate Frey and bee expert Gretchen LeBuhn, with photographs by Leslie Lindell and published by Ten Speed Press. Subtitled “Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard That Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity,” this handsome and well-written book is both engrossing to read and a tool that can help gardeners make a few simple changes in their landscape to help fight the effects of colony collapse disorder and the decline in bee population that threatens the global food chain. By surrounding your home with beds of flowers that bloom continuously throughout the seasons you can attract birds, butterflies, and other beneficial insects — all of which will increase fruit and vegetable harvests and improve their quality, flavor and size.



Home gardeners often attribute a poor harvest to too little rain, or not enough at the right time, but even during times of drought, nectar-rich flowers will help bees and other pollinators survive. Access to some water is also as important to bees as it is to birds and other kinds of pollinators. “The Bee-Friendly Garden” also suggests plants for seasonal flower progression, providing regional plant lists and suggesting plants to avoid. Bees, the authors inform us, are attracted to certain colors more than others, namely blue, white, pink and yellow. Certain types of flowers allow easier access to pollen, whereas such favorites as roses and dahlias tend to restrict pollen access with their multiple petals. Flower patch size and repetition also matter, because it takes a square meter of the same flower to make the bees’ foraging worthwhile.

All this useful information is enhanced by Lindell’s wonderful color photographs. Especially poignant to me were the ones showing a sterile house encircled by lawn and little else in the way of vegetation — a sadly typical suburban scenario — versus ones of homes surrounded by riotous waves of multi-hued flower beds. I’ve been visiting southwest Florida, which is in the middle of a prolonged moderate-to-severe drought. We visited friends this weekend who were vacationing in nearby Bonita Springs, in a rental they described as “funky but nicely modernized.” It was at the end of a street of stucco houses of varying vintages, most of which were baking in record heat, but their rental was set next to a small creek that was overhung with huge old trees — palms and strangler figs — that were themselves hosts to vines and climbing plants. Its banks were lined with beds of eye-popping tropical plants and foliage, while the sound of water splashing through a man-made waterfall was enhanced by the activities and calls of many different birds. Because this was Florida, the house came complete with a lanai that included a hot tub and a 72-inch television screen, not one, but two tiki bars, and lights and surround-sound everywhere, but it was the natural shade and light, water and bird songs that made it all an urban oasis. It brought home the point made in “The Bee-Friendly Garden”: what’s good for the bees and birds is good for us humans as well.