Sweet Symbiosis

IMG_1835A teacher at my beekeeping class this spring warned us that, once we had bees, we would never view plants in the same way again. He was right. I love plants. I like to grow them, observe them, smell them, eat them, identify them, revel in them, and occasionally talk to them. But now, I also see them as allies in keeping my bees healthy and happy.IMG_1193_edited-1
The relationship between bees and flowers is more than just mutually beneficial–they need each other for continued existence. To reproduce, most plants must transfer pollen from the anther to the stigma–a difficult task to pull off alone when you are rooted to the ground and cannot move. That is where wind, animals, and–mostly–flying pollinators come to the rescue. Bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, and birds do the job that plants cannot do for themselves. IMG_1755They spread the riches. And, at the same time, take home some for themselves. A neat arrangement developed over an unimaginable amount of time. A sweet symbiosis.IMG_1851
My daily walks and garden checks have taken on a bee-like perspective. I have become keenly interested in exactly what is blooming, what pollinators are attracted to those blossoms, whether the nectar is flowing, and where my bees are foraging. I have a whole new appreciation of the intricate dance between plants and their pollinators. IMG_1314
After the apple blossoms faded, we had a long spell of dry weather. Although the honeysuckle was blooming, the nectar didn’t seem to be flowing and there were only a few dump-truck-sized bumblebees tumbling around. IMG_0894.jpgWe finally got much-needed rain, after which the flowers and pollinators went into high gear. IMG_1125.jpgIMG_1141_edited-1.jpgIMG_1400Our bees wasted no time in finding our neighbor’s lupines. The bees stretched open the bottom petals to get at the nectar.   Fascinating.IMG_1229
IMG_1235IMG_1234IMG_1237Many of our showiest blossoms are not honey bee magnets.


No bees yet.

The honey bees have avoided the rhododendrons and peonies, and have shown little interest in the iris or oriental poppies.   Here’s a bee-less poppy through all it’s stages.IMG_1275IMG_1278



All that pollen. Some bees have been bringing in dark pollen like this, but I haven’t seen them visiting the poppies.


The bumble bees, in contrast, love the rhododendron and irises.IMG_1296IMG_1389

I discovered the honey bees instead, often deep in the woods, feasting on the inconspicuous green bittersweet blossoms and drifts of raspberry brambles.




Wild bee on a wild raspberry blossom.  I haven’t learned to identify the wild bees yet.  Next year.

Our honey bees are not the only pollinators, of course. We have plenty of wild bees, butterflies, wasps, and birds doing their part. IMG_1465


He sips lots of flower nectar, too. I just haven’t caught him with the camera.

As an update to previous posts, we have had three active nests in our bird boxes. The bluebirds seemed to have successfully raised their chicks. One day they were coming and going with slugs and worms for their little ones and the next day they were all gone. We missed their departure from the nest.


Swallows nestbuilding.

But this morning we watched the tree swallow fledglings emerge from another box to take their first flight. They almost crashed into George. Exuberant, glorious things. We still have wrens nesting in the front yard box.IMG_1658
And George built Zoe two ramps. IMG_1563.jpgShe’s appreciative.IMG_0867

42 thoughts on “Sweet Symbiosis

  1. I love you updates about your beautiful home. I do enjoy watching the bees here too; they don’t always feed off the most spectacular blooms. I suspect they are hybridised to please humans, not bees. The bees in our garden love the tiny abelia flowers. My son has ordered the delivery of several bee hives to his 10 acre property. They will come in Spring. The beekeeper will care for the bees, and he gets 10kg of honey a year in payment for letting them on the land. They will produce mainly eucalypt honeys I think.

    • Thanks Kerri. I hope you will be able to come for another visit before too long. We now have furniture! I wonder if your son will get sucked into observing the bees as I have. They are so fascinating. I’ve never had eucalypt honey, so have no idea how it tastes. But that leatherwood honey that you brought us was really amazing. By the way, the botanical fabric eco printing that I mentioned in the last post was popularized by India Flint from Australia. She uses a lot of eucalyptus, for beautiful prints.

    • Thanks Derrick. It’s always fun to see what’s blooming in your garden because generally it’s a preview of what is to come for us. Although I don’t have any geranium palmatums. I’m looking into inserting more bee-friendly additions to the garden so will investigate them.

  2. Your speaking my language! Oh, plants…..they are amazing and such gifts to us. You really should pick up a copy of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass. The perfect summer read while you’re out tending, enjoying, sniffing, and delighting in the flora and fauna of Maine. best to you…lovely post!

    • You know, we heard Robin on a local radio program a few months ago and I made a mental note to look for her book. Then I promptly forgot about it. I will check it out. I hope you are riding out this dry spell without too much struggle. My raised veggie beds are not happy. I see some drip irrigation in our future.

      • Almost at the end of Robin’s book..then on to? Any suggestions? yes, watering throughout the day, everyday. Rain possibly tomorrow…let’s hope!

      • Even when rain hits the area, it seems to go north and south of us. My taste in books tends to be quirky, so I’m always hesitant to make recommendations. But, here’s what I’ve enjoyed lately–all fiction for some reason– Our Souls at Night (Kent Haruf), Euphoria (Lily King–lives in Maine), Doc and Epitaph (Mary Doria Russell) and I’m now immersed in Winston Graham’s Poldark series.

      • Thanks Brenda, We’re getting rain as I write…yeeha! Hope you get it as well! I’ll check out the books you listed, I love getting book recommendations, and always need something to read! Best to you, denise

    • Thank you Beth. It was such a bonus to have all these lovely perennials come with the house. I remember that bees loved our holly too when we lived in Georgia. We don’t see much up here, though. Zoe’s having problems with all stairs now. We’re trying to get her ailments sorted out. It’s so tough to see her get old.

      • Blondie is the same way. Our living area is on the second floor so she has to go up and down stairs every time she goes outside. Some times she looks at me like “Do I have to go down those stairs again?”

  3. A glorious post! Bees and flowers and butterflies. Summer, in all its deep glory, is here! How old is Zoe? And I concur that Zoe’s ramp is absolutely perfect!

    • As we are discovering, and you well know, full-on June in Maine is something special. Zoe is twelve and is having some health issues this spring. Despite anti-tick medication and vaccination, we think she may have Lyme or Anaplasmosis, so just put her on Doxy. Fingers crossed that it’s not more serious. So far, the ticks and their diseases are one of the only drawbacks we have found to Maine.

      • Poor Zoe! I hope the medication does the trick! Ticks, unfortunately, are a recent arrival in Maine. In the 1980s and 1990s, our children played in the woods without fear of ticks. They came to Maine sometime in the early 2000s.Dratted things!

  4. The relationship between bees and flowers is one of my favourite subjects – so I loved reading this! It is true that keeping bees does change a view about plants. I now look at the flowers in my garden and see those that are pollinator friendly and those that are (in my view) sterile. I don’t generally buy the latter now, although I still have a soft spot for roses.
    A lovely selection of photos, especially the poppy-flower emerging. The dark pollen really stands out in comb, doesn’t it?It’s good news about all your birds (and the ramp for Zoe)

    • I’ve so enjoyed learning more about pollinators (and flowers) from your blog. Funny isn’t it how much bees enrich our lives? When I look at a beautiful flower now, it becomes even lovelier if there is bee bopping about it. We are putting in a little orchard and I’m trying to find a good selection of companion plants to provide for the bees throughout the season, if possible. But my soft spot is for lilacs, which the bees don’t touch. The hummingbirds love them though! I love the dark pollen. We have such a variety of flowers here that the comb actually resembles a patchwork quilt.

  5. What could be more glorious than all those flowers and all those pollinators! I can only identify the most obvious of the pollinators (like the two male ruby-throated hummingbirds squabbling over territorial rights to my heuchera blossoms) and would love to learn how to distinguish the various species of wild bees. I’m impressed that you got a photo of the hummingbird; I have had no luck trying to get an image of mine.

    • You should see how many blurry hummingbird pictures I have. They are elusive little ones–all that zipping and pipping. I am trying to parcel out my learning in manageable chunks. So, this year, I’m focusing on the honey bees. Next year, I definitely want to learn to identify other pollinators. We have lots of different types of wild bees and wasps here and I am clueless.

    • Yes! I was walking through our woods and heard the telltale buzz of happy bees in the trees above me. I couldn’t see anything in bloom at first and then realized it was bittersweet–covered with bees. I love bittersweet berries, but it is smothering some of our trees so we’ve been trying to pull down the worst of it. We will never make a dent, though and I feel better about that knowing now that it is feeding the bees. Thanks for the good wishes on Zoe. We are still trying to figure out what is going on with her. It would be so much easier if dogs could talk.

  6. I’m on sensory overload here and don’t know where to start. Okay, first, I’m sure Zoe loves her new ramps and the Dad who made them for her. 🙂 The flowers are gorgeous, the bees are wonderful, and the hummingbirds and butterflies take my breath away. I haven’t seen either so thanks for sharing. But, it is your photography skills that are really showing here – Wow. Impressive. Hope you and your friends and gardens have a wonderful week. Keep snapping because its a treat for the rest of us. 🙂

    • Sensory overload is a perfect description for a Maine June. I am surprised that you do not have any Eastern Swallowtails. This time of year, they seem to be all over the place here, but particularly love the rhododendrons and lilacs. I even got clobbered by a couple on a walk recently. They were so absorbed by each other that they apparently didn’t notice me. And no hummingbirds? Have you had them in the past? Any theories as to why you are not seeing them? Curious. As for the photos, my trusty little Canon Powershot deserves the credit. What an amazing little camera.

  7. Pingback: Sweet Symbiosis | olddogsnewtruck – WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

  8. Lovely to share your garden with us, it is glorious in all its summer lushness. How fascinating to see the bees at work in the lupin. Symbiosis is so necessary. One of my favourite places I visited on our round Australia trip was in Western Australia staying at Western Flora caravan park. Alan Tinker, the owner was an expert in wild flora, he even had a Grevillia named after him, he really opened my eyes to how many of the native flowers are only pollinated by one type of native bee, the flower and the bee relied on each other and if one dies out the other will. Sorry to hear dear old Zoe has old age problems, I can emphasise with her. Give her a pat from me.

    • Wonderful to have people such Alan Tinker educating others on the importance of these symbiotic relationships. Most of us are so ridiculously ignorant on the complicated connections that make life on this planet. My project for next summer is learning more about our native pollinators. We seem to have a good variety but I’ve never learned anything about them. I’m also enjoying planting butterfly and bee friendly plants. It makes me feel a bit like I’m setting out a banquet. Our sweet Zoe girl is being poked and prodded and remains patient and good-tempered while we try to figure out what is ailing her. I gave her a pat from you.

    • Thank you. I’m happy to hear that the hummingbirds showed up so quickly for you. For such story-book-like creatures, they are surprisingly feisty and territorial. We had to get a second feeder on the other side of the house to keep them from dive-bombing each other non-stop. Great fun to watch.

  9. I’m the same as you, I constantly prowl the garden checking what the pollinators are attracted to and panic when nothing seems to be blooming, and I don’t keep nees, I can imagine how much much hyped you are. I did enjoy seeing the life span of that poppy and thought that butterfly picture was stunning. Bees don’t like my peonies either but love the raspberry blossom too.
    Yes, the entire process is endlessly fascinating for sure. Wonderful to see the swallows and good on George for sorting such a fan ramp for Zoe.xxx

    • So far, catmint has won the pollinator popularity contest. It’s constantly buzzing with a variety of flying critters, sucking nectar for all they are worth. It also seems to deter cucumber beetles on my tomatillos when I sprinkle its leaves and flowers around the plants. So, I’m loving the catmint. As for the peonies, they could be invisible as far as my honeybees are concerned. But, they are such a feast for the eyes that they get a pass.
      The swallows seem to be sitting on a second nest and our wren babes are yet to fly away. We have so enjoyed watching the birds through the whole nesting process.

  10. Sorry about all those typos…hopeless on the anything other than a laptop…oh, catmint is the winner, that’s good to know as I have shedloads of it, mine isn’t flowering yet though.xxx

  11. We too have always tried to grow flowers that attract wildlife.As some of our borders are raised we have found it much easier to observe the wildlife. It was lovely to see all the flowers you have to attract the bees. I hope Zoe is finding it easier with the ramps. Sarah x

    • We are going to plant shrubs and more perennials next spring, so I am having a wonderful time researching those that are beautiful and pollinator-friendly. Zoe has had a rough couple of weeks with a mysterious fever and lameness. After a multitude of tests and consultations with four veterinarians, we believe that we have it figured out and that she’ll be around for a while longer. Fingers crossed. Thank goodness we got the ramps in before her illness.

    • No apologies needed. Please don’t ever feel obligated to read or comment! Relax and enjoy being home again–with solid ground under your feet. Ha. I hope you enjoyed your trip even though it made you queasy.

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