Put a Buzz in Your Borders
PUBLISHED: 17:43 26 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:19 05 April 2013
Conservationists are begging us to consider our dwindling butterfly and bee population when planting this spring writes Joy Wallis
After the worst couple of summers on record, many of our native butterflies and bees have suffered a dramatic drop in numbers. Gardeners can help improve the situation considerably by incorporating plants that provide nectar and pollen, and if you have the space, swathes of butterfly food plants for the caterpillars.
Unfortunately, many of the traditional bedding plants such a busy Lizzie and French marigolds may look attractive but provide little or no pollen or nectar. Imagine that youre an insect - every wing beat costs you energy. You want an easy source of nectar, not one that requires a lot of work to get at. So as a rule avoid double flowers. Plants that are nectar-rich are the old-fashioned traditional cottage garden flowers which are often scented - sweet peas, sweet William, hollyhocks, single dahlias, aquilegia, astrantia, calendula, cornflower, delphinium, foxgloves, nicotina, love-in-the-mist and scented phlox and stocks; the flowers of herbs such as borage, thyme, mint and chives are also popular with insects. The more variety you can pack into your borders the better.
Before you can plant anything you must select your spot - pick a sheltered sunny area in your garden that isnt battered by winds. Next sort out your planting, make a point of stocking it with annuals and perennials which provide both nectar and pollen throughout the season from March to October and beyond. According to gardener Sarah Raven, who has been campaigning to make our public gardens more insect-friendly, the colour of the flowers is an important factor. Nectar-rich varieties tend to be in the blue, pink and purple spectrum with some yellows, oranges and reds, while paler flowers are good for night-feeders. Annuals such as cosmos, toadflax, Californian poppy, poached egg plant and nasturtiums will not only provide a wonderful splash of colour, but will also attract pollinating insects.
Vipers bugloss grows really well in many parts of Dorset and is quite an eye-catcher. Create a back drop of perennial favourites such as buddleia, (several varieties are available which flower in sequence throughout the summer), lavender, sedums and climbers such as honeysuckle.
Varying the height of plants in your border is also a good idea. Bees appreciate taller airy plants such as foxgloves, whereas hoverflies are fond of compact flowers like achillea or golden rod which are lower down. Butterflies like large open flowers they can land such as rudbeckias or sunflowers, though the buddleia is always a butterfly magnet.
A carpet of birds foot trefoil may attract the common blue butterfly to lay eggs. Orange tip and green veined white butterflies will welcome an under-storey of hedge garlic and hedge mustard along the bottom of your hedge.
In a wildlife garden you need to avoid the use of chemical sprays, instead use other alternatives such as dilute washing-up liquid to control aphids, or better still, attract sparrows to your garden which will happily feed on the aphids or set up a lacewing and ladybird hotel as these are voracious consumers of aphids.
As well as your borders blooming, allow your lawn to flower. Clover is excellent pollen and nectar food for bees; you can also introduce purple betony or self-heal for added colour and interest. If you can, leave an area of long grass for marbled white and meadow brown butterflies.
Poole-based garden designer Janine Pattison is often asked by clients to create wildlife-friendly borders full of nectar and pollen rich plants. These are her favourites:
Spring & early summer: Primula vulgaris; Hesperis matronalis; Digitalis 'Primrose Carousel'; Salvia pratensis 'Lapis Lazuli'
Summer flowering: Lythrum virgatum 'Dropmore Purple' Scutellaria incana; Origanum laevigatum 'Herrenhausen' ;Echinacea 'Sunrise' (Big Sky Series) ;Verbena hastata 'Rosea' ;Lavender 'Arctic Snow' ; Achillea 'Wesersandstein' ;Buddleja davidii 'Nanho Purple'
Autumn Flowering: Phlox paniculata 'David' ; Sedum spectabile 'Stardust' ;Erica x darleyensis 'Furzey'
Janine also recommends leaving an area for brambles, nettles and ivy to provide food for caterpillars. (janinepattison.com)
Local Seed Companies & Useful Websites
Most garden centres have a good selection of nectar and pollen rich plants and also some wild flower seeds and plants. On line try Heritage Seeds, Weymouth (heritageseeds.co.uk); Bee Happy Plants at South Chard (beehappyplants.co.uk); and wildflowersuk.com which supplies native British wildflower seeds, plants and bulbs and can advise on flowers for soil type and location. Sarah Ravens website (sarahraven.com) has lots of advice on nectar-rich plants you can find her range of insect-friendly seeds in most garden centres.
Wildlife Friendly Garden Competition 2013
Do you have a garden which is a magnet for wildlife? Are your borders buzzing with insect life and clouds of butterflies? Dorset Wildlife Trust and sponsors The Gardens Group are joining forces to find the top wildlife friendly gardens in the county and encourage all you wildlife friendly gardeners to even greater wildlife success. They are especially keen to find insect friendly gardens. These can be of any size from the grand to a bijou balcony or petite patio. To find out more visit dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/wgc or call 01305 264620. Entries close 24 May 2013