Dear Miss Floribunda,
I have decided to plant a pollinator-friendly garden this year. However, I suspect that this is trickier than most of us think. For instance, I visited a honeybee sanctuary last summer and saw bees simply swarming around in a tall stand of catnip. That’s great, but catnip also attracts cats, and even raccoons and skunks. Perhaps I’m feeling cautious because as a retiree I watch TV late at night and am horrified by those ads for medications. While grinning people romp around in the sunlight, a voice as fast as an auctioneer’s lists side effects usually worse than the disease the medication is supposed to help.
Maybe you can tell me which plants will bring bees and butterflies to my garden without attracting any undesirables.
Leery on Livingston Street
Mother Nature is more trustworthy than the companies who have created the ads on TV that disturb you. Catnip, a member of the mint family, does make cats happy, and it has the added “side effect” of soothing human beings when made into a tea. It isn’t a particularly strong lure for raccoons and skunks, although there are reports that squirrels have gotten even squirrelier while visiting catnip patches. If you are inclined to worry, then you might not want to attract bees at all. As you know, a tiny percentage of people are allergic to bees. I assume you are not, but what if the bees were to create a honeycomb in one of your trees — theoretically, you could find yourself with an invasion of bears. And to have a garden at all in our area is to risk visits by voracious deer. My point is that it’s pointless to worry unduly.
However, If you want a more informed opinion than mine, I suggest you come talk to experts at the Butterfly and Pollinator Information Table being featured at the 10th Annual Hyattsville Horticultural Society (HHS) Seed and Garden Fair on Saturday, Feb. 2. The fair will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Mary Prangley Room on the second floor of the Hyattsville Municipal Center, 4310 Gallatin Street. With the guidance of HHS experts, you can buy seeds for plants likely to bring bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects to your garden. The same day at the same address, but on the ground floor, you might also wish to visit the Hyattsville Aging in Place (HAP) Annual Valentine-making Party taking place from 10 a.m. to noon. You can then go upstairs and lunch on homemade soups, vegan as well as meaty. In addition to cakes, cookies and candies, you can enjoy savory baked goods such as mini-quiches and sausage balls. There will also be a veggie tray, a fruit bowl, and, of course, coffee and tea.
Among the pollinator-attracting flowers whose seeds will be on sale are monarda (aka bee balm), fiddlehead flower (aka bee’s friend), asters, tithonia, poppies, cosmos, black-eyed Susan, four varieties of hollyhocks, four varieties of nasturtiums, seven varieties of marigolds, seven varieties of cosmos, 15 varieties of sunflowers and 11 varieties of zinnias. Red zinnias, monarda and nasturtiums also attract hummingbirds, as do scarlet runner beans and petunias — also offered for sale. Herbs such as anise hyssop, fennel, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, mints, lavender, dill, marjoram and basil (four varieties) are also effective attractants, and you will find their seeds for sale as well. Last but not least, packages of catnip seed will be available.
Back by popular demand is the Southern Exposure line of heat-tolerant vegetables. You can choose among six varieties of heat-resistant lettuce alone, plus summer spinach, peppers, mustard greens, asparagus beans and the broad-shouldered Chantenay Red Core carrot that can make its way up through our heavy clay soil. Vegetables for the fall garden — autumn cauliflower, leek, radishes, and Chinese cabbage, for example — will be represented. Of course, we will have the same fine varieties of tomatoes, corn, squashes, cucumbers, eggplants and other heat-loving vegetables from Hart Seeds. Also on sale will be gently used gardening books donated by My Dead Aunt’s Books and beautiful ornamental pots and vases donated by HHS members. For a nominal price, you can buy pots of spring flowers to help beguile away the last dark days of winter.