Monday, 29 October 2012

A wildlife-friendly allotment plot and some suggestions to attract pollinators and other beneficial wildlife

Pollinator activity has mostly ceased now, and this is a good opportunity to spend some thoughts on general ways to improve garden habitats for pollinators and other wildlife. I this decided to write a little about my allotment plot which I manage as wildlife-friendly as possible (with a special emphasis on pollinators), and to give some tips on how to attract beneficial wildlife, and in particular pollinators, to your allotment or vegetable garden.

You can also watch the two allotment videos I recently made to see how my allotment looks now and to get more ideas of how to make your plot more wildlife-friendly.

My wildlife-friendly allotment in June/July 2015

My wildlife-friendly allotment plot in early August 2015

My allotment plot in July

Bumblebees love Sunflowers
On my plot, I plant flowers, vegetables and fruit together and I try to avoid planting large areas with the same vegetable. This way the vegetables are more difficult to find for pest insects, and the plot looks more interesting. If you plant the right flowers you can also attract pollinators.  Single-flowered annuals such as Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus), Nasturtiums (Tropaeolus major), Pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis), Borage (Borago officinalis) and Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are usually a good choice. Another well-suited late-summer and autumn flowering annual is Cosmos (Cosmos spp.). It is very attractive to bees and keeps flowering until the first frosts set in. Many annuals will self-seed if you let them do so, which means they may re-appear in the following year without the need for re-sowing.

Have a look here for suitable pollinator-friendly flowers for allotments.

Annuals like Calendula and Cleome mixed together with vegetables
Cosmos is a great plant for late pollinators
Birds like to eat the sunflower seeds
There are also many herbs that are well-liked by pollinators. For example, with Wild majoram (Oreganum vulgare), Mint (Mentha sp.), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) you are almost guaranteed to see a wide range of butterflies, bees and hoverflies (hoverflies particularly like fennel!) visiting your allotment plot.

Fennel and Lavatera are looking good planted together

Planting fruit bushes such as Gooseberries, Black, white and red currants, Blueberries and Honeyberries, cane fruit such as Raspberries and Blackberries, and small fruit trees (if allowed) will provide much needed pollen and nectar for pollinators in spring and early summer. Especially Gooseberries and Black currants are useful for emerging queen bumblebees as they flower quite early in the year.

Red-tailed bumblebee queen drinking nectar from Gooseberry flowers

Phacelia is one of the best plants to attract bees
Green manure, especially if left to flower, can also provide a valuable resource for wildlife. My personal favourite green manure is Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia). You can sow it in any gap on the plot and it will quickly cover the soil. It has pretty purple flowers which are very attractive for honeybees, bumblebees and moths. In fact, they are possibly even more attractive to the bees than anything else on your plot, so while they are definitely a good option to attract them, it may be best not to ‘overdo’ it, and not to sow large parts of the plot with Phacelia, but rather smaller areas in different places.  
Other green manure good for pollinators and other wildlife are Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) and clovers such as Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum), Red clover (T. pratense) and Creeping clover (T. repens).

A small area planted with single-flowered perennials will also look very nice and is nearly maintenance-free. Especially early-flowering plants such as Leopards bane (Doronicum sp.), Pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) and spring bulbs such as specimen crocus (for example C. tommasinianus) are of high value and provide food for emerging bumblebee queens and honeybees in early spring.
If you plant late-flowering plants such as Cosmos, single Dahlias (Dahlia x hybrida) and Michaelmas daisies (Aster spp.) you can provide a much needed food source for young bumblebee queens preparing for hibernation.

Here are more ideas of pollinator-friendly plants for spring / early summer, late summer / early autumn and autumn.

Pasque flowers provide food for early bees
A small area with pollinator-friendly perennial plants can look very attractive

Compost area with wildflower patch & surrounded by comfrey
A compost area provides not only compost for improving the soil but also a home for all sorts of wildlife. From tiny springtails and mites to larger worms, beetles, earwigs and centipedes to the much bigger slow-worms, toads and even hedgehogs (I once had a whole hedgehog family living in a composter); all will find a home in a compost heap to either help with decomposition, to hide during the day or to keep warm in winter. I have 4 wooden composters which I have surrounded with Comfrey (Symphytum officinale). The leaves of this plant can be used to make comfrey ‘tea’ which is a liquid fertiliser rich in potassium and nitrogen (they are fermented in water and the resulting liquid is diluted 1:10 with water before being used). The flowers of Comfrey provide a lot of nectar for bumblebees but will also attract nectar thieves.

My little pond in January ready for frogs + other wildlife
Adding water to your plot is probably one of the most important things you can do for the wildlife in your area. It will not only give frogs, toads, newts, dragonflies, damselflies and other water-dependent animals a home but will also attract birds and mammals which will come to drink, bath or hunt for food. You do not need to build a huge pond, any watertight container sunken into the ground and filled with rainwater will do. You just need to make sure (especially if the container has steep walls) that you always install a safe exit (such as stones or a wooden plank) for the animals so they cannot drown. If you add plants such as Marsh marigold and Water forget-me-not your little pond will be even more attractive to wildlife. Also try to surround you pond at least on 3 sites with flowers to give the animals shelter, food and somewhere to hide.

This bee hotel has many guests
Last but not least if you have a shed, you can provide bee nesting boxes for solitary bees as I have done. You can buy them or make your own (look here to see how). It may take some time for the solitary bees to find the nesting box, but after about a year the bees should flock to your bee hotel providing that you have surrounded the area with lots of pollinator friendly plants.

Attracting wildlife to your plot is not difficult and should not be expensive. If you are not too tidy, avoid spraying pesticides, plant some pretty pollinator-friendly plants in between your rows of vegetables, have a herb bed and a compost area and let some of the green manure flower you are already doing a good deal for wildlife. You will also realise that you get less pest damage and a better pollination of your crops.

Early autumn and still lots of flowers to provide food for late pollinators
Surround a seating area with wildflowers to attract pollinators
Making space for wildlife on your allotment is not difficult


  1. Hi, what a beautiful post! thank you for sharing. I wonder if you'd like to make a similar post on our site as a guest contributor? our readers are very interested in saving our pollinators and companion planting.
    Please contact us if you or another member of the group are agreeable at

  2. Thank you for your answer. I would like to make a similar post for your site. It is always good to spread the word about how to help our pollinators. I will contact you via your website.

  3. Very nice blog; it looks like I have some reading to do. Keep up the great work.

  4. I am a newbie with an allotment and very keen to attract wildlife at the same time so your post was very informative to me. Thank you, this is very useful advice.