I struggled with how to frame this news. The impetus for this post came to me on the radio on the 20th of May, declared World Bee Day. Bees support us. How are we bee-ing a leader to support them? What do we associate Bees with? Busy-ness. My spouse and I have been busy as bees trying to make our yard as supportive of those little buzzers as possible. No pesticides! We put in hours of weeding, and mulching to build the soil and suppress the rest of the weeds.

Essential work: a honey bee working blossoms of a fruit tree.
Bees pollinate the plants we depend on for food

Lawn Gone

an expanse of plain green lawn with a narrow dirt strip along the edge were all that were there before rain garden installation. no support here for bees
Lawn before

The biggest change we made was to replace every bit of lawn left by previous owners. Some of it was shady and weedy. Other portions, decent enough for an expanse of green, required mowing. Initially we used an old fashioned reel mower pushed by hand. Then a friend gifted us an electric battery operated mower. He had already re-purposed in his own lawn. Now both off those mowers have gone to other neighbors. They, too, have eschewed gas-guzzling, mega-droning noise-makers in favor of a quieter, less polluting workout.

The final expanse of lawn we transformed with the absolutely awesome support of the Snohomish Conservation District. They supplied the “worker bees” from a Veterans Conservation Crew team. They dug out a deep hole in a portion of the front lawn to create a rain garden. While they dug, we layered cardboard over the remaining grass. They then dumped the dirt from the hole over the overlapping sheets of cardboard. The next day, part of the hole was backfilled with a compost and sand mix designed to retain moisture. A thick layer of wood chip mulch was placed over the soil. Rocks cover inflow and outflow of the rain garden.

How Our Rain Garden Grows

spots of freshly planted water tolerant plants dot the wood chip mulch of the rain garden right after fall planting. Still not much to support bees
Rain garden just planted where lawn used to be.
a young madrone at the edge of the rain garden outflow has increased in size by spring, along with sedges and ferns planted small in fall. The flowers of the madrone will support bees.
Rain garden nine months after initial planting
Dogwood, sedges, scarlet monkey flower, checkered mallow, deer ferns and more cover the mulch of the rain garden in summer. More here to support bees and butterflies as well as hummingbirds.
A portion of the rain garden one year after installation

Once grass and weeds had decomposed under layers of cardboard and dirt to feed the soil beneath, we added compost. Our yard was ready to support a greater diversity of plants.

pink flowering Arabis and Crocosmia sprouting in full spring sun, with Heuchera and artichoke in partial shade in foreground. These along with other flowering plants provide support for bees.
Edibles, flowers and variety of habitat

Now we enjoy sunny summer days listening to humming of birds and bees. We watch flitter-fluttering butterfly wings among colorful petals of plants taller than two inch grass blades. That is, we do after the rest of the ‘hood finishes their roaring disturbance of suburban peace and tranquility. Some nearby lawns are already converting. We hope more follow soon. A garden like this brings enormous pleasure to neighbors walking by, as well as the wildlife gathering their bounty from this abundance.

A Vanessa atalanta butterfly feeds on nine bark blossoms. what doesn't support bees feeds other pollinators.
Butterfly in Ninebark blooms

As we became better acquainted with the microclimates of our yard, we planted a significant percentage of space that had been lawn with pollen providing plants, mostly native, some not. Non-natives are either drought tolerant or provide significant food source, both for us and little winged critters we rely on for so much. “One of every three bites of food we eat depends on them,” he (Ontario beekeeper Andre Flys) said. “The insects pollinate everything from blueberries to almonds.”

Snohomish Conservation Leaders of 2018

All of these were reasons given by staff at the Snohomish Conservation District when they chose to award us with the honor of “Conservation Leaders of 2018”

A painting of ferns, Oregon grape, meadow rue leaves with butterflies flitting above and dark roots spreading below them and blossom splashes in dribbles down to a plaque with our names engraved under 2018 SCD Conservation Leader of the Year.
The uniquely-ours award print and plaque presented at the annual awards celebration for the Snohomish Conservation District 2018 Award Recipients

Leadership Carries Responsibility

We still pinch ourselves at the honor, privilege and responsibility that comes with this award. The biggest impact is how much this honor steps up my own sense of urgency. We continue to spread the word and do the work. We keep challenging ourselves as “leaders” do find new ways to contribute to a more sustainable community.

Bees sustain us. They lead by their example. We need to show we care and re-pay them for their labor. Each bee in the hive contributes the little bit of pollen she can pack on her wee legs. Similarly, each of us can do a little something every day to support the little ones who do so much for us.

We continue to demonstrate many small ways ordinary citizens such as ourselves can make a difference. The old gardening ditty comes to mind: “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow, all it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground.” If you watched “Young Sheldon” following the final episode of Big Bang Theory you saw Dr. Sturgis singing as he planted. “Inch by inch, Row by row, Gonna make this garden grow, Gonna mulch it deep and-“

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