6 plants for creating a garden that boasts bees and blooms year-round
Concern for the world’s pollinators is stirring, with the vital role bees play in the reproduction of nearly 90% of all plants, our health and success is directly tied to theirs. The good news is anyone can help by providing habitat for pollinators like our butterflies, birds, beetles and bees. If you have a parcel of land or a balcony for planters, that is a bonus. But if you don’t, and you’re keen, there are community gardens that give you an option to garden anyway.
Pollinaturescaping is simply turning the space you have into a naturally attractive place for pollinators by emulating wild habitat. As pollinators go from plant to plant fertilizing them with pollen that clings to their bodies, what they are really trying to do is forage for food. Pollination is the happy accident that results from their search. By providing bees and other pollinators with lots of easily accessible food, we are giving them a boost to survival, while offering the plants they visit in search of food what they need to continue thriving. Some bees are only capable of flying 100 – 200 meters in search of food, which means having what they need within reach can be life or death for a bee.
Just considering bees alone, in BC there are 451 different species with unique preferences for plants. Some bees have long or short tongues and other variations in physical features that make certain flowers great, while others may be challenging to access wasting the bee’s precious energy reserves. Another thing to consider is that different species of bees are actively pollinating at different times of the year. If a bee becomes active in its search for sustenance, but there are not enough flowers blooming in their area, they may not survive.
To address the many unique bee’s necessities then, there are several important things to consider. If you want your habitat to be the most helpful, select a variety of plants with different shapes and heights to accommodate all kinds of pollinator species. Take an inventory of the plants you have or hope to plant, look up their blooming times, and ask yourself, “are there months of the year where my space has no blooms?” This is an opportunity to purchase some new plants or seeds for the bees.
Having a garden that blooms throughout the year, means that not only will you have an exciting garden no matter the month, you can also have pollinator visitors attracted to your garden and enjoying that habitat all year round. This way you are supporting the diversity of bee species needed for a nearby gardens, farms, and natural areas to grow strong. Diversity really is key in creating a pollinaturescape. Even incorporating a variety of colours is helpful as different pollinators are drawn to different hues.
What else is key when pollinaturescaping is to take cues from nature. This means using plant species that would have originally grown in your area, rather than introducing exotic species. A good exercise is to take a look around your nearest parks and natural spaces to get inspiration on what native flowers to plant. If you’re not familiar with their names, take some photos of the plants you find and bring them to your local native plant nursery for guidance or join a native plant identification group online.
It can be tough to resist the charm of cultivated varieties of plants, but there are a number of good and logical reasons to do so. The hundreds of native pollinator species found naturally in our region co-evolved alongside our native plants for millennia. By planting native species you are preserving these pre-existing mutually beneficial relationships. When bringing in exotic species there is always a chance that they can get out of hand and end up growing beyond your tended plot. This can have the nasty consequences of competing with naturally occurring plants for already scarce space, contributing to habitat loss, and if a garden-escapee has the right weedy characteristics, it can take over! This can cost your community and conservation groups loads of time and money to remove. When exotic weeds create a monoculture of single species, unlike a diverse ecosystem, they may offer pollen at only one time of the year, which is insufficient for most pollinators. Lastly, many exotic cultivars have been bred for showy petals but do not offer much in the way of the pollen pollinators sorely need to get by.
Taking all of these things into consideration, let us explore an example pollinaturescape suited to the South Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Starting out with six or more plants that have blooms spanning from February to October is a good basis. From there you can work in more variety as you tend and improve your naturespace. For example you could plant, Hooker’s Willow (Salix hookeriana) for a tree that blooms before other plants in February. Working down in size you might choose a Salmonberry shrub (Rubus spectabilis) that blooms from March to June with beautiful pink blossoms and tasty fruit (2nd photo right). Next, for a great groundcover go for Yarrow (Achillea millefolium - 3rd photo right). This pale-flowered plant blooming from April to October is also a host species for Painted Lady butterfly larvae (Vanessa Cardui). Another white-flowered host plant for Painted Lady butterflies you could add is Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) blooming from July to September. To add some variety in colour consider planting Consumption Plant (Lomatium Nudicaule). With its yellow, aromatic puffballs blooming from April to June, it is also a host to Anise Swallowtail Butterflies (Papilio zelicaon). Finally, you might want to add another burst of bright yellow flowers and pollen from July to September with Canada Goldenrod (Solidago lepida), a popular buzzing ground for tiny skipper butterflies and bees. (1st photo right)
This year, many organizations, including Habitat Acquisition Trust, Victoria Natural History Society, and Pollinator Partnership are teaming up to make a difference for pollinators in our region with special pollinator-focused initiatives.
Habitat Acquisition Trust is also hosting a Pollinator Festival Spring Fling at the Matson Conservation Area, located a short walk from West Bay Marina along the West Song Walkway on Sun, Apr 23rd from 10 am – 3 pm. Drop-in anytime that day for nature walks and nature appreciation in Victoria Harbour’s last remaining Garry Oak Ecosystem.