June, 2012

Homes for Wildlife

Homes for Wildlife
If you love the creatures in your garden, you'll love our Homes for Wildlife project. This is the place to ask and answer questions about making your backyard wildlife-friendly.

Gardening for wildlife

Follow the adventures of Adrian Thomas, our wildlife gardening expert, and be inspired to create your own wildlife haven on your doorstep. Adrian posts here every Monday and Friday without fail, so make it a date and drop by!
  • The A Bee C of Gardening

    Look at this little beauty:

    I photographed her last week at Hidcote, the wonderful National Trust gardens in Gloucestershire, feeding on a Euphorbia.

    She is Andrena cineraria, and she is common in gardens across much of Britain.

    She sort of has a colloquial English name - the Ashy Mining Bee. And she's one of over 250 species of bee in Britain, of which maybe 10-20 species are in each of our back gardens.

    Many species are really quite difficult to identify, so what you might think is a bumblebee might actually be a flowerbee, and what you think is a Honeybee might be any manner of solitary bees.

    But don’t worry about it (I don’t!). The important thing is that all bees are nectar eaters and pollen drinkers, and that means they’re wonderful pollinators, helping turn many of our flowers into fruit and seeds.

    Each species of bee has slightly different Home Needs to the next – for example, different species have different tongue lengths, making them suited to certain types of flower. Nevertheless, it is still possible to give good generic advice, so here is my 6-point plan to help all sorts of bees:

    1. There are many types of garden flowers that are great for bees, but there are even more that are useless. So if you want to help bees, choose carefully.
    2. Plant a range of bee-friendly plants that will give a sequence of flowers from February to November.
    3. Don’t forget trees for bees. It is easy to be distracted by watching what bees are using at ground level, when some of the best plants for bees are above our heads.
    4. Grow each flower en masse – bees like banquets rather than nibbles.
    5. Bees like to feed in places that are sheltered, warm, and sunny
    6. Don’t forget that bees need nest sites too. Different bees use different places, so try to provide a mix of undisturbed tussocky grass, warm banks of sandy soil, and soft mortar. Forget bumblebee boxes, but do try the ‘bundle of hollow cane’ type boxes.

    And so which plants to choose? I've been researching this in gardens for several years, and here are some of the top groups of plants to try (in no particular order), giving you loads to choose from.

    • Geranium family
    • Borage family (comfreys, forgetmenots, anchusa, alkanet, lungworts, viper’s buglosses)
    • Pea family (vetches, clovers, lupins)
    • Dead-nettle family (woundworts, thymes, claries, bugle, mints, salvias, sages)
    • Heather family (below Winter Heather Erica carnea with Honeybee)

    • Rubus genus (raspberries, blackberries)
    • Teasel family (teasels, scabiouses)
    • Knapweeds, thistles, globe-thistles
    • Alliums
    • Vipers Buglosses (here with the Common Carder Bee, a type of bumblebee)

    • Foxgloves
    • Penstemons
    • Ivy

    ...and for Trees for Bees, try

    • Cherries
    • Willows
    • Cotoneasters
    • And fruit trees (apples & pears)

    If I had to pick my top five plants? I think I'd go for Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant', Cephalaria gigantea. Globe Thistle, Pulmonaria and Goat Willow (the latter two for early nectar).

    But I want to know what your top bee plants are, if you would - go on, share your recommendations!

  • Time for the underdog: it's National Insect Week

    I think it's important to realise that we share this planet with millions of other species. I think it's even more important to understand that we can't do without them.

    So I'm delighted to support the Royal Entomological Society as they launch National Insect Week 2012, which starts today and runs until Sunday 1 July.

    I hand over to RES's Dave George to explain more:

    "National Insect Week is held very two years to promote awareness of the value of a diverse insect world to the environment and is supported by more than 50 national partner organisations concerned about natural history and biodiversity.

    "Taking inspiration from the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, this year’s National Insect Week theme is ‘Celebrating Great British Insects’.

    "And there’s a lot to celebrate. There are about 100,000 known species of insects in Europe and a quarter of those are found in the UK.

    "You can do your bit to ensure our Great British Insects continue to thrive. With gardens covering over one million hectares of Britain, they could represent a real haven for insects."

    I totally agree. And I think that if you pare it back to basics, there are just three big things to do to achieve it:

    1) Grow plants plants plants - they underpin all life

    2) Add some water - many of our garden insects rely on it

    3) And cut out the pesticides wherever possible.

    And the results include garden wonders such as this...

    and this...

    and this...

    With all the photos taken in my small garden, they make it easy to be an insect fan.

    (PS: The photos are of Emperor Dragonfly, Comma butterfly, and Privet Hawkmoth)



  • Top of the crop at Gardeners World

    Over the last few weeks on this blog, we've spied in on all the hard work the staff and volunteers have been putting in behind the scenes to prepare for the RSPB's 'feature stand' at Gardeners World Live.

    And last week was the show itself. Did you go? I visited on the Thursday and it was heaving with visitors as usual, rubbing shoulders with the likes of the wonderful Carol Klein.

    And hopefully many visitors enjoyed the fruit of the RSPB team's efforts, because they really pulled out the stops to fill a 27metre long stand with the story of the migration of our Swallows, from South Africa, via Morocco and Spain, and into the British countryside and gardens.

    Remember this is done on a shoestring budget - we don't spend our members' money willy-nilly. So be amazed at everything, from the South African garden with Proteas...

    ...to the African plains

    on through Bedouin tents...

    ...and past Mediterranean courtyards with bougainvillea...

    ...to verdant Britain, and a bit of a helping hand with some mud for their nests.

    Great messages; great stage sets and Swallow models; and lovely planting.

    So I'm delighted to reveal that the team won Best Feature in Show. They deserve it.

    (Oh, and I've been asked to design next year's - boy, I've got something to live up to!)