The Rural We: Karen Bussolini
Karen Bussolini is a widely published garden photographer, speaker, writer, NOFA-Accredited Organic Land Care Professional and eco-friendly garden coach. Although trained as a painter, and boasting a successful career as an architectural photographer, she now focuses her lens on gardens. Her own garden is South Kent, Conn. has been featured in many publications, including Anne Raver’s feature, “A Hillside of Feisty Beauties,” in The NY Times. Her garden photography and writing have been published in House Beautiful, House and Garden, Better Homes and Gardens, Metropolitan Home and many other magazines throughout the world. Among the hundreds of books to which she’s contributed photos, Bussolini was the sole photographer for six of them, including The Homeowner’s Complete Tree and Shrub Manual, and Elegant Silvers: Striking Plants for Every Garden, which she co-authored. Bussolini will give the talk “Planting The Year-Round Pollinator Garden” at Kent Town Hall this Saturday, Jan. 28 at 2 p.m.
I grew up in Canton Center, Conn., with Italian and Swedish immigrant parents, and we grew all our own food. We were composting in the ‘60s! When my father heard the term “organic gardening,” he was amused that there was a name for it. It just seems natural that you don’t poison your environment.
Bee on sunflower photo by Karen Bussolini.
When you look at “traditional” landscape practices, they’re so destructive. A lot of what I do is counter the mindless maintenance, the “mow, blow and know-nothing” kind that does so much damage. Herbicides and motorized equipment are untenable.
Plants that aren’t native don’t feed insects, and if there are no insects, there are no birds, and it goes right up the food chain. There’s a general awareness that pollinators are important, but some people might not understand why. Seventy-five percent of plants on earth require animals to pollinate them, but some plants and insects are more important than others. Some animals inadvertently pollinate plants, but you want to attract efficient pollinators such as bees, hornets and beetles. Bees are most important, because they don’t just sip the nectar, they collect pollen on purpose.
Bees are going extinct because the spraying of systemic pesticides is changing the quality of their food. The CO2 and nitrogen is making the pollen less nutritious, but bees haven’t evolved fast enough to tell what is “junk” pollen. To help them, don’t use chemicals, and plant to feed native bees and all pollinators from early to late season. A good rule of thumb is to have at least three things blooming at all times. Pussy willows are an important early season plant (January and February), native holly, and other things we don’t normally think of. Some flowers don’t bloom until July, but trees are almost permanent food sources. Some of the “best of the best” things to plant are willows, blueberries, monarda (bee balm), sunflowers and goldenrods. You want diversity in flower shape, as well. Flowers that open wide are easy for small bees to get to.
Bee on bee balm photo by Karen Bussolini.
When you’re shopping for plants, ask questions about pesticides. If things look too perfect, be suspicious. I encourage people to go to independent garden centers, garden club plant sales, and other places where you can talk to the people who work there. Paley’s Garden Center in Sharon is good about bringing in organic plants. I also recommend Gilbertie’s herbs, which are organic.
We can create, restore and protect bee habitat, which is beneficial to us, as well, since solitary native bees usually can’t or won’t sting, and yellowjackets will eat the caterpillars that eat your plants. We can all make a difference in our own yards, that’s why I’m pleased to be able to present this talk locally. As I say, “one yard at a time.”