Backyard Bees is the new beekeeper for the apiary at The Clark Botanic Garden in Williston Park (New York)!
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I just came back from a visit with two amazing women at the Clark Botanic Garden. The focus of the meeting was, of course, beekeeping at the garden, but nothing exists in a vacuum! Our conversation was buzzing – we talked about plants, gardens, children, teamwork, education, volunteering, being eco-conscious… I am so excited to share the buzz!
The Buzz at Clark Garden
Clark Gardens is a haven for bees and they have a history of keeping bees. Honey from the on-site apiary is offered for sale at The Shop in the Garden as part of their fundraising efforts. The Shop is a lovely gift shop featuring the garden honey and unique work from local creatives.
At the end of September, the bees at the garden suddenly and unexpectedly lost their beekeeper, Donal Peterson. As a member of the Long Island Beekeepers Association, I became a caretaker for some of his hives (he had over 150 hives across Long Island, including 8 at Clark Botanic Gardens) giving his family time to figure it all out.
The Queen spent a lot of time with Donal’s bees from October onward. She let them know about Donal’s passing. She fed them, made sure they were treated for mites, and insulated them for the winter. Today’s visit confirmed Backyard Bees will continue as the official beekeeper for Clark Botanic Garden, and while I’m excited, I can’t forget the work that was done to get the apiary set up.
I never met Donal but he clearly was passionate about bees…150 hives!! I did have a chance to attend a thank-you dinner hosted by his family for the beekeepers that helped to tend Donal’s hives. Over a home-cooked meal with his sister, nieces, and extended family, I learned Donal himself was a fabulous cook and we had some of his favorite dishes. I saw photos of him as a big brother and uncle, and listened to many stories about him. I will not forget him!
Bee-hind the Scenes at Clark
Clark Botanic Gardens is a “12-acre living museum and educational facility.” The Fanny Dwight Clark Memorial Garden, Inc and the Town of North Hempstead are collaborative partners in protecting this historical 12-acre public space, gifted by Grenville Clark in 1969 in honor of his wife, Fanny.
Bonnie Klein is the head horticulturist for the Town of North Hempstead (TNH) at Clark. The Town owns, operates and maintains Clark Botanic Gardens and they do a tremendous job making space in Nassau County attraction a “must-see” for all Long Islanders.
Roellyn Armstrong is the chairperson for the Fanny Dwight Clark Memorial Garden, Inc (FDCMG), a non-profit founded to support, enhance and preserve the garden through educational programs for adults and children. The overarching goal is to support the garden and focus on appreciation for all things natural.
A specialty garden is a planned space set aside for a specific purpose. You can have edible gardens (ie vegetable or herb gardens). You can have gardens with an aesthetic purpose, like a rock garden or a meditation garden. Each of these specialty gardens is unique and is dependent on the gardener who designs it.
Clark Botanic Garden has 12 specialty gardens – including of course, a pollinator garden. They have over 5,000 species of plants and 1,000 labeled tree varieties. I imagine the bees are going to bee very easy going; who wouldn’t bee, living in a paradise?
As you enter Clark Gardens, you will see the All-America Selections Display Garden. It features newly awarded top performing varieties of plants that have tested by the non-profit, All-America Selections. Their website lists the top performers all the way back to 1933! All-America Selections was started to help get reliable information out to gardeners, primarily through home and garden magazines…obviously this was way before Google.
A rain garden, another specialty garden featured at Clark Botanic Garden is something the Queen is learning more about so her bees will not suffer in a drought. Rain gardens are designed to tolerate both wet and dry conditions, making use of rain and storm water.
Last year was a very hot summer, with very little rain. Some native plants did not flower, or had a much shorter bloom time. So just like farmers have to adapt their plans during a drought, so do the bees. Winter bees know how to conserve energy and they typically start appearing at the end of the season, and they appear earlier when there is a food shortage.
Visiting the Bees and the Gardens
The garden is open daily from 10am – 6pm. Admission is free, but donations are always accepted. You can also support the garden for $30/year by joining the Fanny Dwight Memorial Garden Inc. One of the many benefits includes reciprocal membership to other gardens that are a part of the American Horticultural Society’s program. Reciprocal membership offers free or discounted admission to those gardens, including the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
There is a lovely gazebo across the path from the apiary, which is enclosed by a white picket fence. You can observe the bees from a safe distance and, relax for a bit while you try to name plants around the gazebo which were planted with the bees in mind. Early spring is tricky for the bees; crocuses and small bulbs come up before the trees bloom and give the bees a little head start.
You’re welcome to say “hello” to the Queen Bee when she is at the garden, but bee aware, when the hives are open, she will bee humming in harmony with them, and it’s NOT the time to say “hello.” The workshop calendar is always beeing updated; stay tuned for the 20224 Hands On Honey Workshop, a unique educational opportunity to experience honey extraction at the garden!
If you want to be a better gardener, visiting established gardens like Clark Botanic Garden is a great way to learn and get ideas. You can identify plants that are local, that thrive in your climate, and better understand their growing habits. And if you are a fan of local honey, Backyard Bees will bee stocking the Clark Botanic Garden Gift Shop!