All in for Pollinators
When it comes to pollinators, we always think of bees and rightly. So while there are many different types of pollinators such as hoverflies, moths and butterflies, bees are worryingly getting scarce and we are at risk of losing two important types in Ireland: our great yellow bumblebee and the northern Colletes.
Without our great little workers, we won’t be able to produce food the way we know it; exit the lovely tomatoes and other fruits. So what can we do? Provide a nice place to live! Avoid spraying insecticide (especially in the daytime) as, unfortunately, these products don’t make the difference between pollinators and pests; and feed them! Bit by bit, we have filled our gardens (and parks) with amazing and exquisite plant varieties and hybrids. Sadly, a lot of these new bred varieties contain little to no pollen.
You don’t have to give up on all your improved varieties, of course. Here is a little guide to add very pretty plants to your garden and do your bit for the biodiversity at the same time.
. Bedding plants are fantastic to bring colour for the season. They are unbeatable at the game. Although they are highly decorative, they contain very little to no pollen. Maybe, this year you will try the Osteospermum or the Argyranthemum instead of the timeless geranium. They will flower nearly as long and will provide plenty of food for bees in your pots and window boxes.
. Prefer single flowers to double ones. Double flowers make the show and give you that WOW factor. Unfortunately, they bear far less pollen than their single flowered cousins. Take the Dahlias, for example. The ‘Happy’ and ‘Dreamy’ ranges will brighten up any garden. And you still can mix it with the extravagant dinner plate sized or fringed flowers.
. Plan your planting for flowers for every season. Most pollinators will die, leaving their eggs to hatch; or hibernate in the winter. Summer is usually bountiful, but as they wake up and before entering hibernation, pollinators need a large amount of food too! Having a colourful garden in Spring and Autumn, while offering a pleasant sight, will be very helpful for your buzzing friends.
Spring: Get an early start
Spring bulbs are great to bring colour to the garden early in the season and at a reasonable price. Bulbs should be planted from September onwards for the following year. The earlier they flower, the earlier you should plant them.
When it comes to pollinator-friendly varieties, the best ones are as follow, from early to late flowering:
. Snowdrops: One of the first food they will get. With flowers in January and February, they open the season. Ideal in woodland settings, they are shade tolerant. Prefer the common snowdrop (Galanthus Nivalis) or the Giant one (Galanthus Elwesii) to the double flowered. They are easy to grow and great for naturalising.
. Crocus: Brighten up the lawn. For the best result, plant these in clumps, in the lawn. They will come up in February and will be finished when you need to do the first mowing of the season (when the leaves have wilted).
. Bluebells: This lovely native plant is also fragrant. Keep in mind though, they spread! They flower in April. For a small garden or pots, you might prefer the muscari (grape hyacinth) with its lovely blue spikes popping up at the same time.
. Alliums: The ornamental garlic is increasingly popular. These giants simply make a statement with their large spheric heads of purple (or white) flowers. They flower in May-June and look particularly good amongst ornamental grasses for a natural effect.
Flowering shrubs for structure
. Viburnums. There are many different types: evergreen, deciduous, spreading shrubs, small trees… But they all have this in common: they are great for wildlife! They provide habitat for wild birds, pollen for pollinators and even nutritious berries for our winged friends. For a low-growing option, you can try the ‘Davidii’. This evergreen variety flowers in clusters in winter and spring, followed by very attractive blue berries. If you love the wedding cake tree (cornus controversa variegata) but don’t have the space in your garden, you could try the Viburnum Plicatum with its layered look and its white, lacecap flowers along the branches in May. Viburnum tinus makes a wonderful hedge and is particularly suited for shady areas where the white flowers borne from pink buds in Winter and spring, will stand out. The deciduous Bodnantense bears scented, pale pink flowers but also make a great small tree displaying wonderful colours in Autumn. You are spoilt for choice!
. Skimmia: A Japanese Must-Have. Skimmias are evergreen and come in different sizes. There are many varieties out there, growing to different heights. They all flower in Spring, buds opening to white, fragrant flowers. Some varieties bear red berries in Winter. The majority of these would need a partner like holly, ‘Temptation’ is a lovely, compact and self-fertile variety that looks great in pots. Or, ‘Reevesiana’ for a lower, spreading variety in a woodland setting. Skimmias perform best in semi-shade, in a slightly acidic compost. (N.B. : the berries of the skimmia, although very attractive are toxic. This is the reason why they remain all winter as the birds will leave them alone)
. Pieris: Lily-of-the-Valley Bush. Another Japanese beauty that will brighten up your garden this season. The flowers appear in drooping grapes in Spring, in shades of white or pinks, depending on the varieties. But it is not just about flowers here; this evergreen shrub is sought after for its foliage. The new leaves appear bronze-red, bright red or even pinkish, before turning green when they mature. ‘Mountain Fire’ and ‘Forest Flame’ remain the most popular varieties and they are better suited for medium to large gardens as they grow to 2.5m. If your space is limited, try ‘Little Heath’, this pretty, compact variety grows only to 0.5m and its variegated foliage is a feature all-year round.
Summer: Spoilt for Choice
The summer is bountiful and colourful, it offers a wide range of food sources for our pollinators. The options are simply endless. Even if you don’t have a south facing, sheltered garden with a wonderful, moist and fertile soil, there are plants that will help the ecosystem and add colour to the garden throughout the season.
. Plants for dry soils. Living in coastal areas means milder winters. Unfortunately, it often goes along with a rather poor and sandy soil. Thankfully, some plants will thrive in these conditions like the ever popular Lavender. Scent, colour and evergreen foliage, this plant does it all. Alternatively, alpines can prove very useful. Many flower in spring and early summer, like the Iberis (candytuft), the campanula will extend the season with its bell flowers in white or purple right through the summer.
For the driest patch, the Sedum will become your best friend. It is used for green roofs, that is how low maintenance it is! This succulent bears pollen-rich yellow, star-shaped flowers in clusters.
. In the shade. You have a North-facing garden, you can still make it work! You could plant the evergreen Bergenia at the front of the border or in pots. The large, green leaves are often tinged with red or burgundy. The flowers (white to hot pink) are borne, in cluster, on short spikes in late spring and early summer. They will be followed by the short-lived perennial Foxglove (it self-seeds) in the back, in May to July with its tall flowering spires in white, pink, salmon or purple. In the late summer, you will enjoy the Astrantia (to the front) and the Japanese anemone at the back for a colourful end of season and soft shades.
. By the Sea. Only a few plants can take the coastal, salty wind and yet be very attractive. Some low flowering shrubs may withstand the gales a bit better than the softer herbaceous. Amongst these, the convolvulus is a good choice where the sun is as strong as the wind. The silver, velvety foliage (a feature on its own) protects it from the elements. From May to July, the pink buds open to white flowers, abundantly, on this low growing evergreen bush. Another option is the all-time favourite hydrangea. However, only the lace-cap and the paniculate have value for the wildlife. The cones of flowers are borne white or cream for most variety before changing colour to become pink in the late summer and autumn. Although the are not evergreen, the flowers are so impressive, they are well worth giving them some space in the garden. In pots, you can try ‘Bobo’, dwarf, yet stunning.
. Free-flowering climbers, the walls are getting dressed too.
Climbers are a great addition to any garden, they allow to use vertical space and are therefore fantastic for smaller gardens (not so much for pots though as they need a deep soil). In shade, the climbing hydrangea is ideal. The lace cap flowers will ornate any difficult area. It is self-clinging, so no need for a trellis. The downside (maybe), it is deciduous so it will lose its leaves in the winter. Another very easy to grow climber is the potato vine. It resembles the jasmine but what it lacks in scent, it makes up in vigour. In other words, if you are looking to cover a wall rapidly, it is a great option. It is also semi-evergreen so it will keep most of its leaves over winter. It is an absolute wowzer in summer as well, when it is covered in clusters of purple or white flowers. Finally, if you are looking for fragrance, honeysuckle will bring you just that. ‘Graham Thomas’ bears yellow and white highly scented flowers. In the same colour but evergreen, ‘Halliana’ is not as fragrant but holds the RHS Award of Garden Merit too.
Autumn: Enjoying the last rays of sunshine.
The selection may be limited but valuable so let’s make every drops of the sweet nectar an every grain of pollen count!
Flowers don’t have to be hard to grow to be beautiful. Rudbeckias (Black eyed Susan) prove that. Stars of the Indian summer, they are also very rich in food for pollinators, great for stocking up before the cold. Particularly attractive in a prairie style planting with grasses or the verbena bonariensis or rigidus, they also suit the formal garden. ‘Little Goldstar’ is a very good cultivar for pots thanks to its compact habit. In a pastel planting scheme, you will prefer the Aster with its abundant starry flowers in mauve, whites or pinks. Tall variety or short one, it is all up to you.
In a difficult area, the Sedum Spectabilis is an ally. A little too dry, not enough light, it can tolerate about anything, it is so undemanding. You can also leave the dry flowers on the plant, over winter, before cutting back in Spring. This way, your borders won’t be bare during the cold season.
Ornamental Sage: The must-have.
There are so many different types, all so attractive! From the nemorosa family bearing spires of purple, white or pink flowers to the exquisite and rich ‘Amistad’, and the highly scented and fiery ‘Hot lips’, it might be hard to choose. (I simply couldn’t, so I have plenty!). Tall, short, with erect spires or drooping flower heads, most varieties are scented (foliage) and are a treat for the bees. (Read the full article on Salvias here)
On the evergreen side
Ivy may not be the most popular climber as it sometimes grows where it is not wanted… It is also poisonous… But, on the other hand, it native and it is a great source of food for pollinators. The cuttings also look great in wreaths at Christmas time! It will always give you a good coverage, even in shade.
As we are getting to the winter, The sweet box (Sarcococca Hookeriana) flowers in the cold season. The honey scent of its blooms attract the pollinators that are still awake and please our senses at the same time.
In conclusion, things don’t have to be complicated to work well. A colourful garden all-year round is a pleasure for all its dwellers (two-legged, winged, crawlers…). The ideal plants are no-fuss, and the best ones are native. Mix them in with other decorative plants and you will create a delightful garden.
Finally, this is only a short list and there are so many more plants you can use in your garden to make it eco-friendly. So meet us in-store and look for the logo!
© All photos by Veronica for Windyridge Garden Centre unless stated otherwise.