Bees, butterflies and other pollinators are under threat, so there’s never been a better time for gardeners to help by adding a few plants to support them. Here, Mandy Bradshaw from The Chatty Gardener shares five simple tips to help make your garden a refuge for pollinators.
1. Be part of the solution
I love watching the bees in my garden squeezing into a foxglove flower, noisily feasting on opium poppies in the veg plot or enjoying the winter honeysuckle.
Gardening without chemicals and trying to choose nectar-rich flowers means bees and other pollinators are often buzzing around my plot – good to watch and helping my flowers and veg set fruit or seed.
Increasingly, our gardens are becoming an important lifeline for these beneficial insects and go some way to counter the effects of natural habitat loss and the use of pesticides.
A recent study found that urban allotments and gardens are vital sources of food for pollinators – especially when they have native plants such as brambles and dandelions, and traditional favourites like lavender and marigolds.
So, to hear the sound of bees in your garden, make the decision to actively support our pollinators – it’s the first important step.
2. Choose the right plants
The very best plants for pollinators are ‘species’, as modern cultivars can be sterile or have low nectar and pollen levels. If you grow vegetables, try to include some heritage varieties among the modern cultivars.
When it comes to the flower garden, plants with open, single blooms are better than double flowers where the nectar can be difficult to reach.
Incorporate some wildflowers in your garden, or even leave a corner where you allow weeds such as nettles and dandelions to thrive. Let your grass wait a little longer before you get the lawnmower out, to allow the clover to flower. Allowing ivy to flower will also provide important food for bees.
Think about adding a few flowers to your vegetable patch to help pollinate your crops. I edge my beds with the common marigold (Calendula officinalis). It looks pretty and draws in those helpful insects.
3. Give a good mix
Different insects like different plants, so make sure you have a range of flower shapes to ensure your garden helps them all. Some bees, for example, have long tongues to cope with plants such as aconitum.
Grow a mix of perennials and annuals and don’t forget trees and shrubs. Both can be excellent sources of nectar for bees and butterflies.
Think about planting to cover the seasons. Like the gardener, pollinators need food all-year-round, so it’s important to plant for more than just the summer! Early spring and autumn are the seasons when nectar can be particularly short in supply, but adding just a few of the right plants can make all the difference. Good spring plants are crocus and hellebores, while a winter feast can be provided by snowdrops, mahonia or sarcococca.
Take a look at Thompson & Morgan’s Perfect for Pollinators range which includes a selection of seed and plant varieties known to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.
4. Ditch the pesticides
Try to garden without using pesticide sprays as they often kill beneficial insects alongside the pests.
Instead, encourage birds, ladybirds and other gardeners’ friends in to deal with any problems. For instance, the larvae of hoverflies voraciously consume aphids. Similarly, when they hatch, ladybird larvae can eat up to 5,000 aphids as well as attacking red spider mites.
To attract these helpful insects plant things like marigolds, alyssum, cosmos, dill, yarrow, penstemon and fennel.
5. Give them a home
Make or buy an insect house to give solitary bees and others somewhere to nest. Something as simple as an old terracotta plant pot filled with lengths of bamboo can be used as a bee hotel.
I hope this has given you plenty of food for thought. Just a few simple changes can turn your garden into a wildlife sanctuary that provides vital food and shelter for our precious pollinators. For more advice and pollinator-specific recommendations, visit our hub page.