Gardening for wildlife

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!
  • In love with a moth called Pam

    I'm going to take you somewhere we've never been before on this blog. Brace yourself - we're going to explore the exciting world of...(cue drum beat - dum dum dum) micro moths.

    No, honestly, stick with me. It's going to be better than you think.

    You see I've been sticking out a moth trap once every couple of weeks in my garden if the weather is warm. And I really have enjoyed the glimpse it gives you into a nighttime world so few of us ever get to see.

    You may remember me getting excited when I realised that my garden (and I bet yours too) is visited by such wonders of the wildlife world as the Elephant Hawkmoth, with a body about the size of your little finger.

    But I normally only identified the bigger moths - the 'macros' as they're called.

    Yet in every trap there'd be a load of tiny moths that just looked too small and too difficult to worry about. They tended to fly off quickly, and that was fine as far as I was concerned!

    But then Sterling, Parsons and the amazing insect illustrator, Richard Lewington brought out 'The Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland'. And I gamely thought I'd give them a try and see what new things it could teach me about my garden.

    So here are a couple from my trap from last week. Let's start with something I call the Vampire Moth, because it seems to stand upright with its wings open like dracula about to take flight, but its real name is Endotricha flammealis.

    It's about 1cm long, and I'm not saying it's the most exciting looking moth ever. But it's really easy to identify, and this is a moth whose caterpillars feed on decaying leaves.

    But then I saw this thing. It's only about 0.5cm long but up close it was radiant - such an intense amber glow in the wings and green button eyes.

    It turns out it is a moth called Pammene aurita, but let's just call her Pam for short.

    It turns out her caterpillars eat Sycamore seeds, and I get a lot of those in my garden. So maybe Pam is reducing the amount of weeding I have to do of Sycamore seedlings each year. I love Pam!

    I just find it so fascinating to think that in every garden this complex mix of creatures is out there, just getting on with life, including good old Pam.

  • Stopping and stooping to see the ickle bees

    I was wandering around the Bishop's Garden the other day in Chichester, admiring his herbaceous beds, and everything was as it should be on the wildlife front. The bumblebees and honeybees were running riot on the Nepeta and Eryngiums, on the Heleniums and Penstemons.

    It would have been very easy to come away with the conclusion that those were the plants to grow for pollinators.

    But something just about caught my eye down on the Achilleas.

    It was as if the plant had tiny atoms whizzing around it, so speedy they were a blur. It was only by stopping and stooping that I entered their world and began to see what was going on.

    It turned out a whirr of tiny bees was circling the flowers, each in their own manic orbit. Every now and them one would land to feed on the achillea flowerheads, but then they'd get whacked from behind by one of the circling horde.

    I guess what was going on was that the achillea flowers were being nectared on by females, and the males knew this and were dashing about waiting for a female to arrive in order to have a whirlwind romance.

    Now these were tiny bees, half the size and a quarter of the bulk of honeybees, and identifying such species is tough, given there are about 225 species of solitary bee. If anyone wants to take a stab based on the quick photo I got, then fire away:

    But what it reminded me was not to get totally sidetracked by the rather deep-throated flowers that are well publicised for Honeybees and bumblebees. There are a whole host of other pollinators out there, so easy to overlook, that need flatter-headed flowers, open landing pads where they can feed.

    I do have some other flat-headed favourites for smaller bees, but I thought I'd see if you loyal readers have some ideas of your own to share................

  • By eck! The magic of Echiums

    I remember only too vividly my first trip to the tip of Cornwall and seeing a plant apparently growing wild that had a 12-foot high spike of blue flowers covered in bees.

    That it had the name Echium pininana was a bonus, for here was a Latin name that I could remember. The first word was a bit like 'Ecky thump' and the second sounded like a cross between a pineapple and a banana.

    I was then still a teenager when I grew my first Echium in the garden for wildlife, but it was the native one, Echium vulgare, better known as Viper's Bugloss - another great name don't you think? (Better than 'George', anyway).

    Reason number one to grow it: it looks stunning, massed spikes of sea blue. Reason number two: what a supremo it is for bumblebees - it's fantastic.

    So I'm always thrilled to find it growing wild, as here in Norfolk back in June.

    Even better when darting in to feed on these spikes was this:

    Yes, a Hummingbird Hawkmoth - reason number 3 to grow it.

    Thinking that other Echiums might be just as good, I've been growing Echium wildprettii, and this year for the first time I got it to flower.

    I was so proud - what a flower! But oh, how I wish it had turned out to be brilliant for insects. Sadly not one visited, and I'll probably stick to the other Echiums now, but I enjoyed the experiment!