I was recently talking to Aya (above with Eini) about the highs and lows of balcony gardening . On her 3rd floor garden, Aya grew herbs, courgettes, salad leaves and a rose last year, and this year wants to try out more fruit and veg. What she noticed last summer is that she didn’t have enough bees to pollinate her courgettes and ended up, rather impressively, doing this by hand.
So this got me thinking about how important insects are for pollinating, wherever your veg patch is. And to help Aya’s veg for this year, we started compiling a list of annuals and perennials that will attract bees onto her sizeable south and west-facing wrap around balcony.
Perennial herbs such as Marjoram (above) and Lavender (and many other herbs too) will certainly do the trick, coming back year after year, and providing great flavours for the kitchen and beautiful flowers and textures for the balcony. These plants can easily be grown from cuttings taken in spring and also throughout the summer.
And annuals (growing, flowering and dying all in the same year) will also play their part. Sowing seeds is a cheap and easy way to have these vibrant bee magnets on your plot and there are plenty of candidates that will attract bees in all shapes and sizes. The delicate Nigella damascena (above) will grow to approx 12-18 inches (30-45cm)
and form alien like seed pods which will, very usefully, supply seeds for the following year too.
The greenish white domes of Amni visnaga, planted alongside the airy purple heads of Verbena bonariensis will lend a subtle bucolic air to the balcony,
or for a vibrant splash of colour, sunflowers sown from March to May can really provide a substantial and joyous presence to any growing space as well as attracting plenty of bees.
I found the Chiltern Seed catalogue really useful when contemplating the pollinator issue as it lists nearly 400 bee attracting plants (on the drop down menu under Wild Flower Garden). They also sent me a very useful list of bee and butterfly attracting perennials that will flower in the first year from seed. Jolly useful list if you’re trying to keep costs down and spare plants can be shared and with friends and family too. I haven’t grown any of these perennials before: Leonotis ‘Staircase’, Agastache aurantiaca ‘Fragrant Carpet’, and
Monarda didyma ‘Panama red shades’ (aka bee balm or Bergamot, above).
I’m intrigued to see how successful these plants will be at attracting bees to the balcony and I hope Aya can look forward to the merry sound of buzzing all summer long and plenty of courgettes and other fruit and veg to eat too.