Karen Murphy explains how you can attract the creatures that will help your garden thrive
A healthy garden is one that teems with animals and insects, where the wildlife pollinates plants and keeps pests at bay without the need for chemicals. Here’s our pick of the best easy-to-grow plants to entice beneficial insects and creatures in!
Bounty of Butterflies
Bright, beautiful butterflies are a sight to behold in summer, flitting from bloom to bloom and brightening up our gardens. They’re known as a sign of a good quality of garden life because they pollinate a range of plants and their caterpillars are vital food for baby birds, too.
Some caterpillars can be troublesome to brassica crops, but on the other hand they’ll encourage birds such as skylarks or goldfinches to the garden, which will gobble
them up. Adult butterflies do little damage and a good tip is to plant lots of nasturtiums to lure them away from your cabbages!
Top 3 plants for butterflies
1 Buddleia weyeriana
You’ll probably have a Buddleia davidii in your garden, which is the best butterfly haven. This unusual yellow-flowered species has an intoxicating perfume to pretty swarms of butterflies.
Plant hardy potted buddleia in fertile soil in full sun. Buy the variety ‘Sungold’
2 Verbena bonariensis
With tall purple bloom clusters. this is one of the best plants for butterflies and spreads freely. Plant it liberally for many summers of butterflies! It’s versatile and practically indestructible.
Sow indoors now and plant out in May
3 Aster novae-angliae
Bright open daisies, attractive to butterflies into late autumn. Look for symphyotrichum on the label, its new official name.
Plant now in rich, fertile soil, with compost, in sun, or sow indoors now for planting out at the end of spring
A-buzz with bees
If you’ve got lots of happy bees in your garden, you’re doing something right! Be they bumblebees, solitary bees or honeybees, they’re a vital part of garden life pollinating many of our garden plants. And if the solitary leaf-cutter bee uses some of your rose leaves for its nests, we can’t begrudge them that after all their hard work pollinating!
Top 3 plants for bees
Bees like a varied menu of shapes and heights, with blue, purple, yellow or white flowers.
1 Centaurea scabiosa
Bumblebees adore the native greater knapweed. The lovely wild flower is super tolerant of poor soils, blooms all summer and self-seeds.
Sow now or at any time direct where they are to flower
2 Borago officinalis
Borage is excellent – honeybees are very fond of its nectar, it’s a tasty herb for the kitchen and best of all it looks lovely, with sky-blue star flowers.
Sow direct outdoors now in a sunny sheltered spot
And last of all to add to your bee plant area is pulmonaria, or lungwort. It’s a low-growing native perennial loved by solitary bees that flowers all spring.
Buy from garden centres now and plant in shade
Beauty of bats
A sheltered position in a south-facing garden is ideal for a bat box. Bats need a clear flight path and make sure the box is at least 15ft from the ground. Once positioned, bat boxes must not be moved.
Bats are really active in the garden now, roosting, producing young and feeding them. They’re the stars of the night-time garden, often seen flitting and swooping, catching many thousands of insects.
Provide a nest box, a tree and a pond and you’ve given bats all they need. Pipistrelles are the most common garden bats, and they can eat up to 3,000 insects per night! They eat and keep down populations of mosquitoes, midges, mayflies and plenty of other winged insects. Bats rely on trees for food and shelter and trees rely on them as part of their lifecycle.
Ideally you don’t want them to nest in the gables of your home as they can be noisy and messy! But we need to encourage them, as their worth is far greater than their pest potential.
Top 3 plants for bats
Trees, plants by ponds and plants that give off a night scent are favoured by bats.
1 Evening primrose
Tall plants with large lemon-yellow blooms that open on summer evenings. The pleasant scent attracts pollinating moths – and in turn, bats. A self-seeding biennial.
Sow seed now for next year
2 Cardamine pratensis
A dainty native, known as the cuckoo flower, that likes moist areas next to ponds. Attracts mayflies, which bats love. It flowers in spring, just when bats need the food.
Plant indoors now for next year
3 Flowering hebes
Hebes attract all sorts of insects to its purple summer flowers. They’re evergreen and easy to grow – all the more reason to have them in the garden.
Plant potted hebes now
- Karen writes for Garden News magazine which is packed full of tips, inspiration, plant and product news and great money-saving offers! On sale every Tuesday, or subscribe and try your first four issues for just £1. Call 01858 438884 or visit www.greatmagazines.co.uk/YFIG. T&Cs apply.