Save our bees! How to attract them to your garden
You may have noticed an absence of gentle buzzing in the garden or the flash of colour from fluttering wings. That's because in recent years there has been a marked decline in our insect pollinators. Insects such as bees, hoverflies, moths and butterflies have been in steady decline for the last few years and there are a couple of species of bee that have actually become extinct. This is very bad news for both our countryside and agriculture as these insects are the main way our crops and other plants are pollinated. There are a number of reasons why these insects may have suffered a decline in numbers but some think the main reason is the loss of many of our wildflower meadows which provide a sustainable habitat for many pollinating insects.
There is an important place for our humble gardens in trying to redress the balance and provide a suitable habitat to help increase the number of insect pollinators. Our gardens can provide important habitats where insects can find an alternative source of nectar and pollen. We just need to make sure we follow a few simple rules.
How to attract pollinating insects to your garden
Wildflower planting has a reputation for being a bit messy and may not be an attractive option when most of us aim for impact and colour in our gardens with vibrant perennials and showy annuals. But you don't have to recreate a wildflower habitat in your garden in order to attract insects. It is still possible to create a colourful statement with summer planting and still attract a large number of insects to your garden. So how do you tell which plants will be attractive to pollinating insects?
Insects like flowers where they can see the pollen and get to it easily, so choose single flower varieties. Double or multi-petaled flowers make it difficult for insects to access the pollen and indeed many modern varieties are so inbred that they actually produce little or no pollen at all. A good example is the dahlia. Modern varieties tend to be blousy and multi-petaled, bred for our taste in showy blooms. But the single flower varieties can be just as colourful as well as being attractive and beneficial to insects.
Colour is another important consideration. Evidence has shown that insects are attracted to colour, in particular lilac, mauve and yellow. Hoverflies for instance, love yellow flowers. The shape of a flower can also be important to insects. The large flat surface of achillea with its multitude of tiny yellow flower heads means that insects such as hoverflies can easily access its pollen. Plants that flower in succession are also beneficial to insects. The foxglove for example has a multitude of flowers along a single stem which open in succession over a period of time thereby providing insects with pollen for longer periods.
It is also a good idea to provide plenty of structure in your planting design as different insects operate at different heights. Grasses are a good example of plants that provide some height to a planting scheme and will also attract a wide variety of insects. Water is another important factor. Did you know that bees require a large amount of water every day in order to keep their hive cool during the summer? Lastly, aim to provide your insects with pollen throughout the year. This means making sure you have plants that flower late into the season such as sedums and michaelmas daisies, and mahonia for winter flowers.
Here are just a few of the plants guaranteed to attract pollinating insects. For perennials choose aquilegia, monarda, angelica, veronica, echinacea and rudbeckia. For shrubs choose buddleia which is irresistible to butterflies, and hebes, whose flowers produce so much nectar it makes them sweeter than jam! Also try lavender and hardy fushias. For bulbs choose crocus and alliums. When choosing annuals try and avoid fussy blooms and go instead for the single flowers of cosmos, sweet peas, sunflowers and marigolds. Containers filled with combinations of these annuals will not only provide a decorative show of vibrant colour but also ensure you provide a habitat attractive to insects.
The variety of plants available that will attract insects to your garden is huge and diverse. So just a little bit of thought to your planting scheme this year could create a mini nature reserve in your back garden and make a huge difference to the future of the unsung heroes that are our pollinating insects.