APARTMENT living and pollinator friendly gardening

When it comes to pollinator friendly gardening one question a lot of people ask is “I’ve only got a patio/balcony/window-box/roof terrace, can I really make a contribution?” The answer is an emphatic “Yes, yes, yes and yes!”

We’re not all blessed with a large garden with the potential to make a significant difference, but that doesn’t matter; if everyone does what they can the impact will be huge. So get planting and, equally importantly, spread the word and encourage others around you to do the same. And don’t worry that your flowers might be too high; they won’t be. Bees, after all, can fly. They’ll find them.

So what to plant? Pollinator friendly obviously, but beyond that it’s up to you. Grow what you also like yourself. It’s also a very good idea to grow a few different plants that will flower at different times through the Spring and Summer for continuity of supply of nectar and pollen.

You might like to grow herbs, and why not? The bees use the flowers; you use the rest.

Rosemary is a good bet. It’s pretty much bomb proof in that it will grow as well in a pot as in open ground and will survive a haphazard watering regime. It flowers early, from February onwards, and carries on till late Spring, going well with roast lamb all year round. Chives could be used to follow, flowering as they do in late Spring and early Summer. Pinch off the flower heads as they die to prolong the season. For later in the Summer you might consider one of the numerous mints. It might not be the best for culinary purposes (I don’t know, I’m a lousy cook!) but bees go mad for catmint.

These days most good garden centres have their pot plants labelled with information as to their pollinator friendliness. Perhaps one day in the not too distant future we’ll be able to wander round reading them again.

If you prefer flowers to herbs that’s fine too, just try and pick the right ones. But it might be easiest to talk first about what constitutes a ‘wrong one’.

It would be fair to say that any wildflower is pollinator friendly. After all, plants have evolved their flowers to attract pollinators; that’s their job. But cultivated flowers can be a different matter. Don’t worry, some are excellent, but others are useless. The reason being that they have been so intensely selectively bred that, while they might be incredibly showy, the pollen and nectar has been all but bred out of them.

A good example, particularly as we’re talking here about this type of environment, is that old hanging basket favourite of banks and supermarkets alike, the petunia.

It’s incredibly showy and totally useless. Avoid it if you can bring yourself to do so.

Sunflowers are generally an excellent bet, but there are a few cultivars that are not. This is because they too have had the pollen deliberately bred out of them. The reason? So that as cut flowers they don’t drop a yellow dust of pollen over the sideboard. Check what you’re getting at the time of purchase.

In general ‘double’ flowers of any type are of very little use. Through selective breeding the stamens have been effectively turned into petals. No stamens equals no pollen. An example would be open faced dahlias (good); pom pom dahlias (bad). The same applies to roses: the more ‘natural’ and open centred they look the better they probably are.

So that’s a brief guide to what you shouldn’t plant; what about what you should be?

Here’s a list of possibles for starters:

Now, you’re not likely to grow Comfrey or Broom on a balcony, there just isn’t the room. But most of the rest are contenders. There are many,many others of course. Go to https://pollinators.ie/gardens/ to find out more. Check out the Garden Centres and scrutinise the labels.

Above all, watch your own patch this Spring and Summer and see which plants attract the most insects. Do it too for neighbouring gardens and planted areas; the bees will tell you what they like best.

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