Windowbox Wonders – Gardening for wildlife – Nature On Your Doorstep


I had the fortune last week to spend a few days in the Alps, breathing in the fresh mountain air, marvelling at Marmots and Nutcrackers, and feeling very small and insignificant in comparison to the timeless grandeur of the scenery.

Inevitably, I had one eye turned to gardening, and as always the Swiss had done wonders with their window boxes.

Beautiful, but useless for wildlife because a mass of hybrid pelargoniums is not going to do nuch for pollinators. Right?

Well, I was delighted to find that the windowboxes were alive with Hummingbird Hawkmoths. On sunny days, almost every clump seemed to have its own little busy hoverer.

And you can see why the pelargoniums are perfect for them. The flowers have a long, long ‘neck’ – the corolla tube – and the nectar will be produced right at the base. Few insects have a tongue long enough  to reach the goodies within, but the inch-long Hummingbird Hawkmoth with its inch-long tongue is perfectly adapted, especially given that it can hover with such precision at the entrance before manoeuvring at speed to the next. 

This is an insect that has graced many UK gardens this summer, enjoying the heat. In the past, they were rare summer visitors from mainland Europe, little able to survive our winters, but there is evidence now that some are successfully surviving until spring, and with climate change we can expect to see more of them in future.

What was also interesting was to see them nectaring at petunias, another flower at which you so rarely see pollinators. This moth (below) was lazy or wise enough to sit and drink rather than hover.

So for those of you with windowboxes, or space for windowboxes: there’s an idea for 2023. Make your own stunning display. Make sure you choose single-flowered pelargoniums with just five petals to each flower, not the blousy multi-petalled varieties – in the Alps, the pelargonium of choice is called the trailing (or ivy-leaved) pelargonium and comes in reds and pinks.

And remember that a windowbox or planter solely of pelargoniums is going to help little more than Hummingbird Hawkmoths, so dot in some other plants with wider appeal – maybe some lavenders or trailing Rosemary, as the pollinating masses need sustenance as well as the stars of the show.

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