One of the most beautiful and valuable plants for the California bee garden is ceanothus, also called California lilac or blue blossom. Most of the plants in this amazingly diverse genus are California natives. So admired are these plants by botanists and horticulturalists that they have their own book: Ceanothus by Davis Fross and Dieter Wilken (Timber Press, 2006, 272 pp.) Not to mention that bees love them!
The Haven's ceanothus species have been selected to provide flowers from January through September. March, however, is when many species and cultivars begin to bloom, so ceanothus is our March bee plant of the month. With a few exceptions, most ceanothus produce blue to purple flowers and are evergreen. They generally need full sun, well-drained soil, and limited summer water, although those tolerant of other conditions are noted below. If you come to the garden to see bees, check out these plants first. Many have a fragrance like honey.
The Haven's ceanothus include, listed in order of bloom:
Ceanothus ‘Valley Violet', Ceanothus maritimus ‘Valley Violet'. Full sun to light shade, 2 feet tall to 4 feet wide. Purple flowers from January to March borne on the full length of the stem. Away from the coast, this one does best with afternoon shade and some supplemental water (every 2 to 3 weeks). Tolerates a variety of soils.
Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman', Ceanothus arboreus x thrysiflorus var. griseus. Full sun to light shade, 10 feet wide to 20 feet tall. Rosy buds open to purple flowers in February and March; the easiest ceanothus to grow and the most tolerant of garden conditions (i.e. regular watering and clay soil), although it will survive on normal rainfall alone. Can be shaped into a small tree.
Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps', Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps'. Full sun, 6 feet tall to 8 feet wide. Reddish buds open to small, deep purple flowers from February to April. Does best in coastal locations, and survives on normal rainfall alone.
Ceanothus ‘Concha', Ceanothus impressus x papillosus. Full sun, 6 feet tall and wide. Pink flower buds open to intensely deep purple flowers in March. Tolerates some summer water and clay soils, although it will survive on normal rainfall alone.
Ceanothus ‘Frosty Blue', Ceanothus impressus x thyrsiflorus var. griseus. Full sun, 10 feet wide to 12 feet tall. Buds with a frosted white appearance open to purple flowers in March to May. Tolerant of garden conditions (i.e. regular watering and clay soil), although it will survive on normal rainfall alone.
Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus. Full sun, 4 to 5 feet tall and wide. White flowers in April. Survives on normal rainfall alone.
Ceanothus ‘Skylark', Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Skylark'. Full sun to shade, 4 to 6 feet tall and wide. Light blue flowers in May to June. Does well in a variety of climates and soils. Survives on normal rainfall alone.
Ceanothus ‘Topaz', Ceanothus x delilianus. Full sun to light shade, 4 to 9 feet tall and wide. Blue flowers from June to September. This plant is the cross between a Mexican/Guatemalen native and a New Jersey native. A deciduous plant that needs regular water.
It takes a village to maintain the Haven. Our regular volunteers a great job taking care of the Haven, but sometimes there are big tasks that require a larger crew. This past Saturday was our quarterly Entomology and Nematology department workday at the garden. Rose pruning, removal of frost damaged plants, fence-building, irrigation repairs, and plant label-making were among the many duties handled by the volunteers.
Tremendous thanks go to Katie Bright, Janet Brown-Simmons, Felix Klaus, Muree Larson-Bright, Eric Mussen, Nick McMurray, Corwin Parker, Michael Parrella, Marisa Petersen, Melody Schmid, Richard Simmons, J.J. Smith, Billy Synk, Alexa Terrell, Robbin Thorp, Chloe Tuccori, Maria Tuccori, Katharina Ullman, and Kimiora Ward.
The garden will be in fine shape this spring thanks to your hard work.
Chaparral currant 'Howard McMinn manzanita Wallflower
On President's Day we celebrate the achievements of our presidents, most notably George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. While their political and social accomplishments are well-known, many of our presidents have had connections to bees as well.
The Monticello web site tells us that Thomas Jefferson kept bees and owned the book Collateral bee-boxes: or, a new easy, and advantageous method of managing bees ; in which part of the honey is taken away, in an easy and pleasant maner, without destroying, or much disturbing the bees; early swarms, if desired, are encouraged, and late ones prevented (author Stephen White, 1759).
According to Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln's Life and Times by Rae Katherine Eighmey, our 16th president enjoyed cooking and his favorite food was apples. And we all know the folklore about George Washington and the cherry tree. Both these fruits rely on bees for pollination.
More recent are the current White House beehives.
While Washington, D.C. is currently snowed under, here in central California our weather is conducive to year-round honey bee activity. On any sunny day with temperatures over 55 degrees Haven visitors will see bees in the garden. Here are the red, white, and blue colors you'll see them foraging on this time of year:
Red (actually deep pink; bees do not see red):
Chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum)
King Edward VII flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII')
Compact Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium ‘Compacta'); winter foliage is red but currently blooming with yellow flowers
Manzanita ‘White Lanterns' (Arctostaphylos spp. ‘White Lanterns')
Manzanita ‘Howard McMinn' (Arctostaphylos spp. ‘Howard McMinn')
Manzanita ‘Sentinel' (Arctostaphylos spp. ‘Sentinel')
Manzanita ‘Sunset' (Arctostaphylos spp. ‘Sunset')
Buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus)
Blue (actually shades of purple):
Bush germander (Teucrium fruticans)
Rosemary ‘Mozart' (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Mozart'); this rosemary cultivar has outstanding deep purple flowers
Wallflower (Erysimum spp.)
Ceanothus ‘Valley Violet' (Ceanothus maritimus ‘Valley Violet')
Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman' (Ceanothus arboreus x Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus)
Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps'
Most of the Haven receives full sun throughout the day, so garden visitors often ask, “What can I plant in the shade for bees?” Thanks to a generous donation from the California State chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution we'll soon be able to answer. These funds will be used to install two new displays at the Haven: a dry shade garden under one of our valley oaks and a moist shade garden under our Mexican elderberry. Look for these when you visit this spring.
Here's what will be planted in the dry shade garden, listed in order of bloom time. Because the dry shade garden will be planted under a valley oak, I'll be using California native plants that need minimal summer water.
- Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii): early spring-blooming annual that grows to 6 inches tall. Plant from seed the previous fall; will germinate and grow on normal winter rainfall. Stops blooming after a few days of hot weather.
- Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla): early spring-blooming annual that reaches up to 15 inches in height. Plant from seed the previous fall; will germinate and grow on normal winter rainfall.
You'll also see both of these in the Grower's Grove area of the garden as part of a wildflower mix used for mason bee (Osmia spp.) forage in almonds.
- Evergreen current (Ribes viburnifolium): Forms a dense groundcover up to 3 feet tall; cannot tolerate full sun. Dainty burgundy flowers in mid-winter. Red stems and fragrant foliage add to this plant's interest. Good low-water substitute for ivy.
- Golden current (Ribes aureum var. gracillimum): Sprawling shrub that can reach 10 feet tall and wide, but my experience is that is stays under 6 feet in the Central Valley. Small yellow flowers in mid-winter will develop into yellow-orange fruit. Good low-water substitute for forsythia.
- Ceanothus ‘Centennial' (Ceanothus foliosus x C. thyrsiflorus var. griseus): Every California bee garden needs ceanothus! Other shade-tolerant ceanothus in the Haven (in order of bloom) are ‘Valley Violet'; ‘Ray Hartman'; and ‘Skylark'.
- Creeping barberry (Berberis aquifolium var. repens): Forms a dense groundcover up to 2 feet tall and will grow in heavy shade. Leaves are pink to burgundy in winter but green up during the growing season. Yellow spring flowers are followed by blue berries.
- Coral bells (Heuchera spp.): I've planted both the cultivar ‘Rosada' (pink flowers) and the species Heuchera maxima (white flower). Both have stalks of small flowers reaching up to 12 inches borne in early spring. Plant these in masses for full effect. Foliage will burn in full sun.
- Valley oak (Quercus lobata): Grows quickly as a young tree to a height of nearly 100 feet when mature. Prefers alluvial soil (what we have at the Haven) where its deep roots can reach groundwater; excessive summer irrigation can cause root disease. Oaks are important habitat plants in California. Like most wind-pollinated plants, it is valuable to bees because it produces large amount of pollen.
- Coyote mint (Monardella villosa): About 12 inches tall, coyote mint does well at the front of a border where its purple flowers appear from spring to fall. Cut back in winter to keep it from becoming leggy.
- Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus laevigatus): This woodland shrub grows about 4 feet tall and wide; its pink summer flowers are followed by white berries. Will grow in dense shade.
- California goldenrod (Solidago californica): Another bee garden workhorse that bears yellow flowers on 2 to 4 foot stalks from summer through frost; flowers best in full sun but will work in shade gardens. May spread too aggressively with regular irrigation.
- California fuchsia (Epilobium spp.): The Haven features the cultivar ‘Catalina', which grows about 3 feet tall. These valuable bee and hummingbird plants provide flowers from mid-summer through frost.
- California fescue (Festuca californica): This cool-season grass is at its peak in late spring, drying to tan by the end of the summer. Flowers rise another 1 to 2 feet above the 2-foot foliage.
- Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens): More typically used in full-sun settings, deer grass will grow in shade but remains smaller and doesn't assume the dramatic “pin cushion” shape.
Both grasses provide overwintering habitat for beneficial insects; bumble bees may nest under them. I've seen honey bees gathering pollen along the full length of deer grass flowers!
Welcome to The Bee Gardener, the blog of the UC Davis Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. The Haven is a half-acre demonstration garden on the UC Davis campus devoted solely to bee pollinator outreach, research, and education. The garden is located just to the east of the Harry H. Laidlaw, Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility and was planted five years ago thanks to a generous gift from Häagen-Dazs™. Free and open to the public every day from dawn to dusk, the garden has inspired and delighted visitors since its grand opening in September 2009.
The garden is unique among public bee gardens in our association with a land grant university and our location within an entomology department; my graduate training was in both horticulture and entomology. It has been my privilege to serve as the garden manager for the past year, and I look forward to continuing to build the Haven and its programs.
Christine Casey, Manager, Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven