Bees and butterflies

The cold spring, now wet and windy, has been tough for bees and butterflies. I am sure I have seen far fewer bees than usual and, despite the apple trees being covered in flowers, I have not seen a single bee on them.

A few plants have been attracting bumblebees, especially the pulmonarias which have flowered for longer than usual because of the cool weather. The pink and blue flowers are always alive with the buzz of bees.

We are more aware than ever of bees and the need to attract pollinators. Fortunately the flowers that attract pollinators are likely to be the flowers that will make our gardens lovely too so planting for pollinators is easy. Bumblebees and solitary bees need somewhere to nest as well as feed, so providing accommodation is essential. The quickest way is to buy nest boxes and bug hotels though you can easily make your own. Butterflies are always more welcome than their caterpillar stage but leaving a small area of long grass will provide food for many species including Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns and, of course, a patch of nettles will feed the caterpillars of Peacocks and Tortoiseshells.

I have added some Frangula alnus bushes to my hedge, the food plant of Brimstone butterflies, to try to encourage them. The only butterflies I don’t want to encourage are Cabbage whites!

Buddleias are the best known of the shrubs that nourish butterflies through summer but they are not the only plants and not all gardens have room for a fully grown buddleia.

Single-flowered dahlias, including the dwarf bedding kinds, are magnets for butterflies and for beed. Double flowers, where the centre of the blooms cannot be accessed by the insects, are generally not good for insects. Double begonias in particular are fairly useless

Lots of bedding plants and annuals will attract bees and butterflies and they are especially useful in late summer and autumn, providing food for butterflies getting ready to hibernate for winter. In my own garden statice is valuable for butterflies, all verbenas (below) and zinnias. There is time to sow and plant these now, along with cosmos, which are long the most useful of all annual to fill spaces in borders.

Lots of perennials are valuable too, especially those with thistle-like or daisy-like flowers such as echinops, echinacea and eryngiums. They all have seedheads that provide valuable food for birds in winter too.

Eryngium ‘Neptune’s Gold’ is a delight in the border and great for bees

Jobs for the week

Continue to sow vegetables where they are to grow. It is cool and wet at the moment – good for sowing most things but be aware that French and Runner beans dislike cold wet soil so delay sowings until it warms up a little. The cool, moist conditions are ideal for lettuce and other salads.

Stake or support perennials, especially peonies and Oriental poppies which are starting to bloom and may be damaged by the current severe winds.

When the weather is likely to be dry for a while, spray roses with a fungicide to prevent blackspot on roses.

This wet weather is heaven for slugs and snails so make sure you protect vulnerable plants.

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