by Jenny Dixon

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

THE planter was to my left as I sat contemplating the summer garden. I’m afraid Lockdown has not resulted in a flurry of garden-tidying, so the pot had been left to its own devices and now held a Purple toadflax in full flower. I don’t think we ever planted a toadflax, it just arrived and has successfully spread around all the beds, troughs and pots. I approve of this, as its tall spires of purple florets add colour and the slender grey-green leaves give a pleasantly blurred effect among more vibrant blooms. It is also loved by insects – especially bees. I watched as a worker bumble bee conscientiously visited each floret. I’m more used to seeing these large furry insects slipping into foxglove bells – which seem to fit it like a – well – glove. You can see pollination at work as they emerge well fed on nectar and well dusted with pollen.

Insect-watching in the garden during Lockdown has made me realise how human and insect tastes in floral planting varies. Often the big showy flowers only attract flies while – to my eyes – rather washed-out looking insignificant blooms are abuzz. The tiny, tight flowers of Cotoneaster and Berberis and the greyish pink florets on our evergreen Honeysuckle positively hum with bees of all kinds and hoverflies of all shapes and sizes, reminding me of the constant hum of childhood meadows, sadly no longer heard. I consulted Peter Riley, who gardens for wildlife, about what plants he would recommend. “Viper’s bugloss, Red valerian and all kinds of vetch – wild flowers alongside cultivated varieties,” he said at once. We both agreed that Marjoram was especially attractive too.

With The Big Butterfly Count underway till August 9th, it’s certainly a good time to be identifying what your own garden offers and noticing what more you can provide if you want an insect-friendly plot. If you need help with additions, Dave Goulson’s book, The Garden Jungle, is an excellent guide.

The relationship that has evolved between plant and pollinator is complex and, usually, a heartening example of co-operation in Nature (not “red in tooth and claw” at all!) There are exceptions. Anne Riley was photographing insects in the garden when she noticed a fascinating event. A tiny caterpillar was emerging from the seed capsule of a Red campion. The Campion moth injects each egg into a campion bud, the larva feeds on the developing seed and emerges to find more seeds before pupating in the soil. Wow!