Langley Gardening: Pollinators add joy and benefits to garden

When a garden is friendly to wildlife, the joy of their presence is not the only benefit. 

Food crops and flowers get pollinated and pest levels decline – though never completely vanish. If they did, the predators would seek food elsewhere. Later, pests would return in masses.

The key to a wildlife-friendly garden is avoiding pesticides and herbicides, and ideally in dense areas, this would be a community effort. 

Where gardens are tiny, if some neighbours still spray, their habits drift over and under fences into neighbouring space. Pests die – but so do beneficial insects and pollinators.

Even in tiny gardens some things help create a more wildlife-friendly setting. Container gardens could include one large pot of bee- and butterfly-friendly plants. 

Where space is tight, you could double the benefit and choose edible herbs such as parsley, dill, and sweet cicely. 

If you let them flower, hundreds of hover-flies (like tiny bees) and other pollinators gather to sip nectar. 

Increasing food for pollinators has benefits in later years for neighbouring gardens, as well as your own.

 In somewhat larger gardens, the flowers of kale and cabbages, calendula, Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and sweet alyssum are especially attractive to bees and butterflies, as are wild plants like goldenrod, fireweed, and chickory. 

The cover crop buckwheat is also a bee favourite.

White clover deserves a special mention. Bees love it and it flowers for long periods. 

It’s supplied in some grass seed, because like other legumes, it adds nitrogen to the soil where it’s grown.

It can also be a substitute lawn which stays green in drought and doesn’t need frequent mowing. 

As a cover crop, it’s hugely nourishing, but it’s hard to remove, because of its deep roots.

The news that bee-killing pesticide residue has been found on some bee-friendly plants is definitely good reason to ask nursery staff the status of plants you’re considering buying.

But if staff aren’t sure (often plants are grown elsewhere), there are ways of keeping our gardens safer.

With shrubs and perennials, removing all flowers the first year, then cutting the stems back during the first winter guarantees that bees won’t visit till they’re safe. 

Some annuals, such as calendula, cosmos and nigella are easy to plant by loosening the soil with a rake, scattering the seed, then raking it in.

Besides attractive plants, the thing that draws more wildlife to a garden than anything else is water. Tiny space means having a tiny water supply. Insects need pool margins, and they’d enjoy a big saucer of water holding a flat, shallow rock tapering to water level at least on one side. 

Shallow birdbaths can be used by insects, too, but birds get more use out of the deeper ones for drinking as well as splashing. Birds also drink from container ponds, but they do need a place to perch. 

Both water sources need to be renewed frequently so that the water stays clean. 

If birds are to use them, they should also be placed near shrubs or trees, to offer quick escape from predators.

Where there is space, native berrying shrubs and trees such as Indian plum, with its orange berries ripening to black, or the incandescent red-berried elder attract masses of birds in season.

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