A Pollinator Garden – Everyone is Welcome!


A fresh start, for the bees

After clearing the mess from a pumpkin patch disaster, we sat down and drew up plans for each area in the office veggie garden. The first area that we started with was one that is very close to our hearts and our ethos here at Grow to Eat – the pollinator garden.

Our veggie garden is divided into four quadrants, as well as a couple of incidental areas, so we decided to dedicate one of these quadrants to our pollinators. What we tried to do here is to plant a selection of plants that are both edible and a source of pollen and nectar for the various bee and butterfly species that frequent our area.

In our Pollinator Garden

What we tried to do here is to plant a selection of plants that are both edible and a source of pollen and nectar.

First we did some research into what plants these insects like the most, and which are also useful in the home or garden. Once we had a list of plants we could source locally, we got Izolda, our resident art chick, to draw a beautiful plan for us.

Then we got our hands dirty. We were originally going to use bark or wood chips for the pathway, which would break the garden into sections and also give us easy access to its entirety. But then we remembered that we have a bit of a white ant problem in the garden, and the ground is often wet, so we decided to use something that wouldn’t be eaten, rot or disappear into the ground – slate! We laid out a casual pathway around the existing lemon tree and it looks beautiful.

We had planted a lavender hedge a while back, so we left that in place and built around it. We also sowed some Namaqualand daisy seeds for some colour (which we will soon replace with something like salvias, zinnias, a bee mix or a meadow mix) then began filling in the spaces. We started with Echinacea purpurea in a few varieties: ‘Pow Wow Wildberry’, ‘Pow wow White’ and ‘Cheyenne Spirit’. These are such spectacular plants for the garden – we’d plant them even if the bees didn’t love them and if they weren’t so darned useful medicinally.

Then we planted a few of the allium family – onion ‘Texas Grano’, chives and spring onions. Everyone knows how useful they are in the kitchen, but not everyone knows that bees love to sip on the nectar.

The tall and graceful yarrow is a particular favourite plant of mine, as well as the pollinators, so we dug up some from Izolda’s garden and made clumps of these in our garden. They propagate so easily from rooted runners that you can fill up a space quite quickly. They’re also wonderful companion plants for just about everything, and have a myriad of medicinal uses, while their white or purple flowers are lovely.

If you’ve ever planted rocket or wild rocket, you’ll know that the flowers are always buzzing with bees, both honey bees and the countless other bees that we get in South Africa, so no pollinator garden should be without this useful and pretty (and delicious) herb. They grow so easily and will reseed themselves so that you never have to buy them again. The leaves are full of vitamins and can be eaten raw or cooked. Try them the Italian way, sautéed in olive oil and eaten with pasta and Parmesan.

In the pollinator garden we actually didn’t plant any sage, saving that for another garden. Instead we planted a few other members of the Salvia genus, including pineapple sage for its delicious red flowers. The salvias added a bit of height and colour to what was in danger of being a flat garden.

In our neck of the woods sweet basil just doesn’t do well, which is a great pity, but there are alternatives. We planted basil ‘Wild Magic’, an absolute winner of a plant. It’s perennial and ornamental, with purply-green leaves and pink flowers, but is far more tender and tasty than most other perennial basils, making it a true culinary herb. As with the rest of the basil family, pollinators can’t leave it alone. While we plant them for their green leaves, many of the brassica family are adored by pollinators for their little yellow flowers. We planted some of the Asian greens, like bok choy and tatsoi, as well as mustard ‘Mizuna’, in clumps.

You can’t have a pollinator garden without borage, which apparently fills its flowers with nectar every few seconds, so we planted a patch of it from seedlings that had sprung up on the garden path. You can never get rid of borage from your garden…

Then we filled in empty spaces with calendula, so useful as a medicinal herb and much loved for its yellow flowers, and carpets of alyssum ‘Snow Crystals’, which is a bit of a cheat I suppose.

Finally, we planted garden mint, apple mint and catmint in terracotta plants, to slow down their rampage across the garden, and dotted them around the garden. When they flower they are irresistible to pollinators, and they are so useful in the kitchen.

We’re not quite finished – we’ll still plant some comfrey, sunflowers and clover, and try to keep adding bits and pieces to keep the pollinators happy and well fed through summer and even next winter. But for now the pollinator garden is looking beautiful and already doing its job – butterflies and bees are already visiting it in their masses, and it’s a lovely place to spend a few minutes of contemplation over a cup of tea.

As always, we’ll let you know whatever we get up to, so until next time…

The Gardener