Derry Gardeners’ Corner: Planting for Wildlife

Over the last few years, people have become more aware of the environment around them and how it affects our wildlife.

By Cyril Quinn
Friday, 20th May 2022, 12:55 pm

Many gardeners have taken it upon themselves to grow plants that provide nectar and pollen which are needed for species such as bees and butterflies to survive.

Loss of natural habitat, such as hedgerows, fields and forests, to make way for housing developments and new roads has a detrimental effect on wildlife, food chains and ecosystems. As a result of this, important ‘pollinators’, are in decline.

When we think of pollinators we all think of bees, but wasps, moths, butterflies, flies and beetles are also pollinators as well as birds and bats.

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Blue tit perched on twig of Hawthorn with white blossom.

On to the plants. We get quite a few customers in our centre looking for shrubs for year round interest and, normally, the reason for this is to have something to look at during every season. But this also has another benefit as it can provide food for bees and wasps disturbed from hibernation in the early months of the year and also food later in the year when there is little to choose from. I am going to suggest a few plants common and available to us in our part of the country. There are obviously hundreds of others but I think these would be the most recognisable and most popular.

Winter into Spring - The earliest flowering plants would include bulbs such as Snowdrops and Crocus, shrubs, Helleborus, Forsythia, and Camellia.

Spring into Summer - Next up we have Azaleas and Rhododendrons, Lilac, Ceanothus, Daphne and Pieris. And of course fruit trees and ornamental trees such as Cherry and Crab Apple.

Summertime and the world is your oyster! As well as summer bedding plants to choose from, we have our herbaceous perennials coming into flower, such as Lupins, Delphiniums, Penstemons, Hostas, Poppies and Chrysanthemum.

Diligent bee sucks lavender nectar.

I would usually suggest to anyone looking for summer flowering shrubs for wildlife to plant any of the Hebe varieties, Lavender, Buddleia, Hypericum and Fuchsia to name a few.

As we come to the end of Summer and prepare for Autumn, a lot of our shrubs will be finished flowering for the year or will be soon, although there will be a few later flowering plants to choose such as Crocosmia, Rudbeckia, Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker), Aster and Sedum, Sedum Autumn Joy being one of the best and will host dozens of bees and butterflies on their blooms on dry Autumn days, the clue is in the name.

One of the best plants to have in your garden for all year interest and constant food supply is Heather. There are varieties which will flower for each season.Heather beds aren’t as popular as they used to be but they can be dotted around the garden and used to fill gaps between other shrubs and they’re evergreen too. Any time we get a delivery of Heathers the bees make a (ahem) beeline to them. No pun intended.

As well as selective planting there are other gardening practices which can help promote and feed wildlife in your garden, for example reducing or banning weedkillers, especially on your lawn. We have become obsessed with perfectly manicured lawns and shrubs, but who says your lawn has to look like a snooker table? I prefer to let mine do its own thing. I like to see clover and buttercups and daisies and even dandelions in my lawn, because I know these are more beneficial to our wildlife than a lawn which is weed-free, grass only and boring.

Peacock butterfly on a dandelion flower
A bee on the Common Heather.