Portraits of pollinators

Today I was driving back from Sechelt and was lucky enough to hear some people discussing bees on the CBC noon show, Almanac. (I confess I’m a huge Mark Forsythe fan…) I was surprised to hear a man list the various pollinators in our coastal gardens. Of course I knew about bees in their various incarnations. We see honey bees here, and bumble bees, and mason bees, and the strange wedge-shaped bee flies. And of course hummingbirds and other familiars. But I never knew that lizards are considered pollinators. Or ants.

When I arrived home, I went out to work in the garden and was newly aware of activity in every blossom. I took some photographs of various insects (and a lizard), the ones that caught my eye, or those who were still enough to let me take their portraits. I’d put the camera away when I noticed a wasp working a huckleberry bush, moving from one bell to the next in a methodical way that made me think of wasps a little differently. So imagine it among these others, radiantly striped, in the pink urns of a Vaccinium parvifolium. And as for the lizard, well, I’m not sure how to imagine it as a pollinator. Every time I see them, they’re staring sternly from a crevice in the woodpile  (old plywood in this case), or else basking in sunlight on a rock outcropping. But there are native sedums on the rocks, and little fringes of twinflower above them…

A short walk around the garden

Here is the new box that John made from old decking and slabs of cedar from the tree that concealed the pumpkin seeds in “Thuja plicata: Nest Boxes”. The aluminum window comes from my parents’ home in Royal Oak and the box is lined with chicken wire against the predations of the two deer sisters that we see every week or so. Right now there are peppers in the box and shortly I’ll put some cucumber seedlings against the back where they can clamber up the chicken wire. And as I write this, John is in the process of setting another of the boxes in place.

And here’s the path down the middle of the vegetable garden.

This is the box where a pair of chestnut-backed chickadees are nesting. We’ve watched them over the past few days plucking moss and dry grass for their nest and sometimes when I’m in the garden, I see one of them peering out the opening to see if it’s safe to fly out.

This morning I made two bean teepees for the pole beans which are hardening off on the upper deck. (I begin them in flats in the sunroom because otherwise birds pluck the newly sprouted seeds out of the ground and nip off the sweet stems.) I have edamame beans to plant out too but they’re bushier and will just have individual sticks to support them.

This is a dwarf apple tree in lovely bloom and Mendel’s peas climbing up their wire.

Two kinds of garlic — one from Galiano Island and Red Russian from Grand Forks.

And here’s the female robin on her nest. The eggs haven’t hatched yet and she’s there pretty much all the time with the male bringing her food.

This is where they bathe — and just after I looked at the photograph on my computer, I ran out to put fresh water in the bird bath.


Coming back from a couple of days in Vancouver, I was delighted to see the sky clear as the ferry pulled into Langdale Terminal. We drove up the coast in sunlight and as soon as we got home, I put on old jeans and my rubber boots and went out to the garden. Because it’s been so damp, the slugs have had a field day. I keep picking them off the little broccoli plants and I’m using eggshells and ferric sodium to try to keep them away from the little spinach and chard seedlings. I’ve been reading David George Gordon’s The Secret World of Slugs and Snails and am not entirely happy to be at war with such fascinating creatures but I’ve made a pact with them: stay out of the vegetable garden and I’ll leave you to live your lives in peace. They’re breaking the pact, not me.

In the meantime, I’ve planted lots of greens in planters and tubs on the decks. This has worked well in past years. It’s so easy to open the sliding doors from the kitchen to the big west-facing deck and gather enough salad for dinner. The mesclun mixtures are lovely. I’ve been picking mizuna and chervil, small leaves of kale (and cooking the larger leaves), and other spicy greens. Today I planted some Italian seeds I bought on Commercial Drive the other day. These are Emanuele Larosa Sementi and I’ve had good results from them in the past. Catalogna lettuces, two kinds of arugula (one of them Rucola selvatica and the other a wild Roman variety), and something called herba stella or buckshorn plantain which sounds delicious. I was curious to know more about it and discovered that it’s more properly Plantago coronopus, a weed to many, but then so are many of the cresses, lamb’s quarters, and other additions to the salad bowl which give plain lettuces a run for their money.

May 1st

How the time passes quickly so that a sapling — I just looked out to see it — leaves a trunk 38 inches across when felled, its years, the weather contained in a narrative of rings. A seed waited for 25 years inside that tree to have its chance to become a pumpkin, however small and green the result, and the children who crouched under the limbs to while away a hot summer day have become scholars and lovers, their lives elsewhere except for a few days a year when they walk the old paths, sit by the fire that continues to draw us to it each morning, a fire started with split shakes of the original roof, now silver with age. How time passes, how everything we knew is stored in our own bodies — the dull ache of sleepless nights, the sharp yearning for love, the sorrow of these empty rooms once filled with children laughing, fighting; their books, their toys, their filthy socks and tiny overalls. One boy still sits under the original nest box (though I know it’s not possible, he lives in Ottawa) with his notebook, trying to sketch the swallow nestling that hangs out the opening, saying, Don’t fall out, Parva! Be careful. And I stand out among the trees, under stars, while the moon thins and fattens, turns soft gold in autumn, hangs from the night’s velvet in February, draws me out on summer evenings to drink a glass of wine while owls fill the darkness with that question: Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all? It was always me and I never once minded.

–an aria from “Thuja plicata: Nest Boxes” (Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, Goose Lane Editions, 2011)