May 15, 2017

Learning How to Bee Better with Helen Yoest and Bee Better

Helen Yoest poses in her charming greenhouse. We spent a morning together when I visited Raleigh NC a few weeks ago.

Three weeks ago while visiting the Raleigh North Carolina area I  had the chance to visit with my dear friend Helen Yoest - the woman behind BeeBetter™- a non-profit dedicated to educating people about how to make their gardens more welcoming to all pollinators as well as being more sustainable. Helen is a member of many plant societies and is an active member of the Raleigh (Piedmont chapter) of NARGS, the North American Rock Garden Society, who invited me to speak at the JC Raulston Arboretum for their annual lecture and auction.

Helen is also a talented stylist, her work has been seen in many leading national gardening magazines and websites. She seems to be in constant demand, but in her own garden, it wasn't hard to see her hand with decor and plant design. It made taking good photos easy.

I made sure to spend a full day with her while visiting the area, and looked forward for coffee and a tour of her garden for who doesn't enjoy seeing another plant person's garden? Driving to Helen's home my iPhone battery ran out so I had to 'wing it', which isn't hard once you are in the general vicinity of a gardeners neighborhood, right?

I should have known that I was in for a treat as soon as I pulled up. This sign on Helen's mail box told me that this was no ordinary garden.

It's always easy to find the real gardener on a street, especially in Helen's neighborhood where there were stately homes with tidy, well kept front lawns and clipped bushed trimmed into domes, cones and topiary. Along came a garden that looked - like a garden, complete with a 'water-wise' sign near the mail box, and no front lawn. Kind of like our front yard!

Helen found this fantastic fountain which added a bit of formality in her otherwise natural landscape. It worked so well, and helped integrate her formal, southern home into the neighborhood. Of course, the birds adore it as well as frogs.

Helen was out front weeding when I pulled up to the curb, and I was laughing because we gardeners are all a bit connected in life!. I thought that I knew much about Helen's gardening style, for if you know her from her active social media matter or website, you know that she is warm and funny, as well as smart about plants and gardening.

Bee and wasp nesting shelters often sold as  'bee condos' or nesting blocks are becoming more popular with informed gardeners. They attract many native pollinators which are often solitary when it comes to their private matters. Solitary pollinators don't build hives, make honey or swarm, and most don't even sting unless squashed.

What I didn't really realize however was how Helen has focused her horticultural training on pollinating plants - in fact, most everything in her garden is now somehow connected to her newest venture - Bee Better - a plant-centric project with a real mission. One that focuses on educating homeowners, home and land developers (I know, right?) and even community leaders about the importance of sustainable, organic and water-wise gardening.

The Bee Better website is beautiful and informative - if you live in the central Atlantic (or anywhere, really) do visit and check it out. The Bee Better Mission is to educate homeowners, community leader and developers about the importance of sustainable, organic and water-wise garden design.

An old-fashioned bee skep adds a  nice visual touch to the garden.

Bee Better and a non-profit lead by Helen that is based in Raleigh, NC with the simple mission to help people, gardeners experiences or beginners, or even just the curious on how to build better backyards (and yeah, front yards) for bees, butterflies and all pollinators. Helen's work focuses on ecoregion 231 - which includes the states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, parts of Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Maryland - basically, the 'Sweet Tea' states (and what would sweet tea bee without honey?).

Helen's creative voice can be seen even on the chicken coop, where her 'girls' were busy laying fresh eggs.

I mustn't overlook the garden, which on this April day was in full spring bloom.

As an educational Foundation, the groups informs gardeners and all people via it's website, open gardens, workshops and lectures. If you are even slightly interested in learning more about Bee Better, you can contact Helen and the organization here. (I've even seen Bee Better tags on plants at a local nursery - surely, that increases sales as people who care are drawn to plant something bee-worthy.

Inside Helen's greenhouse were decorative elements, and a desk - I asked her if this was her dreamy writing shack too (it was!). I would kill to have a quite spot like that.

The back terrace was set casually yet every inch told me that a creative gardener lived here.

Viola's self seeded throughout the font garden which would have been a chemical-loaded lawn if 'normal neighbors' lived here. I asked Helen if her neighbors thought that she was crazy - she smiled. (of course they did!). 

This Nandinia domestic 'Filamentosa' caught my eye. I have to raise nandinia in pots, wintered over in the greenhouse, but here there were many plants that we not hardy for my New England garden, but were seen growing outdoors.

This Calycanthus raulstonii 'Hartlage Wine' was certainly in it's zone - named after the J.C. Raulston himself, and introduced by the JC Raulston Arboretum (just down the road), it was in full bloom in April. Ours won't bloom for another few weeks.


  1. Carol.S3:08 PM

    I love your blogs and look forward to them. I read everyone of them in Feb.
    I am a plant geek and looking forward to trying winterflowering bulbs in my greenhouse in the PacificNorthwest B.C.)
    I also Plant for the pollinators

    1. Hi Carol and welcome! Winter flowering bulbs in a greenhouse opens up an entire new season. I just love the Pacific NW, and particularly B. C. - gardening heaven out there, I always wondered why I never moved there!

  2. Hi Matt! This was so fun to relive our visit together. I'm looking forward to many, many more. <3

  3. Hi Matt,

    I am so envious that you were able to visit Helen's fabulous garden! I hope to make it there someday, but I enjoyed a lovely virtual visit thanks to you. :-)

  4. Anonymous6:30 PM

    I love her top. Can you ask her where it's from? Beautiful photos!

  5. Anonymous8:20 PM

    Thank you!

  6. I was really impressed of Helen's blog! I'm very glad I came accross your post about her and finally had the chance to read it thorougly.Found so great things about her and her magical garden. Thank you for sharing!


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