What is The Melissa Garden?
“If a honeybee could design a garden, what would it look like?”
That was the question in November, 2007 Barbara and Jacques Schlumberger asked wildlife garden specialist, Kate Frey.
It is a place where the buzzing of bees is tangible, and flowers, vehicles of life for pollinators, explode from every inch, and the air is filled with the movement of many organisms feeding on the brilliant bounty. Check out our photo album and watch our garden grow!
The Melissa Garden is a honeybee, native pollinator (there are 1700 species of native bees in California) and habitat garden sanctuary in Healdsburg, California, at the western edge of the Russian River Valley, on top of a ridge at 850 feet in elevation. Four gardens planted with many exuberant and profuse flowers for nectar and pollen forage are situated in the center of a pristine 40-acre ranch that is lush with native vegetation. The Melissa Garden is a new project that began in the fall of 2007 by Barbara and Jacques Schlumberger at their home. The garden initially began with a concern about the plight of honeybees, but when Barbara and Jacques realized that many native bees, butterflies and bird populations are also declining, they wanted to embrace their needs and the necessity to educate people about their status as well. The goal is to provide honeybees, native bees and other pollinators with an almost year-round source of floral resources- free from pesticides. Studies have found that native bees and honeybees both benefit from feeding on a variety of flowers, so almost year-round the garden is kept filled with an abundance of annuals, perennials and shrubs that offer attractive pollen and nectar to insect visitors. The garden is composed of a mixture of plants native to California, many Mediterranean plants and others that are appropriate for the site and climate.
The same exuberance of flowers and explosive colors have attracted many people as well. The Melissa Garden has become a garden of life to feed all visitors, both insect and human. Many people have came to visit, bee-tenders, mothers groups, children, school classes, University of California Master Gardeners, garden clubs, professional gardeners, scientists and the general public who are concerned about the plight of honeybees and nature and biodiversity in general, and wanted to learn about gardens that support them. The gardens vibrant colors, naturalistic plant compositions, and intense buzzing life have created deep connections with people, and many share very touching early and present associations with nature. A lot of people leave inspired to plant their own pollinator or habitat gardens, fulfilling exactly the main goal of the project.
Why are pollinator/habitat gardens important?
Some 75% of plants worldwide require pollination by insects, birds or animals. These plants are not self-compatible and require cross-pollination with others of the same species- in the same way that in an orchard-pollinator trees are required. Studies have shown that where native generalist pollinators like bumblebees are lacking, native plants requiring insect pollination decline. Pollination is essential for plant reproduction and for ecosystems to endure. In addition, pollinators are an essential part of the foodweb for birds and may form up to 20% of their diet. Some 93% of birds feed their young insects, so where you have insects you have birds. Appropriate flowers for pollinators are the basis for these processes of life. Pollinators may be native bees, honeybees, wasps, syrphid flies, tachinid flies, beetles, butterflies, moths and birds. Each has a distinct life cycle and needs. Observing and learning about them is our joy. Sharing this experience with people and our communities is why we developed The Melissa Garden.
Honeybee colonies, almost worldwide are suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder and the factory-farm type management. It isn’t absolutely known what causes CCD, but impacts from introduced parasites and diseases- especially the Varroa mite; pesticides in the environment; habitat loss; supplemental food rather than honey; frequent trucking of hives- are all factors contributing to stress and decline in bee health and populations. Native bee and many other native organisms- insect and bird- populations are likewise suffering from habitat fragmentation and loss due to urban development and intensive agriculture, displacement by exotic species, pesticide use and for some bumblebee species, introduced pests and diseases.
We hope that its naturalistic, flower filled spaces create a connection with nature for visitors while bringing people together. Our goal is that all will be inspired by it and go out and create habitat gardens around the world. Our tours have a strong educational focus towards this effort.
We chose the name “Melissa” because Melissa officinalis, or Lemon Balm, is an herbaceous plant that has been considered a favorite bee plant for a very long time. Also, in Greek mythology, Melissa is the name of one of the nymphs that fed Zeus honey as an infant while hiding him from his father, Cronus. When Cronus discovered this, he turned her into a worm. After Zeus came into power, he changed her into a queen bee, not being able to change her from an insect form. Melissa is a Greek word meaning honeybee.
Barbara and Jacques are committed to making the world a better place. They have focused on creating a garden that brings people and nature together in the most creative and positive environment.
Kate designs and consults for gardens here and internationally. Her gardens generate a connection with nature as well as inspire and uplift human visitors with vibrant colors and naturalistic compositions.