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  • Jennifer Jewell


Bombus californicus on Salvia Clevelandii at Canyon Creek. Photo by John Whittlesey, all rights reserved.



Welcome Solstice. Happy National Pollinator Week!

June 18 through the 24th is National Pollinator Week – a week dedicated in the US to studying, celebrating and advocating for the incredible diversity of insect life that in many ways makes our lives on this planet possible – but perhaps as importantly makes it more rich and fascinating.

In appreciation of all insects, but specifically our pollinating insects, we’re joined today by British biologist, conservationist and Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex in England, Dave Goulson. A gardener, husband and father and bumblebee expert, Dave is the founder of The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and author of “A Sting in the Tail, my adventures with bumblebees” (2013, Picador), and “A Buzz in the Meadow, The Natural History of a French Farm (2014, Picador), and "Bee Quest" (2017, Picador). He is also the founder of the international Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Dave joins us via Skype from his family home and garden in Sussex.

“I would argue at length as to why we should look after insects for selfish reasons, for pollination and all the other things they do, but the reason I want to look after insects has nothing to with that, it’s because they’re cool - they’re beautiful and amazing things. I always think if I could just convince people to stop for five minutes and get down on their hands and knees and just look at these things, they’d realize that, but most people are too busy or just don’t have the inclination to do so."

Dave Goulson, Professor University of Sussex

Bumblebee expert and enthusiast

Have you ever spent time just observing the insect diversity in your garden? It’s a fascinating way to spend 15 minutes or so. Bee and pollinating fly diversity alone in the average home garden is pretty remarkable to pay attention to.

Recently plantsman and photographer John Whittlesey discovered a colony of the California Bumblebee (Bombus californicus) nesting near his foothills home garden and he and I have been watching them – when they wake up, when they go to bed, what flowers they collect pollen and nectar from - with delight and interest, and care.

There’s something very immediate and tangible about knowing they live right here with us – they don't just fly in from somewhere else, they live right here – that underlines the knowledge that these bees (and all wildlife) are family to us not other than us. And as with any family, there’s an imperative to support them.

In this National Pollinator Week in the US, I feel compelled to say that in our gardens at very least – each and every day is better for time set aside in the appreciation and wonder of the many insects and birds who enliven our places beyond measure and make possible in some way every flower we gaze at, every green bean or pinch of herb we nibble on too.

* * * * * * * *

So I’m not kidding, when was the last time you went into the garden or sat along the verge of your favorite trail and set aside time to just LOOK. I want you to.

You think I am kidding, but I’m not.

And really, I’d love you to follow this up with taking a photo of yourself doing this and post it to me or on your favorite Social Media platform and tag Cultivating place – because there is NOTHING - NOTHING more interesting that a few minutes spent in conscious observation of the life of the garden or the trail in the full sun on a summer day.

It might seem in your mind to be peaceful and quiet but even with all the destruction we as humans have inflicted – life is buzzing all around out there waiting to be heard.

John was so excited when he called to tell me about having finally found the nest of the bumblebees near his garden. And we have been watching them since, wondering how to make the garden even better – even bigger to provide them with more food and habitat. At least three different species of bumblebees forage in the garden – the yellow face, the black face and then Bombus californicus, which are the most active right now.

They all have distinct looks and behaviors and once you start getting to know them they are so interesting. Funny, smart, resourceful, gentle, very focused on eating sleeping and mating…. So far them seem to love the salvias, the agastache, the monardella and the lavender! We are now strategizing as to what we should be adding, what we should be multiplying and dividing to provide even more nutritious bloom right through the summer AND what we should be planning on adding for more early spring bloom next spring.

It’s so clear to me and John that no matter how caring we were before now about our bees and bugs and birds and life generally, the more you know on a personal basis, the more you care on a truly personal basis. Because it’s all personal – but sometimes it’s easy to forget that. With bumblebees as neighbors and your garden as their closest market, you do not want to let them down.

I know some of the conversation with Dave is hard to hear – really disheartening - but when close to the end of the conversation he points out ALL the ways we can and do make a difference – I hope it fires you up like it does me.

As I write, it’s a beautiful SUMMER SOLSTICE in our gardens.

As with all of these celestial thresholds, the solstices and equinoxes, the full moons and new moons – these moments of turning written in the stars literally – I feel a sense of weight and import - far more primal than calendar moments - asking to be acknowledged and asking without question to be seen and heard and felt and appropriately recognized….

How do we do this? How do we do this meaningfully?

I am not sure….I really am not, but I do know that for me being a gardener has something to do with it.

As much as being a mother, a partner, a thinker or a citizen. To be a gardener is to throw myself into the fray of life with the bees and bugs and birds and weather. It is a full contact commitment and if I have done even one thing right in my life, I pray that I have passed even a small sense of an intertwined destiny with the life of my garden and its home planet onto my daughters.

Listening to Dave Goulson speak of his early life – and the support and encouragement he got from his grandparents and his parents – the field guides and dissecting kits and simple allowance for time spent outdoors in the marvelous and mysterious muck of life – this was so crucial to his becoming who he is - to his work and his heart and his advocacy.

May we all learn to encourage such heartfelt engagement with the dangers and delights of the natural world in our little people no matter how messy – and in ourselves – no matter how many other things seem more important at any given time. The more of these conversations I have with fellow gardeners and nature lovers like you all – the more I think there might be very few other occupations as important as this….

Which brings me to thank you – again – always for listening and learning along with me. You ever expanding community of people who write to me and comment on Instagram and Facebook, who respond with pictures and thoughts to the monthly A VIEW FROM HERE email - who generously share the program forward with others – your feedback means the world to me and Sarah and Cultivating Place. SO thank you.

This is a listener and community supported endeavor and you are every bit as much a part of my garden life as the birds and bees and bugs and beauty. My greatest hope for Cultivating Place is to have conversations about these things we love and that connect us all. Together we gardeners and nature lovers make a difference for the better in this world. …

If you have thoughts or stories to share, please send them by email through the contact page at (scroll to bottom of page), or write them in the comments of this episode’s post on Instagram and Facebook.

And if you liked this episode – and feel moved – SHARE IT WITH FRIENDS (family, neighbors, meter maids, strangers, passersby) ....:)

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