The Organic Gardening Medley – Flowers from the Cottage to the Wild

May 16, 2010


Flowers are rich in nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies and moths – nectar provides sugar and energy, while pollen offers proteins and fats. Native wild flowers and cottage garden perennial flowers offer sources of both pollen and nectar, and enrich ‘nature-scapes’ within home, community and school gardens. Ideally a range of flowers throughout the growing season – from early Spring to Autumn – offers a consistent offering of food. Attracting pollination of fruits and vegetables is secured with the provision of flowers from native wild flowers, herb flowers and decorative flowers, planted in close proximity to vegetable and fruiting garden areas. Ideally both are inter-mixed with perhaps edible flowers incorporated alongside vegetables.

An Taisce, The National Trust for Ireland,  estimates that the value of pollination to the Irish economy is 53 million Euros. Bees are currently threatened in Ireland, “the main threats to pollinating species include habitat destruction, agricultural intensification, and a lack of food and nesting sites. There are many simple measures that can be taken to help conserve our pollinating species such as planting plants attractive to bees in your garden, leaving areas of garden ‘wild’ to act as nesting sites, maintaining hedgerows and other semi-natural areas as forage and nesting areas” (www.antaisce.org).

An Taisce’s tips for attracting bees are as follows:

1. Avoid pesticide use

2. Use local native plants

3. Choose a diverse range of colourful flowering species

4. Choose species that will flower at different times through the growing season

5. Plant flowers in clumps

6. Choose flowers with different shapes, particularly open-cup shaped flowers

7. Plant in both sunny and shady areas

The design features of nature-friendly flower gardens are – dense planting, leaving no bare earth and encouraging self-seeding to produce drifts and textures of flowers. Try to avoid straight lines when cultivating new planting areas, and install curved and meandering areas of abundant growth. Place seating areas within an enclosure of flowers to observe bees, butterflies and moths.

Examples of Cottage Garden, Herb and Wild Flowers for Bees, Butterflies and Moths

Lupin, Cornflower, Hyssop, Borage, Rudbeckia, Foxgloves, Yarrow, Cranesbill Geranium, Rosemary, Primroses, Heather, Columbine (Granny’s Bonnet, Aquilegia), Feverfew, Cat Mint (Nepeta), Sage, Lavender, Bugle, Field Scabious. Cowslip, Teasel, Purple Loosestrife, Ragged Robin, Marsh Marigold, Musk Mallow, Viper’s Bugloss, Great Mullein (Verbascum), Campion, Knapweed, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Bluebell, Rose Burnet, Ox-Eye Daisy, Delphinium, Iris, Hollyhock, Honeysuckle, Campanula, Wallflowers, Stock, Lilacs, Forsythia, Buddleia, Fennel, St. John’s Wort, Hellebore, Snapdragon, Cardoon, Bergamot, Lady’s Mantle, etc.

“Gardens make up a huge amount of our land mass and they provide food and shelter for a huge number of birds, butterflies, and other important wildlife. Growing native trees, shrubs and flowers or planting old-fashioned traditional garden plants from herbs to scented flowers provide more food and shelter than the newer hybrid and exotic breeds. Everyone could play a part in planting native and traditional plants and using less peat, insecticides and other garden chemicals in their gardens and public spaces”  (The Heritage Council of Ireland).

Reference Books and Websites:

Wildflowers for Wildlife by Jenny Steel

The Small Ecological Garden by Sue Stickland

Irish Wild Plants: Myths, Legends and Folklore by Niall McCoitir

Collins Wildlife Gardener by Stefan Buczacki

Flora Hibernica: The Wild Flowers, Plants and Trees of Ireland by Jonathan Pilcher and Valerie Hall

Design by Nature  www.wildflowers.ie  For information on growing wildflowers and ordering seed.

Irish Wildflowers http://www.irishwildflowers.ie  To identify Irish wildflowers.

Wildflowers of Ireland http://www.wildflowersofireland.net To identify Irish wildflowers.

Peppermint Farm and Garden http://www.peppermintfarm.com To order small organic herbs and wild plants for delivery.

The Herb Garden http://www.theherbgarden.ie To order herbs, wild plants and seed.

Photos: The top photo was taken in a new community garden area in Tallanstown, County Louth, and demonstrates the use of narrow beds to build dimensions within grassy areas. The next subsequent photos were taken in the Burren, County Clare and show purple Bugle and yellow Bird’s Foot Trefoil growing next to a laneway, while the last photo is taken in a meadow of cowslips.

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