At this time of year gardens should be havens for wildlife; they should be full of movement, alive with butterflies, moths and hoverflies, travelling from flower to flower, and with bees picking up pollen and nectar to take back to their hive.
As the insects move from flower to flower, they pollinate other plants, including vegetables; squash and courgettes, fruits; apples and plums, and cherries, enabling these plants set seed or bear fruit.
There are also other benefits to having insects around; hoverfly larvae hoover up aphids, in turn swooping Swifts, House Martins and bats in search of insects will be attracted to your garden.
When choosing plants to attract bees remember bees can’t see red. But their vision extends into the ultra violet. Many bee-friendly plants have blue or purple flowers, such as Lavender.
In fact, red or orange flowers are generally outside the vision of most insects, some bumblebees will have a go at some of these, but on the whole they are not suited for the majority of British insects, these brighter flowers often evolved to be pollinated by birds and were so coloured to attract them down from a long way up. Red flowers for example are visited by birds such as hummingbirds. Such plants include Kniphophia, Fuchsia, Callistemon, Fritillaries imperialis, and the lantern-flower, Crinodendron.
No matter what space you have available we can all do our bit to make our gardens more welcoming to insects.
Below are a few ideas.
- Bees love herbs such as thyme, rosemary, mint and sage. Plant them in window boxes or in pots in a sunny position and allow the herbs to flower.
- Plant perennials in drifts rather than ones and twos, so that the colour and scent are easy to detect. Insects prefer large stands of the same species. The honey bee “waggle dance” evolved to let others know the location of large stands of suitable flowers.
- Flowers with simple, flat or dome shapes are easiest for insects to feed from. Some bees, in particular, are not able to squeeze into long, narrow, tubular flowers.
- Highly cultivated double-flowered forms of flowers, such as Dahlias often have no nectar or pollen.
- Avoid traditional bedding plants which produce bright colour. Most are highly bred flowers producing next to nothing for feeding insects.
- Remember to provide a night-time feast for moths. Plant some night-scented flowers. Moths will, in turn, provide food for bats.
- Fill hanging baskets and pots with insect favourites, such as; snowdrops, bluebells, primulas, crocus, aubretia, marigolds, campanula and lavender which will attract butterflies and hoverflies.
- Plant climbers, such as honeysuckle and ivy which provide late season food and shelter for birds and insects.
- Plant Buddleias’ to attract bees, moths and butterflies.
- Choose plants so that you have a show of flowers from early spring to late autumn. This will help early-emerging insects and those preparing for hibernation.
Here are a few plants to try to attract insects to your garden
Angelica sylvestris “Vicars Mead”.
Catmint (Nepeta spp)
Chives (Allium shoenoprasam)
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Mint (Mentha spp)
Rosemary (Rosmarimus officinalis)
Thyme (Thymus spp)
Aster noviangliae “Purple Cloud”
Salvia nemorosa “Mainacht”
Heather (Calluna vulgaris)
Sea holly (Eryngium maritimum)
Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri)
Late Summer and Autumn plants
Coneflower Echinacea purpurea
French marigold (Tagetes spp)
Golden rod (Solidago candensis)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp)
Ivy (Hedera helix)
Michaelmas daisies (Aster novi-belgii)
Winter and Spring flowering
Muscari Grape hyacinth
Wood anemone Anemone nemorosa
Red valerian (Centranthus rubra)
Night-scented Stock Matthiola longipetala
Night Phlox Phlox ‘Midnight Candy’