‘No Mow May’ keeps pollinators in mind - Salish Current
May 12, 2023
‘No Mow May’ keeps pollinators in mind
Clifford Heberden

No pollinators? No gardens. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators are vital players in the world’s food supply. Local beekeepers are keen on encouraging their health and activity with the help of native plants. (Glen Bristow photo © 2023)

May 12, 2023
‘No Mow May’ keeps pollinators in mind
Clifford Heberden

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Ah, Spring!

Some dream of a sculptural English garden of pruned perennials and annuals, groundcovers matched by heights and textures, and flowering herbs adding fragrance.

Others call for “No Mow May,” to keep lawnmowers in the shed until June and let lawns and gardens go wild to support bees and pollinators.

For Marisa Papetti and Lyle Anderson, that’s the kind of Pacific Northwest garden of native plants they work for. 

Because, simply put, there would be no gardens without bees and other pollinators, and there would be no bees and pollinators without flowers, fruits, vegetables and trees. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that bees and butterflies pollinate 75% of the world’s flowering plants and about 35% of the world’s food crops of fruits and vegetables. And some bees make honey, too.

Papetti started up Marie’s Bees, a local honey company, when one of her friends needed her to babysit her hive because she was moving into town at a time where Bellingham had an ordinance limiting beekeeping within city limits.

Marisa Papetti advocates natural plantings and gardening practices to encourage pollinators. (Courtesy photo)

“I was obsessed, right from the beginning,” Papetti said. “My mom is a master gardener and my family has worked in landscaping for a long time. Growing up in that environment, you learn a lot about plants whether you want to or not.”

Her family was always into organic and natural garden processes, shunning pesticides, she said, and “were more likely to eat dandelions than kill them.”

Taking care of her grandmother at the time, Papetti had to find something work-related to get her involved. They started selling their own honey and garden products.

Going into their sixth year of business, Marie’s Bees sell all over the world but Papetti’s main focus is local. With about 800 hives, Papetti said all of their honey is from Whatcom County.

Papetti said she uses her business to educate community members about pollinators and good practices to support their environment.

“I have teaching yards, apiaries just used for teaching,” Papetti said. “My main focus is teaching people about pollinators, limiting pesticide use, habitat and how to do beneficial things for all the pollinators, including bees.”

Go native

Bees are her passion, and Papetti said she is obsessed with educating people about them.

“Habitat loss is the worst thing we’re going through right now,” Papetti said, stressing the importance of planting native plants in restoration.

“Go native first,” she said. “You can’t go wrong with native plants because they’re going to be less susceptible to disease, more drought tolerant; they’re just going to do better overall and they’re going to benefit all pollinators.”

Anderson, president of the Koma Kulshan Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society, built his house on what was just a weedy acre and a half. Shaping his garden involved putting down cardboard to smother the weeds and grass before putting new plants in after the mulch.

“We started with nothing in terms of native plants, although we’re surrounded by forest,” Anderson said. “After eight years, we have between 140 and 150 species of native plants” — a thriving ecosystem.

Lyle Anderson’s garden of native plants provides a hardy ecosystem that encourages pollinators. (Courtesy photo)

Even though Anderson has been in the Native Plant Society for about 20 years, he is not a botanist by training. “I knew very little about native plants when I began,” Anderson said. “I wanted to go hiking in the mountains and kind of fell in with the Koma Kulshan chapter.”

“The real surprise is seeing the number of pollinators that I see in this yard,” Anderson said. “I can go next door and walk down the street and see nothing.”

Anderson said his neighbors still have big lawns with spots of non-native plants.

“You don’t see much activity in terms of pollinators but you come into my yard and it’s a whole different world,” Anderson said.

Anderson has several species of native bumblebees already buzzing around and expects to soon see butterflies and many pollinators which he doesn’t know the names of.

“You start to become aware of all the different pollinators that are out there, but that somehow you never see,” Anderson said. In his garden he sees all the pollinators he used to see as a child that faded away because of habitat loss, population increase and sprawl, “but they’re still there.”

Taking a quote from the movie “Field of Dreams, Anderson said “if you build it, they will come.” He recommended the guide “Native Plants for Native Pollinators” published by the City of Bellingham and the Washington Native Plant Society.

Keep the trees

Tending a native plant garden might not be enough.

“You and I can plant an adorable, bee-friendly, pollinator garden and the girls [bees] are going to go through that in less than a day,” Papetti said. “They need a massive amount of food source.”

Papetti described the bees as workaholics. “They’re OCD,” she said. “They have a job to do, they only live for 30 days [and] they have a lot to get done in a short amount of time.”

Because they need a diverse and plentiful environment to thrive, forest preservation is a big part of supporting pollinator populations.

“[Trees] are a huge vertical garden,” Papetti said. “Those things that people think of as trash trees, like those really thin alders, cottonwoods, maples, they are a huge part of [honey bees’] diet.”

“If we can leave these standing groves of trees in between building … housing developments instead of tearing everything out and putting in a lawn and then a little bee-friendly section in the yard, that’ll help,” Papetti said. “Leave the trees.”

Bellingham is in the process of drafting its Urban Forestry Management Plan for completion between August and October later this year. Papetti said supporting pollinators should be integrated in the way we look at city trees.

“Every tree planted is a benefit for all,” she said.

— Reported by Clifford Heberden

[Ed.: Bellingham City Club will host a panel on “Boosting Climate Resilience One Tree at a Time” on May 24.]

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