During the spring and summer, London’s parks and gardens are awash with flowers, providing a feast for pollinators like bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Pollinators such as bumblebees, solitary bees and hoverflies are also often active through autumn and winter, particularly in the south of the UK. However food sources become more limited in the colder months, as many plants go into dormancy.
We can help these species to thrive by including plants which provide year-round food for pollinators. At Richmond Park, thanks to support from players of People's Postcode Lottery, we have transformed a former formal garden into a pollinator oasis, providing accessible inspiration for green-fingered visitors wishing to help pollinators and other wildlife throughout the year.
Why are we doing this?
There are over 1,500 species of insect pollinators in the UK, feeding on nectar and pollen from flowers and in turn, playing a vital role in helping plants to set seed, fruit and grow again year after year. Numbers of these species have been declining over the last century, but the rate of loss has been particularly worrying over the last 30 years. Habitat loss through increased urbanisation and intensive farming practices and pesticide use are likely to be major contributors, and climate change undoubtedly plays a part. On an individual level, paving over of gardens for ease-of-maintenance and car parking have contributed to habitat loss and broken up green corridors in cities.
Many gardeners and people caring for green spaces are already trying to help reverse the decline by choosing pollinator-friendly plants. However, many popular pollinator plants, such as lavender, cornflower and scabious are summer bloomers, and finding plant species which provide nectar in Autumn and Winter can be more difficult.
Designed by Richmond Park Assistant Manager, Jo Scrivener, the Richmond Park Pollinator Garden at Poet’s Corner has been created to showcase how carefully-chosen planting offers a consistent source of food and shelter for pollinators throughout the seasons, as well as looking beautiful year-round.
What is involved?
The Pollinator Garden was laid out in 2017, with planting continuing over the following two years. Its beds have been planted with a mixture of both native and non-native pollinator-friendly plants, including shrubs, herbaceous perennials, bulbs and annuals. Early and late flowering plants, such as cowslips and winter-flowering heather, are included in the mix, stretching the availability of nectar for insects across the year. Through Autumn, seed heads from globe thistle and coneflower remain in the beds, providing food for the park’s birds, which also find shelter in a mixed-species native hedgerow planted along the garden’s boundary. The former lawn has been transformed into a meadow of wildflowers and grasses.
Alongside providing planting ideas for visitors for their own gardens, allotments and window boxes, the Pollinator Garden is used by Mission: Invertebrate to host community groups and networking events for other curators of green spaces, sharing what we have learnt about creating spaces that benefit people and pollinators as well as learning from our peers.
What happens next?
In 2019, once the garden was fully laid out, we undertook a survey of the invertebrates using the new habitat. Our research uncovered 492 invertebrate species, 112 of them pollinators. This included 48 types of bee – half of all the species recorded in Richmond Park – 19 species of wasp, 31 of hoverflies and 14 of butterflies.
As the garden matures, with its hedgerows filling out and meadow establishing year after year, we will work with volunteer citizen scientists to monitor changes in the populations of pollinators and other invertebrates that use the garden. The Mission: Invertebrate team will also be working with local volunteers to help maintain the garden and add further planting.
What can you do?
If you are choosing outdoor plants, think by season, offering something for wildlife at each point in the year.
- Choose pollinator-friendly plants that flower at different times, particularly early and late in the year. Our ‘Planting for Pollinators’ resource has some ideas for unusual flowering plants which look fabulous as well as providing food for pollinators.
- Look for ‘single-bloom’ flowers if you can. ‘Double-flowered’ or ‘double bloom’ plants, including many varieties of roses, carnations and camellias, rarely occur naturally and are harder for pollinators to access.
- Leave seed-heads on perennials and grasses over-winter. These can look beautiful in the Winter light or covered in frost, and the seeds provide a food source for birds in the lean Winter months.
- Seek out a good mix of plants to offer both food and shelter to wildlife; shrubs, grasses, bulbs and perennials will all bring different benefits.
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