Bee Friendly, Bee Happy and Bee Healthy

Jun 9, 2016

Sometimes when you walk through a bee garden, you feel Mother Nature tugging at your arm, pulling you from one breathtaking area to another. You resist the tug and want to linger, to admire the diversity of bees, to marvel at the colors and patterns of the flowers.

That's how we felt when we recently visited the one-acre pollinator bee garden of Kate Frey and her artist husband, Ben, in Hopland, Mendocino County. It's magical.

Kate, a world-class garden designer, and bee expert Gretchen LeBuhn, professor in the San Francisco State University, have just co-authored The Bee-Friendly Garden, an educational, enthusiastic and inspiring book that will help you turn your own garden--large or small, rural or urban--into something magical.

Among her many honors, Kate Frey twice won gold medals at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show in London and received a Silver Gilt award in 2003. She met Queen Elizabeth, who admired her work. Currently Kate directed and taught at Sonoma State University's Sustainable Landscape Program with Extended Education, and consults for various wineries and residences around California, including  The Melissa Garden in Healdsburg (privately owned and now closed) and Lynmar Estate Winery in Sebastopol.  Her website,, offers more information about her and her mission. It's all about the pollinators and how to attract them!

Gretchen LeBuhn is interested in “both the evolutionary ecology of plants and the conservation of their pollinators,” she writes on her website. “My lab focuses on the effects of climate change on bumble bee species in alpine environments as well as the effects of urbanization on wildlife.” She directs the Great Sunflower Project, a citizen science project designed to evaluate the effects of landscape change on pollinator service in North America.

The Frey/LeBuhn team says it well in the preface: “Bee gardens make people happy. Whether you enjoy a brilliant chorus of saturated color, a tranquil sanctuary from the busy world, or a hardworking edible garden, there is a glorious, flower-filled bee garden waiting for you.”

And dozens of pollinators await. “Bees are a critical link in the global food chain,” they write. "Bees are the world's most prolific pollinators...Over 70 percent of the world's plants depend on the pollination of bees, including many nuts, fruits, tomatoes, peppers, or berries."

They cover:

  • The Benefits of a Bee Friendly Garden
  • Our Friends, the Bees
  • Plants for Your Bee Friendly Garden
  • Bee Friendly Plants for Edible Gardens
  • Bee Garden Basics
  • Designing Your Bee Garden
  • Beyond Your Own Backyard: Becoming a Bee Activist

Their book also contains resources, and regional plant lists for the Southeast, South Central, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest regions, Rocky Mountain/Intermountain West Region and the Northeast/Midwest/Mid-Atlantic Region.

They spotlight a wide diversity of bees with text and photos and delve into their habitats, floral resources and other needs. In addition to listing plants that draw pollinators, they also list plants that are unattractive to bees. They include ferns, Gazania, day lily and Sago palm.

The Frey/LeBuhn team recommends that you “keep a notebook throughout the year and write down the names of plants and which bees are visiting them. This is a fun and informative exercise wherever you go—from your home, to visiting friends, to walks around the neighborhood or anywhere you go in the world,” they write. “Much information can be gleaned this way, much discovered and much shared. Everyone can be a local expert.”

We love the photos of pollinators and gardens in the book—many taken in the Frey garden and in the Melissa Garden.  They also focus on small-scale gardening—you don't need a huge space for a bee garden. (The urban Garvey garden is an example!)

Laurie Davies-Adams, executive director of the Pollinator Partnership, says that “this book will make bees happy and healthy in gardens across the country.” 

Yes, and people, too!

(Note: The Frey garden will be open June 18 for the Garden Conservancy Open Days Program. See Here is the entire schedule: