Seeds: Companion flowers attract the eye as well as garden pollinators

Published: Saturday, Jun. 29, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3CALIFORNIA LIFE
Last Modified: Sunday, Jun. 30, 2013 - 9:21 am

Gardeners can't live by tomatoes alone. Neither can bees and beneficial insects.

Many of the summer vegetables we love – squash, peppers, eggplant and, of course, tomatoes – depend on insects for pollination. But those bugs may not find our veggies without some help.

That's where "companion planting" comes in. By adding some flamboyant flowers to grab their attention, beneficial insects can be enticed to visit our vegetable gardens more often.

These additions also have a benefit for humans: They're pretty and make great cut flowers.

While trying to tempt bees and butterflies to buzz our way, we've tested several perennials and summer annuals among our zucchini and jalapeños. Flowers in shades of yellow and orange tend to be the best bee magnets.

This summer, the bright-gold coreopsis is outstanding. I planted one coreopsis two years ago. Now, I have dozens, as this summer favorite reseeds easily. The flowers started blooming in late May and will keep going strong all summer.

Also sprouting everywhere are big, fat rudbeckias. Known as black-eyed Susans, rudbeckias don't always have black centers (some of mine are green-eyed), but many different bugs love them. I've spotted some unusual beetles in their "eyes" as well as many native bees.

Some of these hardworking bee-getters are eye-catching, too. Tidytips and gaillardias grab attention with their two-toned petals. Coneflowers – echinacea – are blooming in three colors, including the purple-pink Little Annie that stays under 18 inches tall.

Another bee favorite, yarrows, have been in constant bloom since April. They require little water and flower like crazy. I have two hybrid achillea varieties in bright colors from Blooms of Bressingham's Tutti Frutti series: Pomegranate, which has deep-red velvety flowers on short stems, and Pine- apple Mango, an unusual blend of pinks and yellows; the flowers change color as they mature.

Sunflowers always are a standout in the summer garden – who can miss a 6-foot-tall flower? I've got several hybrids in a mix of golds and oranges, as well as sunchokes. Also called Jerusalem artichokes, this sunflower offers tasty tubers as well as daisylike yellow blooms.

My current favorite: the Mardi Gras hybrid helenium. Also known as sneezeweed, this native American got its nickname as a colonial substitute for snuff.

A member of the aster family, this compact perennial stays neat – about 2 feet tall and 2 feet across.

In the Mardi Gras variety, every flower is different, with a "tie dye" splash of yellow and orange.

Bees love it – and so do I.

Party time in Natomas

Vandals almost dashed this garden party. But thanks to Pottery World and volunteers, the celebration will go on.

The Natomas Rose Garden will dedicate its new 6-foot fountain centerpiece at 6 p.m. Sunday. Donated by Pottery World of Rocklin, this new ceramic fixture replaces one destroyed sometime during the night of June 10.

When they arrived to deadhead roses June 11, garden volunteers discovered an estimated $5,000 in damage – including a toppled fountain that had been bought with donations.

"It looks like someone just pushed (the fountain) over," said Ed Bansuelo, supervisor for the South Natomas Community Center, after the incident. "It's kind of depressing. The volunteers have worked so hard."

After hearing of the garden's plight, Pottery World stepped in with the replacement, according to volunteer coordinator Marni Leger. The new fountain was installed in time for Sunday's dedication, which is open free to the public. Following a short ceremony, the volunteers will host an evening tango dance party amid the roses.

Situated next to the South Natomas Library on Truxel Road, the rose garden has become popular for weddings and other get-togethers. The trickling sound of a fountain will add to its romantic ambiance.

Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

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