5 plants and flowers that will attract insects to your garden

PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 June 2020

Red-tailed bumble bee working the chives

Red-tailed bumble bee working the chives

Archant

Avid gardener Linda Sage flutters into the world of pollinating insects and suggests ways of encouraging them into your own garden.

Marmalade hoverfly on a matching marigoldMarmalade hoverfly on a matching marigold

In the summer of Covid-19, many of us are spending more time in our gardens. This is a time to think about nature, especially when it comes to providing food for pollinating insects – the creatures we are often unaware of busily doing their thing among the flowers and vegetables. I am making an effort to observe them more closely. At a time when wildflower meadows are in decline, gardens can provide a vital source of nectar.

To encourage pollinating insects into your garden it is important to plant a variety of types, shapes and size of flowers, as this will provide nectar or pollen for a wide range of species. Insect mouthparts vary in shape and size and this determines the types of flowers they will visit. Some prefer flute-like flowers such as foxglove and penstemon, and lupins with their sweet-pea type petals, while others favour the flat flowers of daisies, meconopsis and single roses, which present their pollen openly.

By grouping flowers of the same kind together in large drifts, you make locating and exploiting resources easier for insects.

If you are not into gardening, and have space only for a few pots, or a window box, these can be beneficial too. Hoverflies don’t care if your marigolds are grown in the front of a garden border or in your favourite terracotta pot on the patio. Food is food.

We all appreciate a carefully tended garden: try relaxing – insects appreciate a natural space. Dandelions are a good source of nectar, so while it is tempting to whip off their heads at first sight of them sprouting on the lawn, be patient and allow pollinators to have a feed before mowing.

The following five plants are among favourites growing in my Cheshire garden. None of them is difficult to cultivate and many will quite happily seed themselves. In fact, this is how 
I acquired some of them in the first place.

BUDDLEIA

Commonly named Butterfly Bush. Peacock, Painted Lady and Red Admiral butterflies are frequent visitors, taking up nectar from the racemes during summer and autumn. These bushes can grow up to 10ft and need space for their arching stems. They grow easily from cuttings, but care must be taken as some varieties can become invasive.

CHIVES

I grow more of these than I will ever eat but red-tailed bumble bees love the purple flowers. Cutting the plants down to ground level after the blooms have faded provides a continuous supply throughout the summer growing season. You can use snipped chives in soups, salads and egg dishes.

COSMOS

An easy-to-grow annual with open, daisy-like flowers. Comes in white, pink, mauve. Tall flowers for the border or shorter varieties for pots. Attracts bees, beetles and butterflies. A good value plant, which flowers right through the summer months until the first frosts arrive, providing dead-heading is done regularly. Seeds can be collected in autumn for sowing the following spring.

FOXGLOVES

Flowers are rich in nectar and are like magnets to bees and butterflies. Excellent for back of the border shady positions. Grows happier in lighter soils. Flowers late spring early summer. A biennial plant that will seed freely. My foxgloves are of the wild woodland purple variety, but there are many different colours. It is important to be aware that foxgloves contain the chemical digitalin which is toxic.

MECONOPSIS

My favourite. The orange flowers appeared in my vegetable patch a couple of years ago as if by magic and continue to cast a spell on marmalade hoverflies and buff-tailed bumble bees, which are regular visitors. The blooms are short-lived, but as one fades another opens providing a continuous flowering period over several months.

Though many horticultural outlets may still be closed due to the pandemic, there are other ways to acquire new plants. Message a friend or drop a note through a neighbour’s letterbox. There will be someone out there who has seeds to spare or a clump of something that is ready for dividing. Observe the importance of social distancing and leave plants on doorsteps when out on your regular exercise route. Stay safe and carry on gardening.

DID YOU KNOW?

Hoverflies mimic bees and wasps with their stripy yellow and black patterns as protection from birds. They have only two wings, whereas bees have four. They don’t sting. Adults feed on flower nectar; their larvae on aphids

It is estimated that one third of the food we consume each day is pollinated by bees, especially honeybees. Other species of bee include bumble bees, carder bees and solitary bees

Butterflies serve as powerful pollinators for day-blooming flowers. They drink the sweet nectar as a high-energy fuel for flight from many flower varieties, spreading pollen as they move from plant to plant

Pesticides can harm pollinators and many other beneficial invertebrates. Leave aphids alone to be eaten by birds and insect larvae

Other pollinators include beetles, moths, flies, birds and bats

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