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We need to see our plants the way our native pollinators do and wall to wall lawn carpet is not too inviting! My lawn is an accent rug is yours?



My lawn used to be “wall to wall carpet” but today it is just an “area rug. (terms taken from a lecture on Eco-Beneficial). An accent that  edges mixed garden beds or provides a place to walk.  Over the years, I have been growing more food and adding many native plants to our landscape to provide for nature + help attract more beneficial to help with growing food. Our native pollinators need us to care about them, so we have to make room for them in our gardens.

What you plant does matter. It affects how they can live.I never gave much thought to what I was purchasing, ordering or starting from seed since if it said it was “native” or  “attracted pollinators” well, I thought they must be good. But it does make a difference to our pollinators!

As you all know, I live in the Midwest, and we have cold winters with A LOT of snow. This past weekend, I was outside shoveling 14 inches of snow. I love riding my bike on the river from spring to early winter, but there are times, I am forced to ride my portable bike inside for exercise. Most of our winters!I have some tapes to watch but often they get boring after a few months. I start looking on YouTube for a good lecture on..guess???..yep, growing food, flowers + herbs in the city! The past month, I have been watching videos on permaculture, food forests,organic farming, native gardens, etc. but the other day. I came across a wonderful site that had podcasts on how to attract beneficial insects or provide for native pollinators. It is called Eco-beneficial! The site creator is Kim Eirmen( read about her here). She interviews people who write books on gardening with native plants to help create biodiversity on city lots. Her company “is dedicated to improving our environment by promoting ecological landscaping and the use of native plants.Many of our traditional gardening and landscaping practices have contributed to unhealthy ecosystems.”


Reading their website, I was introduced to an interesting woman Annie White that is doing some fascinating research.“There is exciting new research being conducted by Annie White, a Ph.D student in Ecological Landscape Design at the University of Vermont.  Under the guidance of Dr. Leonard Perry, White is comparing what she calls “true open-pollinated native wildflowers” to native cultivars, in terms of their ability to attract and provide nectar and pollen resources to pollinators”(read more about her research here)


I do have many native species on my property. I have to admit, when I first started putting flowers in my garden beds back in 1999, it was not always well thought out. I put in many plants that might not have been beneficial to our native wildlife. The past few years, I have been paying more attention to what the native pollinators are attracted to + which ones may not be helping to build biodiversity on my property. I have been replacing and moving different plants to create vast groupings of flowers to provide for native pollinators.


Cultivar Rudbeckia “Denver Daisy” I use this one in my landscape since it stands up to drought better than all my other plants. I will study it next year to see if there are fewer pollinators than my native Rudbeckia.

When you live in the city and don’t have acreage to fill your lot with rows of native plants you tend to be a bit picky. After reading Anne White’s research, I am paying attention to which cultivars I am using in my flower beds.What is a cultivar. Well, a cultivar is considered a plant variety that is selected for a specific characteristic. It may be the color, shape, size etc.

A plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding. Cultivars are usually designated in the style Taxus baccata “Variegata.”.


My garden is a collage of natives, cultivars, annual vegetables, flowers and herbs. I move around my mixed beds 3 times before they return to their initial site. The growing zone closest to my front and back doors are where I grow most of my annual vegetables. I visit them often, and it keeps the critters from bothering my food!Further from the house, I have rows of native flowers that are utilized for various stages of the native pollinators life cycle. I plant the native flowers in larger groups it helps with  flower constancy (defined here). Planting in masses is more appealing to native pollinators. They prefer to visit a group of plants it is more efficient searching for nectar or pollen.


I am very selective as to which perennial natives or non-natives I choose to add to my city lot.


If you live in the city and have limited spaces selecting the right pollinator, friendly plants can make a big difference.


If you are curious about her research, I put one of her lists below. Please visit her website + support the research it helps us build a community for our native pollinators. If you have a corner to spare it can make a big difference on our city lots! I have to admit, I have some hit and misses on that list! Oh well, there always is the compost pile!

List from Pollinator Gardens  

Here are the native flowering perennials and native cultivars chosen for study by Annie White: visit her site (here)

Botanical Name Common Name
Achillea millefolium Common Yarrow
Achillea millefolium ‘Stawberry Seduction’ Strawberry Seduction Yarrow
Agastache foeniculum Blue Giant Hyssop
Agastache foeniculum ‘Golden Jubilee’ Golden Jubilee Hyssop
Aquilegia canadensis Wild Columbine
Aquilegia canadensis ‘Corbett’ Wild Columbine
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed
Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’ Butterfly Weed
Aster novae-angliae New England Aster
Aster novae-angliae ‘Alma Poetschke’ New England Aster
Baptisia australis Wild Indigo/Blue False Indigo
Baptisia ‘Twilite’ Prairie Blues False Indigo
Echinacea purpurea Purple Coneflower
Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ Coneflower
Echinacea  ‘Sunrise’ Big Sky Coneflower
Echinacea purpurea ‘Pink Double Delight’ Pink Double Coneflower
Helenium autumnale Common Sneezeweed
Helenium autumnale ‘Moerheim Beauty’ Sneezeweed
Lobelia cardinalis Cardinal Flower
Lobelia cardinalis ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ Cardinal Flower
Monarda fistulosa Wild Bergamot/ Bee Balm
Monarda fistulosa ‘Claire Grace’ Wild Bergamot/ Bee Balm
Penstemon digitalis Beardtongue
Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ Beardtongue
Rudbeckia fulgida Black-eyed Susan
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ Black-eyed Susan
Tradescantia ohiensis Spiderwort
Tradescania ‘Red Grape’ Spiderwort
Veronicastrum virginicum Culver’s Root
Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavender Towers’ Culver’s Root
During the 2013 growing season, data was collected on the frequency of pollinator visits to each flower species and cultivar. Following statistical analysis, the results will be shared. In 2014, more data will be collected on pollinator visits as well as available nectar quantity, nectar sugar concentration, and pollen mass.



58 replies »

  1. Sneezeweed?! Something I have never heard of 🙂 We have been interested to see the difference having the bees in the garden has made to our yields in the food garden, they have improved heaps. Our berries and fruit trees have gone crazy this year so there are definite benefits from increasing bee activity in the garden. We have few flowers but many natives in the area (including manuka) and we have let red clover run amok, not removing any of it. The herbs are all flowering and the bees love them, and the sunflowers 🙂

    • I have been trying to grow sneezeweed for years. I tried the cultivar she said was not good for bees. I noticed there were NO bees on it ever! I will try and grow out the native ( sneezeweed) this year:-) It is a striking plant. Red clover is great for the soil,too:-)It sounds like you have enough for them to find + pollinate. I am realizing I can’t grow everything.
      I wish, I could. I do live up from a wild ravine which helps for I am sure there are many natives in that wooded area. Oh, they LOVE sun flowers + our golden finches just dangle from them in the summer. I love it when they do-just they don’t stay put long enough or let us get near for a good photo!

      • I looked up Sneezeweed aka as Helenium, I don’t remember ever seeing it here but I am sure it must exist in other people’s gardens… I will notice it next time I see it I am sure. Yes, Red Clover is great for the soil 🙂 You grow a huge variety for the size garden you have and it always makes me want to grow pockets of flowers everywhere lol. My favourite for the birds is the mauve flowering tree opposite our lounge window, the birds, bees and butterflies all love it – can’t remember the name of it right now.

      • I have my favorites, too:-) I love cosmos which is not native locally but such a pretty flower ( native to southern USA border) in the fall. I can’t imagine not having it blooming in the summer. I also love native asters with fall pollinators:-) I stuff a lot in out there-LOL

  2. I’ve had lots of native wildflower species, both straight species and cultivars, in our garden. I have not noticed much difference between cultivars and straight species in terms of attracting pollinators but I haven’t observed them systematically. In fact I have or used to have all of the flowers listed except for the Achillea, I used to have lots of Echinacea but had to get rid of it because of problems with aster yellows.

    • I admire your organizational skills-I have to admit, I have not been so good in that area:-) I wish, I were! I really noticed the difference on a sneezeweed ( red-orange cultivar) that the bees never even went near it + a red yarrow ( strawberry) the one she feels has more to do with the color red and the bees:-( I will pay more attention next year since I read her research. I am growing out the golden anise hyssop + white swan Echinacea which I have wanted to grow for years!That must be hard not having Echinacea for it is one of my favorites:-) Our droughts in the late summer are one of our biggest problems.

  3. This is interesting Robbie, most of these non-natives for me I grow in my own garden in the UK, much less is made of natives over here but I wonder if thats because we have less choice being a comparatively small island. I try to plant for all year, using winter flowering shrubs and early bulbs on a just in case pollinators need them basis. As well as looking good. I wonder too if there is a preference for pollinators for natives or non natives, is the research into natives only?

    • What she found is that the cultivars were selected for certain things. For example the butterfly weed she had was a cultivar called “mellow yellow” and the true native species is orange. She found no difference between the”yellow” color and the native “orange” color. But with Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) she found the bees did not care for the strawberry yarrow but a specific “black” pollianator was all over the white yarrow (which was taken from a roadside bank) she felt red is not a color bees favor. Yarrow is not a “native to the USA-it was introduced.
      She found the anise hyssop(Agastache foeniculum) was compared to one with a “bright-green” colored leaves. The natives did not show any preference. She felt if the cultivar was as close to the native in size, shapes etc. the bees were okay. The native aster New England Purple (Aster novae-angliae )was preferred over the “pink flowered” cultivar. But she said when the native purple aster was not available in a landscape the bees were all over the “pink” one. That makes me wonder about “non-natives” vs “natives.” for example, cosmos is not native to my area but the bees are all over it and sometimes more than my natives…leaves a lot of questions as to native vs non-native in helping pollinate?

      You are doing everything right when you garden for year round nectar + pollen. That is what I am trying to do except in our very cold winters. I do have crocus in the garden all over for spring bees. I am planning on putting “native” crocus in this year to compare and see if they favor one over the other since that is not a cultivar difference but a non-native vs native.
      I did listen to a pod cast on there from another lady lecturing on certain bees need a “specific” plant and if they don’t have it then they don’t survive.
      It is good you don’t have a lot of introductions and grow more plants native to your region. We need to do that more here in the USA-it means changing the look of what we consider a garden:-) Since I have been adding more natives , I have seen insects that I never saw before on my property-truly inspiring! I keep adding more for they are coming now! I had 5 monarchs that graced me with their beauty last summer:-) every afternoon as I would garden:-)
      sorry-so long winded-more information than you wanted-LOL-but on my blog, I find kindred spirits that find this interesting too:-)

  4. Fascinating as ever Robbie! I always learn something when I pop in 🙂 I have noticed honey bees in my tiny garden this summer. First time!! 🙂 Also as a result of the companion planting I am sure, the only pest I have [so far] is snails and their damage is minimal – we are co-existing happily! Most salad plants are seeding now – it has been extraordinarily hot and dry this year.

    • I have noticed more “diversity” among my native pollinators since I have been adding native plants.I remember when I had no bees,years ago.To think I had 5 resident monarchs last summer. It is exciting!I think that is so neat that you have them right out on your porch:-) so true-build it and they come! LOL
      hot and dry is a hard one-around here that means drought! We had a bad one in 2012-I lost a lot of evergreens to that drought + some favorite plants:-(
      It is getting closer to your trip-4 weeks!!!!It should be spring there:-)

  5. As always a great post and another important message Robbie. I love pollinators too and the more I learn about them the more I want to learn. In Ireland, we have lost many of our flower rich meadows so gardens are becoming more and more important for pollinators to find food. I look forward to following your links:)

    • I can relate:-)We have lost many of our prairies + some non natives have taken over our woodlands.I find it interesting that some of the native pollinators need a “specific” plant for a host and food:-)
      I have tried to put what I can in my small yard + I have noticed an increase and a much diverse group of insects. Even on my small scale:-)

  6. Great post, Robbie, about consciously planting for our pollinator buddies. I might also add that the ‘area rug’ of lawn be full of ‘weeds’ – mine is about a 50/50 mix of grass and clover/dandelions/etc. which the bees love.

  7. Your lawn is beautiful and you are right to plant as many varieties of flowers : not only is it beautiful and more, as you say , you attract pollinators and as you increase the productivity of your garden and your fruit . I try to do the same 🙂

  8. My lawn is definitely an accent rug. I have lots of bees but it’s good to be aware that there are always ways to attract more bees and insects to the garden.My staple bee attraction seems to be borage.

    • It took me a bit to convince my husband all we needed was an accent rug:-) My “accent” rug just got larger each year without him knowing it-MAGIC-LOL:-)
      I can’t imagine living without borage in my garden-I would have a terrible problem with tomaoto hornworm if not for my borage:-) eve since I started planting it near each of my tomato plants- I have not seen one in 6 years!:-) the perfect plant for us all:-)

  9. Absolutely gorgeous!! It should be the law to do away with these water-sucking, pesticide-heavy, carpet-to-carpet lawns. Your beautiful garden is a complete sanctuary, for the humans and critters! Just beautiful.

    • You are too kind:-) It has been a work in progress for many years + I am still trying to get it right with a mix of foods, pollinator friendly plants,natives + happy neighbors:-) My husband now enjoys sitting in an area and watching the bees, butterflies and birds. He does not miss the wall to wall carpet:-) But boy was he an unhappy camper the first few years! I tried to cut that carpet down to an area rug ever so slowly not to shock everyone:-) During the warm season- when I return from a bike ride on the river he is the first one out there every summer sitting and sipping his coffee! priceless:-) Well worth all the grumbling-LOL

      • Hahahah!! SO true… When I began the process of the pollinators, and planting NATIVES — it wasn’t all that “pretty.” But it’s become quite the habitat for our special natives, flora and fauna alike. Your place is truly an inspiration!

  10. I have a lot of the plants she’s studying and it will be interesting to follow her research. My lawn is an ellipse surrounded by gardens. It gives me a place to put my hammock and for my 4 dogs to play. But I have about 60% less lawn than I did 12 years ago when we moved in. If you want a few pollinator magnets, add agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and native mountain mint (pycnanthemum muticum). I’m growing Denver Daisy from seed this year. Did you buy plants or are yours seed grown, too?

    • I had a lot of plants from her list, too:-) I am growing Denver Daisy + Indian Summer out for some people + a few extra for myself. I did purchase a Denver few years ago and they are stunning! I did not want to order them at 8.00 a piece-LOL- I am cheap. Since I grew out Rudbeckia Cherokee Sunset ( my fun plant since it is a double bloom) last summer and they were pretty easy + flowered the first summer. I have Blue Fortune agastache but after I read her research- the “jubilee” agastache was just as attractive to pollinators as the native -well, I am growing that one out now! I wanted some shorter ones in my mixed bed up front. I love the lime green color:-) + it is one of my favorite plants in the garden:-)
      I am growing out a mountain mint but it is pycnanthemum virginianum. I figure they are similar so that is great it is a bee magnet- that was my goal! Did you seed your mountain mint in the garden or start it inside and plant it outside? I grow most everything from seed it is so much cheaper and you have a better selection of plants:-)

      • I’m wintersowing both Denver Daisies and Indian Summer, too. :o) I bought mtn mint plants from our local nursery and from Prairie Moon bare root since I grow two types. Muticum spreads very easily but my p. tenufoilium is very well behaved.

      • I have found Denver to be VERY drought tolerant in my front yard which I don’t water often. It survived last year + much better than my native rudbeckia. I just adore Indian summer with my red bee balm-the two of them together just makes me happy!
        Great company Prairie Moon-a lot of my natives are bareroot from them,too:-) I am winter sowing some right now cold stratification in the fridge some + I am looking forward to seeing if I can get more ” natives” done myself. We shall see-always an adventure! my fingers are crossed! At least Rudbeckia hirta does not need Cold stratification:-)

    • That is so cool:-) I just read it + loved all the food patterns created with FOOD-lol. Isn’t it great we all are growing more of our own:-) Thank you for sharing. I have not been near my computer as much-growing the little babies!

      • I knew you’d love it, Robbie! I used to do all raised beds like in the article, only in the backyard. There’s one neighborhood in Portland that can do whatever they want, and you see a lot of raised beds in front yards–I love it!

      • I wish it were the norm every where-wouldn’t that be grand:-) If you lived next door to me-we could connect our yards-LOL-wouldn’t that be a huge garden!

  11. I cannot wait to visit this site Robbie, thank you! I don’t grow many annuals – just a few good reseeders like Borage (which I know bees love) and Calendula, Nasturtium, Tagetes, Sunflowers … but I do have many native perennials. I know Culver’s Root is a HUGE hit in my garden for pollinators – sometimes I just sit and watch what comes and goes for long minutes at a time. It is fascinating! I have noticed many more insects and birds now visit my garden since I ripped up the wall to wall carpet and planted area rugs – I love that analogy! I love your garden almost as much as pollinators do!

    • awww-kathy:-) you are too kind:-)Her research is soooo:-) interesting for many of the “cultivars” are just an improved perennial. Selected for “Unique” traits that normally happen but we helped along. I can’t wait to trial Jubilee hyssop it is such a pretty color. She said they selected it for the chartreuse leaf color which I find beautiful. I always love “unique” in people, so why not in plants!

      • I’ve grown Jubilee! It’s not quite hardy here but reseeded itself for a few years. The bees loved it and you will, too! It’s a wonderful punch of color.

      • I am exctied:-)!!!!( those exclamation marks are me jumping up and down-lol), just have to have those PUNCHES of COLOR-make me smile every time!:-)

    • THANK YOU!!!! That is so neat-I am growing more oregano + now you have inspired me to grow some more for others:-) Wise Fran-I was unable to sign on last night to read your Wednesday post for our internet was down when I went to bed:-( I am heading over there now for I have some time + it was running slow this morning,too. It seems to be a problem in our area off and on-fear not, I did not forget your weekly post to find out what is going on at Serendipidity farm:-) -Onward I move to the Land of Serendipidty-I am silly today!

      • Oregano is such a hardy herb. It was growing all over the place here despite my dad not watering anything in over 20 years so I get the feeling it is used to harsh living and if you look at the Greek islands where it comes from, the soil reminds me of Serendipity Farm. All rocks and thin topsoil so oregano would feel right at home here. They say that if it gets hard conditions it tastes better.

      • Fran you are a so helpful:-) thank you:-) I love using it in my dishes, never want to buy that horrible dried stuff they sell in the store! lol

  12. How lucky of you to have many native species in your garden Robbie!. Beautiful garden! ⭐
    I love your post… And “We need to see our plants the way our native pollinators do” is certainly an empowering motto (even more from an environmental perspective). All the best to you!, Aquileana 😀

    • 🙂 I am so excited this year to see if my monarch butterflies increase in numbers. I had 5 this past year. I put in a dozen more “host” plants in my garden, so I hope they increase! They love my red zinnias:-)

  13. This post flashed by me as I scanned quickly through my ‘reader’. With no time then to respond, it has been tugging away at me, relentlessly ever since. You write with such compassion and concern for the environment that my conscience is troubled until I know if I too am doing the right things in my garden. “What is an accent rug”? I kept asking myself. And “am I growing the best plants to attract the pollinators”?
    In bed with a cold and cough, I have time to read and learn. And yes, I think I do have an accent rug lawn, but I am not sure if annuals like the Rudbeckias I grow are the best ones for the bees. I grew Flanders Poppies last year to commemorate the first world war and although I did not expect it, the bees loved them! I also have a meadow full of wild flowers including clover, which I have never put any chemicals on for over 35 years and that is full of butterflies. The varieties which love the meadow do not come into the garden, so it must suit them well in there.It sounds as though I will just have to make a note of the flowers which attract the pollinators, because, as yet, there are no hard and fast rules.
    Like you, every seed I plant is with the bees and pollinators in mind. The bees here seem to come out earlier each year and can be seen on my Mahonia, even on very chilly days.
    I love your blog and your passion. I also love your garden, very much.

    • awww..:-)Karen-it is “thoughtful” comments as yours today-that just brighten my day + make all the “quest” worth doing:-). I sure hope you feel better=sooon:-)Yesterday, I spend a day reading about “parasitic wasps”-trying to integrate “companion plantings” to encourage beneficial insects ( as well as pollinators) that will prey on my pests. That will be for another post + it is so interesting. All the plants are here for us to use and some even have chemicals on them to use for pesticide!
      I. as you:-) have observed over the years- some plants are better. I read something yesterday, that made me pause- I read “sometimes us not seeing anything” on a plant DOES not mean, it is not attracting-? Confusing to me,too! It may be for beneficials and not for bees. Some of the beneficial
      insects “host” on catepillars!
      check this out-

      wow, I sure was educated yesterday when I learned that some beneficials, I may not see!
      I am looking at what plants I put near my vegetable crops. There are many herbs, annuals and perennials that provide for these beneficials. I need to add some to my potager next year.
      I have noticed that about rudbeckias, but maybe they attract “parasitic wasps” and hover flies…I found in my reading they do:-)
      I need to put poppies out in my garden for they are wonderful for spring polliantors!
      I am learning it is a “whole system” the garden. It needs plants to help with beneficials which we may not see with our eyes. I have a lot of flowers for bees, butterflies + birds, but now I am researching ones for beneficials that attack my is such an interesting system + plants provide all we need-just have to learn + boy, I learn something new everyday!
      Let me know what you find out this summer- I am so interested to find out what others “observe” + I will post what I find out. I am interplanting with beneficial plants to see if I notice fewer cabbage butterflies:-)

  14. We tore out ⅔ of our lawn a few years ago. My husband insisted on keeping a little bit so he could sit under the tree with his dog (. . . memories of his childhood, or at least the one he dreamed about). He seldom sits under the tree. but it gives him pleasure, so I don’t say anything about getting rid of the remaining lawn. But, I am very happy that we did get rid of what we did. We have it planted out with various flowing plants, and the hummingbirds love the kangaroo paws. And, its so much more interesting to look at than grass.

    • I agree totally! Is it a husband thing???- loving grass:-)LOL. I had the same problem with my husband. I was a bit sneaky. I took out sections a little at a time. A few neighbors liked the flowers + each year our wall to wall carpet got smaller! He purchased a new lawn mower “before” I started + now people asky-what do you need that lawn mower for:-) tee hee! I left a path of grass to walk between the beds, so now he has adjusted + I made him an area to read the newspaper, watch the birds + sit with our dog. Now:-) I come home from a bike ride on the Mississippi River and he is out back sitting in the garden with his coffee early morning-he yells to me from the garden that he is in the garden:-) priceless!

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