May is a great time to be thinking about flowers for pollinators.
Many of our insects, including bees, butterflies and moths, depend on flower nectar and pollen for their food. In return, these insects pollinate the plants – which is particularly important to us for our fruit, vegetables and cereals. Other creatures rely on these insects as their food source – birds, bats, hedgehogs and a lot more. But sadly, along with other wildlife, our insects are in decline in the UK. We can do a lot in our gardens and local green spaces to help. We can plant and encourage flowers which we know are beneficial for pollinators.
Native or Exotic?
You may have seen the debate in the media about what we should be encouraging in our local green spaces. Should it just be local wildflowers – native species which are found in our immediate area. Or should we plant a wider range of plants, perhaps even some exotic species, which might be more colourful and maybe even good for wildlife as well. As with all debates, there are a wide range of opinions.
It is probably right that in the countryside or on the edges of our villages and towns, we should stick to our local wildflowers. Our local wildflowers have evolved to grow in particular conditions, and our wildlife has evolved alongside them. So in the White Peak, plants need to be suited to our local limestone soils. Some scientists also believe that the spreading of unusual species can affect their botanical records and thus our understanding of how our environment might be changing.
But even without the strict ecological difficulties, swathes of exotic species can just look a bit out of place – however colourful they might be . It’s a bit like releasing exotic parrots or flamingos in the countryside, just because they are bright and cheerful.
So the mantra “Local plants for local places” seems like a reasonable approach in more rural and informal areas.
But in our gardens and more formal public places, more exotic species clearly have a place. Although many people still like to encourage native wildflowers in their gardens, (and if you do that, you will never need to apologise for the “weeds” in your garden again, you are just feeding the bees!).
Which flowers are best for our pollinators?
The Wildlife Trusts have a great web site providing advice about gardening for wildlife, and it includes this advice about plants for pollinators. There is a wide range of common garden plants listed here – both native and exotic. Species which have single, open flowers are often best for pollinators. Although some butterflies and moths are specially adapted to particular flowers. Having a wide variety of species, flowering at different times of the year, is recommended.
There are many ways to obtain your plants – from garden centres and nurseries, or buy seeds or plants on line. TDEG has a new Seed Swap project which has many seeds available for free. If you want particular wildflowers, then companies such as Landlife and Emorsgate are very good, because you can find species which will thrive in our local area (look for meadow or woodland seed mixes for limestone soils).
Particularly good plants for pollinators include marsh marigold – a lovely water plant found in many local streams, which does really well in a garden pond. Foxgloves and lesser celandines are worthy of any formal garden, and are also wonderful for insects. Our native meadow cranesbill has many garden varieties which are all good for wildlife. A common garden plant is Sedum spectabile (also known as stonecrop or ice plant) – this succulent is full of bees and butterflies later in the year.
Visit local sites to see what can be achieved
Derbyshire Wildlife Trust is running a free webinar on Wednesday 19 May, on flowers for pollinators. So if you are interested in learning more, you can sign up here.
As well as learning more about choosing and growing the best plants for pollinators, there will be more information about recent initiatives such as `No Mow May`, and the importance of allowing at least small areas of our lawns and other green spaces to grow. We hope you enjoy the posters created by members of the 1st Tideswell Cubs group explaining the benefits of allowing wildflowers to bloom on our roadside verges and other areas.