Like many of the vital insects contributing daily to our biosphere, bees tend to get a bit of a bad rap in modern life. We think of them myopically, holding grudges over poolside stings and picnic disruptions yet completely oblivious to the hard work the little guys put in day in and day out, enriching their ecosystems and our own. As they harvest nectar, bees transport pollen from plant to plant, fostering reproduction among a sweeping array of flora—90 percent of flowering plants depend on pollinators—and keeping our planet and diet diverse in the process.
Given bees’ unfairly negative reputation, we should all do a little waggle dance for the first annual World Bee Day on May 20, proposed via an official United Nations resolution put forward by the Balkan nation of Slovenia. A historical mecca for beekeeping (not many countries can boast a robust “apitourism” industry), Slovenia pitched the celebration as a means of calling attention to the importance of conserving bee life worldwide.
Smithsonian horticulturalist James Gagliardi, who will be flying to Slovenia under the aegis of the U.S. State Department as an ambassador of American conservation efforts, is eager to contribute to the festivities and to raise awareness both internationally and at home of the significant role that bees play in our everyday existence. One project he will be promoting is the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, whose website reminds visitors that fully one in three bites of food that humans eat each day is the result of pollinators’ interactions with plants, and invites them to register their own pollinator gardens in a race toward one million.
Those who rise to the challenge receive the satisfaction of seeing a dot of their own added to the existing global map of registered pollinator gardens (nearly 700,000 and counting); those without the wherewithal to found a garden are asked to encourage their local public gardens to register, and to raise awareness of the campaign in their communities.
One shining example of such a bee-friendly space is the Smithsonian’s own Pollinator Garden, situated alongside the National Museum of Natural History. Home to more than 230 species of plants and a balanced assortment of insects—bees prominent among them—the garden is bestrewn with colorful placards educating summer strollers as to the wonders of pollination and the tiny creatures responsible. These placards, translated into Slovenian, will be presented by Gagliardi during his stay in the capital city of Ljubljana.
In the spirit of World Bee Day, Smithsonian entomologist and plant health specialist Holly Walker and horticulturalist Sylvia Schmeichel, who together oversee the Pollinator Garden, sat down with Gagliardi to brainstorm bee-friendly tips that gardeners across America can put into practice immediately and with little hassle. Here is their list of the best ways in which to make your backyard a bustling pollinator metropolis:
Biodiversity in plant and insect life is the hallmark of the Smithsonian’s