Tag Archives: pollinators

Wild flowers 3 – unsung heroes

11 July 2019

Four of my favourite go-to wild flowers for attracting bees and other insects. They’re not showy but they work their socks off for us. Here are four that we (almost) rely on:

1) Black medick

The least showy of them all – we have lots of this plant in the gardens, but I’d bet that many of you have never noticed it (I didn’t, till I started using it here). Looks like clover, but with tiny yellow flowers that bees and other pollinators love. We started using it as an understory in the wild flower bed, then started leaving it when it self-seeded around other beds. It’s easy to pull up and not invasive, and it’s a useful place marker to fill a gap while we work out what we want to do with a particular area.

2) Red deadnettle

Another very unshowy plant. It’s an annual, but self-seeds and is easy to recognise as a seedling if it grows anywhere we don’t want it – two very desirable traits in wild flowers! Again, tiny flowers, but bees love them. And it can flower at any time of year, so when we have an unseasonably warm day in January or December, and bees come out looking for nectar, it’s there for them.

 

3) White deadnettle

A much larger deadnettle, and this one is a perennial. I think it’s a very attractive plant, with its bright green foliage and small spires of white flowers that, again, are real bee magnets. Eventually the flower spikes get old, and turn yellow, so you just cut them down, and the plant starts growing nice fresh foliage again. Really useful if you time it just right for those times when everything seems to pause between seasons.

 

4) Welsh poppy

And probably the king of them all, the yellow Welsh poppy. Bees not only love it, they try desperately to get into the flowers as they close up in the early evening, no matter how many other bee-friendly flowers are out nearby. It’s this one they want. There’s a great flush of flowers in the spring, petering out about now in July, then another smaller flush of flower about September, with odd plants in flower on and off from April to October.

So we’ve transplanted seedlings from my garden over the back; we’ve scattered seeds here several times a year, in the autumn (in case they need a cold spell to start them germinating) and in the spring (in case that’s best for them) and in summer (in desperation). We’ve nurtured the seedlings, we’ve watched them, we’ve willed them to live. We’ve looked enviously at road verges full of Welsh poppies.

This is our sole survivor:

At least it might set seed this year.

 

 

So why are the bees in trouble, anyway?

17 January 2017

 The interpretation boards in the gardens say that our bees and other pollinating insects are in serious decline; one of the things we’ve been asked when working at the gardens has been, “So why are the bees in trouble, anyway?”

Bees are disappearing for a number of reasons, sometimes referred to as the Four P’s – parasites, poor nutrition, pesticides and pathogens. Here at the Memorial Gardens we’re most concerned with the ‘Poor nutrition’ factor; there just aren’t enough of the right kind of flowers around now to provide  the nectar and pollen that bees depend on. This is partly because of loss of habitat for housing and other building, and partly because of changed ways of farming, with large areas where only one crop is growing – monocultures – where weeds are controlled with herbicides; the farmer’s weeds are the bees’ sources of nectar and pollen.

We used to have large areas of wild flowers – wild flower meadows, roadside verges, and wild margins around cultivated fields on farms. However, over the last sixty years or so, we have lost 97% of wildflower meadows in the UK, mostly to urban development and to intensive agriculture through site drainage, ploughing, increased use of weedkillers and fertilisers, and earlier cutting for silage. Many former meadows are now intensively managed and put down to fields growing mainly perennial rye-grass which is less attractive to bees, other pollinating insects or birds. And in towns and cities, which may look green with their parks and open spaces, many councils cut all the grass short, which looks tidy and is easier to manage than managing leaving it longer; longer grass provides shelter and food for many insects and small mammals, and allows wild flowers to develop. Here in Leighton we’re lucky that the Town Council manage the parks in a very balanced way – there’s plenty of areas of short grass for people to use to play on or for sport, but they also leave areas of longer grass, for  the benefits to the environment.

Friends of the Earth started the ‘Bee Cause’ campaign to raise awareness of the crisis facing bees – and us, as bees pollinate about 75% of our crops; even if it were possible for farmers to pollinate them by hand or machine, it would cost over a billion pounds for them to do so.

South Beds Friends of the Earth has contributed to the campaign by creating a number of bee-friendly habitats around Leighton Buzzard, planting mainly wild flowers to provide nectar and pollen for as much of the year as possible.

There’s a lot more information on the ‘Bee Cause’ part of the Friends of the Earth site, for example at https://www.foe.co.uk/page/learn-about-bees, with suggestions for ways you can help at https://www.foe.co.uk/page/the-bee-cause-act.

Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy watching the bees and other wildlife in these gardens throughout the year!