By Patricia Jordan
I AM always being asked which varieties of flowers attract the most bees and butterflies to the garden. Certainly during April and May in my garden I would have to put Echium webbii at the top of the list. We have a threesome of large shrubs at the bottom of the garden – Echium webbii, Viburnum tinus and Polygala myrtifolia – all of which are great plants for pollinators, but which one was smothered in bees and Red Admiral butterflies? The Echium webbii. Upstairs in the front garden is a polygala tree which has reached enormous proportions, elegantly bending towards the house and is covered in flowers for most of the year. Not only do they attract many bees but also the humming bird moth which is driven to a frenzy by the mass of flowers!
Verbena bonariensis is much loved by Swallow tailed butterflies, while buddleja, which I have grown from seed on several occasions, is a well known shrub for attracting both bees and butterflies to its fragrant flowers. Most people grow herbs and they are among the most popular plants to attract wildlife. Salvias (sages), fennel, melissa, thyme, borage, oregano as well as lavender and rosemary are the favourite hunting grounds of bees. They also enjoy tubed flowers like foxgloves, hollyhocks, snap dragons and nasturtiums where they can burrow right inside to gorge on the nectar inside, fertilising the flower while doing so with the accumulated pollen on their bodies.
Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’ (see Plant of the Month) is another plant much sought after by bees. The soft pink flowers of the grey-leaved Leucophyllum frutescens also attract both bees and butterflies in large numbers. At this time of year the citrus trees hum with the sound of the bees feasting among them.
May and June are the best months to see the pollinators at work. During the late winter and early spring when flowers are scarce the many different rosemarys are covered with bees busy searching out the nectar in these generally first flowerers. In my garden they just move around as the seasons progress where they find so many flowering plants to home in on. Having been a gardener and flower arranger for most of my adult life my gardens are always full of plants for them to feed on. I don’t know where the local hives are located, but perhaps the bees have a Sat Nav system directing them to my flower beds!
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
In May, as the new leaf growth is coming in as the old leaves are shed, fruit trees need nitrogen and we used to recommend 20.0.0 fertiliser – 900g for large trees dug in around the base of the tree and 300g for small and new trees. This is their last feed until the end of the year, so don’t miss out. 20.0.0 is almost impossible to get nowadays but you could use 19.0.0 or 20.10.10, both of which are more readily available. I have heard gardeners complaining about young fruits dropping off which may have been caused by fluctuating night temperatures. Hail stones or very heavy rain can also affect the fruit crop at this time as they strike the trees with force. Although we would like rain showers on occasion I hope that we don’t have heavy showers as the garden settles in for the summer. The ‘spring drop’ also occurs about this time when tiny fruits that are not going to make it fall off the trees, littering the ground underneath. We have a pomegranate that does that every year!
Watch out also for greenfly and blackfly now and use a soapy water spray to get rid of them. They may well have attacked your roses already although Banksia roses do not seem to suffer that fate and anyway they have finished now after all the recent heat, and sometimes go for the new foliage of citrus and prunus trees as well. The Asiatic Citrus Leaf Miner Moth might just be around too. It lays its egg inside citrus leaves and when hatched the grubs quickly spoil them by making tunnels inside, disfiguring the leaves. One suggested remedy, which I found in a very old gardening book, is to hang mothballs in the trees to deter the moth. We tried this but without any success.
There are lots of other bugs about too, some good and most not! Locusts are not good to have and there is nothing better than a dead one. The only way to deal with them is to ‘bash’ them with a hoe or brush or creep up on them and grab them! There may not be so many around in great numbers nowadays although there was a huge infestation of them at the western end of Cyprus some years ago, when they blew in on storms from North Africa. They devour soft green foliage hindering the unfurling of canna lily leaves into their huge paddle shapes. For most other bugs you can spray with soapy water, or hang out those yellow sticky cards among your fruit trees now that the flowers have all been pollinated.
Don’t sow any more seeds or take any more cuttings. You will probably get the seeds to germinate but temperatures are hotting up which will be too much for little plantlets to survive now. There is such a short window of weather in which to bring them on. Crop your lettuces before they bolt with the heat and keep watering your tomatoes right next to the root ball, which is where is the plant needs it. I know that hoses are not encouraged so if you use a watering can, stand in a different position to water each time. Otherwise you may find the growth on your plants could be lopsided when one side gets more than the other! As the weather warms up and if you use a computer controlled watering system, check that the nozzles are not furred up. Soaking them in a bowl of pure malt vinegar will get all the scale off with the help of an old toothbrush and you will get better results. Pot plants, like pelargoniums and petunias need regular daily watering and feeding every three or four weeks with a liquid fertiliser, even if you added some slow release granules to the mix.
The wonderful flowering plants that you see in the garden centres at the moment are difficult to resist. Talking to an owner recently I said that most of the plants were too far on to last any time. His response was that if the plants didn’t have opened flowers on them people wouldn’t buy them! I try to buy plants that aren’t at full growth and have lots of new stems and buds appearing at the base and get them home as quickly as possible, planting them in the evening when it is cooler and they have the night to settle in. Dig a hole where you want the plant to grow to maturity as some don’t like to be moved at all and pour some of the water into the hole. Put in the new plant, fill around with the excavated soil and pour the remaining water around the root area and stand back and enjoy.
Plant of the Month Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’
THIS member of the Boraginaceae family is a wonderful hardy annual for our gardens as it likes full sun and can tolerate temperatures down to minus 5C, although that is unlikely in our warmer winters. Hardy annual just means that it will germinate in the garden without any special heat. It’s common name is Honeywort, but it has several other common names too. Seeds dropped in late spring/early summer will germinate in autumn where they drop, although they can be collected as they ripen and sown straight into the ground in early spring. Maximum height is around 60cm.
It is considered by some to be one of the best annual foliage plants with the bluey-silvery leaves mottled with white spiralling up the stem set off the hanging blue tubular flowers held inside sea blue bracts. Alas they have no scent but they are much loved by bees which dive in and out of the attractive flowers. Cerinthe look well as a cut flower too.
Grow this popular plant in full sun or partial shade at the front of the flower bed in large groups rather than single plants. The seeds may drop where the plants grow ensuring lots of new plants next season. They are not fussy about soil types but prefer well drained soil and are unaffected by bugs and give much pleasure during the early summer months.
The Royal Horticultural Society has awarded Cerinthe the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ stamp of approval.