Which plants to use (part 1) – Spring Plants
So. I’d prepared my planters (mainly buckets), filled them up with peat free compost (to which I’d also mixed in a slow release, organic fertiliser) and was now ready to plant them up. But which plants was I going to choose?
Given that my balcony was so small, I wanted to ensure that any plants I chose to use really “earned their keep” and so provided maximum value for the wildlife I was hoping to attract. Ideally, I wanted each plant, as far as possible, to provide both nectar and pollen for the insects, seeds or berries for birds as well as leaves which were edible to a range of caterpillars and insects. I also wanted to introduce some evergreen plants(such as ivy) which could offer shelter to insects hibernating in the winter and, if lucky, also provide nesting sites for birds.
As the balcony was east facing, I knew I would only be getting direct sunshine for around 4 hours a day in high summer, so I wasn’t entirely sure if I‘d get away with plants which demanded a great deal of direct sunshine.
In the end, I decided that the best approach was to prioritise plants which offered the “maximum benefit” to wildlife and to just take a chance with any of the sun loving plants I selected.
As it happened, pretty much all of the sun loving plants coped just fine with the east facing aspect, including the traditionally “sun hungry” herbs.
So, here are the “Star Performers” which I’d eventually selected and which I’ve listed in order of their “seasonal contribution” to wildlife :
Spring: Bulbs such as Dwarf Daffodils, Snowdrops, Grape Hyacinths and Crocuses. All of these are some of the very first plants to flower, in early spring, and offered butterflies, bees and other insects vital sources of nectar and pollen after emerging from their long winter slumbers.
With this in mind, I planted up a nectar rich “Spring Bucket” in to which I planted a selection of these spring flowering bulbs including dwarf daffodils, snowdrops , crocuses and grape hyacinths along with a few early summer Purple Flowering Alliums Together, they provided a rich source of nectar and pollen, as they flowered in succession throughout early March to early June. Once they’d all finished flowering and the bulbs’ leaves had started to die back, I planted some “wildlife friendly” annuals into the emerging spaces. These included cosmos (providing nectar for bees, butterflies and hoverflies as well as seeds for birds) and nasturtiums (providing nectar and pollen for bees as well as a food plant for the caterpillars of the small and large white butterflies)
Other good spring/early summer plants included the native Cuckoo Flower (cardamine pratensis) which is the food-plant for the orange tip butterfly as well as bi-annuals such as Honesty and the native Garlic Mustard – which are both good sources of nectar as well as food plants for the “orange tip” and “white” butterfly species.
Of course, this is not by any means a definitive list of “wildlife friendly” plants and will be updating these pages with details of other suitable plants (wildlife magnets!) as my blog develops. Watch this space!