Mason Bees, Chickadees and Eco-roofs, Oh My!

It's the little things that matter the most sometimes. I was up on the eco-roof the other day noticing that within a few square feet amazing things were happening. The roof itself is a microcosm of life with all manner of seedlings sprouting, bees were buzzing around from the mason bee nests a few feet away, and right above my head a pair of chickadees, the garden's namesake birds, were dee-dee-ing right at me. Each of these three elements I have either encouraged or actually physically placed in the garden to increase biodiversity. It is a pleasure then to see them thriving, mostly on their own with little help from me.

Sedums and mosses on the eco-roof are just getting started for the season. Let's take a look at new life this spring at Chickadee Gardens:

First up, the mason bees. I addressed cleaning the cocoons last fall in a blog post that can be revisited here. I have since put in fresh new liners for the tubes and waited for the mason bee cocoons to hatch. They started to do so in March, males first then the females who promptly began filling the tubes with eggs.

See how the tubes are irregular in depth? That helps each female to identify her particular tube. Something I learned from Crown Bees recently. Good info!

Here are two gals capping off the ends with some mud. Mason bees need a good mud source nearby for this purpose, make sure you provide it for them if you want them around. Mud equals happy gals.

Metallic blue on blue. How wonderful.

They are really very cool to watch, and so gentle.

The yellow stuff is pollen. Although they do not produce any honey, here are some benefits of hosting our native, pollinating mason bees:

  • They travel up to 100 yards from their nest site to collect pollen.
  • As far as pollinating, they are some 80x more efficient than honey bees.
  • They forage on overcast days.
  • They will fly and collect pollen at 54 degrees F. whereas honey bees rarely collect pollen below 60 degrees F.
  • Since they fly at lower temperatures and when cloudy, this means that your early blooming fruit trees (and anything else blooming) are adequately pollinated. They are busiest when pollination peaks between May and June.

Now for the eco-roof. Here's a stitched together shot of it from last summer, just to get a sense of scale. To revisit our how-to, I blogged about it here.

Here it is again from the same time period. We did it ourselves with minimal materials and help from the Portland Ecoroof Handbook and Portland Ecoroof Program.

Sedum laxum, a native sedum that really likes it up here.

Sedum laxum again with Sedum spathulifolium in the background and Sisyrichium californicum or yellow-eyed grass in the foreground. All natives and quite happy up here, all putting on fresh growth for the season.

Pretty soon, little yellow flowers will be blooming on these, and the pollinators will be going crazy.

Another native sedum, Sedum divergens also sports yellow blooms that pollinators adore. The fleshy green parts turn red when under stress so it can look like red and green jelly bean sometimes. Kind of fun for kids.

One of my go-to ground covers seen here on the eco-roof, Sedum oreganum. This also has yellow blooms, is evergreen and tough. I highly recommend any of these sedums for ground covers in small sections or for eco-roofs in certain situations.

Sepmpervivum 'Ruby Hearts'.

Jelly beans!

Mystery seedling, maybe fireweed. Sedum 'Angelina' in the background.

Nasturtium seedling I stuck in there some month or so ago. We'll see how long it goes without supplemental water.

Hens and chicks, spreading like a little family should. Sempervivum tectorum.

Tiny seedlings of Escholzia californica or California poppies coming up.

The larger seedling up top looks to me like a Penstemon 'Husker Red' gone astray. We shall see. 

More hens and chicks, too bad we can't enjoy these more often - I have to get on a ladder to see them.
Sempervivum 'Lotus'.

But I know the birds and the pollinators do enjoy them - especially when in bloom.

Sempervivum tectorum.

Next up on the list of small things that are flourishing at Chickadee Gardens: Our namesake bird, the chickadee. This birdhouse has sat empty since I moved in some 6 years ago. It was built by David's father for bluebirds on his Lapwai, Idaho, property. While visiting Idaho and noticing it hadn't been put to use in years, we decided to bring it to Oregon and clean it up. It's been empty ever since, and we'd kind of forgotten about it, actually. Until I was up on the eco-roof last week and Hello?

I was getting chirped at by none other than this little guy. Or gal. Yay! We finally have residents! A pair has taken ownership of the little nest box and she/he let us know. We couldn't be happier.

We've been watching this couple for the past week with great delight. They fly back and forth all day long, taking turns bringing necessary items to the nest.

Ha! I love this. As my friend Amy Campion of The World's Best Garden Blog pointed out, it would just be embarrassing to be Chickadee Gardens and have no chickadees. We no longer have to hang our heads in shame. Hang. Heads. Shame! No more! Hooray!

Also, the very well-written (in my opinion) magazine Garden Design has an online article about my garden out this week, you can read about it here. It touches on biodiversity and wildlife in the garden, certainly major goals of mine in gardening.

Some great reading that brings it all home is this wonderful book written by Douglas Tallamy and published by Timber Press. I highly recommend this. You can buy one here. I bought my copy at Powell's in Portland. The premise is that nature has changed by our doing, and that it can be brought back to some kind of balance, also by our doing. Nature is now in our backyards and gardens, our urban centers and parking strips and by doing one small simple thing like planting just one native plant we can help shift the balance towards sustainability.

 By planting native plants they support a whole host of native insect life which thus supports a host of bird life and so on. This, I believe, is why I see such diversity in my own garden since I have introduced biodiversity in the form of a multitude of native plants, water features, bird boxes, mason bee nests, eco-roofs, no pesticides or herbicides, etc. Even if I just planted one native plant vs. an invasive plant, that would make a huge difference. If you plant it they will come, as I wrote in a post about our miraculous little monarch caterpillar that found our milkweed last summer. It really did find it all the way up north here in Portland. You can see the photos and read about it here.

The future of biodiversity has a grim outlook unless we all take small steps. Plant some milkweed, start a mason-bee box, pledge to cut back on pesticides as there are plenty of alternative ways to get rid of pests. If you have aphids, spray them off with a hose and attract beneficial insects such as ladybeetles and lacewings, for example.Your garden and the chickadees will thank you for it.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens, as always thank you for reading! Until next time happy gardening!


  1. I can imagine how fun and fascinating it must be to watch the hive of activities happenning on your green roof at the moment. And it gives a sense of fulfilment too as a busy green roof is a successful green roof, a big reward for the effort you guys put in :)

    1. It is so fun and fascinating, rewarding for the soul! Love seeing all the insects and activities, especially come high summer when the air is thick with bees and butterflies. It's wonderful!

  2. About damn time you got some chickadees at that place! haha

    I know you're very busy these days, Tamara, but I would love for you to come over sometime and give me some suggestions on things I could do to encourage more wildlife. The plants here are overwhelming enough--I haven't even begun to learn about all the critters here in the PNW.

    1. Oooh, I'd love to come by! Just say the word! Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Thanks so much for all the wonderful inspiration. While my climate here in central Oregon is much different than yours, I am sure that I will be able to incorporate some of your projects into our landscape. Especially the garden roof - have wanted one for years!

    1. Thank YOU for your interest and comments! Yes, any of these ideas can be adapted to your area for sure! The garden roof was much easier to build than we thought and really very low maintenance. Although central Oregon is a completely different climate, you might want to check out the resources I gave a link to - they might be able to provide information for you if you are interested, it's such a cool thing to have - a green roof - we get so much enjoyment out of it!

  4. You are such an inspiration! I thought of you as I sowed the milkweed seeds you sent my way last fall. As I separated the seeds from the white tufts, those pretty tufts floated away on the spring breeze. It was beautiful. Keep on preaching this garden gospel! There is so much we can do in our own little spaces to help repair the damage that has been done.

    1. Aw, Jen, thank you! Thanks for reading and the encouragement! We all need to stick together and spread the word. What a lovely story about your seeds, and yes, there is so so very much we can do in each of our own little spaces - and collectively we make all the difference in the world between a species surviving or thriving. Every bit counts! If we plant it, they will come :)

  5. This is so interesting!! I love your roof garden, it is an inspiration for me...some day I´ll have a roof to cover with sedums and other plants :). And the mason bees are great!
    I´m also very happy for the chickadees, they have moved into the best house!! ;)

    1. Oh, I hope so Lisa, it's very rewarding. We are also thrilled that we have chickadee residents now. What's Chickadee Gardens without the little birds? :)

  6. I've been wanting to build a shed for a few years, and a green roof seemed really attractive -- until you mentioned seedlings. I've never heard anybody talk about that "problem" before, and since my shed will be near a silver maple tree I suspect my green roof will be a forest of tiny maple twigs in a year or two. Darn!
    (Yours is wonderful!)

    1. Aaah, seedlings. Well, I don't really think of it as a huge problem, I go up there with a ladder about three times a year and pull ones I don't want, such as the maples you mention. It takes about 20 minutes but it's fun because I get up close to what's going on on the roof - something I don't get to see every day. I would still encourage you to do it, the rewards certainly outweigh the weeds.

  7. Your green roof is wonderful. And congratulations on your new tenants!

    1. Thank you Kris! We are proud **sniff** chickadee parents now...yay!

  8. Hooray that chickadees have moved in. It gives me hope that maybe some day birds will discover the two birdhouses I put up in my garden. They've been empty for about 5 years. I also very much enjoyed the closer look at many of the plants growing in your eco-roof.

    1. Hoooray and huzzah indeed! It took SIX friggin' years, Alison so I have hope for you too. It was fun for me to look close up at the eco plants, it's a little universe up there.

  9. How inspiring you are! Thanks for the up close look at your eco-roof, I think I'd be tempted to get a permanent (decorative) ladder so I could climb up there everyday to see what's going on.

    1. Thanks, Danger! You know...that's a good idea! A perma-ladder...hmmm... you are on to something....

  10. One of those 'Enry 'Iggins-type library ladders would be just the ticket. So glad that you can finally hold your head high.

  11. I'm so glad you have a chickadee! I stuff in as many natives as I can and just added a big box loads worth over the weekend from a local native plant sale. I love your ecoroof and wish there were more of those here. :o)


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