Book Review: Bees by Sam Droege and Laurence Packer.

A book review today – this one is truly amazing!

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Bees:  An Up-Close Look at Pollinators Around the World – Sam Droege and Laurence Packer (2015, Voyageur Press, Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc., Minnesota)

The bees may be from around the world, but the photography is absolutely out of this world in this beautiful hardcover offering from Sam Droege and Laurence Packer.  The detail and clarity of Droege’s images are breathtaking, a true celebration of different species of this complex and valuable pollinator.  The native bee specimens represented in this book inhabit locations such as Guyana, Chile, Paraguay, South Africa, the United States, India, Thailand, England, and Peru (among others); many come from private or public collections or were personally collected by the authors.  It is a delight to armchair travel and learn about the bees that most of us will never be able to see in our lifetimes:  the attractive furry white cape (and contrasting nasty hooked spurs) of the Spurred Grappler (Trichothurgus dubius), the Atlas Morning Glory Bee (which, as its name suggests, takes pollen from morning glories – and only morning glories), exquisitely-iridescent Xylocopa (carpenter bees), and the tellingly-monikered Red-Butted Campanula Lover (Melitta haemorrhoidalis) from England.  There are the deep blue Osmias from the United States and the Maple Solitary Miner, which takes pollen and nectar in early cold spring from emerging maple trees.  The large, metallic green Black-Winged Cuckoo Orchid Bee from Guyana seems almost supernatural, as does the Long-Nosed Sandlover, a bee with a formidably long tongue and head that resides in the Atacama Desert of Chile.  The easily-digestible short profiles of each bee offer interesting facts about their habitat, behaviour, and distinguishing features.

While this isn’t the sort of book that gardeners will likely use to identify the bees in their own landscape, the incredible images and fascinating information make it a must-have in your garden library.  Macro photographers – particularly those interested in insects – will find it a true inspiration for their own work.

If you want to take a look at Sam Droege’s stellar photography, check out the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab gallery here.  

*A huge thank you to Quarto Publishing Group, which kindly gifted me with a copy of Bees.  My thoughts about the book are one million percent honest and true.

Snowy day.

My hubby and I went out for a drive yesterday morning in advance of the blizzard that forecasters were predicting (and which is currently raging – oh boy I am not looking forward to walking to work in it this morning!).  We don’t get out very often for a Sunday drive anymore, as I’m usually working that day, so this was a nice treat.  We headed east of the city – I had heard reports that there were snowy owls hanging out that way, so we were on a mission to find one.  (We’ve only seen a snowy once before, a couple of years ago while on an ice fishing trip in the southern part of the province).

The sky was a weird colour yesterday morning.  There was an inversion and the sky was steel grey, barely any sunlight breaking through.  Combined with the skiff of snow on the fields, my hubby and I wondered if looking for snowys on such a day was akin to searching for Waldo (I’m not dating myself at all with that reference, am I?).   😉  We may have driven past several dozen of them and never known.

Despite the dearth of snowys, we found some beautiful, craggy trees that had been planted as a windbreak alongside a very large farm.  There were huge nests in every other tree, it seemed.  We saw dozens of black-billed magpies all over the fields and in the ditches, so perhaps the nests belonged to them – I will have to find out what types of nests they make.

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My hubby spotted a speedy bunch of partridges that bolted across the snow when he stopped the truck to photograph them.   We also flushed out a beautiful male pheasant, but didn’t get a photo.

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I had to laugh when we came over a rise and spotted this irrigation unit sprawled across the field – doesn’t it look a bit like a gigantic mechanical caterpillar hunched over the snow?

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I hope you have a wonderful start to your week!  If you’re in one of the areas being affected by bad weather, please be careful out there!

Check out these amazing photos of snowys from south of the border:  Snowy Owls in Delaware (Hoof Beats and Foot Prints)

And here are some good laughs about our Canadian weather:  Canadian Snow Humour!  (Funny and Interesting Stuff People Have Sent Me)

Annual Performance Review.

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Begonia benariensis ‘Surefire™ Rose’

I planted more annuals in my flowerbeds this year than I usually do: verbena in mixed jewel-like colours, hot red and orange Tagetes marigolds, and a few delicate pink snapdragons (with the notion that they would complement the handsome dark burgundy heritage ‘Black Prince’ that has been reseeding itself for the past three summers).  Anyone who regularly follows my blog knows how the story of the verbena ended:  the bunnies ate them (well, most of them, anyway).  And the snapdragons?  Well, let’s just say the little divas didn’t like the weather.  Or the soil.  Or something.  Even the Prince, usually so reliable, forgot his lines and stalked off the stage in a huff.  In the midst of all this chaos, the marigolds have managed to put on a brave, inspired performance, but really, once again, I’m questioning my ability to select annuals that don’t end up as rabbit chow AND keep on delivering.  It’s not too much to ask for, is it?  Well, okay, maybe….

At least, as far as my containers went, there were some definite big-time superstars.  I love begonias, but up until now, I’ve only grown tuberous types – I’ve got an ooey gooey soft spot for the rose-like flowers and all those magnificent colours!  But the fibrous (wax) begonia ‘Surefire™ Rose’ (one of Proven Winners’ new selections that will be available to home gardeners in 2014) easily won me over…the bronzy-green foliage is big and bold and the coral-red flowers persisted all summer long (they’re still going strong as I write this).  One of the reasons I like begonias so much is that they’re so low maintenance – water when needed, feed a bit of diluted liquid kelp twice a month, and…well…stand back and admire.  No staking, no deadheading, no hassle – and ‘Surefire™ Rose’ fits the bill nicely.  Call me a lazy gardener, but that’s just the way I like it.   Now if only I could poll the rabbits and find out what their least favourite flower is!   😉

What annuals performed best in your garden this year?

Do you grow begonias (of any type)?  Did you make the switch from impatiens to begonias due to downy mildew concerns?

(Although Proven Winners generously provided me with a few annual plant selections from their upcoming 2014 catalogue to trial in my zone 3 garden, I was not compensated to review them.  My opinions of how they performed are my own).

Bee surprise.

While trying to stake The Most Infuriating Plant in My Garden™ this morning (more about that in another post), I came across this:

Leafcutter bees on thermopsis

This is my Thermopsis lanceolata (syn. T. lupinoides) , and I’m not upset in the least that it’s been chewed up that way. I just wish I could find the little guys that did it, so I could watch them either at work or in their nesting site! 🙂 Bees in general have been making themselves pretty scarce around here this summer, but I have never seen evidence of leafcutter bees in my garden until now.

Leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.) are a type of solitary bee.  There are about 140 species of leafcutters in North America. Apparently they have a hankering for legume blossoms, which would explain why they were attracted to my Thermopsis, except that it failed to flower again this year (I seriously can’t figure this plant out – it’s definitely taking its own sweet time to “establish”). Leafcutters munch out half circles of leaves to use in their nests, which may be found in the cavities of trees or fallen logs, or in hollow plant stems.

I read an interesting article at Pollination Canada that described how the alfalfa leafcutter bee (Megachile rotundata) was introduced in Canada in the 1960s in order to resurrect the alfalfa industry. Apparently all the land that was cleared for agriculture in the country in the early twentieth century had destroyed the habitat of solitary bees, and as honeybees can’t properly pollinate alfalfa (because they’re thieves and have no attention spans), growers were desperate for a solution to their pollination problems. Alfalfa leafcutter bees were brought in from Europe, and were highly successful.

Do you have solitary bees in your garden? Do you help them out by offering places to nest?

For more reading, check out this post about the Domestication of the Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee at Pollination Canada.

Pines in the Normand Boucher Community Arboretum.

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Isn’t the foliage of this whitebark pine simply LUXURIOUS?

This Pinus albicaulis specimen is part of a collection of 170 trees and shrubs in the Normand Boucher Community Arboretum, located in the town of Peace River, in northern Alberta.  Named for the founder of a local family-owned sawmill, the Arboretum was established in 1990 to honour the town’s designation as the provincial  “Forest Capital.”  A revitalization project six years later doubled the size of the Arboretum and allowed for the planting of many more trees. My hubby and I were delighted to attend our niece’s wedding at the Arboretum last July…and of course, I couldn’t help but take a bit of a tour while we were in town.

Of all the trees in the Arboretum, the pines captivated me the most.  I’m partial to conifers, anyway – growing up in northern Alberta will do that to a person.  I love living on the Prairies, but we don’t have nearly enough trees here!  🙂

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Limber pine (Pinus flexilis)

What are your favourite trees (in your garden or otherwise)?  What do you love most about them?