Planting for pollinators

Most of us enjoy our outside spaces and whether you have a balcony or a country pile, it’s possible to have a positive effect on the environment and enjoy you garden by making small changes to help our butterflies, bees and birds.

Garden flowers are an important source of food for pollinators. The nectar provides them with energy and the pollen gives them the protein they need to grow and raise their young.

Growing a good mix of flowering plants provides a wealth of nectar and pollen for a wide range of species. There is some excellent information online about planting for pollinators and here are some useful links:

Royal Horticultural Society: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/wildlife-garden/wildlife

Wildlife Trust:https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-make-your-garden-chemical-free-zone

BBC Gardener’s World:https://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/grow-plants/plants-for-pollinators-in-summer-and-autumn/

One easy thing we can do is change how we look at Dandelions and Daisies. Rather than seeing them as weeds, how about recognising them as the beautiful little pollinator-friendly flowers they actually are?

Perhaps consider leaving them in your lawn and cutting down on lawn feed and weed killer. If the Dandelions get a bit out of control, you can always dig them out! I know! It’s much harder work, but think of the good you’ll be doing and it’s manageable if you keep on top of it.

If you’re lucky enough to have a bigger garden, why not turn part of it into a wildlife haven? You’ll be amazed at the appreciative flora and fauna you’ll attract! Or you could plant-up a corner with wildflowers.

Here are a couple of links to information on creating a wildlife garden:

Wildlife Trust: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/gardening

RSPB: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/

If your garden’s a bit smaller, what about planting a Lavender hedge or Apple tree? And if you have a patio or balcony, pots can be stuffed with beautiful pollinator-friendly herbs and flowers. I don’t recommend it for window boxes though; I tried that once and was forever rescuing trapped bees from inside the house!

Cultivars

Another thing to consider the next time you’re choosing a plant is are you buying a cultivar? Cultivars have been artificially modified to make them more appealing to us; in the case of flowers that means brighter colours, more petals, a particular shape etc.

But sometimes the flowers have been made so elaborate that bees and butterflies can’t access them. The flowers of cultivars are usually sterile and don’t produce any nectar or pollen either and some are even poisonous. Cultivars are therefore generally useless to the very insects the flower originally evolved to attract.

English Lavender is a favourite of the bees

Planting heritage varieties means that the flowers are not only naturally beautiful but are excellent forage for bees, hoverflies, butterflies and so on.

A simple way to ensure the plants you choose are pollinator-friendly is to look out for the bee-friendly symbol at the plant shop or garden centre.

There’s also another hint to help us choose. All plants are named using an internationally agreed standard of nomenclature https://www.iaptglobal.org/icn. It’s a fairly dry subject and getting to grips with it takes a bit of patience, but an easy way round it is just to know what plant names look like.

All plants have a two-word latinised name written in italics like this: Grevillea rosmarinifolia. You’ll notice that the second word starts with a lower case letter.

If the plant is a cultivar, the cultivar name is always added after the scientific name and it will start with a capital letter. It won’t be latinised and will be in single quotes like this:

Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ or Grevillea rosmarinifolia ‘Rosy Posy’

Sometimes you may really fancy a big showy cultivar, but if you want to enjoy your garden and help nature at the same time, choose natural varieties.

My little bit doesn’t matter

With our busy lives, it’s easy to think from time to time, that our little bit doesn’t count. So what if I use that lawn feed or a bit of pesticide on my flowers? Surely, my little bit won’t hurt? But when we all think like that, the harmful effects mount up!

Nobody’s saying never use chemicals, (although, there’s some really interesting links below) only gently suggesting, that you think about it first. One rule though, please don’t use pesticides on flowers that attract pollinators. The chemicals can’t tell the difference between greenfly, bees and butterflies.

Royal Horticultural Society: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=822

RSPB: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/

I’m old enough to remember family days out to the seaside in the 1970s. My Father would spend the morning lovingly polishing the car and by the time we got back from the beach, the windscreen and lamps were absolutely caked in dead insects! Do you remember too? You may not miss cleaning squashed bugs off the bonnet but the loss of so many insects is bad news. Not least for the birds. Do you remember there used to be lots of Sparrows too!

Sparrows flocking back! https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/02/house-sparrows-flocking-back-british-gardens-survey-shows

The use of pesticides has obliterated insect populations and fewer insects means fewer birds and a much less healthy environment generally. But to finish on a lighter note, I recently saw this bit of good news about Sparrows!

Meridian members Lisa Rooke and Richard Skinner describes their efforts to create pollinator-friendly havens at home.

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