And the butterflies and the ladybirds…and the lacewings and the hoverflies…and the beetles and…
Attracting a range of wildlife, pollinators and beneficial insects to your garden not only helps you, it helps our planet!
Natural wildlife habitats are in decline, which in turn leads to the reduction or even extinction of the multiple species which depend on those habitats. The Wildlife Trusts estimate that by 2030, 30% of UK land and sea should be given over to nature to avoid species extinction, hence their current re-wilding campaign “30 by 30” which, among other things, includes a project to restore Ice Age ponds in south-west Norfolk.
As native habitats are destroyed, private gardens are increasingly becoming important environments to support wildlife and, collectively, we can all make some small changes to help make a big difference. Last month (April 2021) our customers Joe and Lucy and their neighbours turned their Norwich road into “Bee Street“! We supplied them with all they needed so that each participating household could plant a trough of plants for pollinators. Click on the link to read the Evening News article – so far, at least one other road has decided to follow their example – and Joe and Lucy are very happy to be emailed if anyone else would like advice on how to do the same! Imagine if we could turn Norwich into “Bee City”!!
Below we give some simple ways to make your garden more wildlife-friendly, and a short list of some of the flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees that you could grow.
Did you know…doing nothing or doing less can help?
What could YOU do?
Could you stop mowing a strip of your lawn and leave the grass to grow longer…? Even for just a little while?
Help birds, bees, bats, butterflies, moths, hedgehogs, frogs, toads, newts and a whole host of insects by letting even just a strip of your lawn grow longer. The RSPB suggest you give nature a home and give the mower a rest! There are different ways you can do this: Create a temporary meadow and stop mowing just in May or June. Do more (or rather less!) and create a spring meadow by not mowing at all until June or July. Or, create a summer meadow by cutting once in late March/early April and then leaving it until August/September. If you’re feeling more adventurous and fancy ditching the lawn altogether, read the RSPB guide to creating a wild flower meadow.
Could you leave seed heads on flowering plants (instead of cutting them down) to provide food for birds throughout the autumn and winter?
Seeds, berries and fruit are an important food source for birds over the winter. Birds such as dunnocks need to spend the whole day searching for food in winter, in order to get themselves through the cold nights. Try not to be too tidy in the garden and instead leave dead flowering stems on herbaceous plants over the dormant season. Not only can the seed heads provide vital food for wildlife; insects may find shelter in hollow stems and tiny crevices and, when winter frosts come along, architectural seed heads not only look fantastic, they help protect slightly tender plants from winter cold. Take a look at the seed heads shown in this article and see if they aren’t just as beautiful in their own wintry way as their colourful flowery counterparts in summer. Here the RSPB give you their list of favourite plants to grow for natural winter seed-head feeders. Once you do cut down dead stems and seed heads in spring, try to leave them on the ground for a day or two to give any sheltering insects the opportunity to escape!
Could you create a ‘nectar-cafe’ in your garden and plant pollen/nectar-rich plants for bees and other pollinators so your garden has something in flower throughout the year?
The Royal Horticultural Society has produced lists of Plants for Pollinators so you can easily choose suitable plants for different seasons. You can download the lists or consult the set we have available at the garden centre (in the logs & kindling greenhouse). We’ve outlined a few of the plants below at the bottom of this post. Also look at: How to attract bumblebees to your garden, How to attract butterflies to your garden.
Could you plant a tree to help support birds, mammals and insects?
Even with just a balcony garden, you can plant a tree! There are all sorts of trees, of all shapes and sizes, suitable for pots or planting in the ground. Trees provide food and shelter for an incredible amount of wildlife, they store carbon and they look great – what’s not to like? The RSPB have a tree-planting activity guide and suggest that planting a tree is a great way to mark a special occasion…and we’d certainly agree!
Could you leave a small patch of nettles to grow in a sunny part of your garden?
Nettle aphids make a tasty meal for ladybirds, and it gives them somewhere to lay their eggs. Nettles support many beneficial insect species – help them and they’ll help you to naturally control aphid colonies growing on choice plants around your garden. Nettles support five different species of butterfly, including Peacock and Red Admiral. Nettle leaves can also be used to make liquid plant food and act as a great compost activator.
REMEMBER – NEVER be too hasty to get rid of aphids and other pests! They’re food for LADYBIRDS PLUS OTHER beneficial insects, HEDGEHOGS AND BIRDS, who won’t want to lay their eggs or visit your garden if there’s nothing for them to eat! The goal is to keep control of pest levels in your garden, not wipe them out completely.
For more ideas of what you can do, check out the RSPB’S NATURE ON YOUR DOORSTEP pages. Full of practical tips on what you can do to help on your balcony, on your patio, in your garden or on your allotment.
A FEW OF OUR FAVOURITE PLANTS AND TREES FOR WILDLIFE…
Sage (Salvia species) A culinary Mediterranean herb with evergreen leaves and flowers which are attractive to bees and other pollinating insects. Ideal in well-drained soil and full sun.
Thyme (Thymus species) This low-growing, aromatic evergreen herb has flowers which are loved by bees and butterflies in early summer. Good for sunny sites with well-drained (alkaline) soil.
Lavender (Lavandula species) Popular aromatic shrubs for sunny positions and well-drained soil. Excellent for bees and butterflies! Drought-tolerant. May also be planted in pots.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Another aromatic evergreen shrub, thriving in full sun and well-drained, alkaline soils. Flowers are usually blue, but white and pink forms are also available. A valuable early nectar source for bees and other pollinating insects.
Marjoram (Origanum vulgare) A native herb with aromatic leaves and pink or white flowers from July to the first frosts. Loved by bees, butterflies and hoverflies etc. Tolerates sun, drought and lime-rich soils. Will often self-seed.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) The yellow flowers are good for pollinators throughout the summer and birds enjoy the seeds. It also has hollow stems which are useful as over-wintering hiding places for insects such as ladybirds. The ferny foliage (green or bronze) also makes it a very attractive garden plant.
Hedge germander (Teucrium x lucidrys) This low-growing, bushy evergreen sub-shrub is drought-tolerant and ideal in a sunny site. The nectar/pollen-rich flowers are pink and loved by bees and butterflies. Suitable for a low hedge to line pathways.
Sweet bay/kitchen bay (Laurus nobilis) Evergreen shrub or small tree. The aromatic leaves are great for cooking, provides flowers for pollinating insects and good shelter for birds.
Mint (Mentha) Insect magnets! The flowers of this well-known herb provide nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies and hoverflies, and goldfinches will feed on the seeds.
Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri) The flowers provide nectar for many pollinators and the seeds are popular with birds. Prefers a sunny site and well-drained soil. May self seed.
Foxglove (Digitalis species)
The tall spires of these familiar flowers in summer are popular with long-tongued bees and moths. Suitable for shady areas. Self seeds easily.
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) Easy and fun to grow from seed. The bright yellow flowers attract butterflies and bees and the seeds are popular with birds. Likes full sun and well-drained soil.
Michaelmas daisy (Aster species)
The autumn flowers are great for attracting late pollinating insects. For a sunny or partially-shaded site in moist, well-drained soil.
Salvias Stunning additions to late summer and autumn borders in sunny positions and well-drained soil. The flowers are loved by bees and butterflies and the seeds are food for small birds.
Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana species)
Popular summer bedding plants loved by bees, butterflies, moths and other beneficial insects. Can grow in light shade to full sun.
Cranesbill/Hardy geraniums (Geranium species) Easy-to-grow hardy perennials – the most popular perennials in Britain! The flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies and the seeds are enjoyed by finches (especially bullfinches).
Verbena bonariensis Very popular perennial with tall airy stems and nectar-rich flowers. Ideal in a sunny site and well-drained soil. Self seeds.
Dahlias These make a magnificent display for late summer-autumn colour. Plant single-petalled or semi-double varieties so that pollinating insects can readily access nectar & pollen.
Early spring flowers are particularly important to feed adults emerging from hibernation when pollen and nectar supplies are very scarce. Shrubs such as Viburnum tinus and Sarcococca flower from winter to spring, providing valuable food for the earliest of emerging pollinators. If you don’t have space for shrubs, try snowdrops, winter aconites or crocus, (all available as bulbs in autumn) which can be planted with herbaceous plants, under deciduous trees or shrubs, or even in pots.
We always try to carry a wide range of hardy perennials which are good for pollinating insects. Many of these are economically priced at £2.40 each or any 5 for £11. Look out for the RHS Plants for Pollinators logo. At the bottom of this post you can see the selection we currently have available (May 2021).
TREES, SHRUBS & HEDGING
Mahonia (Oregon grape) Handsome evergreen shrub with fragrant yellow flowers in winter & early spring – valuable for early bees and other pollinators.
Pieris Acid-loving evergreen shrub with brightly coloured young leaves and white, lily of the valley-like flowers in spring which are attractive to bees.
Buddleia/Buddleja (Butterfly bush) As the common name suggests, the fragrant flowers (June – October) are attractive to butterflies and moths. Vigorous and easy to grow – if you don’t have much space, try one of the dwarf varieties.
Viburnum tinus (Laurustinus) Winter-flowering evergreen shrub producing flowers from late autumn through to spring, making it a great food source for early or late pollinating insects. Small black berries follow which are attractive to robins and finches.
Viburnum opulus (Guelder rose) This spreading deciduous shrub for sun or shade makes a great addition to a wildlife hedge. The white flowers in April/May are excellent for bees, beneficial insects and other pollinators and they’re followed by bright red berries which are attractive to bullfinches and mistle thrushes. The leaves are food for caterpillars and it provides shelter and habitat to birds and insects.
Sarcococca (Christmas box) These slow-growing, winter-flowering evergreen shrubs have perfumed white flowers to attract foraging insects, followed by berries which are enjoyed by birds. Great for a shady spot and can also be grown in containers.
Rosa rugosa (Rugosa rose) (Below) A shrub rose with very spiny stems. Easy to grow in a sunny site. Scented pink, red or white flowers in summer are attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. These are followed by big, bright orange/red rose hips which are popular with blackbirds, fieldfares and mistle thrushes. Plant a single specimen or also makes a great wildlife hedge.
Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
The insignificant flowers are good for pollinating insects and the red berries (on female trees, when pollinated by a male) are food for many birds. Don’t be disappointed if you find your holly has its berries untouched all through the winter – mistle thrushes are well known for selecting a berried holly tree to guard and keep for themselves – just in case! The well-known, spiny leaves are food for caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly. May be grown as a small tree or large shrub/hedging plant.
Crab apple (Malus sylvestris)
Pretty native tree with pink & white flowers in the spring for early bees and pollinating insects followed by small fruits (crab apples) in the autumn. Foxes, badgers and birds enjoy the fruit. Over 90 associated insect species.
Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)
Native tree with creamy white flowers in spring which are good for pollinating insects. Berries in the autumn are a good food source for birds and hedgehogs. Good autumn leaf colour. Over 28 associated insect species.
Oak (Quercus robur)
The much-loved and long-lived oak is host to over 280 species of associated insects and considered the king of British trees. May be pollarded, or coppiced and can also be ‘laid’ to make a wonderful hedge.
Quaking Aspen (Populus tremula)
The fast-growing aspen is associated with over 90 insect species. The shimmering leaves of this delightful tree flutter in the slightest breeze and appear in the poem ‘Lady of Shallot’- ‘willows whiten, aspens quiver, little breezes dusk and shiver’. Often found in ancient heaths and woodland.
Yew (Taxus baccata)
Slow-growing evergreen shrub or small tree, also grown as a hedge. The flowers are food for many insects and the red berries (arils) are popular with birds. The dense foliage provides good cover for birds and other wildlife. Shade-tolerant. Grows well on chalk soils.
Beech (Fagus sylvaticus)
The queen of British trees is home to lots of rare wildlife. Beech woods are an important habitat for many butterflies. Beech nuts (masts) are food for many birds as well as squirrels and mice. Host to over 64 associated insect species. Also makes a great hedge, and when trimmed, it keeps it’s coppery-brown leaves throughout the winter, providing great cover for birds.
Hazel (Corylus avellana)
May be grown as a tree or shrub, (may be ‘coppiced’ to keep it shrub-like.) The spring catkins are a good pollen source for bees and the nuts are a favoured food of squirrels, wood mice and the now rare dormouse.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
This large shrub or small tree has white flowers in May which are excellent for bees and other pollinating insects followed by red berries (haws) which are food for many birds. The leaves are food for moths. Also makes a good hedge – the spiny stems providing excellent cover for birds. Host to over 140 associated insect species.
Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)
A handsome tree or can be grown as a hedge (and like beech hedges, the dead leaves will remain, making good shelter for birds). The leaves are a caterpillar food plant and the seeds are food for squirrels and birds, such as finches and tits.
Silver birch (Betula pendula)
Much-loved tree with silvery-white bark. Suitable for small gardens. Provides food and shelter to over 300 associated insect species. The leaves are food for moth caterpillars. The seeds are popular with small mammals and birds, such as siskins, greenfinches and redpolls.
Making a pond (even a mini one!) is one of the best things you can do to attract wildlife to your garden. See this post.
BELOW: Hardy perennial plants for pollinators in our £2.40 range (May 2021).