Container plants for bees and butterfiles

By VantagePoint’s local garden writer, Beth Otway

Whether you’ve got a garden, patio, balcony, or a windowsill, remembering to choose flowering plants that produce pollen and nectar that bees and other pollinating insects can access is a wonderfully worthwhile thing to do. By encouraging nature into your area you can really transform your garden, bringing the whole area to life. There’s nothing more entertaining than watching bees, butterflies and moths in your garden. These fascinating insects will raise your spirits and inspire you.

If you’re looking for beautiful plants that will grow well in containers and encourage bees, hoverflies, butterflies and other precious pollinating insects to your garden, the following suggestions will help you:

Erigeron karvinskianus is such a pretty flower. It adds a delicate softness to walls, steps and other areas of hard landscaping, giving them a touch of beauty, and a delicacy that might have previously been thought impossible. It’s also a super choice for hanging baskets, containers and window boxes, flowering non-stop from early summer to the first frosts.

I love growing hardy Gerbera garvinea in containers. My plants have survived without any special care through the coldest of our winters, growing larger in size each year. They produce such an abundance of flowers that I also use them for cut flowers. With regular feeding and deadheading, my Gerbera garvinea have flowered non-stop from early spring until they have really been hammered by the frosts in winter. Gerbera garvinea ‘Sweet Surprise’ is part of a new series of hardy Gerbera that have been specially bred to provide hardy plants that produce a continuous display of flowers over three seasons. This particular cultivar has large, candy pink flowers, but you’ll find different coloured flowering Gerbera from the same series.

Thyme is another super plant to grow in containers. When you’re harvesting thyme, resist temptation to remove your stems in their entirety from the very base of the plant. Instead cut your harvest from the tips of your plant which will encourage bushy growth. There are so many varieties of thyme to choose from, varieties of Lemon thyme provide a delicious flavour in cooking, as does Orange-scented thyme.

Other worthy candidates to grow in containers to provide pollen and nectar for pollinating insects include: Lavandula angustifolia, Origanum, Cosmos, Limnanthes douglasii, Calendula officinalis, Osteospurmum, Aubrieta, Clarkia, Sarcococca, Sedum and Scabious. Single-flowered varieties provide accessible pollen and nectar – avoid double-flowered varieties. Try wherever you can to provide a continuous supply of nectar throughout the year. Look out for the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ logo on plants at your local garden centre or nursery.

None of the plants I have mentioned here require a peat-based compost, so use a peat free alternative growing media. I’ve had excellent results using Dalefoot Composts, a range of peat-free composts made from 100% natural ingredients including bracken and sheep’s wool. Dalefoot’s wool-based potting compost is ideal for containers, the sheep’s wool that’s incorporated into this compost has naturally absorbent properties which provide extra water retention. This means that your containers require less watering which is a bonus.

If you have the choice, position your containers in a sunny spot as butterflies like the warmth and will be more inclined to visit your plants. Deadhead your plants regularly to encourage further flowering and keep your containers well watered. Avoid using any insecticides or pesticides in your garden as they are very damaging to insects and wildlife.

For inspiration, tips and advice on some lovely jobs you could do in your garden or at your allotment this month, and much more besides, please visit my website, www.pumpkinbeth.com.

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