Summer Blooms and Summer Pollinators

"Gardens can become mini-nature reserves and the total area of gardens in Norfolk probably exceeds that of all Norfolk Wildlife Trust's nature reserves. Gardeners and gardens are key to helping reverse the declines of (these) species." These words were from Brendan Joyce, who was Director of Norfolk Wildlife Trust for many years.

We need to help pollinators (of which there are many) because they are key links in the seasonal unfolding of life on earth. We need them to be abundant, not declining, as they are now, at an alarming rate. Birds rely on them and so do we.

2024.06.Summer blooms.Photo C Sharp smBees on giant scabious and foxglove flowers by Carol Sharp

So, if you have a garden of any size you can be key to helping the natural world. Our gardens are crucial, providing habitats, shelter and feeding stations - even if you don't have time to do much - it is space that will be being used by a surprising number of creatures, most of which we hardly see. Your soil is alive, alive with micro-organisms, and worms, with insects, and numberless others, all contributing to the planet's fertility. To extend that helping hand, we need to plant shrubs, hedges, climbers, small trees and flowers. However, in the world of flowers, all is not equal to a pollinator. Some flowers today are so highly bred, (for beauty and show exhibitors), that they are rendered useless to the fifteen hundred, (a conservative estimate), of different pollinators. Native flowers and insects have evolved together and are helpful to one another - that makes perfect sense: they each benefit from what the other offers. Pollen and nectar on the one hand, contribute to successful reproduction for both plants and pollinators on the other.

Latest plant introductions are not always accessible, and may produce neither nectar nor pollen. This doesn't mean you shouldn't grow them! If your passion is specialist plants then you could just grow something a little simpler as well. The simplest shape, beloved and inviting to pollinators, is the open daisy shape, the sort of flower a child draws, with a lovely disc in the middle. This is where the miracle of pollination happens, the transference of pollen from male to female parts for fertilisation. Other flowers have tubular structures and certain pollinators will have a proboscis/tongue to access them. A further helpful thing we can do, is to have an ever-changing succession of plants that flower throughout the year, so that there is always food available. Summer is the time we spend most time in the garden and the garden is enhanced by the hums and buzzes of insects. Offering nectar-rich flowers will invite the maximum number of pollinators. Most people will have a favourite plant that is alive with humming insects in summer. Herbs are wonderful, as are lavender, cerinthe, echinacea and buddleia. I have included a list for early summer and for high summer at the end. It won't be complete, because it could be very long, and may well not include something you know is perfect.

The RSPB suggests that if you have a poorly drained area in your garden you could plant some meadow wildflowers such as greater knapweed, ragged robin and birdsfoot trefoil.   If you were lucky enough to have been at Pam Merrick's talk on summer pollinators, you will know that planting in drifts helps insects; less travel - less energy used. Pam also gave us valuable lists of plants, plus startling facts about the numbers of different pollinators; 1500 is a conservative estimate. There are around 240 species of solitary bees, 27 bumblebees and just 1 species of honeybee, plus 59 species of butterflies. Then of course there are hoverflies, moths, beetles and many others. You can access Pam's lists, which include plants favoured by the different pollinators, by logging on to Forncett Nature Matters on the Forncett village website. My own trick is to wander at leisure around a nursery or garden centre to see where the pollinators are - different each month of course. It is worth checking though, that the plant you want to purchase, has not been sprayed with pesticide.

If you have succeeded in arranging habitat, shelter and nectar-rich, beautiful blooms, just add water, a birds' bath would do, (although a pond is perfect), and sit back with a glass of something, close your eyes and listen to that contented drowsy summer hum, the song of summer pollinators, the song of summer. Your hard work and good intentions rewarded.

Some early-summer flowers:

Aquilegia, astilbe, campanula, everlasting sweet-pea, geranium, verbascum, foxglove, potentilla, teasel, thyme.

Late-summer flowers:

Angelica, aster, buddleia, cornflower, single-flowered dahlia, delphinium, eryngium, fuchsia, globe-thistle, penstemon, scabious, sedum, Verbena bonariensis, salvia, cosmos.


June 2024




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