Why you need to build a beautiful 'bug hotel' in your backyard

You might think of bugs as pests to be avoided. Not so, says Lisa Lee Benjamin, founder of Urban Hedgerow, an artists' collaborative based in San Francisco that's working to increase appreciation for wild animals, plants and insects by bringing more of them into our urban landscapes.

Take beetles, for instance.

"When you consider that Coleoptera, the beetle family, accounts for 25% of all known species on Earth, [that means] 1 out of every 4 living things is a beetle. They are responsible for much of the decomposition on the planet; they're like the little garbage men of the Earth. We would literally be sitting in meters high of debris and detritus without them," Benjamin says. "Insects ... serve millions of functions which keep our little planet livable for our species."

Experts say urban landscapes can happily coexist with all kinds of nature. Los Angeles County is home to 175 ladybug, 524 bird and about 500 bee species alone, says Lila Higgins, the director of citizen science at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

To get in touch with the ecology around you, "observe what lives near you. Invite more species into your realm, learn what plants and animals are native in your community," suggests Benjamin. "Build a beautiful bug hotel and see who checks in. Plant species that offer the local wildlife food and shelter. Pull back mulch to expose soil for bumblebee nests. Make your hedge of ceanothus [lilac] instead of boxwood. As you focus your eye and deepen your knowledge and love for your home environment, you will find your tolerance of wild things will naturally broaden."

Benjamin practices what she preaches. "Just recently I planted my fourth-floor balcony garden, and within the hour there were bees, butterflies and beetles buzzing about, even though I am surrounded by buildings and paved surfaces. Build it and they will come."

Just as baths and feeders draw birds, insect houses and bee hotels — designed for non-aggressive, solitary species such as leaf cutter and mason bees — can help attract some crawly critters. The Internet abounds with directions for DIYers, and the Natural History Museum has scheduled a class in making bee hotels as one of the activities in its Summer Nights in the Garden program on Aug. 21.

For the non-crafty, here are a few options to buy.

Handmade Insect House, crafted in Edinburgh, Scotland by Mike Rankin, is made of tubes for solitary bees to lay their eggs and has cozy nooks and crannies for hibernating ladybirds and lacewings. It's $307 at Wudwerx.co.uk.

Bespoke Urban Hedgerow Wall/Garden Sculptures are designed by artist and naturalist Lisa Lee Benjamin to fit scale and need. This box was created for the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in New York. Custom boxes start at $2,500 and are available at UrbanHedgerow.com.

Leah Grunzke, of Flora montana, creates her boxes in Missoula, Mont., from weedy plants and salvaged and recycled building materials. This Mason Bee House — Fancy Cabin model is for solitary bees and is $65 at Etsy.com/shop/Floramontana.

Green&Blue from Britain makes cool concrete stackable and interchangeable Bee Bricks. They are available for $35 to $50 at GreenandBlue.co.uk.

Geoffrey Fisher crafts white wood 12-by-12-inch bug boxes and a variety of smaller magnet insect hotels, which cost $295 and $38, respectively. They are available at TwentyTwentyOne.com.

Butterfly boxes give butterflies a protected place to rest. The ones from Barefoot Swan are crafted of recycled pine and painted bright colors. One side of the box opens so you can stock it with twigs or pieces of bark for the butterflies to rest on. They are $45 at BarefootSwan.etsy.com, and custom designs are available too.

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'Summer Nights in the Garden' info

Where: The nature garden at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 900 Exposition Blvd.

When: 5-9 p.m. Aug. 21

Info: (213) 763-3466, www.nhm.org

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