Planting at the Olympic Park

 

It’s only a few days since the Closing Ceremony, and I’d say there’s a fairly big O-shaped void in my life. The two weeks of the Olympic Games felt fantastic, whether watching from home or at the Olympic Park. I was lucky to have the chance to visit the Park a few times to see events. I had heard quite a bit about the planting before the Games started, not least from Sarah Price who was one of the team charged with designing the landscape.

 

I had high expectations of the Olympic meadows and the 2012 Gardens, a half mile swathe of perennial planting spanning ‘biological hotspots’ across the globe. I was not disappointed, the planting was exciting and contemporary. Most striking was how the 2012 gardens provided a haven from the throngs of visitors moving between venues in the Park. Plenty of visitors were enjoying the walkways, waterside lawns and exciting planting, but a calm prevailed in the gardens just a few metres away from the stadium, aquatic centre and vast MacDonalds.

I’ve included just a few photos of the gardens and meadows here. If you would like to read a bit more about the 2012 gardens have a look at Professor Nigel Dunnett’s website here. The planting will no doubt continue to be a highlight during the Paralympics, in these intervening weeks no doubt the gardens are being pepped up again by a team of landscapers. Now is the time to see these gardens and I recommend taking the opportunity if you can get your hands on a Paralympics ticket for the Park.

Create a Pollinators’ Paradise

Bee hovering on Allium schoenoprasum (chives)

Bee hovering on Allium schoenoprasum (chives)

Your garden may be small, or even confined to a balcony and a couple of window boxes. But with the right selection of plants you can make your outdoor space a pollinators’ paradise.

There is a serious decline in insects such as bees and butterflies in the UK due to loss of habitat, disease and pesticide use. Why does it matter? Because many plants rely on insects for pollination. Honeybees alone pollinate around one third of the food crops we consume.

Fortunately, doing something to halt the decline has become a hot topic. At the Olympic Park over 10 hectares of meadows will flower during the Games. These have been designed to provide an insect haven: nectar and pollen rich, diverse and long flowering to encourage a range of bees, butterflies, birds, moths and other insects.

Olympic Park Meadows source: London 2012 website

We obviously don’t all have 10 hectares to play with but the estimated 16 million gardens in the UK make up a vast network of potentially rich insect habitat. You may assume that any garden will do its bit. Unfortunately not: not all plants are equal when it comes to attracting wildlife. But with a few cunning plant choices you can rapidly increase the buzz in your garden. What is in it for you? A couple of butterfly sightings on a summer evening will surely be all the incentive you’ll need.

Tips for increasing insect visitors:

  • Introduce irresistible plants: Create bee and butterfly friendly borders or containers. Include plants in sun which will attract pollinators with their flowers from February to November. Here are some suggestions:
    • Spring: Use classics such as Aubretia, Alyssum and honesty (Lunaria) to draw in insects early in the year. For late spring to early summer, the globular flowerheads of Alliums are loved by pollinators and come large (e.g. Allium christophii) and small (e.g. Allium schoenoprasum – chives).
    • Summer: As well as Salvias (such as Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’) and hyssop (Agastache), try Verbena bonariensis. A star performer, its purple flowers on tall stems will be a constant attraction to insects
    • Late summer/autumn: Species of lavender (Lavandula), michaelmas daisies (Aster) yarrow (Achillea) and Echinacea (e.g. E. purpurea) will keep the insects coming
    • Herbs such as thyme, rosemary and oregano are favourites of insects
    • Encourage moths by planting night-flowering, nectar-rich plants which have evolved specifically to attract nocturnal insects e.g. tobacco plant (Nicotiana), summer-flowering jasmines and honeysuckle

    Echinacea purpurea

  • Seek some advice: Don’t know where to start? The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has just launched its Plants for Pollinators scheme. You can find an excellent list of Plants for Pollinators at www.rhs.org.uk. A logo is being introduced to help you select insect-friendly plants at the garden centre.

 

  • Create a mini-meadow: evoke a bit of the Olympic planting spirit in your garden. You can grow wildflowers from seed even in hanging baskets or containers. If you have a lawn, experiment with turning a small patch over to a wildflower meadow. Useful information is available at www.wildaboutgardens.org.
  • What to avoid! Avoid using pesticides and avoid using plants with double flowers which often lack pollen and nectar.

So, with a bit of time and imagination you can make sure you have a more colourful, scented and insect-friendly outdoor space before the Olympic meadows are in bloom!

A bunch of bananas ripening on the plant

Escaping a cold and rainy January afternoon

It’s a cold and rainy afternoon in January. I just can’t help letting my thoughts wander back to a mere four weeks ago when I was enjoying the warmer and sunnier climes of southern India. The temptation to write another blog post about the trip – wrapped up in the guise of a post about plants – is impossible to resist.

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