If you have been following this blog and reading my posts, then you know that I am passionate about pollinators. Since learning how vital pollinators are to our planet, I have tried to be more conscientious in my actions to protect them. I started planting more natives in the garden and made plant purchase decisions based on whether the specimen was beneficial to pollinators. My garden goals focused on providing food sources throughout the seasons and creating a pollinator-friendly habitat within my landscape. To help accomplish this goal, I decided to plant a pollinator playground, a garden designed just for them.
I had always wanted a cutting garden, so I kept that in mind when working on the design. Many flower varieties are great for both bouquets and pollinators. My first task was finding a spot for the garden. Over the years, trees have matured around our property, leaving very few areas with full sun. I did have one strip of lawn on the side of our property by our garage that seemed to fit the bill. I removed the sod in a 3ft by 20ft section, loosened the compacted soil, and added amendments. Digging was the most challenging task of the project, as living in the Hudson Valley of NY assures you that whenever your shovel enters the ground, you will find clay and rocks. However, I pressed on until the bed was ready to plant.
For the garden’s first year, I decided to include a mixture of perennials and annuals. I chose native perennials whenever possible and looked for varieties that would provide ample food for the pollinators. I planted phlox, baptisia, ironweed, penstemon, delphinium, coreopsis, verbena, veronica, Malva moschatta (musk mallow), and poppies. I focused mainly on cosmos, dahlias (from seed), and zinnias for annuals and included snapdragons, borage, pentas, and sesame. The garden was planted using a mixture of seedlings and direct sown seeds. I grew some of the seedlings indoors under grow lights, and others were ones I received while attending a cut flower class. My goal was to create a densely planted cottage-style garden to cut down on the weeding and provide as many blooms for pollinators as possible in the small space. By intermixing perennials and annuals, I could also have flowers in bloom for a more extended period.
At first, my pollinator playground garden looked sparse and sad after planting. The perennial plantings and seedlings were small, and the direct sown seeds hadn’t yet germinated. As a result, the area looked more like a sandbox than a garden. I started to doubt whether my vision of a densely planted pollinator border bursting with blooms would ever come to fruition (and I’m pretty sure my neighbors and husband shared this sentiment). However, I continued to weed, water, and wait, and to my amazement, eventually, the pollinator playground started to take shape.
Seeds germinated, seedlings grew, and perennials began to bloom. The annuals filled in and soon were towering in the border and bursting with buds. After the perennials finished blooming, the annuals took over and started to put on a show. Beautiful cosmos and zinnias in all colors stood tall and brilliant in the sunshine, beckoning pollinators to come to visit and play. And come they did! Bees of all shapes and sizes, butterflies, and moths zipped to and fro, dancing and skipping among the blooms. They seemed to be playing an endless game of tag, taking breaks to sip nectar and distribute pollen before dashing off again. I even came across several bees catching some zzz’s as they took a nap among flower petals, exhausted from their playground fun.
I am fascinated by these amazing insects, and I find that my new pollinator playground garden is quickly becoming my favorite spot in our landscape. I enjoy spending time there, picking flowers or just observing, while coming eye-to-eye with these fascinating creatures that do some of Mother Nature’s most important work. It makes my heart happy that I can provide them with a safe place to play, refuel, and even nap as they go about their day.
I have enjoyed this garden so much, in fact, that I have decided to extend it in the fall. Plans are in the works to double the size of the playground, adding more perennials such as Joe Pye weed, goldenrod, asters, monarda, and coneflowers. Annuals will also remain a vital part of the garden to provide long-lasting blooms throughout the summer and fall. Cosmos, zinnias, and dahlias will all be returning in the spring. I also plan on adding two pollinator houses, one for butterflies that my husband built and one for bees, and a water source, creating a place for pollinators to eat, drink, play, and rest. A pollinator playground and bed and breakfast!
I will keep you all updated on the garden’s progress as it grows and evolves, and I hope you, too, will plant a playground for your pollinators. They are vital to life on earth, and they need our help. We can provide them with new habitats in which they can not only survive but thrive. Besides, we too can play among the flowers in our new playgrounds!