The first bumblebees of the year have been buzzing around in the garden on warm days since February, looking for nectar and a place to nest. And the warm weather of the last couple of weeks has brought butterflies out of hibernation too. It’s good to see them back – they’re a welcome sign of spring and, on a purely selfish note, promise pollination of fruit and vegetables later in the year.
But all is not right in the insect world, bees and butterflies are struggling because the flowery habitats they need for food are being lost at a rapid rate. Throw in a touch of climate change and the effects of chemical pesticides and you have a recipe for disaster as far as many insect species are concerned. As a gardener, I think it’s great that we can help these beautiful insects with at least part of their problem – if there aren’t enough wildflowers in the wider countryside we can grow more in our gardens. Yes, the simple answer is to grow flowers, lots of them and for as long a season as possible. But not just any old flowers, we’re talking nectar-rich flowers, with easy access for the insects.
In summer there are lots of flowers in my garden to encourage the bees and butterflies to visit and feed. Herbs like thyme, chives and marjoram are all rich in nectar, look good and are used regularly in the kitchen. I thought I was doing pretty well with spring flowers too, but looking around – things could be better. While the bumblebees are enjoying the pulmonaria, cowslips and violets, I’d really like to have more nectar-rich plants in the garden for spring insects. The first thing I’m going to do for future years is plant a pussy willow tree – the earliest butterflies I saw this year were flying around one growing in another garden in the village. And more bulbs for early spring flowers would be good too, there are a few muscari (grape hyacinths) in the garden already, I’ll be planting more in the autumn for flowers next spring. More immediately, I’m going to see if I can find some bugle and thrift –plants I love but don’t have in the garden. And instead of pulling up the red dead-nettle when I’m weeding, it can stay while it’s in flower, but I might not go as far as letting it all set seed.
And with rosemary, cowslips and honesty just coming into flower, keeping that nectar supply going over the next few weeks, let’s hope it’s going to be a good year for bees, butterflies, hoverflies and all the other insects that are so important for a buzzing garden.