Episode 11 - Surprising Pollinators
As wildlife-friendly gardeners, we’re always trying to attract bees and butterflies into our gardens – both because of their beauty, but also because we know them well as pollinators. Did you know, there are a large number of surprising pollinators which we spend too much time trying to bat away. In our latest podcast episode, we speak to Jean Vernon, author of Attracting Garden Pollinators.
If you are listen to our podcast in the first week of its release, you could be in with a chance of winning one of our brand new Bali Island Artisan Solitary Bee Hotels together with a signed copy of Jean Vernon’s new book Attracting Garden Pollinators. Four runners up will also win a signed book. All you need to do is tell us - which insect does Jean say feeds live prey to its offspring? Email your answer to email@example.com by Wednesday 27th July with 'Podcast Competition' in the subject line.
What is a pollinator?
A pollinator is an insect which transfers pollen from one plant or flower to another enabling them to reproduce. When we think about a pollinator, we probably visualise bees, as these are the most well know.
“Everyone thinks about bees being the main pollinators but there are some really surprising pollinators in the garden and the more I looked into bees and spoke to other experts, the more I learned about other creatures,” says Jean in our podcast.
“Honeybees aren’t the best pollinators but there are thousands of other creatures in the garden that do pollination work. [I wrote this book because] I wanted to learn about and share the entangled web of biodiversity – it’s all interconnected.”
In the podcast we learn about some of the less well known or well thought of pollinators which Jean hopes we can grow to love.
“People see a caterpillar in their garden and think oh god I have got to get rid of them. We have to stop having that panic moment. We need to understand that our plants are the bottom of the food chain and that caterpillars start off as eggs. Caterpillar eggs are laid on very specific host plants – so the adult moth or butterfly spends a lot of time finding a healthy specimen of the host plant. It doesn’t lay its eggs all over the garden on everything. If you don’t want caterpillars eating your cabbages, they don’t grow cabbages.”
“Another creature that people struggle to fall in love with. But flies include hoverflies, which are really the unsung heroes of the garden. It also includes blue bottles and green bottles that without which we would be knee deep in carcases and bodies. They have a really important role in pollination but also the lifecycle of everything.
The yellow dung fly as mentioned by Paul in our podcast as his Surprising Pollinator!
“Wasps are incredible pest control in the garden, they are carnivorous. They feed live prey to their offspring - the adults tend to feed on nectar to fuel their existence, but they collect caterpillars, they collect aphids, they collect other garden insects and they feed them to their offspring. If we didn’t have wasps we would be inundated with problems in our gardens.”
The Heath Potter wasp, photographed by John Walters, as mentioned by Jean in the podcast:
Heath Potter Wasp arrives with 20th ball of clay for her pot at Bovey Heath Devon today pic.twitter.com/MDYfx3CPAe— John Walters (@JWentomologist) September 5, 2014
“Beetles are some of the earliest pollinators in existence and they were used to pollinate magnolias which are really ancient plants. We don’t really think of beetles as pollinators. That includes things like ladybirds which are not conscious pollinators, but they do move pollen around. There’s a lovely beetle called the Fat Legged Flower Beetle and it has fat thighs – it’s a very cute one which you can find in open poppies.”
“It’s such a shame because they’re such gentle giants. So beautiful. Like social wasps, they have a similar life cycle, and they do a lot of pest control. They also feed live prey to their offspring, so they collect caterpillars and aphids for food for their little ones.”
How to design a garden for pollinators
What are Jean’s top tips for growing a garden that’s fit for pollinators?
- Think about your enjoyment of the garden – Jean has a sunken seating area so that the garden is at her eye level and she can look all around, seeing what is visiting her flower beds.
- Create a Bee Border – by planting lots of different pollinator friendly plants and flowers together which are different colours, have different sized and shaped flowers (some bees have long tongues, some have short tongues!), and flower at different times of the year. Bees love blue flowers, butterflies love pink!
- Herbs – allow your herbs to flower, because bees and other pollinators adore herb flowers like rosemary, marjoram and thyme.
- Forget the lawn – Jean doesn’t have a lawn! She says instead plant lots of shrubs – these are very powerful to have together in one place, because flowering shrubs tend to flower like grapes – with bunches of small flowers in clusters. And hundreds of clusters = thousands of flowers. Making things very efficient for pollinators.
- Plug plants – source some plug plants of wildflowers to pop into your lawn if you do have one. Things like Bird’s Foot Trefoil work very well. As well as ground ivy, daisies and buttercups.
Jean says: "We need to fall in love with these things. We need to understand their place and their life cycle and we need to live and let live. Standing back and observing rather than reaching for the pesticides. Working with nature and restoring the natural balance in the garden is really important."
How to make a hoverfly lagoon
As mentioned in the podcast by Paul, one simple and easy task for surprising pollinators this summer is to make a Hoverfly Lagoon. All you need it a little bowl or tub, like a Tupperware. Pop some grass clipping and leaf litter inside, together with a couple of twigs sticking out, and some water and then leave it in a shady area. The hope is that hoverflies will lay their eggs, which will turn into 'rat tailed' maggot larvae and eventually hatch into hoverflies. The lagoon mimics the natural hollows in trees which fill with water.
As mentioned in the podcast, Paul has been lucky enough to have Spotted Flycatchers breeding in his garden. Here's the cute photo as promised!
And, just as cute, the vole nest he discovered under his bird bath: