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Mediterranean Plants for Pollinators

A garden, to me, is all about life. Fortunate to have been raised in the rich Herefordshire countryside, some of my fondest memories as a child were spending hours in the garden, watching swarms of bees descend upon our lavender... it's a warm, fragrant memory that I remember to this day... perhaps overly romanticised to this point, but nonetheless.

At some point I would like to do a separate post on pollinators, so to be brief... pollinators (bees, moths, butterflies, beetles, flies) are vital for our gardens and wider environment. Plus, a garden without bees and birds flittering doing their thing would be sterile... utterly lifeless.

When it comes to plants for encouraging pollinators, I think we typically envisage a traditional English garden or a wild meadow setting... the likes of borage, yellow rattle, foxglove and nasturtium in pure abundance.

However, if you're looking to create an authentic Mediterranean garden, you may be looking to swap out the yew hedging for a row of Italian cypress. Mediterranean plants we typically use in the UK are great for offering instant structure... but after speaking with many Clients I find people lack ideas of what to fill the in-between areas with. In addition, whilst olive trees and palms look fantastic - they don't offer much to encourage pollinators.

So here is a list of native Mediterranean plants you can use in your Mediterranean garden that are a) authentic b) loved by our winged friends and c) look fabulous!

Honeywort is a native Mediterranean annual featuring bell-shaped flowers, clusters of bracts and silvery/green foliage. Flowering from May through to September, the flowers are available in a number of colours however blue/purple are most popular. It's easy to grow from seed in either beds & pots and the bracts are very attractive to pollinators. Self-seeding.

For the best colours, plant in full sun. Unlike typical plants from this region, Honeywort tends to prefer a more rich, moist environment. If growing in pots general multi-purpose compost will do. Overall height is around 60cm however can vary +/-.

Red Valerian is a native Mediterranean woody-based perennial featuring clusters of crimson flowers and pale green foliage. Now widely naturalised in the UK for many Centuries, Red Valerian will flower from June right through to the first frosts. To avoid self-seeding, cut back spent stems in the Summer.

Not fussy on soil, just make sure it has the benefit of full sun for the best display. Overall height is around 90cm tall. Slightly fragrant flowers.

Phlomis (Jerusalem Sage) is a native Mediterranean herbaceous perennial featuring large sage-like green foliage and whorls of flowers in intervals along the upright stems. Whilst known for their yellow displays from July - August, you can find some Phlomis that produce mauve and occasionally even pink flowers. Their seed heads are rather attractive in Autumn.

Phlomis performs best in moist but well-draining soil and, again, as the rest on this list do, require full sun. They can tolerate poor soils but just watch out for soggy soil in Winter. Overall height is around 100cm tall. Note - unlike traditional 'Sage', Phlomis is not edible.

Cardoon (Artichoke Thistle) is a native Mediterranean perennial featuring large, edible purple/violet buds and silvery, spikey foliage. Considered by some as a weed, Cardoons are generally grown in beds as an ornamental plant (apparently loved by our Victorian ancestors!). If growing in pots, ensure their large root systems have ample space to develop. Loved for the silvery foliage, architectural nature and bright flowers from August - September, they can be eaten just as artichokes would.

Cardoons perform best in well-draining but rich, moist soil. Full sun is ideal however they will take a bit of shade. Overall height is around 150cm tall.

Three classic herbs that are native to the Mediterranean and whose flowers attract pollinators are Rosemary, Lavender and Thyme. Without breaking down each herb (simply put, full sun & good drainage), here are three varieties you could try this year...

Rosemary - Ginger Rosemary (Green Ginger). Yes, this really does smell of ginger plus it produces an abundance of blue flowers. Great for cooking and a real wow-inducer to make your guests eyes light up when taking a whiff.

Lavender - Lavender Rosea (Rose Lavander). Any lavender is gorgeous lavender however this Season I'm really enjoying this fragrant variety. A compact form with soft, rose/white coloured flowers and silvery foliage... you could say Rosea is a bit washed out compared to 'traditional' lavender - but I find the colours work very well with Cretan terracotta.

Thyme - Thyme Caraway. A thyme I discovered this Season, Thyme Caraway is a matt-forming, highly fragrant, aromatic thyme producing mauve flowers that look great against the dark green foliage.

I hope you manage to find something helpful in this post. Happy gardening and I hope to see you soon! Thomas

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