Little Treasures

There is much more to those little buzzing creatures than meets the eye and more of them than many realize. Sue Westby, bee specialist and also a member of Chester Garden Club had members and guests complete attention as she discussed how to recognize native species of bees, their role in the environment, and how to keep them content in our own gardens.


There are more than two hundred different species in Nova Scotia which are dependant on plants for their entire livelihood. They are hairy, have two pairs of wings, and elbowed antennae. The main bees discussed were: leafcutter bees, bumblebees, digger bees, mason bees and sweat bees.

Leafcutter bees are solitary bees. They range in size from fly size to honeybee size and nest in holes in wood.

Bumblebees are a large size social bee. Like most native bees, they carry pollen on their legs. Leafcutter bees and mason bees carry pollen on the underside of their abdomens.

Digger bees are a solitary, small to medium sized species that reside in the soil. They are rather specific when choosing plants and can be identified by their unique velvety area between their eyes.

Mason Bees are medium sized bees that don’t sting and are sometimes mistaken for flies. 250 female orchard mason bees can pollinate an acre of apples.

Sweat bees are a small bee, some species are social but most are solitary and live in the soil or soft wood.

Most bees are not picky when choosing which flowers they visit and move from bloom to bloom as the season goes on. Some bees however, are specialists and live exclusively on one plant species.

Reproduction habits vary among species. For example: Bumblebees colonies last all growing season but in the fall, new Queens emerge, mate and find a place to hybernate underground over winter. They are the only ones to survive the winter. When it is warm enough they emerge from their den, find a nest site and begin to gather pollen. They lay a few eggs which develope into workers. Those workers then help feed the young from eggs the Queen continues to lay. These young develop quickly and become more workers for the colony which continues to grow this way until there are just about 100 workers supplying the colony. Towards the end of summer/early fall, males and new Queen develop, emerge and mate with the new, mated Queens overwintering to start the cycle over again.

Leafcutters make brood chambers inside a long tube shaped cavity, fill them with pollen and lay one egg per chamber. Throughout the rest of the year, the young develop in the chambers, until they overwinter as fully formed adults, ready to emerge by chewing their way out the next growing season.

Different bee species emerge at different times during the season. There are early, mid and late bee species from each species that emerge and live 4 to 6 weeks, pollinating flowers in bloom at that time.

Pollination in both natural ecosystems and human managed is critical for food production and human livelihoods, and directly links wild ecosystems with agricultural production systems. The vast majority of flowering plant species only produce seeds if pollinators move pollen from the anthers to the stigmas of their flowers. Without this service, many interconnected species and processes functioning within an ecosystem would collapse.

Current understanding of the pollination process shows that, while interesting specialized relationships exist between plants and their pollinators, healthy pollination services are best ensured by an abundance and diversity of pollinators.

In order to support bees in your garden you need to ensure there are blooms to support them throughout the seasons. There needs to be enough plants and a diversity of flowers within the garden as not all bees can use the same flowers. Also, providing water and nesting sites or commercially or home made homes is helpful.

When planning your garden Sue provided suggestions that encourages us to think like a pollinator:

Go Native-Pollinators are “best” adapted to local, native plants.

Bee friendly-Create pollinator friendly gardens.

Bee aware-observe pollinators and notice which flowers attract.

Bee Bountiful- Plant big patches of each species for better foraging efficiency.

Bee Diverse-Plant a diversity of flowering species. Use single form varieties ( roses, hollyhocks,dahlias)

Bee Showy-Flowers should bloom in your garden throughout the growing season.

Bee homey-Provide hollow twigs, rotten logs with wood boring beetle holes and leave stumps and old rodent burrows and fallen plant material for nesting bees.

Bee a little messy-most of our native bees (70%) nest underground so avoid using weed cloth or heavy mulch.

Bee Sunny-Provide areas with sunny bare soil that’s dry and well drained, preferably with south facing slopes.

Bee Gentle- Most bees will avoid stinging and use that behaviour only in self defence. Males don’t sting.

Bee Patient-It takes time for native plants to grow and for pollinators to find your garden.

And Bee Chemical Free-Pesticides and herbicides kill pollinators.

Let’s keep our native Nova Scotia Bees happy.

Posted in Endangered Species, Environmental issues, Gardening, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Helping Winter and Early Birds

If your garden appeals to you year round, it probably appeals to your feathered neighbours, too.

8-waxwingsMany of the birds people long to see and also help during the winter and early spring are seed eaters. You know them, you love them; northern cardinals, American Goldfinches, chickadees, blue jays woodpeckers – the list goes on and on.


Happily for gardeners, these birds often prefer the seeds of some of the most common backyard plants. Well known favourites are sunflowers, purple coneflowers, zinnias, coreopsis and black-eyed Susan.

Front yard, backyard, container – it doesn’t matter. To entice birds to your place have feeders, flowers, water and trees and shrubs for shelter. Group them all together and you’ll have a winning combination.

Plant these garden favourites in spring. Sunflowers and many other annuals are easy to start from seed at the beginning of the growing season. For perennials you might spend a little extra money on established plants, but they’ll attract birds all year round.

Many of the plants birds enjoy are native which means they offer more than beauty. Most of them provide nectar for hummingbirds and bees, attract butterflies, have fruit for overwintering species and are low maintenance.

Resist the urge to deadhead the spent flower heads as they dry out in the fall. Leave them up, and before you know it the birds will be swooping in for the seeds, especially during hard and unusual winters.

Even in gardens that are full of bird attracting plants, it’s always a good idea to keep a bird feeder well stocked for those times when the snow is deep or the ground is frozen solid. Black oil sunflower seeds are relished by most species, even insect eaters. Hanging out a suet feeder and a tube feeder with Niger seed will cover all the basics. Be sure to check water sources daily in cold weather since ice forms quickly.

All the effort will say “Welcome” to the birds.

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Smitten with Succulents


I recently took a good look at the plants that have gained permanent residence inside our home. Other than two violets which belonged to a dear friend, the rest belong to the family referred to as succulents.

Succulents have a supernatural ability to survive in nearly any climate from growing across a rugged terrain to sprouting up inside a dainty teacup on a windowsill. These plants prove their toughness by storing water in fleshy leaves, fighting long periods of drought and producing new roots and rosettes. Today, the popularity of the desert dwellers arise from their resiliency, ease of propagation and exquisite formations.

Succulents grow well together in larger pots, but they are equally admirable in smaller individual vessels. Adding to their secret superpowers they won’t outgrow small containers, making them thoughtful accents for a home or office windowsill.

Succulents, which include cacti, grow both in non draining and draining containers. For pots with no holes you might be tempted to add a layer of rocks to the bottom to create a drainage layer. While this sounds good in theory expert Debra Lee Baldwin , writer of “Succulents Simplified” and “Succulent Container Gardens” advises against this practice saying that a layer of rocks provides an area for bacteria to grow. Under watering is actually a better solution. She says to use well aerated soil designed for succulents and cacti and top the soil with pebbles or gravel for a finished look.

For indoor growing select a bright location, preferably near a south or east window. Windowsills make a lovely perch, but check to make sure the plants aren’t getting too much sun, especially if they are young and newly planted. The concern is that UV rays, magnified by window glass, may sunburn the leaves.

The number 1 secret for succulents is to not over water them. Give them a good soak and wait for them to dry out. And keep in mind non draining containers such as mason jars, stone mugs and tea cups require lighter showers.

Once you start experimenting with the endless style combinations that succulents have to offer don’t be surprised if you start rummaging through garage sales or thrift shops for interesting vessels. It is nothing more than a sign that you, like me have become smitten with succulents.

Posted in Gardening, House Plants, Succlents | 1 Comment

Season’s Greetings

Following the annual meeting in November, with the holiday season nearly upon us, members and guests were treated to an evening of seasonal decoration instruction. Svenja Dee, presented a holiday feast for the senses using almost entirely native materials that she collects from field, forest, from her own and friends gardens and yes, even in highway ditches. Some members were thrilled to take one home and others were inspired to create.

A week or so later members gathered to decorate the Chester bandstand for the holidays.
This annual labour of seasonal community spirit was followed by a delicious hot lunch at the home of president Heather.

Athough the weather didn’t cooporate, the annual Christmas Pot Luck was enjoyed by those who were able to attend. Myra commented  ” Don’t know who made this feast for the eyes.  I didn’t need to taste it; I will enjoy it visually over and over.”


Wishes to all for treasured time with family and friends during this holiday season.

Posted in Community Service, Evergreens, Gardening, Nature's Designs, Seasons | 1 Comment

Another Walk – Public Spaces

During the spring, summer and fall members of our garden club have experienced several beautiful spaces, some in or near our home communities and others further away. Before imgp2386winter sets in let’s take another walk. Perhaps we will make plans for a winter or springtime outing.

Halifax offers several choices for a beauty- filled walk. The following are only two of many opportunities.

Regatta Point:

In the spring Sandy shared these wonderful pictures from a visit to Regatta Point, a development near the Armdale Roundabout and near the intersection of the Herring Cove Rd. and the Purcell’s Cove Rd. There are green spaces owned by the city inside this development. The plants in them have largely been put there by individuals, in particular rhododendrons and azaleas were planted by John Meagher. The Atlantic Rhododendron & Horticulture Society has also done some planting and care over the years. Nearby is a picturesque walk along the Northwest Arm shoreline.

Halifax Public Gardens:

The Halifax Public Garden, officially opened in 1867, is a 16-acre oasis in the heart of downtown Halifax. Thanks to a series of talented people it has retained much of the original Victorian character and, through the efforts of many, the gardens were designated a National Historic Site in 1984.

Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens:

Stop and smell the roses and as the invitation says: Escape from the hectic pace of everyday life with a visit to Annapolis Royal’s beautiful Historic Gardens. These gardens won the 2015 Canadian Garden of the Year Award.

In a beautiful setting overlooking a tidal river valley, the Historic Gardens site is a premiere Nova Scotia attraction showcasing gardening methods, designs and materials representing more than 400 years of local history. This is a beautiful garden paradise to explore in person.

Tangled Garden:

Heather shared her delight after her visit to Tangled Garden in Grand Pre, a garden enjoyed by many; it is about one hour’s drive from Chester.

Special herb jellies such as Raspberry, Lavender and Garlic Rosemary are created. Delicious jams, chutneys, mustards, vinegars and liqueurs are also produced, all made using fresh herbs from the gardens and fruit from the surrounding fertile Annapolis Valley. When you visit, make sure to stroll through the garden, take a few minutes to walk the wildflower labyrinth, or pause by the pond to reflect.

Now, for all of us, close to home, two of our own beautiful spaces:

Parade Garden: maintained by Chester Garden Club

Cove Garden: owned and maintained by Chester Garden Club.

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Summer Reflections

We all struggled with a very dry summer, many of us saving and recycling water, mulching to conserve moisture in our gardens & setting up water dishes for the birds and other wildlife that were also feeling the stress. We wondered if our wells & rivers would be replenished, and if our gardens would survive.

click on any picture for slide show

In spite of the drought, our gardens, both flower and vegetable produced. Yes, some failures were experienced, some blooms seemed late and some seemed to flower and produce fruit/seed very quickly.

For the last few weeks we have had weather that has been more like late summer. Our gardens have continued to produce. Some plants became confused producing late bloom. Pollinators still roamed the garden, snakes still found warm spots to sun bathe, insects & birds were in their  nitches  and salamanders continued to be visible when areas common to them were uncovered.

Now we must admit it really is fall. We have had beautiful rainbows following welcome rains,  the trees have their fall color, we have had a killing frost and a few snow flakes have been seen. Many gardener’s have been preparing for winter. Some gardener’s fastidiously tidy and mulch in the fall, easing springtime preparation. Others are selective doing fall cleanup, leaving some plant material as cover for wintering critters & seed heads that are a welcome food source for fall and winter birds.

Soon we will be all armchair gardening, planning optimistically for another season. I wonder what challenges await us in the upcoming year ?

Posted in Autumn, Birds, Deer, Environmental issues, Gardening, Vegetables, Wildlife | Leave a comment

New Designs

On Monday, October 17th, Myra skillfully presented a workshop on the Crescent Design to members of Chester Garden Club. Preparation of container, oasis and already conditioned and prepared plant material was explained to all as some anxiously, some impatiently, waited to begin.

Myra challenged and assissted as we produced our design that followed the basic form while she also encouraged individual creativity.

The beautiful results were unique to each arranger, each meeting the design requirement.

If participant smiles of achievement and results are any indication of future competition in the Chester Garden Club Flower Show, especially the Crescent Design Class, we can all look forward to many stunning entries.

Posted in Floral arrangements, Flower Show, Gardening | 1 Comment