Six on Saturday: the pollinator edition

I am typing this on my phone in the garden on a Friday evening, sitting in the sun, the washing drying on the line for the first time in ages. The sun feels good on my skin.

The pollinating insects know it too, they are out with the very fist ray. Yesterday I sent out August’s edition of my newsletter – The Green Gardening Newsletter – which features a Q&A with Maureen Little, author of The Little Book of Plants for Pollinators.

I will just share with you part of Maureen’s answer to one question because it really resonates with me – the rate of species extinction among pollinating insects is truly heartbreaking, so I asked her how she stays optimistic.

It’s true that insect pollinators are in decline and have been for many years. This is due to a range of factors such as the use of pesticides, lack of habitat, climate change and so on.”

However, the good news is that more and more people are alert to that fact and want to do something to help. It seems to me that gardeners can be, and are, at the forefront of this awareness and are all too willing to adjust their practices to accommodate pollinators. I sometimes think the saying ‘think globally, act locally’ was made for gardeners: we can all do something, however small, and together we can make a difference.”

The first Fritillary butterfly of the year appeared on my Buddleja davidii ‘Black Knight’.

Until this point I have seen very few butterflies in my garden apart from the Cabbage Whites. Have you noticed the same thing?

There are a great many plants that benefit pollinators in my garden, and one of them is Aconitum napellus. Highly poisonous for humans but not for bees!

The chartreuse splash is from Japanese forest grass Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ which is truly happy with all our rain. Here it is with Geranium ‘Rozanne’ – another hit with bees.

Herbs are excellent plants for pollinators, and pretty good for us humans too. Flowering oregano contains 80% sugar in its nectar so that’s why all manner of bees go mad for it!

Weaving in amongst the leaves of the purple Cotinus is the hardy Fuchsia magellanica. A great garden shrub that looks delicate but is really tough. It flowers over a long period and that’s useful for pollinators, which can access the simple flowers – double blousy flowers are not much use for insects as the nectar and pollen are often inaccessible.

But it’s not just about including the right plants to help pollinators. It’s also about providing habitats. Our lawn is one such habitat – allowing an area grass to grow long attracts a huge array of insects, and ground beetles especially like the damper, safer habitat. We have just cut ours back as this is a good time to do so for regrowth before autumn and to allow wildflower seeds to germinate.

That was last Sunday and you can see how quickly it has regrown:

Earlier this summer:

Finally, leaving an area of your garden undisturbed is great for all kinds of wildlife, and insects especially will benefit if you add a log pile for shelter and hibernation. Here is one we made in our glade:

What’s proving a hit with pollinators in your garden? Do you garden with them in mind?

Do sign up to my newsletter if you are interested in sustainability and gardening, I always include some interesting book, podcast and article recommendations. And do visit Jim’s Six on Saturday page for more gardening tales from bloggers around the world.

Have a great weekend!

36 thoughts on “Six on Saturday: the pollinator edition

  1. That was a really interesting read and a nice selection. I thoroughly enjoyed the latest edition of the newsletter too. Encouraging wildlife to the garden has always been a big aim – although I don’t do ‘no mow May’ – it just doesn’t work with my small lawn and the blackbirds and starlings prefer it short. But that’s why a variety of different gardens is so good – a diversity of habitats to suit different species. Now I know why the tiny flowers of Oregano are so popular with insects!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, and the newsletter too. I totally agree re lawns, v much depends on individual situations but yes short grass also has benefits – mining bees like it too I hear.

  2. Nice to read that there is still hope for the insects… I also made the constatation that here were never so little insects as this year. I saw barely some butterflies and bees here around Antwerp. It’s frightening… Every time again, I drew the attention on this topic in my blogs to make people aware. Every bit helps 😉
    My compliments for your garden, it looks realy awesome 😉 With all these flowers it must be a delight for the remaining insects.
    Have a nice weekend Sel and many greets.
    ps: thanks for sending me the newsletters 🙂

    1. You’re v welcome Rudi, I think you are doing great work too on your blog to raise awareness and I recommend others reading this visit it – Rudi’s wildlife photos are simply stunning!

  3. I highly recommend “The Biodiversity Gardener” by Paul Sterry, an informative and enjoyable read. Other than that I am simply amazed that you can type on your ‘phone, something which is beyond me except for a very few words. I learned to touch-type in the ’70s, something which has been very worthwhile ever since.

    1. The honest truth is I am being lazy and although I prefer to type on my laptop that involves moving photos across from my phone which I find to be a bit of a faff! Thanks for the book recommendation, will check it out.

      1. Having finished the book, I withdraw my recommendation. It dragged on and on and on. Life’s too short!

  4. Thank you Sel, where is the best place to buy a copy of Maureen’s book? And thank you for the newsletter, after reading it I realised why my tomatoes looked sickly and I went out last evening to chop back the blighted leaves. I think a month with little sun and continued wet hasn’t helped.

  5. I’m contemplating adding a cotinus but I need a reasonably small one. Are you expecting yours to grow to a good height or is it a small version? I applaud your pollinating efforts. I aim to choose bee friendly plants too and the butterflies have been pretty good this year – even with the rain.

    1. My Cotinus is now a small tree! But they are easy to cut back to the size you want, I just let it grow. It’s my favourite garden shrub/tree, beautiful leaves and autumn colour. You are lucky re the butterflies!

  6. This is a delight to read my front and back garden provid great habitat for butterflies and bees especially lavender,buddleja white and pink geranium and many herbs I do have many butterflies and bumbel bees we are having very wet times but some sun in between…thanks selwa for great news letter.

  7. The very best plant for bumble bees are the block of Eryngium Silver Ghost. When the seed is ready to harvest, I put that up on my post and people will be invited to ask for the seed.

  8. Planting ‘host plants’ for butterflies and natives for other pollinators is a worthy contribution to reversing the decline. I was inspired by Doug Tallamy’s book “Bringing Nature Home”.

    1. Yes that’s an important point. I try to keep a patch of nettles going in the allotment for that very reason as I read they are an important host plant. Thanks for the book recommendation too!

  9. I have been adding around two new native species to my garden each year, with a focus on host plants and extending the flowering season. With each new species added, I see insects I have never seen before, and others that are coming back year on year. For me it is not just pollinators but all things (except Japanese beetles, I am speciesist). I have a number of ambush bugs this year, the red and blue leafhopper is always on the Asclepias verticillata, but the biggest pollinator hit this year had to be purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea). It was covered with bees and flower flies of all stripe from dawn until dusk and is seemed that most such insects were spending max time there.

    1. That is so encouraging re the new insects appearing with the native plants, it’s very rewarding to garden in this way! Clover is a wonderful plant – we have a white form in our lawn and it has the added benefit of keeping the area very green!

      1. Sometimes it is because the host plant hosts more than just some species of caterpillar, as in the case with milkweed bug and beetle. They had no reason to visit before I added the milkweed. I found myself mildly annoyed that the beetles were making holes in the leaves, but really, they are part of the ecosystem, and they do not make significant damage. I also found myself mildly annoyed when a fat monarch cat was busily snipping the flower buds off so he could eat the stem of the bud. He did this methodically until the small inflorescence was spent, then moved on. He was last seen eating milkweed leaf. Again, that is who I planted it for – why be annoyed if the cat likes flower stems!

      2. It’s almost like we humans have been programmed to think the flowers are there for our benefit alone – part of the wider problem really, the idea that the planet’s resources are ours for the taking. But it’s also true that once we learn about ecosystems we see the upsides of our flowers being eaten – maybe? 😉

  10. What a great job you are doing encouraging so many pollinators and bugs to your garden. It is wonderful that so many gardeners are taking their responsibilities towards wildlife seriously.

  11. Yes, gardeners are at the forefront of making positive change for pollinators 😘🌼🐝 Every little flowering plant helps, love your wild flower patch and your lovely green lawn!

  12. I’m in the north west of England and have seen very few butterflies except cabbage white. I think the weather hugely affects them, too.

    Since I redesigned my garden last year I’ve tried to make sure that as many plants as possible are good for pollinators. Also that there is something available for them for as much of the year as possible.

    I see that as my small way of helping to reverse the global decline. I’ve just signed up for your newsletter:-)

    1. Yes the weather was probably a factor – both this year and also I heard that last year’s drought really affected insects – difficult times for them – but it’s great that you too are helping them out. Thanks for the sign up ☺️

  13. Interesting six. I see far fewer butterflies these days -can’t remember the last time I saw a Peacock butterfly in my garden. I went to RHS Rosemoor last week and there were a lot of Red Admirals there and also some Peacocks

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