As gardeners become increasingly aware of the ‘plight of the pollinators', a new trend is beginning to emerge - pollinator gardens. Pollinator gardens are popping up across the country - in both urban and rural areas - and are simply gardens that include plants which support and encourage important pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. With approximately 75 per cent of all crops and flowering plants relying on pollinators, and with plummeting populations, it's not hard to understand why so many gardeners are taking action.
A pollinator garden should include a range of plants to offer a steady supply of nectar and pollen from early spring to late autumn. Even spring dandelions in your lawn are an important source of early pollen to the bees (tell that to your neighbour next time they mention your ‘dandelion farm'!). When planning such a garden, be sure to include both native and non-native plants. Natives are extremely important as they have evolved alongside our pollinators and play an important role in their life-cycles.
Milkweed, for example, is a native perennial that is critical to monarch butterfly larvae, as it is the only plant they will eat. It's also an attractive plant that can be planted en masse along the perimeter of a property or scattered in clumps throughout a garden. Other native plants that can be used in a pollinator garden include coneflowers, black eyed-susies, goldenrod, Joe pye weed and asters. Introduced species like bee balm, phlox, butterfly bush, coreopsis, globe thistle and blanket flower are also good choices for pollinators.
Keep in mind that many annual flowers, herbs and vegetables also make excellent pollinator-friendly plants. Colourful zinnias, sunflowers, calendula and nasturtiums are among my favourite annuals for the bees and butterflies, but I also always allow some of my parsley, dill, kale and broccoli to flower too. I grow kale all winter for cold season greens and in the spring, these biennial plants are ready to bloom and produce their seeds. I always let a few of the mature plants flower because not only are the plants gorgeous - covered in thousands of tiny golden blooms - but the bees go crazy for them in late May!
Parsley is another biennial plant that pollinators love for its flat-topped flowers, but also as a first year plant it is an important food source for larval swallowtail butterflies. Other herbs for a pollinator garden include sage, lavender and chamomile, whose tiny daisy-like blooms also can be used for homegrown herbal tea. This year, I've planted large clumps of huge-flowering zinnias in my vegetable garden and the painted lady butterflies have absolutely adored these plants, often with two or three on the flowers at once competing for the sweet nectar.
If you're short on space, consider adding just a few clumps of pollinator-friendly plants to your existing gardens or fill a pot with zinnas, curly parsley, basil, thyme and calendula and place the container on decks or patios as a handy ‘landing pad' for local pollinators. Don't forget to include a birdbath or saucer of water, filled with sticks and twigs to provide a drink to the thirsty birds, bees and butterflies in your pollinator garden.
Pollinator Friendly Plants:
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award) and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio show that airs every Sunday from 11 to 1 pm on News 95.7 FM. For more info, please visit www.nikijabbour.com or follow her on twitter at @NikiJabbour.