With all the talk about the collapse of our bee populations and the decline in the number and variety of our native butterflies, gardeners can do their bit by providing the flowers that can help to support butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies as they journey around our gardens looking for a pollen and nectar fix.
Some years ago, the RHS developed lists of plants called ‘Perfect for Pollinators.’ The two lists are for cultivated plants and wild plants across the seasons. Check out http://www.rhs.org.uk for more details and the lists.
Rudbeckia ‘All Sorts Mixed’ & Cosmos ‘Xanthos’
Over the last century, gardeners, growers and breeders have concentrated some of their efforts on developing and using double flowers to increase the effect of the display and this, alongside many other factors, has not helped us to support our pollinating insects because the pollen and nectar are hidden deep in the flowers, making them inaccessible to the insects.
The ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ lists contain, for the most part, wild species of plants whose flowers are simple, single and easily accessible. Comb through your latest Thompson & Morgan seed and plant catalogues and compare them with the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ lists. It will not take you long to find some stunning plants for your garden that will not only give you a lot of pleasure, but will help to support some of our vital flying insects as well – everyone is a winner!
Ageratum houstonianum ‘Pincushion Mixed’ & Perfect for Pollinators
The new Rudbeckia collection, with three fabulous cultivars that will flower from July until October, with their simple, flat, open daisy-like flowers are a perfect example of a flower design that suits all of our pollinating insects. The new yellow Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ is another excellent example to search out.
Plants that have lots of very small flowers in clusters, such as the new Ageratum ‘Pincushion Mixed’, that will flower from June to September, are perfect examples of plants that will provide that quick nectar fix that butterflies and moths need to give them the energy to search out a mate – an essential part of maintaining their populations! The 2016 catalogue contains a number of different strains of Foxgloves and I feel sure that we have all seen bumblebees struggling to clamber into one of those inviting trumpets to get their daily pollen supply and a nectar fix for energy.
Foxglove ‘Dalmation Mixed’ & Cornflower ‘Classic Fantastic’
Many of our hardy annuals (HA in the catalogue), that can be sown directly into the garden in April and May, will provide hundreds of nectar and pollen rich flowers from June right up to the first frosts of autumn. Some can even be sown in September and October, lasting the winter as young plants and flowering in April, May and June. Examples to look out for include the new Nigella ‘Midnight’, Amberboa muricata, Ammi visnaga, Bupleurum ‘Green Gold’, Calendulas, Californian Poppies, Cornflowers, Cosmos and Daucus ‘Dara’ .
I will leave you to go through the rest of the catalogue yourself to discover the many other wonderful examples of plants that can provide that essential support for our butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies. Remember that 30% of all that we eat is reliant on pollinating insects – apples, pears, plums, blackcurrants, blueberries and runner beans, to name but a few.
I provide garden care in North Norfolk and trained at Easton College, as it states in my bio below. Just because I have my Diploma it doesn’t mean I know it all. I am constantly learning new things and am intrigued by a great deal. College doesn’t teach you about our relationship and need for animals and insects in our gardens and horticulture. But, through my work, I have learned how much we rely on them and how much they rely on us – and how exploitive of us they can be too!
I often stop when I see a bee and watch as it carefully lands on a flower then oh-so delicately extracts the sweet nectar that it beholds. How could we do all that pollinating without them? And how could they live without us planting for them? There’s a big push at the moment for planting wild flowers in gardens and leaving bare patches for the bees to make their homes in. Birds love it too!
We can spend £100’s on feeders, fat balls, meal worms, baths, tables, bug hotels, insect feeders and nest boxes all in a year. Just so we can see the flutter of a butterfly, chaffinch, blue tit and but most often than not those blooming pigeons!
In one garden I care for, I have a friend. She follows me around like my shadow. Often pushing her way into where I am working to get the good stuff. I am talking about Athena, the very bold female Black Bird (True Thrush/Turdus merula).
This week I was digging up ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) and she walks right up to me sitting on the ground, working away with my hand fork, to find her lunch. She filled her beak many times! Athena was with me for nearly two hours, coming and going, filling her beak (and stomach) and watching the three Robins (Erithacus rubecula) fight over who’s “turf” it was that I was providing dinner on. It’s a wonderful feeling when it happens.
Many people with think I’m daft but I always talk to them, bees, birds, butterflies and the odd squirrel that visits when I’m in another garden. After all the birds help to keep those pesky aphids and slugs at bay and the bees do the hard work for us! (Not too sure what the squirrels do?)
I love my job because not only do I help people to enjoy their gardens again, as most are of the age where they are not able to do it themselves, but I am helping nature to help me. It makes me proud of what I do. And I hope that the rest of you gardeners are too, whether amateur or professional!
So smile, you’re doing something that really matters.
As this is my first blog, ever, I thought I would start by reflecting a little on where our gardening world has been going since the Second World War and, of course, where we are on the journey now!
Immediately after the war our successive Governments, of a variety of political persuasions, encouraged farmers and growers to maximise the cropping potential of every acre of land they could make productive. This move, in turn, caused what became known as the chemical treadmill. Where we applied stronger and stronger chemical products to kill off pests, diseases and weeds; that dared to attack our ever increasing acreages of crops. By the time we reached the 1970’s we had food mountains and wine lakes and had, without realising it, started to kill off wild flowers, insects, birds and wild animals in numbers that are now causing us serious concern.
Meadowland Mixture and Wildflower ‘Honey Bee Mixed’
When Rachel Carson wrote ‘The Silent Spring’ in 1962 few people listened to her concerns about the excessive use of chemical pesticides across the developed and developing world. When Dr. Chris Baines got the BBC to make the film ‘Bluetits and Bumblebees’ in the early 1980’s we all watched it but did not pick up the message. The Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic), started in 1954 by Lawrence Hills has been encouraging amateur and professional growers to steer away from inorganic pesticides for over 60 years but who has been listening?
Now that scientific evidence and advanced knowledge of the damage that we have done to our planet over the last 60 + years has come into the public’s view, our Seed companies, breeders, researchers, nurseries and growers are seeing the potential market in offering us new strains of old favourites that require less and less pesticide attention.
Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ and Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 Hybrid
Scanning through the first eleven pages of Thompson and Morgan’s 2016 Seed Catalogue, I have found five cultivars of popular vegetables that have known resistance to one problem or another. Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ F1 is resistant to early and late blight; Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 is resistant to carrot root fly; Parsnip ‘Gladiator’F1 is resistant to Parsnip canker; Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 and Courgette ‘Defender’ F1 are both resistant to powdery mildew.
Parsnip ‘Gladiator’ F1 Hybrid and Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 Hybrid
Maybe someone will find strains of Impatiens and Aquilegias that are not devastated by Downy mildew in the future and Ash trees that are resistant to Ash dieback.
Busy Lizzy ‘Divine Mixed’ and Aquilegia ‘Swan Mixed’
This is all fantastic work on the part of breeders and growers and I feel sure that the list will get longer over the years as the pesticides gradually disappear from our Garden Centre shelves and pests and diseases become more resistant to them.
This cultural method of reducing the impact of pests and diseases should now be at the forefront in our battle with Mother Nature and, if we use physical barriers to help prevent attacks alongside the occasional use of biological control methods, we should be able to stop the use inorganic pesticides altogether.
We all need a drink of water and birds are no different. During the cold months water can be scarce; so it is our job to make sure that our native and visiting birds get the water and food they need. We have been encroaching on their patch for so long now that it is time for us to step up and help these poor birdies out!
Blue tit, Robin and Blackbird
So what can we do? The best way to help the birds to enjoy a fresh drink of water is to keep a bird bath in the garden all year round. It will need to have shallow sloping sides approximately 2.5cm to 10cm (1” to 4”), so that different species can enjoy drinking and having a bath! The surface needs to be rough so the birds can hold on with their claws, but the aesthetics of the bird bath are more to please us than the birds, who won’t mind if it is an old bowl. At Thompson & Morgan we are always concerned about wildlife and the impact that we all have on them, so we have a range of bird baths to please you and the birds.
Thompson & Morgan Birdbath
The type of bird bath you have and the varieties of vegetation around it will determine the types of birds you get visiting. When birds are bathing they do get rather preoccupied and excited so it is most important to make sure they are not vulnerable to cats or other pets. The birds will need clear visibility as they bathe, and planting bushes and trees nearby will provide vital cover when they feel alarmed or scared. After bathing birds like to preen so bushes and trees will also provide a place to do this, and the higher off the ground the safer they will feel. Adding a thick layer of clippings from thorny vegetation, such as rose bushes or pyracantha, underneath the bird bath will help keep your pets away.
Try placing the bird bath around the garden to find the ideal spot. You may be lucky enough to see parent birds bringing their babies for a drink after they have fledged. The parent birds will want to show their babies where the water is. Birds can drink a large amount of water so keep it topped up regularly.
You can encourage more species of birds with a bird bath than you can with a feeder, so this is another reason to bring one into the garden. Birds such as wrens, and waxwings that eat insects and fruit don’t usually visit feeders so a bird bath will encourage these species to visit your garden. Bird baths can attract all kinds of birds including bluebirds, robins, warblers and thrushes, and you may even get an owl fly in at dawn when they are thirsty for a drink. Having the bird bath in sight of your window means you will be able to see your visitoring birds and you can enjoy watching them enjoy themselves in the bird bath.
Do take note that during droughts birds try and drink from water barrels and drinking troughs, and unfortunately many die from drowning. We recommend keeping your water containers under a lid which should encourage the birds to use the bird bath instead.
If you would like to find out more visit the RSPB who have lots of information on helping birds through the seasons.
My wife Pat and I are involved in ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ along with 37 other groups, we are known as Forest Road Greenbelt Garden’s. This competition was set up to encourage the improvement of our community gardening through innovative use of trees, plants and shrubs.
Our wildlife area, that we set up early on in the year, is well established. It is completed with a blue tit’s nesting box and we have seen a lot of fish in the stream along with 2 king fisher’s that we have not seen for a long while. 2 families of duck’s have also been raised on the stream which we have fed with corn and they have got quite used us. I have also built a bug house and bee hive that I built for our ‘wildlife haven’.
We have also had plenty of bees and butterfly’s on the wild flowers.
I have also been trying out Thompson & Morgan’s Incredibloom® and the plants are thriving. I have never had so many flowers, the climbing petunia’s and begonia’s love it as you can see.
We have also set Bob the Builder’s wheel barrow with it.
We have planted our Begonia Whoppers in the front garden and everybody just loves them.
Al the Best