Gardening in the City: Eats or Ecology?

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Urban gardens have had a new resurgence in fashion, adding to the list the many things that have become “millennial aesthetics” that are actually age-old reactions of populations to economic downturn and social change.

In particular community gardens in Dublin have made a major comeback and the demand for allotments is higher than ever.

The idea of allotments comes from the need for working class food security following the industrial revolution. While it has been bound up with more modern ideas of self-sufficiency, these historical plots of lands were not designed to make a family wholly self-sufficient but simply healthier and more secure.

In the modern context that is still true but there are also proven mental health benefits to be able to work with soil and plants.

But the renaissance of gardening can have other important benefits and that’s for the protection of pollinating insects in the urban environment, and lots of other wildlife too.

But for many people wildlife gardening and vegetable / food gardening are seen to be in opposition to each other. But this is completely false. Low levels of pollinating insects will lead to low levels of crop yields for all sorts of garden species like apples and other tree fruits, strawberries and peas.

carder on kale

This is a picture of a Common Carder Bumblebee in kale flowers from our garden. But the use of pesticides, herbicides and strict monocultures reduce the ability of pollinators to do their jobs.

The ways in which wildlife in your garden can help it flourish for flowers and food is the subject of several books but one I found to be accessible and quite cute was Garden Friends by Ed Ikin published by the National Trust in the UK.


But as those of you who have been with me all month know, my focus right now is pollinators. I’m running a fundraiser to help support community education run by the Irish Wildlife Trust, People for Bees. 

The sponsored tattoo is happening this Friday if you can believe it! 

But lots that you do for bees or pollinators is of benefit for a wide range of wildlife, having some water supply, like a pond or shallow birdbath, can save any dehydrated urban critter.


Honeybees get a lot of the credit but they do not do most of the work when it comes to pollination.

irish pollinators

Pollinators that are not honeybees don’t just need food from flowers (though we’ll get back to that) they need nesting sites too.

Bee Nesting Sites


Your instinct now might be to buy or make one of those cute bug hotels you’ve seen on pinterest. They are pretty good. (Here’s a homemade one I saw in a village in Carlow)


These are great, and a fun project to do with kids to teach them about biodiversity but most wild bee don’t nest in cavities like these. Most wild bee nest in the ground.

bee habitats

So how can you help ground nesting, or mining bees? While thankfully the Irish National Biodiversity Data Centre have developed some really accessibly and free how-to guides to help people protect pollinators.

bee habitat 1bee habitat 2

Food Supply

Another key element of bee protection in gardens and allotments is food supply. It needs to be near these nest sites.This is a small guide for native Irish wildflowers for bees but if you live elsewhere, you should check what your local species are.

planting for pollinators

Protecting pollinators is a huge part of food security and local food production. Another way to help out if you don’t have your own patch if to support small food produces in their work by finding out where they sell their vegetables and fruit.

Most people would assume that means going to local farmers markets. Bord Bia in Ireland keep a list of farmers markets around the country. But many supermarkets have local supplies too and will provide a list somewhere on their webpages.

Hope you all get to get out there and see some bees and eat some good food this week!

Interesting Further Reading

RHS Wildlife Gardening Resources

US Food Gardening Highest Level in Decades

Asylum seekers open community garden in Galway

Rise of the Community Garden in the UK

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