Do It for the Pollinators

Howard Goldstein, for the Shuttle
Native bees like echinacea (purple coneflower).

The June garden is a burst of color that includes the yellows of perennial sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides), tickseed (Coreopsis species), St. John’s wort (Hpyericum species), Stoke’s aster (Stokesia laevis), the red of beebalm (Monarda didyma), the orange of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), the purple of coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) and the deep blue/purple of vervain (Verbena bonariensis).

All these plants show off their finest at the Penn State Pollinator Garden at the Horticulture Center in West Fairmount Park, located off Belmont and Montgomery avenues. Admission is free. The purpose of this garden is to demonstrate the variety of plants that feed pollinating insects — both honeybees and native bees, wasps, flies, butterflies and moths. Most of the plants in the garden are natives, and they are sturdy — we only water a few select plants in the summer if there has not been sufficient rain.

Mid-morning (not too hot for humans) is a good time to observe the insects in action. You may also see hummingbirds feeding on the red beebalm or on red native honeysuckle, which blooms from March through November. Each month, there is a different perennial that flowers in abundance. Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) are vibrant in July. In August, the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is alive with bees, wasps and a very beautiful daytime moth, the Ailanthus webworm. She looks like a jewel and is a migrant from the South.

The northern golden bumblebee visits the common beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) in August. This is my favorite bee. She is all yellow with black across her abdominal segments. She visits our garden in May to feed on two blue flowers — bluestar (Amsonia hubrechtii) and blue false indigo (Baptisia australis). I wish I knew where she goes in June and July.

In August and September, obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) blooms pale pink. Bees love this plant, which continues to flower into November. October brings out the asters and goldenrods in their purples and yellows.

The bees know about this garden. Come out and discover it for yourself, take the brochure which is in a dispenser at one of the three openings to this circle of blooms and learn what you might grow in your garden to support native insects.

Howard Goldstein is a Penn State Master Gardener. His passion is pollinators and their host plants.