Rhonda Fleming Hayes remembers learning from her grandmother, step-by-step, how to plant a rose bush. “My parents were gardeners,” she says. “My father studied landscape architecture for a while—and when I was four years old I was already spouting botanical Latin. I was destined to be a planter.”
Her book, “Pollinator Friendly Gardening,” hit the stands earlier this year. For some, urban gardening, hipster horticulture, and the initiative to “Save the Bees” are recent fascinations. But Hayes—a Master Gardener and award-winning writer and photographer—has been doing it for years.
“Gardening for me is a way of life,” she says. “It’s so connected to how we eat in our house. My husband always says we’ve been eating local for a long time because we’ve been eating out the back door.”
In 2000, the way Hayes thought about her garden changed—her goal became creating a habitat for pollinators. With her kids moving out of the house, there wasn’t that need to have a high-yield kitchen garden. “I sat in my garden one day and started thinking about where to focus that need to nurture that I have,” Hayes recalls. A bee buzzed past her and at that moment, she had an epiphany of sorts. “I had the idea of creating more habitat and thought, I’m going to specifically invite insects and other pollinators into my garden and try to work with them instead of against them.”
When she first started gardening specifically for pollinator habitats, there was a lot of experimenting. “It was kind of trial and error,” says Hayes. “I was self-taught, and the information [on gardening for pollinators] just wasn’t there. It was not common, mainstream knowledge.”
Now, it’s easy to see her experimentation has paid off. In the height of the summer, her front yard garden in Linden Hills buzzes with life – full of all types of pollinators from honeybees to butterflies, hummingbirds to beetles. “I was always interested in growing food, but now I’m growing food for pollinators and other wildlife and it’s just as gratifying,” says Hayes.
Feeding pollinators was clearly an idea that was ahead of its time. “When I put my book proposal in, three years ago, I was told by a couple of publishers that it was a niche topic that was too geeky,” says Hayes. “It’s the topic in gardening right now.”
And this topic isn’t going away any time soon—many organizations are raising money to petition the use of certain pesticides that are shown to affect bee populations and other pollinator habitats, while initiatives like urban gardening are becoming more popular than ever. “There’s this perfect storm of problems for pollinators right now. Gardeners have this really unique opportunity to make up for a lot of habitat loss,” says Hayes, adding, “Collectively we control a lot of land, I mean one garden is not going to make a difference, but individual gardeners, as we become aware of this pollinator crisis, can make just a few changes in each garden, creating a larger movement to try and undo some of the harm.”