The importance of wild flowers to wildlife (Article by Mr. McGregor)
Mr McGregor, a gardening enthusiast and regular gardening writer shares his thoughts and opinions on the importance of flowers to attract our native wildlife. He has also shared his love of growing fruit and veg as columnist on the Jamie Oliver site.
A garden overrun with native wildlife is a happy garden. Attracting and preserving wildlife has a number of benefits; it helps the cogs of the ecosystem work, deters common garden pests, pollinates beautiful flowers and is a joy just to observe and enjoy. It’s wonderful to watch butterflies flutter from plant to plant, bees feeding on pollen and birds finding homely nesting places to shelter their offspring.
Unfortunately these natural and prosperous habitats are in decline. With the increased popularity of chemical pesticides more and more creatures are fleeing our gardens. In fact over the past 50 years, 60% of animal and plants studied in the State of Nature report have declined, highlighting just how important it is for us gardeners to pick up our tools and create a natural safe haven for our precious wildlife to reside in, and hopefully one day thrive in.
There are many ways we can encourage wildlife back into our gardens and below I will share with you how a simple flower can attract the most beautiful wildlife.
Honeysuckle (Lonciera spp) can create a highly attractive focal point in the garden not only for its flowers, but also because it attracts a variety of butterflies and moths. Although the honeysuckle has recently been bombarded with negative connotations; it being an invasive plant, with the right care and attention it is a typically trouble-free plant to grow.
The reason honeysuckle has been accused of being an invasive plant is that many are now being imported from Japan; North American natives such as the California honeysuckle (Lonciera subspicata) or trumpet honeysuckle (Lonciera sempervirens) are preferable non-invasive species.
Other problems you may encounter when introducing and growing honeysuckle in the garden include disease and pests; albeit the latter being the less problematic. Aphids are attracted to the new shoots; armoured scale insects are also known to invade honeysuckle. However, damage is often minor and is often replaced with new growth due to the honeysuckle’s ability to grow quickly. Disease primarily attacks these beautifully aromatic plants when their growing conditions are wrong. Keep them well watered and in a moist, well-drained soil, and mildew, cankers and leaf blight should be kept at bay.
Climbers such as nasturtiums and hydrangea petiolaris (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris) can attract a variety of insects, such as hoverflies and butterflies. If you grow brassiacs, planting nasturtiums near the patch can also encourage butterflies away from your crop.
Wild nettles can also attract a plethora of butterflies, providing a rich food supply for species such as the peacock, red admiral and painted lady butterflies.
On the topic of growing veg, everlasting peas and runner beans produce flowers that will entice bees, caterpillars, Y moths and beetles. Everlasting pea foliage is a delicacy for caterpillars while the flowers are a popular choice among beetles.
Caterpillars tend to be fussy little creatures, only taking fancy of a few wild flowers to feed upon. Cocksfoot and couch grasses are a couple of examples of the caterpillars’ preferred food source. These grasses are especially good for attracting wall brown and speckled wood species.
If you want to craft one of the busiest gardens in your neighbourhood, nectar rich flowers are an important commodity; attracting many bees, moths, butterflies and hoverflies. When compiling a shopping list of bee-loving flowers you need to bear in mind that single flower plants are preferable – double flower plants tend to produce far less nectar. Bright colours, especially yellow also encourage bees into the garden where whites, blues and purples tend to be preferred by butterflies. Plants that can be placed on your list would include:
• Single dahlias
• Crab apple
• Cow parsley
The majority of these plants should be found at popular garden centres such as Notcutts.
By simply picking your plants carefully and researching a little into your ideal wildlife’s food preference you can dramatically change the way your garden is used and seen. Catering for native wildlife can transform your garden into a safe haven filled with buzzing bees, colourful butterflies, munching caterpillars, hovering hoverflies and humming hummingbirds; all you need to do now is relax and enjoy.