Titchmarsh champions pots for pollinators

Alan Titchmarsh, who is spearheading the Butterfly Conservation's Plant Pots for Pollinators campaign. Photo: PA Photo/Butterfly Conservation.
Alan Titchmarsh, who is spearheading the Butterfly Conservation's Plant Pots for Pollinators campaign. Photo: PA Photo/Butterfly Conservation.

In his Hampshire garden, green-fingered guru Alan Titchmarsh has swathes of butterfly and bee-friendly plants - from buddleia and verbena to catmint, cosmos and coneflower.

He has created wildflower meadows, a wildlife pond frequented by dragonflies and damselflies and, as vice president of the charity Butterfly Conservation, bangs the drum for beneficial insects.

Spearheading the charity’s Plant Pots for Pollinators campaign, he explains: “One carefully planted, well-positioned pot or container can make a huge difference to butterflies, moths, bees and pollinating insects that need nectar to fuel their work.”

The project is encouraging householders to plant a pot with nectar sources such as Shasta daisy, oregano and catmint.

His own private plot may seem to be on a grand scale compared to most of ours, yet anyone can do their bit for pollination with a patio pot full of suitable specimens, he says.

“This country is an enormous patchwork quilt and if everybody looked after their little square, tiny as it is, we can make an enormous difference.”

So, what sort of plants should we be choosing?

“You should be looking at single flowers with decent nectaries (nectar-producing tissue),” he advises. “The big double ones tend to have replaced their nectaries - which bees love - and their pollen with more petals so they are less useful.

“Daisy-type flowers with a middle are good, but also things like lavender. There are oodles of plants that bees and butterflies love and it’s just a case of doing your homework and finding out which ones you like.

“I don’t have a lot of double flowers in my garden, apart from one or two double-flowered climbing roses on the wall.”

Colour combinations in pots can create a wonderful impact on patios and beyond, he continues.

“Purple and yellow are always good, or blue and white work well. If you look at the colour wheel, opposite colours work well together.

“I’d certainly go for lavender in the middle, which bees would love, and osteospermums around the edge of it.

“Purple and yellow? I’d go for yellow bidens round the edge and perhaps purple petunias in the middle.”

Those who prefer permanent plantings in patio pots also have a wealth of choice. Lavender will last a few years in a pot before it goes woody, while perennial coneflowers should also return year after year.

“There are some great varieties of choisya - Mexican orange blossom - which you could plant in a really large pot. They have fabulous white-scented flowers that bees love,” he suggests.

As a nursery site for egg-laying, the foliage is as important as the flowers.

“Every butterfly has its own preferred plants. The holly blue lays its legs on ivy, while on nettles, you’ll get painted ladies, small tortoiseshells, red admirals and peacocks. Grasses are a great host for butterflies,” he advises.

Use a John Innes mix of compost, preferably No 2, if you are planting a permanent container, because it’s less likely to shrink than multi-purpose compost if it gets dry.

“And remember your front gardens too. You can bring colour and life to your doorstep with a pot for pollinators. Persuade your neighbours to do the same and the street where you live could become a flowery super highway for butterflies and moths, helping them move through built-up areas to find suitable breeding habitat.”

More Titchmarsh tips

Position your pot in a sunny sheltered location to promote healthy plant growth and attract butterflies.

Water your pot regularly, ideally from a water butt (as this is more environmentally friendly). Frequent watering prevents plants from drying out during hot weather and helps flowers to produce more nectar.

Water the soil not the plant as larger leaves can act as an umbrella which prevents water from getting to the roots. Remove the rose from your watering can to get nearer the plant base if necessary.

Sprinkle some pebbles around the surface of the soil - this will help prevent water evaporation from your pot and also suppress weed growth.

Get creative with your containers and transform tins, tubs and buckets into plant pots. Don’t forget to drill drainage holes in the bottom to prevent waterlogging.

Dead-heading after flowering keeps plants looking attractive and encourages more blooms.

Avoid using harmful pesticides by removing slugs and snails by hand instead. Night is the best time to catch them.

The Butterfly Conservation scheme runs throughout the summer. To take part, visit www.plantpotsforpollinators.org