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Davis, California

Friday, October 22, 2021

New garden keeps the bees buzzing

Bees often get a bad rap at picnics and barbeques, but at the new Honey Bee Haven Garden, the bees are the main attraction.

On Saturday, Sept. 11, the garden will celebrate its one-year anniversary with a kid-friendly festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. full of crafts for kids, free Häagen-Dazs Honey Vanilla ice cream and talks by members of UC Davis’s department of entomology.

Located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, the credit for the half-acre garden’s creation goes to a rather sweet source.

Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream donated $125,000 to the department of entomology to build the garden as a center for education, research and as a year-round food source for local bees.

Häagen-Dazs decided to fund the garden as part of their Help the Honey Bees campaign – an initiative to help fight the mysterious disappearance of many honey bee colonies known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Now, the Honey Bee Haven provides pollen and nectar for many species of honey and native bees, even during Davis’ hot summer months.

Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor for the department of entomology, has seen firsthand the integral role the garden has played in improving the diversity of bees in the area. He began collecting data on local bees in March of 2009, when the garden was nothing more than an empty field.

Where there used to be few bees using the area to feed, Thorp’s data has shown an increased number of bees visiting the now flowering garden.

“They still need more pollen and nectar resources, but it’s a start,” Thorp said. “There are quite a few honey bee colonies using the plants.”

To build publicity, Häagen-Dazs and UC Davis held a competition to determine the garden’s overall design. The contestants were given design parameters and a list of suggested plants that would do well in Davis’ Mediterranean climate.

The winning design was conceived of by a group of four landscape architects and exhibit developers based in Sausalito, California. Curvy paths lead visitors to areas such as the Pollinator Patch and Orchard Alley, while graphic panels explain bees’ role in food production.

“As far as plants go, it offered wonderful diversity of plants that’ll provide pollen and nectar in all of the months they’re active,” said Melissa Borel, program manager at the UC Davis California Center for Urban Horticulture. “The designers had to make sure they had something blooming from very late in the winter when the bees start coming out of the hive to collect, to all the way through to the beginning of winter. And they did an exceptional job of that.”

Jessica Brainard, one of the designers, described the garden’s concept as telling the story of how important bees are to agriculture and plant health.

“I did research about bees and then brought it to the team and we brainstormed – how do you turn that into a physical space and then how do you select the right planting set for that,” Brainard said. “The story itself and the way the gardens are organized help in terms of if they have education programs there – the design of the garden facilitates [education] because it’s organized into sub-gardens that each tell a story.”

Since its relatively short-lived creation, the plants have yet to fully mature. However, Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum of Entomology, said that the garden will be an exciting new space for anyone to spend an afternoon.

“It’s a beautiful place to be and relax. It’s a place people can gather and spend time and for children and adults to explore the plants and notice what bees are buzzing around and pollinating the plants,” Yang said. 

Teaching visitors about the crucial role bees play in helping plants grow and produce fruits and vegetables is a goal of the Haven. Watermelon, artichoke, basil and mint plants provide a living display of the bees at work.

“People can go out there and see bees pollinating flowers, and what it results in is the fruit or vegetable that we’ll later eat,” Borel said. “Without the honeybee we wouldn’t have the fruits and vegetables that we enjoy today in the quantity and at the price that we want them.”

Students and insect-enthusiasts have already embraced the garden as a welcome addition to the UC Davis campus.

“I’ve heard from a lot of teachers who are planning field trips and are really excited about this garden opening up, because it gives them another place to visit when they’re visiting UC Davis,” Yang said. “It’s a great way of highlighting the research that goes on at UC Davis in a very positive way and it’s a great place for people to learn.”

To learn more about the bee-buzzing event or for more information, visit http://beebiology.ucdavis.edu/HAVEN/index.html.

ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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