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Pollinator Garden at Behnke’s is One Year Old

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The garden that we planted last summer has filled in and is blooming beautifully.  The Pollinator Buffet is open. We used mostly native shrubs and perennials as the foundation, and added some annuals again this year for all-season color.

I was surprised at how quickly plants filled in. It looks more like the third or fourth year, but it’s because the soil is very good and it receives TLC from Steven Rick, who oversees all of our Behnke gardens.  If you don’t like your peas touching your mashed potatoes, or your beebalm touching your Joe Pye Weed, then you might find this a bit overgrown. It’s planted in one of the old display beds where we held potted trees for sale and overwintered them, so it has many years of decayed mulch in the soil, added periodically to the beds for overwintering the trees (the pots were buried in the mulch).  The reliable rainfall and moderate temperatures this year have also helped.

We’d love for you to come and take a look.  Adrienne Neff in our graphics department has made a map of this garden.  Print it out and bring it along or pick one up from the box at the garden.  Feel free to use it as the basis for your own garden, but remember: plant your plants further apart!  We carry all of the plants used in the garden, but availability changes over time, and we don’t have everything planted in the garden in stock in the middle of summer.  Best availability for the shrubs and perennials used is mid-April to mid-June, the annuals were all planted around June 1.

The orange-flowered butterfly milkweed is already going out of bloom.   I saw my first monarch of the season today; if we are lucky she laid some eggs and we’ll get some monarch caterpillars feeding on these plants.  We also have a stand of wild milkweed at the other end of the property; it gets lots of interesting insects but no monarchs.  Dwarf beebalm has been flowering for a couple of weeks.  The ones planted are full and only about 8 inches tall.  Waiting to see how they look when flowering is done and we’ve sheared them back.

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Purple Coneflower is in full bloom; five of the eight planted last summer came through the winter. Also blooming is blue-flowered Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and the silvery mountain mint.  Mountain mint is always a big attraction for bees.  Today it was loaded with honeybees, bumblebees, and a couple of wasps.  Having an allergy to wasp stings, I treat them with respect, but they aren’t aggressive when on the flowers, assuming you are just standing back and observing.

The Agastache and mountain mint are the two most aggressive spreaders in the garden, and I’ve already pulled up big clumps of the latter.  ‘Miss Manners’, the slowly-spreading white flowered obedient plant is the best looking that I have seen; I’ve tried it at home without much success.  The dwarf blazing stars (Liatris) has just started blooming in both the pollinator and the rain gardens. As we get further into the season, it’s something that the monarchs, swallowtails and other butterflies really seek out.

For later season bloom, we have ironweed, goldenrod, and aromatic aster, busily growing and producing flower buds.  The ironweed seeded out quite vigorously; we had many seedlings coming up this spring.

The pollinator garden, along with an “insect hotel” and a honeybee hive (owned and maintained by Christopher Lewis), are part of our attempt to make life better for the some of the little ones in our midst.  They complement the Prince George’s County Rain Check Rebate Program demonstration examples available to view here at Beltsville. Over the coming weeks, we will discuss the seven projects eligible for rebates for businesses, homeowners, and neighborhood organizations.  Similar programs are available in some of the other Maryland counties, including Montgomery County’s Rainscapes and the Howard County Reimbursement Program.

by Larry Hurley, Behnke horticulturist

Larry Hurley

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

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