It’s that time of year where we start to make commitments to join the gym, stop smoking, or to tick something else off our bucket list. But, what we want to know are your gardening New Year resolutions. Is there anything you did wrong last year that you will not repeat this year? Do you want to try growing something in particular or do you want to become more self-sufficient and grow your own produce?
We asked the Thompson & Morgan staff theirs;
‘I want to grow some rainbow vegetables, and check out some new flavours and maybe even devise some new recipes.. Imagine purple carrot cake!!’ – Michael Perry
‘My new year’s resolution is to grow more vegetables! Last year I only grew tomatoes, but next year I want to grow cucumbers, salad leaves, and maybe even some chilli peppers in containers on my balcony.’ – Andrew Morley – Online Merchandising Manager
‘I really must revamp my pond in 2015. The frogs love it but the Water Iris (Iris pseudoacorus) has taken over and now you can barely see the pond! I just need to time it right in order to minimise the disturbance to my frogs – late summer might be best. I’m also planning to lift and divide the tired perennials in my borders and give them a really good mulch in the spring’ – Sue Sanderson, Horticulturist
‘My resolution is to add some wildlife friendly plants in my garden. I love seeing bees and butterflies, so adding some bee and butterfly friendly plants into my garden such as Buddleja ‘Buzz’™, lavender and verbena would be perfect’ – Holly, Online Development Manager.
‘Trying not to kill anything this year… I would love to be more self-sufficient and be able to cook a whole meal from all things grown by myself. Maybe a Vegetable Ragu with home-made dough bread’ – Natalie, Customer Care
Do you have any?
Bees, birds and butterflies are reducing in numbers and whilst the cold weather is contributing to their reduction, there are so many things we can do to help increase their numbers.
By growing more pollinator friendly plants, you can provide food for our pollinating insects. Simple right? However, not all flowers are pollinator friendly, so it is important to do your research. Sow half hardy annuals in early spring and move outside once the risk of frost has passed. You can sow hardy varieties directly in the garden from April.
What plants are pollinator friendly?
Plants for bees
There are 24 species of bumblebee living wild in the UK. They are easily recognised by their characteristic fluffy bodies. If you are encouraging bees into your garden then it is important to avoid using insecticides as these will kill helpful pollinating insects (including bees) as well as the target insects. It’s best to aim for a good variety of pollen rich flowers that have different flower shapes and a range of flowering periods from early spring to late summer. You can also view our guide on encouraging bees to your garden for more information.
Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Sonata Series Mixed’ – half hardy
An award winning variety in a superb mixture of colours. This beautiful dwarf Cosmos reaches a maximum height of 60cm (24”) making it perfectly proportioned for sunny borders and containers. Sow in March, April and May. Flowering period; July, August, September and October.
Calendula officinalis ‘Neon’ – hardy annual
One of the most eye-catching varieties in our flower trials, with glowing orange, double flowers edged in burgundy. The edible flowers of Calendula ‘Neon’ add height and interest to annual borders, and make a stunning cut flower. Sow in March, April, May and August. Flowering period; June, July, August and September.
Plants for butterflies
Plant some suitable nectar plants for butterflies and they will visit your garden, however small it is. If you’re looking to create a container garden for butterflies there are many smaller nectar plants which are suitable for growing in containers and window boxes. Herbs left to flower such as Thyme, Oregano, Lavender and Mint are excellent plants to try. For more information on view our encouraging butterflies to your garden article.
Buddleja ‘Buzz’™ Collection – Hardy shrub
A new twist on a much-loved garden favourite, ‘Buzz’™ is the world’s first patio buddleja! These attractive, compact plants are loved by bees and butterflies, but won’t take over your garden. Buddleja ‘Buzz’™ is easy to grow and problem-free with a super long-flowering period. Flowers June – October.
Verbena bonariensis – Hardy perennial
Tightly clustered florets form glowing lavender flower heads that float atop stiffly upright, branching stems. The long lasting blooms of Verbena bonariensis attract clouds of bees and butterflies. In autumn, apply a dry mulch of bark chips or straw to protect the crown of the plant throughout the winter months. Flowering period; July – October.
Birds are among the most welcome garden visitors. Not only are they interesting to watch, they eat aphids, caterpillars, slugs and other grubs, keeping the pest population under control. Plants can be used to provide shelter or nesting sites for birds, protecting them from cats and other predators. Trees, shrubs and hedges are excellent ways to encourage birds into the garden and by choosing a few evergreens you will ensure there is shelter all year round. For more information including shelter, water and nest boxes take a look at our encouraging birds to your garden guide.
Lavender – Hardy shrub
Flaring petals from compact bracts crown slender stems. Very attractive bushes of aromatic grey/green foliage. Favoured by citizens of the Roman Empire for fragrance. Easy to grow and trouble free. Sow in March – October. Flowering period; May, June, July and August.
Crab Apple ‘John Downie’ – Hardy Tree
One of the most popular crab apples for jelly making! Pink buds open to reveal pretty white cup shaped blossom in April and May, followed by large orange and red fruits in autumn.Crab apples are self fertile and if planted near orchard apple trees make excellent pollinators.
In this week’s gardening news we’ll be talking about National Allotments Week, the effect of weather on butterflies and a new technique to enable plants to source nitrogen from the air.
National Allotments Week 5th-11th August
The National Allotment Society’s yearly celebration of allotments is back and, in their own words, they want allotment societies and associations to “dust off their bunting and BBQs, spread the word and hold a jolly good knees-up!” The aim of the ‘Party on the Plot’ is to show the local community why allotments are so important, not just for the people who garden them, but for families, schools and wildlife too. Visit the National Allotments Week website for more information.
Our expert Sue Sanderson says “Allotments are a great source of information for gardeners wishing to grow vegetables. Whilst looking around a site you will spot different ways crops are being grown or protected. All plot holders are always happy to give help and advice. Many sites, including ours, also have a wildlife area with a dipping pond that is always of interest to children who visit the site. Plus they can see the crops growing on site rather than something on a supermarket shelf or served on a plate.”
Butterflies affected by bad weather conditions
Big Butterfly Count helps to determine state of butterfly populations
If you haven’t taken part in the Big Butterfly Count yet, there’s still time. It runs until 11th August and you can download and print an ID chart to help you. Simply sit in a sunny spot for 15 minutes and count how many butterflies you see. Last year’s survey showed that 15 of the 21 species included in the count had declined, which is a massive blow for butterflies in the UK. The cold, wet spring hasn’t helped, but experts are hoping that July’s hot weather has helped populations bounce back, which is another reason why the Big Butterfly Count is so important.
Tomatoes need nitrogen for optimum growth
Bacteria to fertilise plants?
All plants need nitrogen for optimum growth. Some like peas, beans and other legumes manage this themselves, but others rely on the addition of manure or synthetic fertilisers to provide the correct levels of nutrients. A bacteria found naturally in sugar cane juices traps nitrogen and could be the end of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, which are made from fossil fuels. Scientists at the University of Nottingham have developed a way of introducing the bacteria into plants’ roots by coating seeds or inoculating seedlings. The plants are then able to convert nitrogen from the air, taking away the need for additional fertilisers. Field tests are being carried out on tomatoes, wheat, maize, oil seed rape and grasses and the experts behind the project claim that the technology could become commercially available within three years.
Whatever size your garden is, there are lots of flowers you can plant to encourage butterflies.
Encouraging butterflies into your garden
The recent ‘State of Nature’ report showed that common garden butterfly populations have declined by 24% in the last 10 years. In the last century, 4 butterflies and over 60 moths became extinct. Destruction of their natural habitats is partly to blame, as are changes in climate and weather and pollution.
Butterflies aren’t just there to be pretty either, they indicate whether the environment and ecosystems are healthy – areas that have high numbers of butterflies and moths are more likely to have high numbers of other invertebrates. They are also an important food source for birds, bats and other animals. Without butterflies,
The Butterfly Conservation website has a wealth of information on what we can do as individuals to help butterfly populations.
There are many plants that will attract butterflies, many of which are perfect for growing in containers. So even if you’ve only got a small garden or balcony, you can still do your bit. In a large container (preferably at least 60cm in diameter) plant up either a buddleja or lavender plant in the middle and then surround this with a mixture of marjoram, heather, aubretia, evening primrose or sedum. Aim for 3 or 4 varieties around the ‘main’ plant, depending on the size of your container. Keep the plants well watered, so that they keep producing nectar.
If you’ve got a large garden and the luxury of space, you could create a butterfly border with a mixture of nectar plants to provide a food source for butterflies from spring to autumn. Plant as many different varieties as you can, packing the plants into your border in groups to make it easier for butterflies to locate them.
Grow native wildflowers
You could even create a wildflower ‘meadow’, which provides nectar for food and somewhere for the butterflies to lay their eggs. It’s quite easy to do, especially if you’ve got an area in your garden that already has some long grass growing in it. Sow some wildflower seeds in pots or module trays and once they’re ready for planting out, plant them in your wildflower meadow. Cut the grass a few times in the first year, so that the flowers don’t get smothered by it, but in following years you can leave it to grow and just cut it back at the end of the season, once the flowers have set seed.
Here are some tips on how to encourage butterflies into your garden:
- Choose single flowers – they have far more nectar than double flowers and plant them in a sunny, sheltered spot.
- Deadhead them regularly to encourage more flowers and, if you’re growing them in containers, keep them well watered.
- Adding organic mulch will stop your plants drying out so quickly.
- Avoid using pesticides, insecticides or any other garden chemicals – they kill butterflies and other beneficial insects
- Use peat-free compost
- Plant buddleja to attract different species of butterflies – in fact, it’s a favourite of 18 species!
Lunaria, sedum, lavender, honeysuckle and forget-me-not
Other flowers to include in your butterfly garden are:
See our ‘plants for wildlife‘ page for the full list of flowers to grow in your butterfly garden.
And lastly, take part in the Big Butterfly Count (20th July – 11th August 2013) to record butterflies in your area and submit your findings online.