If you’ve been to the Westover Hills Public Library recently

you may have “checked out” the big hole in the ground.  

That will soon become a rain garden and you are invited to help plant it!  

Saturday, March 28 at 10 a.m.

Bring garden or work gloves and rake, shovel, etc if possible.

Kids please bring your parents.     

Please come by to help even if it’s for a short time.

Many hands make quick work & the result will be beautiful.  



Please register below if you plan to attend.  Space is limited.


Garden Party Gala and Native Plant Raffle

(Yes, it’s a garden party in February!)  

Celebrate the  55th Anniversary of the Westover Hills Public Library

 Learn about the Rain Garden & Landscape Project

Saturday, February 7th from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.

1408 Westover Hills Boulevard

RSVP:  Nancy Buck, Librarian/Community Services Manager, at 646-0652 or nancy.buck@richmondgov.com  

What is a Rain Garden?    Why, When, & Where?    How Can You Help?


Contributions (funding and/or in-kind) have already been received or pledged by the Richmond Public Library Foundation, our WHL Advisory Group, Fourth District City Council Representative Kathy Graziano, The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the Reedy Creek Coalition, the Westover Hills Neighborhood Association, the Forest Hill Neighborhood Association, Four Winds Design, LC, and individuals.



In the preface, the author (now a Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex) dates his interest in bumblebees to when he was 7 years old and moved with his family to a little village in Shropshire. The house had a garden area and was opposite open countryside. For unknown reasons he was fascinated by all living creatures. (His father wasn’t interested in flowers or bees — although he allowed his son to plant whatever would attract bees or butterflies — and his mother was a sports teacher with a dislike of “creepy crawlies.”) The only adult he remembers encouraging his interest was a primary school teacher who loved to take her students out looking for “bugs or beasts.” She showed them how to identify trees and how to catch beetles and was especially “keen on pond-dipping.” His parents did allow him to acquire all the nature books he wanted. He became an avid collector of both living creatures and preserved specimens.   A seminal moment in his life was when he received a catalog from Watkins and Doncaster, “suppliers of entomological equipment.” Not only was there a fascinating array of equipment available but he realized “there were lots of other people out there like me.”

As we move into the book, we learn that when the author was born in 1965 the short-haired bumblebee was still quite widespread in the UK but by 1984 when the author entered graduate school it was nearly extinct. The cause of this loss, and that of other bee species as well, can be assigned to changes in farming methods. One hundred years ago farming was not mechanized. Farmers depended on horses for power and horses eat clover, so most farmers grew clover which bees also love. Most farmers had hay meadows, and artificial fertilizers weren’t available. Wild flowers, particularly those with symbiotic root bacteria that could trap nitrogen from the air (e.g. clovers) flourished in the low-nutrient soils of the hay meadows. Crops were grown in rotation. There were no pesticides. Fast forward a few years and horses were replaced by the internal combustion engine. The booming oil industry made it possible to synthesize cheap nitrogen-based fertilizers. Crop rotation and clover leys were abandoned. When hay fields are fertilized, the grass grows much faster and flowers cannot compete. With the advent of World War II, the changes in farming were vastly accelerated as every effort was made to feed Great Britain’s population from its own agriculture.  DDT became readily available. Organophosphate chemicals (nerve gases) developed during the war became available to farmers after the war to combat insect pests. Food rationing in Great Britain ended in 1954 but farmers continued to receive financial incentives to increase production until the 1990’s. By then almost all the flower-rich habitats and 98% of lowland hay meadows in the UK had disappeared. By the late 1980s it was becoming obvious that most of the UK’s wildlife was in rapid decline and what was being done to the countryside might not be sustainable.   As stated by the author: “Farms need flowers to support the bees that pollinate our crops, and they need predatory beetles, wasps and flies to eat the pests that eat the crops.” So now schemes are being introduced to pay farmers for encouraging wildlife on their land. Farmers can get funding to re-sow the wild flower meadows and replant the hedges they were previously paid to remove. The author feels that the UK may have turned a corner but recovery is slow.

Luckily, in the late 1800’s some species of British bees were transplanted to New Zealand, which subsequently was much less impacted by World War II. The author describes how efforts are now underway to bring these bees back to their native land to help restore the UK’s bee populations now that their habitat is slowly being restored.

Much of this book is devoted to the author’s and his graduate students’ studies of bee biology and behavior and their efforts to restore bee populations in the UK. How do you figure out how far a given bee can fly in order to forage and get back home again?

Perhaps my favorite chapter in the book is the one about his purchase of an old farm site in France. Land in France was much less expensive than in Great Britain. To turn an abandoned piece of over-fertilized farmland into a flower-rich meadow, the excess fertility must be removed so that the wildflowers can once again compete with the grasses. The slowest but least expensive way to do this is to cut and remove the hay each year, thus resulting in a slow decline in fertility. Very slowly, over the last decade, his meadows have begun to fill with flowers.   As the flowers have returned, so have the bees and other pollinators. A good question is where do the flower seeds for this to occur come from? Some seeds are wind-dispersed. Some, such as cowslips, have survived along the edge of the track to the farm and slowly spread into the meadow, a few feet each year.

Among the fascinating pieces of information from this chapter — over the past 15 years, the author has gathered records as to which bumblebees feed on which flowers. It seems that some bee species get nearly all their pollen from legumes. The author sent pollen samples off for determination of their nutritional composition. It turns out that legume pollen is unusually rich in “essential aminto acids” which animals cannot synthesize for themselves. Ancient hay meadows are full of clovers, trefoils, vetches, meddicks and melilots, able to outcompete grasses because of their symbiotic root bacteria which enable them to “fix” nitrogen from the air. In the words of the author, “since pollen is the only source of protein available to bees, it makes sense for them to selectively visit the flowers that provide the richest source.”

As mentioned  in the book, in 2006 Professor Goulson founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.   When this book went to press, there were over 8,000 paid-up members “creating flower-rich habitat all across Britain.” Since reading this book, I have “googled” the phrase “flower-rich meadows.” Virtually every link that comes up is out of the UK. It seems that the British are indeed taking the need for pollinator habitat seriously. Are we here in the U.S. doing anything similar?

The author has a sequel coming out in April called A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm. Amazon is supposed to get it to me precisely on April 22, 2015. I can’t wait.

Robin Ruth

Kermit the Frog might argue the point, but it is easy being green if you one of the evergreen, non-native, invasive shrubs or vines.  These plants seize every opportunity to sprout and grow in urban soils that have been disturbed and aggressively replace our native species.  The invasive vines are especially destructive since they cover other plants and can climb trees.

These plants appear in your yard, the alley behind your house or your favorite park primarily because birds eat the fruit and then spread the seed, but please don’t get the idea that we should allow them to grow for feeding the birds!  Birds need much more than the fruit from just a few species.  They also need caterpillars which non-native plants do not support.  (Yes, we do need caterpillars chomping on our leaves if we are to have birds!)   Read more about native plants and diversity here:  To Feed the Birds, First Feed the Bugs.

It’s easy to spot these green plants now in our dormant landscapes,  especially the English ivy on trees all over town.  Take a look around your yard to see if you have any of the plants below.  If so,  please begin to take steps to remove them.  Your actions will have benefits that reach far beyond your yard and far into the future.

While you’re working please do preserve our evergreen native species –  American holly, eastern red cedar, partridge berry (if your lucky enough to find some) and others. Our native species, when present in variety and abundance, will support a complex ecosystem which will in turn support us.

Did you miss our October meeting but need information about rain gardens?  

Learn more here.   

Want to learn more about rain gardens at the Westover Hills Library or lend support?

Check this out.   

The B&B of rain gardnes 

Bumblebee on Liatris

Bumblebee on Liatris

Wouldn’t it be terrible if the nectar this bee is collecting had somehow been poisoned so as to be toxic to the bee and the bee’s nest?


This has become a real possibility with the worldwide increasing use of neonicotinoid pesticides.


Most of the following information comes from a report – “ARE NEONICOTINOIDS KILLING BEES?” (sometimes called the Penn State Report) — by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Material copied verbatim from that report is enclosed in square brackets.



Neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides that are absorbed into the plant vascular system and can accumulate in the plant’s nectar and pollen.




Neonicotinoids are applied by many methods including foliar spraying, soil drench, seed coating, and trunk injections for trees.




  • [Neonicotinoid residues found in pollen and nectar are consumed by flower-visiting insects such as bees.  Concentrations of residues can reach lethal levels in some situations.
  • Direct contact with foliar sprays is hazardous to pollinators and foliar residues on plant surfaces remain toxic to bees for several days. 
  • Honeybees exposed to sublethal levels of neonicotinoids can experience problems with flying and navigation, reduced taste sensitivity, and slower  learning of new tasks, which all impact foraging ability.
  • Laboratory studies demonstrate that the neonicotinoids imidacloprid and clothianidin are highly toxic to bumble bees. 
  • Bumble bees exposed to sublethal amounts of neonicotinoids exhibit reduced food consumption, reproduction, worker survival rates, and foraging activity.
  • Evidence has not been obtained for a direct link between neonicotinoids and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  However, research suggests these chemicals may make honey bees more susceptible to parasites and pathogens implicated as a causative factor in CCD.]




  • [These pesticides have been in use since the 1990’s. As of 2012 neonicotinoid pesticides had been applied to hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland.
  • They have been approved for home and garden use and may be applied to ornamental and landscape plants, as well as turf, at significantly higher rates (potentially 120 times higher) than those approved for agricultural crops.]

In 2014, Common Dreams reported that an examination by Friends of the Earth found that more than half the plants being sold at major garden retailers as “bee-friendly” have been treated with neonicotinoids. Thus, ironically, people purchasing such plants may actually be poisoning their bees. (Some of the retailers found to be selling neonicotinoid-tainted garden products are attempting to correct the situation.  Thus, Home Depot has said they plan to ban or limit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.  They will require suppliers to start labeling any plants treated with these chemicals by the fourth quarter of 2014.  They are also “running tests” to see if suppliers can eliminate these chemicals in their pant production.)




  • [They persist in the soil and plants for very long periods of time (months and years). 
  • Measurable amounts of residues are found in woody plants up to six years after application.
  • Untreated plants may absorb residues in the soil from the previous year. 
  • Neonicotinoids applied to crops can contaminate adjacent weeds and wildflowers.
  • It has been suggested that seed treatments may be less harmful than other application methods because concentration of the insecticide decreases over time as the biomass of the growing plant increases. However…. studies examining repeated use of seed-treatments over time noted that untreated sunflowers absorbed residual imidacloprid from the previous year’s treated sunflower plantings. Based upon these findings, annual plantings of seed-treated crops may lead to increased residue levels that may pose more of a risk to bees, since residues from previous seasons remain.]







  • In 2010, 2012, and again in 2013 following the EU ban, beekeepers and environmentalists called on EPA to impose similar bans.  The EPA has rebuffed these calls.


  • The story of the EPA approval of clothianidin is informative. In 2003 EPA granted a “conditional” registration to this chemical based on the contingency that a study be performed on its safety.  The study was to be performed by none other than Bayer, the pesticide’s manufacturer.  In 2010 a leaked memo indicated the study was fatally flawed.

According to beekeeper Jeff Anderson, who has testified before EPA on the topic, “The Bayer study is fatally flawed. It was an open field study with control and test plots of about 2 acres each. Bees typically forage at least 2 miles out from the hive, so it is likely they didn’t ingest much of the treated crops. And corn, not canola, is the major pollen-producing crop that bees rely on for winter nutrition. This is a critical point because we see hive losses mainly after over-wintering, so there is something going on in these winter cycles. It’s as if they designed the study to avoid seeing clothianidin’s effects on hive health.”




  •  A recent study published by Dutch scientists establishes an additional indirect link between neonicotinoid use and insect-eating birds. The report provides evidence that these pesticides are indirectly hurting larger creatures by reducing insect prey populations such as mosquitoes and beetles.
  • Another report by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides states that terrestrial invertebrates such as earthworms can be adversely affected by low or acute (i.e. ongoing) exposure to neonicotinoids, making them highly vulnerable at field realistic concentrations – i.e., the concentrations which can be found in agriculture.
  • Still another meta-analysis of systemic pesticides by IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) confirms that they are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species, e.g. bees, butterflies and earthworms, and are a key factor in the decline of bees.  They go on to state, “Neonics are a nerve poison and the effects of exposure range from instant and lethal to chronic. Even long term exposure at low (non-lethal) levels can be harmful. Chronic damage can include: impaired sense of smell or memory; reduced fecundity; altered feeding behaviour and reduced food intake including reduced foraging in bees; altered tunneling behaviour in earthworms; difficulty in flight and increased susceptibility to disease.”

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