Which plants to use (part 2) – Summer Plants

Nasturtiums are a real boon for wildlife on my balcony: Their juicy stems are loved by blackfly and greenfly(aphids), which in turn provide an important food source for ladybirds, hoverflies and birds(especially tits). The leaves are eaten by cabbage white butterfly caterpillars and I was delighted to open my blinds, one morning, only to see dozens of their green and yellow caterpillars voraciously munching their way through my nasturtiums. The flowers are also a great source of pollen for bumble bees and any leaves or flowers not eaten by the caterpillars made a lovely "peppery" addition to my summer salads!

Compared to the range of early flowering plants in the spring , the  summer months seem to offer a much wider range of “wildlife friendly”  plants to choose from for the balcony garden. 

And, given that the summer is the season when our wildlife is in “full swing”, actively  breeding and feeding, it’s great to be able to support our native creatures by planting a diverse range of  summer flowering, nectar rich plants for them.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly feeding on the nectar rich herb "Anise Hyssop". This lovely herb was equally attractive to bees, too.

As mentioned earlier, when choosing suitable plants, I wanted to ensure that each plant “earned its keep” and decided that a mixture of herbs and wild flowers, as well as some carefully chosen cultivated plants,  would be the best way of ensuring the balcony attracted a wide variety of creatures.  I already knew that the east facing aspect of my balcony meant that I would get at least 4 hours of direct sunlight in high summer: more than enough, it seemed, to ensure the that even the most “sun demanding” herbs would at least survive if not thrive there.

Borage was a fantastic herb to introduce to the balcony and drew in an endless stream of bees visiting it for its abundant nectar. This cheeky bee seems to have bitten through the side of the flower in order to reach the nectar - this is often a tactic taken by those species of bees who's tongues aren't long enough to reach the nectar conventionally.

Herbs, which  I initially introduced to the sunnier  parts of the balcony, included: Marjoram, Comfrey  (shade tolerant) Borage  Thyme, Hyssop , Lavender   and ChivesAll of these did really well and helped to attract both bees and butterflies to the balcony. 

Chives are a really great source of nectar for bees visiting my balcony in early summer. The leaves are also a great addition to my salads and omelettes, too!

 

 

 

 

Hoverflies are important pollinators, too, and  love  the “open flower plates” typically seen on umbelliferous type plants. With this in mind I planted both Yarrow and  Fennel. The fennel was a magnet for hoverflies and small beetles though unfortunately it was also short-lived.

The yarrow, however, was equally attractive to pollinating insects (especially hoverflies) and far from being short-lived,  it thrived to such an extent that it’s effectively taken over its container! Lucky hoverflies! Other herbs which I plan to introduce this year include Rosemary  and Sage   which are also regarded as excellent bee plants when in flower. These herbs are also a great addition to the cooking pot, too.

Marjoram occupying a sunny spot on my balcony. Not just great for Italian cooking, but, as you can see, equally great for hoverflies too!

Of course, I didn’t want to rely exclusively on herbs to attract butterflies, bees and other pollinators to the balcony (though when left to flower they do an excellent job). I also wanted to ensure that  I had a diverse range of  native and (carefully chosen) cultivated plants to provide a continuous source of nectar throughout the summer season.

From the plants I’ve introduced , so far,  I can say that the summer “Star Performers”  on my balcony include;

My evergreen honeysuckle flowers in May and attracts bees and hoverflies (as seen here) as well as nocturnal moths beckoned by its night-scented flowers. The autumnal berries are also eaten by birds. A really great addition to the balcony!

Honeysuckle. This has been great for bees, attracts  moths with its scent at night and, in late summer, also provides berries which are eaten by robins. As I wanted the honeysuckle to grow quite large, I planted it in a galvanised metal dustbin to allow its roots room to grow. Its  now thriving and, hopefully, the tangled masses of twisting stems which I’ve weaved along the balcony’s railings might also provide a nesting site for birds at some point. 

Climbing Hydrangea. This was also planted into a galvanised metal dustbin and has done really well, too. Its self-clinging shoots have travelled up the wall and are now starting to weave themselves along the balcony’s railings,  where I hope they might one day provide a nesting site suitable for small birds. It’s creamy white flowers provide numerous hoverflies  and bees with an abundant source of nectar in the early summer and its waxy green leaves provide a sheltered sun bathing area for butterflies.  Its also tolerant of shade and so is ideal for north facing balconies.

Bees love the glistening white, nectar rich flowers of the climbing hydrangea

Cotoneaster This small spreading shrub, with its tiny flowers in the early summer and abundant red berries in the autumn,  is great for bees  and birds alike. I’ve planted it into a galvanised metal box which I’ve carefully secured to the outside of my balcony. As the plant’s thick bushy stems arch over the container,  a great sheltered space is developing which has the potential to become a bird nesting site. 

Biannuals such as Foxglove , “Jack by the Hedge”,  Honesty and Teasel have also been introduced to the balcony. So far, the foxglove has done really well in the shady area below my honeysuckle climber and was constantly visited by bumble bees  when it was in flower.

“Jack by the hedge”  (or Garlic Mustard)  is a good food plant for the  caterpillars of the orange tip butterfly as is Honesty. Last year, they both flowered and set seed on the balcony. However, like all biannuals, they are short-lived and died shortly after setting seed. Hopefully, their dispersed  seeds will eventually produce a new crop of plants to replace them. Fingers crossed!  The Teasel plant is terrific for bees, butterflies and goldfinches and so I was very pleased when I managed to extract some seeds from a Teasel plant  which I’d discovered on waste ground last year. I planted some of the seeds on my balcony and,  as a result, at  least one big plant now seems to have germinated and will hopefully flower this year.

Foxglove, Cosmos and Nasturtiums. By carefully selecting the right sort of nectar rich flowers, a diverse range of pollinators can be attracted to even the smallest balcony garden or window box

I also planted cornfield  annuals such as common poppy, corn marigold and cornflower (in  my “dustbin lid meadow” project), together with a range of  perennial wild flowers including birds-foot-trefoil, oxeye daisy, meadow cranes-bill, self-heal, and red campion. These have all done really well and attracted countless bees and hoverflies to the balcony . The “meadow”  also attracted ravenous hordes of ladybirds and hoverfly larvae who preyed on the burgeoning  population of sap sucking aphids. It really is a jungle out there!  I’ll post a separate blog entry  on how I made the “dustbin lid meadow” very soon.

Of course, this is by no means a definitive list of “wildlife friendly” plants and as I experiment with introducing different plants to my balcony , you can be sure that I’ll be regularly posting updates of my findings. Why not subscribe to my blog updates by going to the main page here and clicking on “email subscription” located in the right hand margin