Rich purple, flaming red, burnt orange, soft pink, cool white, vibrant yellow and sky blue are the hallmarks of beautiful summer bedding schemes in cities, towns and villages in every county in Ireland. Many are provided by highly dedicated Tidy Towns Groups, of which more than 800 enter the National Tidy Towns competition, giving pride of place to their locality.
With summer bedding, it is very easy to create an outstanding splash of colour in streets, open spaces and parks. However, for many years these displays have been for people only and have not been pollinator-friendly.
In recent years, I have been researching how to make these schemes pollinator-friendly while still retaining their mass colour effects so enjoyed by the public – in hanging baskets, planter boxes, and open areas. We now know that many of the traditional summer bedding plants, including Geraniums, Petunias, Begonias and Busy Lizzie ,which produce beautiful blooms in an array of colours, do not provide food for pollinators. They have been bred for ‘showiness’, at the expense of pollen and nectar.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve been growing and observing a range of summer bedding plants and noting which are attractive to a range of pollinating insects, including bees, hoverflies and butterflies. I’ve discovered two plants that can make all the difference when added into traditional bedding displays. These modified plant arrangements have been tried and have been shown to be very successful in various locations, including Limerick City. Adding these plants to traditional summer bedding can make a significant difference to the overall sustainability of the planting scheme. They provide food resources for a range of pollinating insects throughout the summer and into the autumn, while being complementary to a range of other summer bedding.
Bidens within planting on O’Connell Street, Limerick, mid-summer 2018. Copyright Peter Cuthbert
Bidens is now available in a range of colours, including yellow, orange and pink/white. From observations, the yellow forms are most attractive to all pollinators. They have a trailing growth habit and are ideal in hanging baskets, planter boxes and even planted in the open ground.
Bumblebee on Bacopa, 2018. Copyright Peter Cuthbert
Bacopa is a natural trailing plant, ideal for hanging baskets, window boxes and planters. It flowers for a very long period from mid-June to late Autumn. From my own personal observation, the white coloured forms are very attractive to bumblebees and hoverflies, especially early in the summer. Later in the summer, the pink and blue forms seem more attractive to insects. Initial growth is slow, but from mid-summer onwards, Bacopa can look very effective.
Another plant which is currently being examined and may have potential as summer bedding for pollinators is Sanvitalia procumbens, which is available in yellow and orange. It has a trailing habit of growth, again making it very suitable for hanging baskets and planter boxes. It is also very tolerant of drought. Initial observations have shown it is attractive to hoverflies and it is hoped to continue examining the potential during 2019.
By Peter Cuthbert, Horticultural Services