The new season offers the chance to make our gardens more environmentally sound, says Peter Dowdall
OH, HOW I love this time of the year. You can see and nearly feel the life breathing back into the garden as plants begin to wake from their seasonal slumber once more and leaves and blooms start to burst forth once more from the dormant stems.
Daffodils are well and truly up and showing off their yellow trumpets heralding the start of another spring season and, yes, they may be a little earlier than is usual due to the very mild winter we have experienced but that’s fine — it allows us to enjoy a longer and earlier spring season.
That’s not to say that we won’t get our gardening knuckles rapped so to speak with a late dip in temperatures, frost or, dare I even suggest, snow. It may happen — it was well into March in 2018 when the snow came, but for now let’s just enjoy what we have: “carpe diem”.
The climate is changing (of that there is no doubt) and the rate at which we are witnessing species decline and biodiversity suffer is alarming.
We need to ensure now, more than ever as we enter a new gardening year, that we practise gardening methods which are environmentally sound and sustainable.
We all know that there is too much carbon in our atmosphere but what you may not know is that soil needs carbon to thrive and thus produce better quality flowers and edibles. We need to fix the balance, take the carbon from the atmosphere and put it into the soil. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, guess what, it is simple — the plants will do all the work for us. You or I couldn’t take the carbon out of the air and put it into the soil but the plants can and they want to. They do this in the process of photosynthesis and turn it into carbohydrates which travel through their roots to feed the beneficial soil microbes and this, in turn, improves our soil.
Pouring chemical weedkillers and fertilisers onto our soils has the opposite effect, reducing the health of our soil.
If we all strive to make our gardens safer and more environmentally sound then the cumulative effort will begin to make a big difference.
One of the insects we all think about in the garden is the honeybee and by now most of us are aware of the fact that their numbers are in decline. Helping them is simple, colourful, fun and less expensive than harming them.
Using plants in our garden to attract and provide food for bees and other pollinating insects is the first step.
A quick look at Biodiversity Ireland’s website, www.biodiversityireland.ie, will provide you with a list of pollinator-friendly plants and tips on actions you can take to help the bees and other pollinators.
Some simple things to remember when choosing plants which are good for bees are that they should provide nectar for the bees easily — thus, simple, open, single flowers are better than ruffled petalled double flowers. The blooms of a sunflower, for instance, will be much better than a double-flowered dahlia or peony rose. The big yellow petals of the sunflower play two roles, firstly they are big and bright and thus attract the bees and then they act as a landing pad for the bee to stand on while gathering the nectar and in so doing the bee covers himself in pollen which then brushes off on the next flower. The very ruffled and congested flowers will attract the bees with their bright colours certainly, but the nectar isn’t easily accessible and so they aren’t that helpful.
Other plants which you can add to your garden to attract the bees include lavender, Verbena, Cosmos, Rudbeckia, Digitalis and primroses. All of these will bring masses of colour to your garden and also attract other welcome guests such as butterflies, ladybirds and moths. Now you will see how important it is not to use any form of chemical when you see an infestation of greenfly or similar as many of these chemicals will also kill the bees, ladybirds and other insects which you are trying to attract.
It’s not just pretty perennials which will appeal — larger shrubs and trees too can provide food for the bees. Cherry and apple blossoms are good and so too are hawthorn, almond blossom and Viburnums.
This isn’t all one-way traffic; by helping the bees we are also helping ourselves. The most obvious way is that well-pollinated plants will produce better blooms and fruits but also don’t forget that we depend on a healthy bee population for all our food. More flowers and seeds mean better quality and more plentiful plants which in turn leads to more carbon taken from the atmosphere and sequestered underground leading to healthier soil. Such a rich, rich tapestry.