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What's the Buzz about Bees?

What's the Buzz About Bees?

New Garden's observation hive being installed (don't worry, we keep it closed!)

If you've visited New Garden Gazebo on Lawndale Drive recently, you may have seen our new observation beehive, located in the greenhouse. With dual glass sides and an entrance tube that leads outside of the building, the beehive is the perfect way to closely and safely observe a working bee colony. Our colony consists of about 10,000 – 12,000 bees, and consists of one queen, thousands of female worker bees, and up to a few hundred drones (we haven’t counted them exactly…). With two beekeepers on our staff, our hive will be well-tended and healthy.

Why do we have a resident beehive? Because we believe that the more people learn about bees, the more they will want to help their survival, and because bees are so important to all our lives. Bees pollinate at least 90 different food crops comprising 30% or more of the food you eat. The food plants they pollinate contribute over $15 billion to the U.S. economy each year. It’s safe to say that bees are important to everyone.

Over the past few years there has been a great deal of concern for the health of bees. Massive die-offs began affecting beehives in the mid-2000s, with some beekeepers reporting up to 90% losses. The phenomenon was named “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD) and many possible causes were identified and studied.  Fungal, bacterial and viral pathogens, parasites, hive management issues, environmental factors, pesticides and even cell phone towers were examined.

Despite various “smoking gun” reports identifying one cause or another as the primary culprit, the most recent research has shown that the most likely reason for CCD is a convergence of multiple factors. Individually, these factors would have a minimal impact on a colony, but when several occur together, bees are overwhelmed.

The good news: according to a recent US Department of Agriculture report, the number of beehives is growing again and honey production showed a 19% increase from 2013 to 2014. But we should still all do our part in keeping bees (and all pollinators, for that matter) healthy. Here are some things you can do to promote healthy honey bees.

Plant many types of bee-friendly plants in your garden that bloom over the whole season.  Plan on having blooms spring through fall to keep bees and other pollinators returning.

Have a source of water available. Bees get thirsty too, but they can easily drown if water is too deep for them. A saucer of pebbles with water just below the top of the stones provides a safe watering hole for bees (and butterflies).

Leave some of your property “wild”. Many plants we consider weeds are very attractive to bees and other pollinators. Leave an area of your property unmowed to create a natural habitat for plants bees love.

Use non-pesticide solutions whenever possible. Plant selection, planting time, watering, fertilizing and pruning choices can all help manage insect and disease pests without use of chemical sprays.

Learn some basic insect ID. Not every insect needs to be eliminated! Some even eat other “bad guy” bugs. Try to let nature take its course rather than reaching for the pesticides. On that note…

Learn to live with a little imperfection. Can you live with a few holey leaves and skip that pesticide?

If you do need to use pesticides, do it when bees are not active... Bees forage when it’s warm and sunny. If you need to apply pesticides, do it early or late in the day when it’s cooler.

…and choose non-systemic pesticides with little residue. Horticultural oils and soaps kill on contact while wet, once dry they are completely non-toxic to any insect.


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Did you know?

Honey bees are not native to the Americas. They were brought from Europe in the early 1600s

Honey bees generally fly when temperature is between 50F and 100F, and don’t like rainy days.

Most of the colony is made up of female insects. Only the drones are male.

You can tell drones from workers by their larger eyes (they meet at the top of the head) and bodies.

Drones have no stinger and cannot collect pollen or nectar. Without the honey supplied by the workers, drones would starve.

Our native bees are excellent pollinators also; mason bees are up to 60 times more efficient pollinators than honey bees.



Create Kokedama

Create Kokedama

Kokedama (pronounced ko-kay-da-ma) literally means “moss ball” in Japanese. It’s a fun and slightly messy project. You can click on the picture to enlarge. Click here for a printable version.


  • Top Soil
  • Potting Soil
  • Sphagnum Moss
  • Sheet Moss
  • String or twine, or heavy sewing thread
  • Fishing line/monofilament (optional)
  • A couple of small buckets or bowls
  • Flat surface to work on
  • Plants, a 3”-4” pot is a good size to start with. See list of good starter plants below.
  • Latex gloves (optional-some people are sensitive to sphagnum moss)


fig. 1

Go through your sheet moss and take out any sticks or bark that may be embedded. Soak sheet moss so it’s fully wet and pliable.

Soak a good-sized handful of sphagnum moss, cleaned of any sticks or twigs, in a separate bowl (this is not the moss you’ll be using in the soil mix).

Prepare your soil: in a bucket or bowl, mix 6-7 parts potting soil, 2-3 parts top soil and 1 part sphagnum moss (remove any sticks or other crunchy debris from the moss, and tear large chunks into smaller pieces). Mix until everything is incorporated and there are no lumps or clods. Slowly add water, mixing well with your hands between each addition, until the soil mixture is a thick paste. Test by forming a baseball-sized ball, (fig. 1) working it smooth. A little loose water should appear on the surface as you squeeze it, and when dropped back into the soil bucket from a few feet, the ball should remain intact. If the ball breaks, add a little more water. If the ball flattens, add a little more soil.

fig. 2

Prepare your plant (fig. 2): remove from the pot and tease the roots apart, shaking off soil. You can also use a hose to wash the roots off. Thick rooted plants can tolerate having all the soil removed, thin, fibrous-rooted plants may fare better if a little soil remains. It’s OK if some roots break off. Try to get the root ball as small as possible.

Place a flat layer of the wet sphagnum moss in the palm of your hand. (fig 3) Set the roots of the plant on top and close your hand, wrapping the roots in a thin layer of moss. Wrap moss with the natural string or twine (fig. 4) (just to secure, you don’t need to tie a knot.) Set the plant aside.

Form a shallow cup or bowl in your hand with the wet soil mixture. (fig. 5) The amount of soil you need will depend on the size of your plant.

Set the plant in the “cup”, and begin adding more soil to build up the ball. Be sure there is none of the sphagnum moss around the roots sticking out of the ball as you build it. Keep the soil ball top even with the original soil level of the plant. Keep the ball as round as possible.

fig. 3

fig. 4

fig. 5

fig. 6

The moss will add width to the ball, so stop adding soil when it’s a little smaller than you want your final ball to be.

When you are satisfied with the shape/size of the ball set it aside. If your soil mix is right it will be stable and can be set down easily. (fig. 6)

Lay your sheet moss out on your working surface. If you have one large sheet of moss, great. Otherwise piece together smaller sections, trying to use a single piece for the center/bottom.

Have a few pieces of twine or fishing line cut to 4-5’ lengths ready. Make a “lasso” loop in one piece. (Tie a simple open knot near one end and thread the long end of the string through it, tighten the knot until it just catches.) Leave the loop a few inches wider than your soil ball.

fig. 7

Set the soil ball in the center of the sheet moss (fig. 7) and form the moss up the sides. (fig. 8)  You may need to pinch out bumps of excess moss if you can’t smooth them down, but err on the side of leaving too much. If there are holes, use smaller pieces of moss to patch (small holes will end up filling in as you wrap with string). If your moss is just right it will almost stay in place on its own. Be sure to leave the top a little open for the leaves.

Take your prepared string and loop it around the soil and moss ball at a bit of an angle. (fig. 9) You should be able to tell where it needs to go to hold the largest chunks on. Tighten the loop firmly and make a few more passes to secure moss around the ball.

Pick up your ball and begin smoothing the moss and wrapping the string in a random pattern. (fig. 10) You may need to mold the ball a bit as you work to keep a nice round shape. If you run out of string simply tie another length to the end and continue. Try to make the pattern of the string pleasing-it’s part of the design too! (If you’re using fishing line it will be invisible, so don’t worry too much about how it looks.)

fig. 8

fig. 9

fig. 10

When you’re satisfied the moss is secure, tie off the loose end of the string. Tie off near the top if you want to suspend your kokedama by the string, or you can tie a new hanger string on.

fig. 11

You can display your kokedama hanging (they look great turning in the breeze) or set on a pretty plate or saucer. Hang by a single string tied near the top, or make a simple hanger by tying 3 pieces of string together at the top and bottom. (fig. 11) Simply rest the ball in the sling.

To water, set the soil ball in a pan or bowl of water for a few minutes. Water will soak the whole soil ball even if it’s only a few inches deep.

How will you know when to water? The ball will get very light and the moss will feel like cardboard. My kokedama that are hanging in full sun need to be soaked at least every other day. The ones in the shade about every third day, though one I have in full shade needs a soak only about once a week. You’ll learn quickly how much they need. This is one of the few times that watering a little early won’t cause overwatering problems. (As the water drains out after soaking, the natural air spaces in the soil ball remain open better than in a pot.)

To fertilize, soak in a weak mixture of a fertilizer every few weeks, preferably organic. If you use a “blue” fertilizer make sure it’s weak enough to barely show any color.

What Plants to use?

Technically, you can kokedama just about any plant, as long as you can manage the root ball (see this web page, where they show kokedama trees!) Plants with very sensitive roots may not tolerate aggressive root cleaning, you may need to experiment to find out what plants work best for you. You can also kokedama multiple plants in one ball, maybe mixing ivy with an upright plant, or trailing vinca with a flowering annual. You’re limited only by your imagination!


Good plant choices for beginner kokedama (choose a 3” or 4” pot):

  • Spider Plant (very forgiving!)
  • Philodendron or Pothos
  • Boston, Button, Bird’s Nest and Pteris (table) Ferns (be gentle with the roots, they are very fibrous and you probably won’t be able to get all the soil off)
  • Asparagus fern 
  • Arrowhead vine (Syngonium)
  • Vinca
  • Pilea
  • Fittonia
  • Pepperomia
  • Juncus
  • Ivy
  • Herbs


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Plants for Wet Shade

Plants for Wet Shade

Having a shady area that’s too wet is not the most common problem we’re asked to suggest plants for. The presence of shade-creating trees usually causes a dry shade situation.  It can be frustrating trying to find plants to use in this situation because many are listed only by tolerance for dry shade.

If wet or damp shade is your problem, try some of these plants. We've put together a list of ferns, flowering perennials, groundcovers, grasses (or grass-like plants) shrubs and annuals. While a shady garden will never have as much color by way of flowers as a sunnier garden, there is a wonderful variety of leaf shapes and textures to take advantage of. And of course, some of these selections do flower quite nicely.


(LS) Light shade, needs several hours of sun during the day but can be shaded some of the time.
* Native to US
Some species native to US


Ferns for Wet Shade

Adiantum pedatum, Northern maidenhair fern

Ferns are unbeatable for great texture and low maintenance, plus they are very rarely bothered by pests. There’s something quite serene about a quiet, shady fern garden!

Adiantum pedatum* (LS) Northern Maidenhair fern

Athyrium sp.† (LS) Painted fern, lady fern*

Cyrtomium sp. (LS) Holly fern, Rochford’s fern

Dryopteris sp.† (LS, some sp. shadier) Wood fern, male fern, autumn fern

Matteuccia struthiopteris* Ostrich Fern

Polystichum sp.† (LS, some sp. shadier) Christmas fern*, sword fern


Flowering Perennials for Wet Shade


From ground-hugging Asarum and Hexastylis to the yard-high flowers of Ligularia, here are some perennial selections for damp shade in many sizes. If you’re looking for color, Astilbe, Chelone, Monarda and Pulmonaria are great choices.

Astilbe sp. (LS) False spriraea

Arisaema (LS) Jack-in-the-pulpit

Aruncus dioicus (LS) Goat’s beard

Asarum sp.† (LS) Wild ginger

Begonia grandis Hardy begonia

Lobelia cardinalis Cardinal Flower

Bergenia cordifolia (LS) Pig squeak

Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ Perennial forget-me-not

Chelone oblique* (LS) Turtlehead

Cimicifuga racemosa* Black cohosh

Dicentra spectabilis Bleeding heart

Epimedium sp. (LS) Bishop’s cap

Filipendula ulmaria (LS) Meadowsweet

Helleborus sp. (LS) Lenten rose

Heuchera sp.* (LS) Coral Bells

Hexastylis sp.* Heartleaf

Hostas (LS)

Lamium spDead Nettle

Ligularia stenocephala (LS)                          

Lobelia cardinalis* (LS) Cardinal flower

Tricyrtis formosana Toad lily

Lobelia siphilitica* (LS) Great blue lobelia

Monarda didyma* (LS) Bee balm            

Polomonium reptans (LS) Jacob’s ladder

Polygonatum sp.† (LS) Solomon’s seal

Primula japonica (LS) Japanese primrose

Pulmonaria (LS) Lungwort

Rodgersia sp.                                                    

Rohdea japonica Sacred lily

Tradescantia sp.† Spiderwort

Tricyrtis sp. (LS) Toad lily

Trillium sp.* (LS) Wake-robin


Grasses & Grass-like Plants for Wet Shade

Seed heads of Chasmanthium latifolium, Northern sea oats

Grassy textures can be hard to come by in the shady garden. The only true grass on the list, Northern sea oats is tolerant of some shade, but needs a few hours of sun during the day to look the best. With a narrow leafy texture similar to grass, most of the Carex family is tolerant of a fair amount of shade.

Acorus gramineus (LS) Grassy-leaved sweet flag

Chasmanthium latifolium* (LS) Northern sea oats

Carex sp.† (LS, some sp. shadier) Sedge

Liriope sp.(LS) Lilyturf

Ophiopogon sp. Mondo grass, monkey grass


Groundcovers for Wet Shade

Edible berries of Gaultheria procumbens, Winterberry

Groundcovers weaving through other plants can knit a garden together. They’re also handy for filling in areas you haven’t decided how to plant permanently.

Gaultheria procumbens* Winterberry

Pachysandra procumbens* (LS) Allegheny spurge

Pachysandra terminalis Japanese spurge

Phlox stolonifera* (LS) Creeping phlox

Convallaria majalis Lily of the valley

Lysimachia nummularia aurea (LS) Creeping Jenny

Saxifraga stolonifera Strawberry begonia

Selaginella sp. Spikemoss         

Tiarella sp.* (LS)  Foam flower

Vinca minor Periwinkle


Shrubs for Wet Shade

Amelanchier canadensis (Serviceberry) in bloom

Of course a shady garden needs structure and height. These shrubs will fulfill those needs nicely. Ilicium and Sarcococca are largely evergreen

Amelanchier sp.† (LS) Serviceberry

Clethera alnifolia* Summersweet

Hydrangea macrophylla (LS) Bigleaf Hydrangea          

Ilicium floridanum* (LS) Anise bush

Itea virginica* (LS) Virginia sweetspire

Sambucus sp.† (LS) Elderberry

Sarcococca spSweet box


Annuals for Wet Shade

Caladium, aka elephant ears

Adding annuals can provide a pop of color all season long that might otherwise be missing in a shady garden.                                                                             

Caladium sp. Elephant ears



Torenia (LS) Wishbone flower

Begonia semperflorens x cultorum Wax Begonia



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