bee_echinacea.jpgI have become a bit of a bee fanatic. I love my bees. When I say “my bees,” I don’t even mean that I keep bees (though I think I would love to…just concerned I don’t have quite the right space). But the bees who come to my garden are “my bees.” I’ll do just about anything for my bees. After all, they do so much for me and every other gardener in my neighborhood. (I’m always taking photographs of bees. One of my favorites is this one of a bee pair on an Echinacea at Denver Botanic Gardens. They just look like they’re posing!)

About ten years ago, I was visiting the local utility company’s xeriscape demonstration garden in August when I noticed some blue-flowered shrubs just covered with bees.bee_caryopteris.jpgI was mesmerized by the way they moved from flower to flower, focusing on getting nectar. They could not have cared less that I was there. The plant was blue mist spirea (Caryopteris clandonensis), and within a month I was at the Labor Day sale at a local garden center, grabbing up two blue mist spirea for my own garden. They thrived and I now have three more along the driveway. Every August is a highlight in my gardening season. The bees come by the hundreds (at least) to crawl all over the blooming shrubs, getting every last bit of nectar. They are so focused on the task that I’ve been able to pet them (very, very lightly). And if I lean over the shrubs and close my eyes, I can enjoy the soothing gentle buzz of the bees. Of course, this is also a terrific time to get good close-up photos.

I’ve always wondered where my bees live. Where are their hives? Am I getting honeybees from more than one hive? (I know I’m getting both bumblebees, which are solitary, and honeybees, which are the hive-dwellers.) What does the honey taste like that comes from feeding at my blue mist spirea shrubs? I imagine a slightly spicy taste since the shrubs themselves have a spicy smell when branches are crushed or cut.

beetree3.jpgSo I was delighted to discover a hollow cottonwood tree with an active hive while walking at Sonderman Park (near the Beidleman Center). Bees were constantly coming and going at the entrance. A closer look revealed bees guarding the entrance from a couple of determined yellowjacket wasps trying to get in from the bottom of the hole. Every once in awhile a bee would turn up with her pollen buckets full on the backs of her legs (in the photo, she’s in the hole but you can see the orangish ovals on her legs.). I gave more space to these bees since I knew they would be feeling defensive about their hive (luckily we have a terrific 18X optical zoom on our camera).

This hive is probably about nine blocks (as the bee flies) from my house, so I think it might be possible that some of my bees live here (surely there are no better flowers between my house and that hive!). At this point, my shrubs have finished their bloom. I’m still seeing a few bees visiting other plants, but their main nectar gathering season is about over. Soon most of the workers will die off leaving only the queen and a few attendant workers behind for the winter. Then, next spring, they’ll get started again, and I should start seeing them in my garden.