Rhonda Hayes

Rhonda Hayes is a garden writer, photographer and blogger. She also volunteers as a Hennepin County Master Gardener. Rhonda chronicles her gardening adventures and advice at her award-winning blog, The Garden Buzz. She is a frequent contributor to Northern Gardener magazine and the Star Tribune Home + Garden section. At Your Voices, she writes about life around the city lakes, occasionally veering off the garden path with essays on the silly and serious issues of the day.

Bee Proactive: Top Ten Ways to Help Bees

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: April 13, 2014 - 3:16 PM

Bees, and other pollinators are the hot new cause. Thank goodness. And goodness is one of the big reasons. Imagine a summer without blueberry pie, or guacamole or watermelon, or your Aunt Leslie’s cucumber salad to name just a few. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to even try.

Certainly by now you’ve heard that “bees are responsible for every third bite” fact. Well it’s true. And you’d have to be hiding under a rock to have not heard about bee colony collapse and the other troubles facing pollinators, like the Monarch butterfly, around the world.

I’ve been writing and thinking about pollinators just about as long as I’ve been writing about gardening. In fact my blog’s name, The Garden Buzz is a tip of the hat to these incredibly important insects. It’s good to finally see the pollinators getting room in the press.

                                                                                                               Photo by Rhonda Fleming Hayes

Fifteen years ago while taking a rest between watering and harvesting in my kitchen garden I sat down on the bench and started looking, really looking at all the tiny creatures buzzing around the veggies and flowers. It was one of those aha moments.

From that moment on my garden would not only feed my family but I made sure I was feeding and encouraging the wildlife that visited as well. For me it’s not a trendy cause but second nature to my gardening life.

This past week when I attended a talk by Dr. Marla Spivak, entomologist and bee guru at the University of Minnesota she mentioned the many ways everyday folks like us can help turn around things for the bees. But I loved her first piece of advice. She told everyone to take a chair out to the garden and watch the bees. I can only second her suggestion.

Here’s hoping you’ll have an aha moment too. As the gardening season begins in the following weeks I’ll be going into greater detail about each of the top ten tips for supporting bees that you can put into practice in your own yard. Feel free to email or comment any questions in the mean time.

Top 10 Bee Friendly Practices

1. Use native plants in your landscape.

2. Tolerate dandelions, creeping Charlie and other helpful weeds.

3. Plant an herb garden and let a portion of it bloom.

4. Provide a safe water source.

5. Consider planting a bee lawn.

6. Leave some bare soil and garden debris in your yard.

7. Support local beekeepers/buy local honey.

8. Avoid pesticides/apply responsibly only when absolutely needed.

9. Ask nurseries and garden centers to disclose and label pesticides.

10. Support legislative initiatives that protect pollinators.

Oops! I Did It Again.

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: March 20, 2014 - 2:12 PM

Halfway through the doctors' exam, as she was going through the "when you fall" protocol, that series of questions meant to make sure you're ok, she asked me, "Don't you write for the Star Tribune?"

It's always strange when someone recognizes you from writing a few stories or blogging a bit. On one hand you're honored but on the other, it's like being exposed. Right, I have to remind myself that people actually read what I write. In fact there's a piece of writing advice that says to imagine a specific person and write directly to that person. Not for me. My life may be an open blog but I prefer you all to be a benevolent but semi-anonymous group softly chuckling at my musings, without making me self-conscious or embarassed. 

Back to knockin' my noggin...No, I'm not recycling material for this blog post, I fell and hit my head, hard, again. And it hurt just as bad as the last time when I took that tumble in NYC. All I could think along with the shock and awesome pain was how, how did I do this? Again?

Since returning a week ago, I've been out walking several times, wearing my cleats or heavy treaded boots. In fact I had picked my way over slick glazing on the lake trails the other day, in mincing steps and scooching shuffles. Finally getting home, I thought, yeah, I'm testing my luck.

That led me to "just walk down to the coffee shop" on Tuesday. The sidewalks were dusted but everything looked ok. The orange cone down where it slopes ever so slightly didn't register. They were installing pipes before I left in January and there were cones everywhere. Apparently that particular orange cone was warning about a  slippery spot.

Whoosh! And I was flat on my back.

I lay there trying to get my wits. The ice was cold and wet and seeping into my clothes but I couldn't get up. I heard several cars go by and then one slowed. A woman's voice called out, are you ok? I was truthful, I muttered, I don't know. She pulled her car around while I tried to stand up, but I had to kneel down such was the nausea. She tried to help me over the pile of crusted snow but I worried I would pull her down with me.

After several false starts a man appeared and hoisted me over the hump of snow. He found my glasses that had flown off my face. And then my savior drove me home. Late for a meeting she sat with me and then called a nurse from our street to come and sit with me when she left. I called a neighbor and she too came over, concerned about me. This was all extremely comforting since my husband was at that moment somewhere in the deep interior of Brazil with only spotty communication. To think I had been worried about him coming to harm.

So this is what it's come to for now, an indoor track. No ice, no fun. The snow can't melt soon enough.

I'd like to thank Louise, Jan, Donna, Dean and the nameless man for helping me. I haven't been lived here long but they re-confirmed that Linden Hills is a great neighborhood and I'm lucky to live here. 

Is the Cemetery a Dying Institution?

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: February 9, 2014 - 10:07 AM

I don’t see dead people. That’s because I go out of my way to avoid seeing dead bodies, shunning the funerals of all but a few. Since I ran terrified out of my grandmother’s service as a nine year old, I’ve been averse to all aboveground death rituals.

But gimme a good cemetery and I’m happy to wander and wonder for hours on end, and oh, I hope I have my camera. While I’m away for the winter, I rent a small apartment across the street from historic Colonial Cemetery in Savannah. I trace the tabby walkways three or four times a day while walking the dog, day in and out, no matter the weather. And every day I see something new.

Mary Ann, wife of Moses.  Frances and Constance, sisters, buried side by side. Eugene, barely arrived, from County Kerry.

A tomb’s brickwork pattern plush with deep moss. A mockingbird that perches upon the same filigreed stone. Pale green lichen on rotting marble that forms a face. Sad, sacred beauty.

So when that nice Nordic-looking lady on the TV commercial tells all her friends about cremation and how it’s the hottest thing going on, I get a bit steamed. Yeah, I get it; green burials make sense in my head, but not in my heart.

Misty morning at Colonial Cemetery, Savannah GA

I hate to think of the eventual demise of the cemetery.

Unlike some I’m ok to ponder immortality and roam among the tombstones ruminating upon the fragility and unfairness of life. I like the idea of an open-air historical archive of everyday folk even if some memorials are grander than others. Cemeteries are sculpture gardens with funerary art reflecting the attitudes of the time. They are botanical gardens where flowers flourish and rare species can rest undisturbed. They are places of pilgrimage and some of the prettiest parks in the world.

But then they don’t do death like they used to. Modern cemeteries, sleek as the uniform polished granite grave markers, lacking in art or drama are arranged for mowing efficiency over sentimentality. Worse when they only allow those flat markers people have to punctuate with their flowers stuck in cones at even intervals.

No disrespect is meant.

I understand. There are too many people nowadays. Land is scarce. That was already the case when Colonial Cemetery was active in the mid-1800’s. They can identify around 600 graves, but it is known that around 9000 people were buried on these few acres, many victims of the yellow fever epidemic. When I stray from the paved paths the ground is sunken in areas. In others, the ground has a strange, spongy feel to it.

Those thousands have no individual stone, but they have a place. Through the years thousands of people walk through here and for a moment, think about them, and that’s good.

Snow: Southern Style

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: January 30, 2014 - 12:41 PM

Seems there’s no escaping winter even as I wait it out far, far away from Minneapolis.

If it weren’t for the potential of snow-related deaths you’d get a kick out of this winter storm prep, southern-style. You’d a thought a eight-day blizzard was heading this way.

Here in Savannah as weather reports refined the chances of winter precip, bread and bottled water quickly disappeared from grocery shelves and there were reports of brisk business at the liquor stores. Don’t want to be caught lacking the essentials after all.

With schools and businesses wisely shut, the historic district felt like an abandoned movie set as I wandered the lonely streets. Ice accumulated on camellias and ironwork in the squares. Beads of ice upholstered the empty benches and Spanish moss sagged under its frozen weight.

By now you’ve seen all the pictures of Atlanta. It was just a couple inches…

(For a more humorous firsthand account of one dicey commute, check out my daughter’s story at esquire.com, “Birmingham is Broken”.)

But before all of you up north get on your snow-handling high horses, realize that the south doesn’t see this kind of weather that often. Just as many communities in snow-prone areas are hard-pressed to handle repeated winter catastrophes, lots of southern cities have bigger spending priorities than snowplows for those once in a blue moon snow falls.

And that’s what it’s all about.

Sure there are idiots everywhere that won’t drive safely no matter their zip code. And there are others who have never gotten the chance to learn safe winter driving.

But for instance, what do you do with metal-grate drawbridges connecting countless islands on the coast? You can’t sand or salt them. Add that to numerous other south-specific issues that come up when faced with surprise snow.

Sure we sail along with life up north unless it gets really, really bad. Yet take away the plows, the sand, the salt, and the four-wheel drives and see how we’d do.

There were countless incidences of kindness and southern hospitality. Strangers used Facebook to crowdsourc accommodations along slippery highways and restaurants cooked up food and delivered it in wagons, sliding over black ice and around abandoned cars.

While Atlanta thaws out, in Savannah the ice is starting to drip off the palms. And we are headed into the 70's. Stay warm and safe. And thank a snowplow.

Snowy Owls and a Snowbird

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: January 20, 2014 - 9:01 AM

Fleeing Minnesota I had plans to spot a snowy owl on my way out of town. With all the news reports about the plentiful sightings of these beautiful birds I figured those hundred miles to the Iowa border and maybe further on I had a good chance, acres of snowy farmland with lots of places for perching.

As a veteran of countless cross country trips I' ve seen hundreds of hawks sitting atop telephone poles, evenly spaced along the highways. I’ve seen bald eagles, sometimes in the most surprising situations, in the bare furrows of a farm field instead of soaring high above the road. Surely seeing a snowy owl resting on an irrigation pivot wouldn't be too hard.

Waiting for a window of good weather to start my snowbird journey, I picked a warming day, a possible January thaw. It was one of those picture-worthy winter scenes, frozen fog coating the trees and weak sunlight casting a golden glow across the blue-shadowed landscape. But it was not to be. Just enough icy patches on the road and a veil of moisture hanging in the air made it difficult to spy a bird, albeit a big one, out on the frozen ground.

I never thought I’d number among those folks called snowbirds. Motor homes with Manitoba license plates came to mind when I heard the phrase. Yet after seeing my in-laws enjoying the sunshine, I found I could easily join the ranks. My kids are grown and my husband does a lot of his business travel at this time, he’s no fool. So the dog and I head south for a while after the holidays. (Please note the alarm’s on and someone is watching the house!)

I usually feel a little guilty leaving everyone behind to endure the rest of the winter. But this year I lingered long enough to experience the polar vortex. Feeling like I paid my dues, I’m in Savannah GA again free of survivor syndrome, where it’s not exactly tropical like this time of year, but I can see palm trees and drive to a wind swept beach if the mood strikes me.

Stay tuned though, I usually find some event or topic that relates back to life in Minnesota while I’m here. Meanwhile as I wander the historic streets here, a damp breeze creeping under my scarf, I’m like the snowy owls I saw on TV, the wind ruffling their feathers while they check out new territory.


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