As the weather begins to warm, it is finally time to set out planters and baskets on our decks and patios.
It looks as though we will be staying close to home for awhile, so this year we should try to be more creative and make our containers more interesting. We need to add fragrance but, more importantly, we need to incorporate pollinator-attracting plants.
All our containers and baskets should be colourful and have at least some perfume. The benefits of butterflies, hummingbirds and all species of bees dropping in for a snack of nectar or pollen adds a connection to the natural world that we all crave right now.
The challenge is that many of the best pollinator plants bloom for short periods, leaving us with more foliage than blooms, but there are several jewels out there.
Some of the most popular plants today are the more compact buddleias (butterfly shrub). New breeding has resulted in varieties, like the ‘Lo and Behold’ series, that are compact, continuous blooming, fragrant and non-invasive.
Growing only 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet tall and wide, they fit comfortably into larger containers, and they play nicely with other annuals, perennials and compact shrubs. Their colour range has certainly grown as well, from the original ‘Blue Chip’ to ‘Lilac’, ‘Purple Haze’, ‘Ruby Chip’, ‘Ice Chip’ and my favourite ‘Pink Micro Chip’. Most of these varieties have won international awards at various trials, meaning they have been vetted by some of the best horticultural judges.
Not to be outdone, another new series of buddleias has also caught fire. The ‘Pugster’ group is similarly compact. Their shorter ‘pug-like’ blossoms are three to four inches wide and have quite a unique look. Their colour range has expanded from the original blue to amethyst, periwinkle, pink and white. Being smaller and compact, they combine well in containers with other plants.
All these buddleias do best in full sun, and as their common name implies, when in bloom they attract butterflies, as well as hummingbirds and bees. Having their perfume fill our patios all summer is another highlight.
The true sleeper plant for attracting pollinators is the so-called ‘cigar plant’. Cupheas are native to both Mexico and Guatemala. Cuphea ignea produces narrow, tubular, orange-red flowers with a white tip and dark rings that resemble a lit cigar. It is a hummingbird magnet.
There are many offshoots of the original cupheas. The most well-known, branded variety is Proven Winners’ ‘Vermillionaire’. It is quite at home both in containers and in hanging baskets, and it blooms continuously well into fall. Our daughter had a container of ‘Vermillionaire’ on her patio, and it not only attracted hummingbirds well into October, but I also noticed bees hovering over it.
The old-time German variety of a dark-leafed, upright fuchsia called ‘Gartenmeister’, with its long, narrow, tubelike bright orange flowers is, perhaps, the most recognized hummingbird and bee attractor. It is quite sun tolerant, and because of its unique colouring, it fits nicely into any yellow/orange/red combination plantings. Of all the trailing varieties of fuchsias, the sun-tolerant, tubular, pink-red F. ‘Wilma Verslot’ is one of the best and most floriferous hummingbird attractors.
The demand for lavender is truly remarkable. Historically, it has been used to produce soothing perfumes and oils and in dried sachets. Today, its calming fragrance is still popular as a sleep aid.
Lavender, when in bloom from late May into July, is also very attractive to pollinators, particularly the hardy L. angustifolia (English lavender). You can often hear the buzz of bees as they swarm the fragrant blooms.
Spanish lavender is not as hardy, but its distinct advantage is its continuous summer blooms. The fuller, rounded blooms of the ‘Anouk’ variety exude a nice perfume, and it regenerates those blooms all summer. For their best performance, they need a sunny location and very well-draining soil. Available as standards or tree forms, they make unique focal points for any planter.
There are also many great perennials that attract pollinators. The challenge with perennials, however, is the length of their bloom times.
Many new coreopsis will produce flowers from June well into October, and the old standbys, like the lace foliaged C. ‘Zagreb’ and C. ‘Moonbeam’, are great pollinator attractors. So, too, are the rudbeckias, especially those with smaller blooms, like R. ‘Little Goldstar’, that have similar blooming periods.
One of the finest perennial geraniums, G. ‘Rozanne’, with its non-stop blue flowers, entices its share of bees, as do the many bee balms (monarda) with their extended blooming periods. The wide range of repeat-blooming agastaches also play a huge role as pollinator attractors.
All these perennials can be planted together or combined with annuals to give you a beautiful display.