Having a wilder type of garden and letting some of the weeds grow is good for bees
and other wildlife.
There are so many bee species from bumblebees to solitary bees - in addition to our much loved honey bees - and they all need our help.
Each one has a different flower or nesting preference, making every one unique. Many of our crops and wildflowers are reliant on insect pollination.
What we did on the allotment meadow garden
A couple of years ago, an unused area on our allotment site was earmarked for a communal meadow garden to encourage wildlife - and to provide a space for members of the public to come and enjoy. We get elderly people making the effort to walk up the gentle hill to sit on the wooden bench and enjoy the view, we get dog walkers coming through (where a large sunken bowl of water is provided) and we get families who can sit on the grass and relax or play.
- With our band of volunteers, we cleared and dug beds for planting up with wildflowers and other plants that would attract the bees and the butterflies. Lavender is an excellent example. We included a couple of buddleja, or buddleia, commonly known as the butterfly bush - not because they look like butterflies but because they are loved by butterflies.
- We planted a mixed hedge with dog rose, hawthorn, hazel, crab apple and elder and supplied as a gift from the Woodland Trust. Mammals, insects and birds all love the different varieties in this hedge pack, making a natural screen to surround the meadow garden. Just two years after the planting, it is now well established and easy to manage.
- We built an insect hotel using old pallets and collecting various natural items to stuff into the spaces the pallets provided for insects to hide and to hibernate. Sometimes when I go up there, I find visiting children have made their own insect houses on the grass next to the hotel!
- The existing grass was sparse with sandy patches where it hardly grew. We mowed and fed it regularly to encourage growth and to provide better drainage. In the past, any rain run off from an adjoining field had failed to sink into the grass and ended up flooding allotments further down the slope of the allotment site. Once the grass was established, we let swathes of it grow longer to provide wilder areas and have recently planted yellow rattle seeds there. No sign of them yet but perhaps next summer, they will appear!
- Hidden in one corner, we erected a log pile to be left undisturbed with a hedgehog shelter beneath.
- An old large trashbin lid was sunk into the corner of one of the wildflower beds and half covered with small pebbles and larger rocks. Regularly filled with water, it has provided a welcome drinking place for wildlife - especially this summer which has been so warm and dry.
- At the end of the summer, we would like to plant native bulbs in those areas (where the grass grows longer) to flower in the spring - and multiply in the coming years.
We extended the wildflower theme into the allotments too
In addition to the meadow garden, other allotment owners have been encouraged to grow wild flowers and other plants for bees and butterflies in a dedicated patch on their own allotment. They were each given a packet of seeds provided by "Grow Wild
" which is the national outreach initiative of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, encouraging millions of people to change lives and transform spaces through native UK wildflowers and fungi - and supported by National Lottery funding. And of course they could add anything else appropriate for their patch.
At least three of the allotment owners used rusty old wheelbarrows for their wild life areas, drilling holes into the base of the barrow bucket, adding plenty of compost before planting seeds and watering well. The humblest wildflower space can be a haven for wildlife, bringing pollinators to help in the growing of fresh fruit and veggies too.
Of course, it almost goes without saying that enjoying healthy outdoor activity and spending time in green spaces has a long-lasting and positive impact on mental health - for adults and children alike.
We all benefit from a stimulating but calming environment with space to socialise.
Photos by Bryan and Jane Chitty for amoils.com