A report by Mike Belton on our meeting in September 2018 when Marina Christopher spoke on ‘Choice Plants for Pollinators Throughout the Season’.
After briefly touching on the evolution of pollination from the high energy method of wind dispersal, with huge quantities of pollen needed and the random nature of its effectiveness, to the much more efficient use of insects and other creatures, Marina talked of the parallel development of plant attractants and the pollinator’s adaptations. Plant examples included nectar, scent and guiding markings, and pollinator abilities included changes such as longer tongues. In some cases this has made plant and pollinator mutually dependent, so that each is potentially vulnerable to changes such as those in climate.
One often reads about the plight of bees, and it is common to lump all the insect species together, but there are many other pollinating insects to watch out for. Butterflies always attract attention (some, like cabbage white, for the wrong reasons), but there are many more species of moths and hover flies (conspicuously missing last summer), wasps and flies that do useful work. Marina argues persuasively that it is incumbent on gardeners to support this significant part of the environment, and that we will benefit because our gardens will not need the aggressive intervention of chemicals to keep them healthy. To achieve this it is important to provide a steady supply of nectar, for energy, and pollen, for protein, for as much of the year as possible; from the very early bulbs for early flying queen bumbles to late subjects like ivy, although she rated the honey from this source as disgusting. She also made the point that insects, like ourselves, eat food from all around the world, so it is not necessary to restrict one’s garden to native species for the benefit of insects.
It is a bit cheeky of me to think that I can add anything to Marina’s talk but I did speak to her afterwards because it is all very well providing all this food for the adult insects but they also need food for juveniles, and habitat to live in. Bees are largely catered for with pollen and nectar, although bumble and solitary types need habitat for overwintering and the next generation, many others need food sources for their juvenile forms and one should maybe think in terms of providing sacrificial plants, though fuchsias for elephant hawk moths might be a step too far. Marina’s succinct answer was, “Do not be too tidy”.
Marina’s talk included mention of the following, they are listed approximately in the order she mentioned them.
Species bulbs in Jan and Feb. eg. snowdrops, eranthis, crocus especially C. tommasinianus, alliums.
Angelica gigas – a big wasp and hornet attractant
Eryngium giganteum AGM
Eryngium x zabelii ‘Big Blue’ – a honey bee plant
Verbena bonariensis AGM
Verbena macdougalii – sterile but nectar rich.
Liatris squarrosa – only available from Phoenix Plants
Eupatorium maculatum ‘Riesenschirm’ AGM
Eupatorium maculatum ‘Orchard Dene’ AGM
Hylotelephium ‘Matrona’ AGM
Scabious and cornflowers – Knautia macedonica, Cephalaria gigantea, Cephalaria dipsacoides
Silphium perfoliatum AGM
Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ AGM
Autumn was mentioned specifically including Cyclamen hederifolium, Kniphofia rooperi AGM, Michaelmas daisies and ivy
Some trees/shrubs were also included: hawthorns, crab apples, pyracantha and viburnum.
During the talk Marina referred to the RHS ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ label as a guide to useful plants and she pointed out that flowers should be single.
As a conclusion she offered this advice, “Concentrate on the year margins, summer takes care of itself”.