It’s a great feeling when the May issue goes to press. The veggies are coming up, and the tulips and daffodils are still cheerful and bright after that tree-twisting wind. Yikes.
I inherited a lovely wrought iron gazebo and several sturdy birdfeeders from my dear friend Vona Bates who died last fall. Most of the feeders were smashed to bits in that big wind, but before that I had been filling them with birdseed and hanging them in the gazebo, as she had, delighting in our avian visitors.
Sometimes these were mainly blackbirds, big, melodious, rural gangs of them that filled the trees and scarfed up all the seed so quickly that I took to running out and waving my arms while shouting to scare them off. I cut back on feeding, but one sunny February morning after some very cold weather with no blackbirds in sight, I filled all the feeders. A few hours later I noticed something very odd. Every feeder was loaded with bees. They were excitedly buzzing around, crawling through all the openings and around inside with the seed. I had to remove the tops to free many of them later in the day. I didn’t know what they were after until Karen Beeman of WeeBee Farms down the street asked if there was corn in the mix – there was. She said hungry bees always go for corn dust when there’s nothing else to eat early in the year.
Unfortunately, the corn in almost all birdseed mixes is “treated”, meaning the seed it’s grown from is coated with systemic neonic pesticides. With that realization came a sinking feeling. Was I actually dosing the birds (and the bees) I wanted to help? And what about other seeds in the mix?
Long story short, I asked Deb Whittaker to write about growing birdseed in our backyards – a positive spin, what a great idea! When I read the results of her research and followed up with my own on the decline of bird populations and the link to pesticides (not the only reason birds are declining, but a significant piece), I decided we needed to include some of it. Links to studies and sources mentioned are included so you can draw your own conclusions. (Since we went to press the European Union announced a total ban on the three main neonic pesticides, except w/in closed greenhouses, to take effect from the end of 2018.)
Also in this issue, (to get the grim news out of the way), entomologist Eric R. Eaton discusses recent media coverage of “Insect Armageddon” based on a 30-year German study, asking, “Is it real?”
No doubt some of you have visited Rob Proctor’s magnificent Denver garden during one of his summer garden tours, or maybe you’ve seen him on television. Panayoti Kelaidis of Denver Botanic Gardens has known him for many years and tells you some things you probably don't know about Rob and his many faceted gardening career.
The Arboretum on the campus of Regis University is one of my favorite places to visit any time of year to see its many beautifully cared-for trees. Nine are Colorado champions (largest in the state) and many are unusual specimens. The oaks are spectacular in the fall, the 80+ year-old American weeping elm is a sight to behold year round, though it has sustained damage in recent storms, and I love the allee of large serviceberries. Sonia John tells you about its history and the trees. I wish we had room for more photos. You’ll have to visit and see it for yourselves.
Pat Hayward writes about two natives in Plant This, Not That; Gary Raham explains the natural history of prickly pear cactus; and Penn Parmenter discusses her favorite exotic tomatoes, plus another favorite and beautiful edible - nasturtium. “Easy Edibles” is Lee Recca’s topic in this issue, while Paula Ogilvie covers “Classic Herb Combinations.”
We include Part 2 of Douglas Tallemy’s excellent piece, “Giving Ecological Purpose to Your Landscape.” (One or two more installments to follow in subsequent issues.) The Groundcovers Demonstration Project at Harlequins Gardens is now in its 18th year. Mikl Brawner describes some of the best plants that have survived and thrived.
Kelly’s Q & A is on our back page, despite the fact that Kelly spent much of April in the hospital after a brain-injuring fall. I told him not to worry about the Q & A this month but instead he wrote it from his hospital bed. (The question about replacing trees that were “massacred and butchered” by a power company arborist comes from Kelly’s doctor!)