is finally here, and the garden is in full bloom and the weeds have settled to a dull roar. One of the delights of the summer garden is watching hummingbirds & butterflies while listening to the humming of bees. These creatures perform an essential role in the garden as pollinators and many people have begun to deliberately create pollinator friendly gardens. Here are a few of the many plants that can and do attract pollinators for the summer season, as well as tips to make the garden more inviting to them.
Hummingbirds love red & if it’s red & tubular even more. Crocosmia, fuchsia, the huge tubes of lilies & the tiny ones of centranthus (Jupiter's Beard) as well as honeysuckle & penstemon. They also enjoy albizzia (the tree) and such annuals/tender perennials as firecracker plant, petunias & callibrachoe. While they don't only feed from red flowers, an abundance of red or deep pink in the garden will keep them coming back; they then zip around the garden seeing if there is anything for a second course. Hummingbirds serve double duty in our gardens, they also catch insects on the wing: flies, gnats & mosquitoes; their favourites being spiders and daddy long legs.
Bees, on the other hand, are colour blind to red & zero in on the blue side of the spectrum: earlier in the year, lilacs & ceanothus & early campanulas. Now, in full summer, buddleia is always swarming with bees as are subshrubs such as rosemary, lavender, sage & thyme. Perennials such as veronica, delphinium & hardy geraniums are good bee plants, as are the scented verbena, agastache and anchusa. Bees don't shun plants just because they aren't blue: both monarda (bee balm) and asclepias (butterfly weed) can & do attract lots of bees, as does eryngium (sea holly) and many annuals & biennials: cleome, cornflowers, snapdragons & foxglove are good examples.
Butterflies happily trip back & forth between the two colours, adding yellow & white to the mix. They prefer flat flowers: achillea, eryngium, echinacea & rudbeckia; but still they share with hummingbirds a love of centranthus & with bees a love of buddleia & lavender. Such strong scented plants as nepeta (catmint) lemon balm, mint, monarda & hyssop attract not only bees & butterflies but many of the lesser pollinators & helpful insects such as parasitic wasps. If you plant a few night blooming plants: evening primrose, phlox or cardinal flower, you will also be providing food for nocturnal moths; some of these are incredibly lovely.
In considering how to bring butterflies to your garden, it is important to care for them in their larval stage. The caterpillars of the gorgeous Western Tiger Swallowtail, for example, live & feed on poplars, willow, birch & bitter cherry, while the Pale Swallowtail prefers alder. Stinging nettle is home to many baby butterflies as are native thistles. If possible, a small "wild" section at the edge of the garden will ensure an abundance of butterflies. Leaving garden cleanup til spring also means that overwintering chrysalises will not be destroyed
Water & Other Needs
Similarly, bees need more than just nectar: the right housing can increase the number of kinds of bees that come to the garden: in BC our gardens can attract honeybees, mason bees, leaf cutter bees as well as bumble bees to mention just a few. Some of these are ground nesting and are very important pollinators. They are not aggressive, stinging only in self defense. For these bees it is good to leave a bare (uncultivated) area of soil, which remains fairly dry. Some hornets & wasps also nest in the ground, and they DO sting!!! Its important to learn to tell the difference between a bee and a wasp before leaving or destroying that nest.
All bees also need a source water: any shallow container with pebbles or twigs as landing sites (changed daily) will keep the entire hive healthy. Butterflies will also take advantage of this "pool". Hummingbirds prefer to fly through a daytime sprinkler for a bath, or else sit in the rain with their wings open "bathing"' They drink dew in the morning but will drink from a shallow birdbath with a very narrow rim.
What Not to Do
It goes without saying, I hope, that the primary way to keep your garden attractive to pollinators is to refrain from using pesticides which are not natural in origin. Pesticides are the worst enemies of butterflies, and if they must be applied, even organic pesticides should be applied in the evening when butterflies are mostly inactive.
Plants that attract the various pollinators vary greatly in appearance. This variation of colour & form can make for a very satisfying garden in summer. Most experts suggest a minimum of ten types of plants to keep pollinators coming back, but in honest anything we do in our gardens is a bonus for these small but very essential creatures.