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!

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