Keep your gar­den flow­er­ing and help poli­na­tors too

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - GREEN SPACES -

EX­PE­RI­ENCED gar­den­ers of­ten try to ex­tend the flow­er­ing sea­son in their gar­dens, aim­ing to have some­thing flow­er­ing for as many months of the year as pos­si­ble. Re­cent re­search by the Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety and the Univer­sity of Sheffield found that pol­li­nat­ing in­sects (mainly bees, but­ter­flies and hov­er­flies) gen­er­ally pre­ferred na­tive and closely-re­lated flow­ers dur­ing spring and mid-sum­mer, but more ex­otic plants played their part by ex­tend­ing the flow­er­ing sea­son, pro­vid­ing nec­tar when other flow­ers are scarce. This re­search didn’t set out to rec­om­mend spe­cific va­ri­eties of flow­ers, but it has made me think about how we can ex­tend the flow­er­ing sea­son in our own gar­dens to make them more at­trac­tive for both pol­li­na­tors and for us.

Bum­ble­bee queens of­ten emerge on sunny days in late win­ter and need to find nec­tar quickly to give them the energy to start build­ing a nest. The ever­green shrub Ma­ho­nia is of­ten their choice for that first feed. Its bright yel­low, scented flow­ers help to brighten up the win­ter gar­den for us as well. Another early flow­er­ing shrub which is pop­u­lar with bees is Lon­icera x pur­pusii ‘Win­ter Beauty’ which has sweetly scented flow­ers. If you don’t have room for shrubs, you could try plant­ing wall­flow­ers. Erysi­mum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’ is an ever­green peren­nial wall­flower that flow­ers con­tin­u­ously from late win­ter un­til sum­mer. It’s an ex­cel­lent source of long-last­ing colour for a small gar­den and is great for bees and but­ter­flies. Cro­cuses pro­vide early flow­ers and nec­tar for gar­dens of all sizes. Au­tumn is the time to plant cro­cuses, which can even be planted in con­tain­ers on a bal­cony.

The other time of year when na­tive and near-na­tive flow­ers are in short sup­ply is late sum­mer and au­tumn. By late sum­mer, many flow­ers have fin­ished and have al­ready pro­duced seed or fruit. How­ever, this is a time when bum­ble­bees need plenty of food as the queen is now lay­ing eggs that de­velop into new queens and males – the next gen­er­a­tion. So, if your gar­den has fewer flow­ers in late sum­mer and au­tumn, con­sider plant­ing some nec­tar-rich, non-na­tive flow­ers. Good choices in­clude white and dark pur­ple va­ri­eties of Bud­dleja (but­ter­fly bush) and the open, sin­gle va­ri­eties of dahlia. Also good are var­i­ous kinds of daisies, in­clud­ing Echi­nacea (cone flower), He­le­nium (He­len’s flower) and Aster (Michael­mas daisy). Se­dum, in­clud­ing the pop­u­lar Se­dum spectabile (ice plant), are also a good source of late-sum­mer nec­tar.

It seems that na­tive plants (and their rel­a­tives) are good for pol­li­na­tors most of the time, but if you want to sup­port them dur­ing the vi­tal be­gin­ning and end of their life­cy­cles, plant some well-cho­sen non-na­tives. You will be re­warded with a more at­trac­tive gar­den for most of the year as well.

Kathy Vi­vian is a lo­cal gar­den de­signer with an in­ter­est in gar­den­ing to at­tract ben­e­fi­cial wildlife. Read her blog on www. kathy­vi­vian­gar­den­de­ or search for KathyViv­gar­den on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Dahlias like this one (Dahlia ‘Pathfinder’) keep our gar­dens colour­ful and pol­li­na­tors fed into au­tumn

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