April–Spring running amuck, as seen while walking the dog

Berberis darwinii

Okay, I’d originally though spring overwhelmith which sounded okay in my head but looked pretty stupid when I wrote it, hence the title change. Nevertheless, I am finding the spring blooms around Seattle pretty overwhelming at the moment–for which I’m thankful. It maybe makes up for the fact that here at the end of April I still go out swaddled in 3 to 4 layers of clothes.

classic rockery

Euonymus and tulips



I’ve written a book about bees

I know I seldom post here any more–I’ve been in the throes of writing a book about America’s bees for the last two years or so. The book is a group of stories that shows that there is way more to bees than a stinger and honey.

The book is being published by Timber Press and is filled with wondrous bee photos (taken by other folks) as well as my stories. It is scheduled to come out in February 2018. Most of my posts will now be on my author page www.paigeembry.com. I also have taken to tweeting on occasion @PaigeAEmbry.

Many thanks to all of you who have come here over the years to read about plants and gardens.


Meet a native bee–Colletes with the wondrous tongue

Colletes validus male from the USGS Flickr website

Colletes, aka cellophane or polyester bees, get to start off the bee pageant I’m going to be showcasing on this page because they have cool tongues. Plus, I like the looks of Colletes. They are big enough to see pretty well without a microscope–which I appreciate– and they have sweet faces.They are nicely hairy around the middle and strongly stripy around the hind end. All together Colletes are solid, fine-looking bees although with none of the iridescent glory or massive teddy bear furriness of some others.

Colletes are solitary bees. Each female bee lays eggs in her own hole in the ground and does all the work of providing the food for her babes. Even though each bee has her own hole, sometimes Colletes nest in large aggregations–with one hole right next to another–a bit like living in a condo. One aggregation of C. thoracicus in Maryland ran to over 100,000 nest holes in 1187 square meters (so think 100 x 130 feet). That’s serious neighborliness.

Bees have a complicated array of mouthparts, some of those parts actually fold up. It allows the bees to be tidy, putting all the bits and pieces away when they aren’t in use. Some bees unfold certain parts and hook them together and use them as straws to suck up nectar. The length and shape of the parts varies depending on just what the bee needs those mouthparts for. All the mouthparts put together are called the bee’s proboscis. The part we think of as a tongue is something called the glossa and a female Colletes uses hers as a tool.

Colletes willstoni from USGS Flickr site

Before a Colletes starts laying in stores for one of her babe, she does the prep work. First she digs out a little nest cell. Then she secretes a cellophane-like substance that she spreads about with her short, bi-lobed tongue. This is a meticulous process with much secreting and spreading. The end result is a waterproof casing for her babe’s room. She then gathers pollen and nectar, lays an egg, closes up the nest cell and moves on to start the process all over again.




  • Nice photos can be found here. http://bugs.adrianthysse.com/2015/05/polyester-cellophane-bees/
  • Showing the “cellophane” http://www.abundantnature.com/2012/05/bees-that-dig-holes-in-ground-miner.html
  • A nice description of insect (and bee) mouthparts can be found here
  • https://www.amentsoc.org/insects/fact-files/mouthparts.html insect mouthparts

January-planning for bees

A North American native bee (Nomia melanderi aka alkali bees) used in alfalfa fields in eastern Washington peeks out of its nest hole

Check out this great post on native bees from The Humane Gardener.


December-Plants for wintertime cheer

Mahonia, cv. unknown

Mahonia, cv. unknown

I’ve said it before and I notice it every winter–the value of yellow in a gloomy climate can’t be overstated. I went through some of my December and January photos to find examples of the wintertime cheer a nice yellow or golden plant can give. Enjoy!

The big mahonias, particularly the Asian-based cultivars rather than the local version (M. aquifolium) are stately plants that provide color for people and nectar for hummers and the occasional bee that finds the day warm enough to go out. Fabulous form and a liking for shade makes these plants all around winners. There are a number of good cultivars: ‘Arthur Menzies’ and ‘Charity’ are two old-timers.

Eleagnus pungens 'Maculata'

Eleagnus pungens ‘Maculata’

Eleagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ is a big (10-15’H and W), rather ungainly evergreen shrub for shade (it can grow in the sun but I’m not sure why you’d bother–there’s a lot more options there). It has sweetly scented flowers (of the inconsequential type) in the fall–an unexpected time for a nicely scented shrub.

'Maculata' leaves

‘Maculata’ leaves

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Aurea' (probably 'Aurea Nana')

Chamaecyparis pisifera, cv. unknown

Golden threadleaf cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera cvs) comes in a variety of cultivars from the big (C. pisifera ‘Aurea’ at 15-20′) to pretty small (C. pisifera ‘Aurea Nana’ at 4-8′). There are some other cultivars out there as well. Plant in sun to brighten up the gold.

Lonicera nitida 'Baggesen's Gold'

Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’

I’m always rather amazed by the Lonicera clan. The most famous Loniceras are vines, honeysuckle. Some have sweetly scented flowers, others not, but the vines I know all have good-sized tubular flowers. Then there are the shrubby Loniceras which seem nothing like the vines. I know I’ve seen the straight (green) species in flower and they occasionally have the most extraordinary purple berries but I don’t recall either flowers or berries on ‘Baggesen’s Gold.’  If they happen they clearly aren’t memorable!

Yucca filamentosa, cv. unknown

Yucca filamentosa, cv. unknown

Dazzlingly bright (and often looking a bit odd and out of place in Seattle) are some of the yuccas. They do brighten the landscape and have a powerful form. That can make them hard to work into a garden, especially along a walkway. Ouch.