Plants for Pollinators

My garden is small and much of it is shady.  It faces north and has a large apple tree that was probably planted when the house was built in 1901.  I can’t fit it as many plants as I’d like (what gardener can?) so I prioritise those that help wildlife.  If the butterflies and bees are happy then I am too.  If the insects like my garden then the birds will find food and that is what I like too. 

For a long time I wished I had a sunny garden but have come to appreciate that a shady space can be a woodland garden with bright spring flowers providing early nectar.  Flowers last longer in part shade.  As Beth Chatto always said “right plant, right place”.

My garden is in the middle of the city but has more wildlife than many a garden in the country.  In some ways city gardens support more wildlife.  Corridors between garden blocks build up and wildlife can thrive without running into large sections of monoculture such as a field of rape and other areas treated with pesticides.

One of my very favourite plants is Astrantia, also called Masterwort.  There are white, pink and dark claret red versions.  The centre looks like a diamond tiara but more beautiful because it trembles as it moves.  These plants flower in shade, flower from spring to autumn and are adored by bees.

The blue spires of Veronica, also called Speedwell, are wonderful plants for pollinators and very easy to grow.  It looks vibrant next to the flame red Crocosmia Lucifer, also loved by bees.  

My tiny front garden faces south and bakes in the sun with soil that is more rubble than anything else.  Inspired by Beth Chatto’s The Dry Garden I planted drought tolerant plants.  She said that Sedum doesn’t flop over if planted on dry stony soil and I have found that to be true.  So many insects come to visit it.

Inspired by a lecture by Nigel Dunnett organised by the Botanic Garden in Oxford in 2019, my lockdown activity for 2020 was to let my lawn grow to long grass and fill any gaps with plants that gave the impression of a meadow. 

Lockdown 2021 occupied me ordering more plants and removing most of the grass.  The flowerbed on the right, contains Veronica, Crocosmia, Knautia, Geraniums and Sedum, to name a few.  There is a small mown grass path between that and the new area which includes Liatris, Daisies, Salvia, Foxgloves, Acanthus Coreopsis and Echinacea. 

This was the best thing I’ve done in the the garden for years.  The amount of insects and life has multiplied hugely.  Physically restricted in the lockdown, my escape was to spend time looking at the flowers and insects close up and be taken to another world.

I always assumed that a lawn gave a sense of space to a garden but having flowers from fence to fence makes my garden seem wider.  It is as the boundaries have melted into the distance beyond the flowerbeds.

The buds of flowers are often even more beautiful than the open flowers.  This is Crocosmia Lucifer in bud with flame red, magenta and lime green stripes.  Inspiration for a knitted project for sure!

The white butterfly is drinking nectar from Verbena Bonariensis.

Echinops Ritro, known as the Globe Thistle, is shining metallic blue and a bee magnet.  It thrives in hot places, in poor soil so loves my front garden.

The honeybee on a purple Liatris Spicata, otherwise known as Blazing Star.  It’s a prairie plant and I planted it because it is loved by insects.  

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