Wildlife Wednesday – Summer Pollinators and others

Its been a while since I was able to take part in Wildlife Wednesday. Our rural internet speed dipped to an all time low and then all but vanished for the Summer. Then at the end of August, BT installed their version of super fast broadband – ‘Infinity’, so far, so good and we are back in the 21st century.

Hoverfly and Bumblee Bee on Lavender

Hoverfly and Bumblee Bee on Munstead Lavender

Meanwhile, my workload increased and life generally got in the way. Weather wise, there has been a roller coaster of temperatures and now as we head into September temperatures have dipped into an Autumnal coolness I am not quite ready for. Spiders are weaving webs laced with rain drops and it feels like it will not be long before we see webs outlined with frosty patterns.

Spider luring prey

Will you walk into my parlour said the Spider to the Fly

At the beginning of July, we took a weeks trip to windswept Lundy, an island off the south-west coast of England and came back to a hot dry garden alive with insects. I had been reading Dave Goulson’s book – A Buzz in the Meadow – whilst we were away and returned with a new appreciation for the value of some of the less attractive pollinators namely flies and wasps. I have tried to photograph both but neither are as easy going as Bumbles, Honey and Solitary bees, except the Hoverfly group. Plus peering at Wasps is Hazardous.

Solitary bee on Perennial Sweat Pea

A Solitary bee on Perennial Sweet Pea

Pollinator Awareness Week during the middle of July had me looking even more closely than usual at our visiting insects. I grow white Perennial Sweet Peas, they have no scent I can detect and scramble about in an unruly manner. For the first time this year I noticed how Solitary bees, flip their bodies and push through to the nectar within. The Bee left a red footprint, I wondered had she visited a plant with red pollen before?

Solitary bee pushing through to the nectar

Solitary bee pushing through to the nectar on perennial Sweet Pea

On this years highly scented annual Sweet Peas (I’ve forgotten the cultivar the packet is in a safe place so safe I now can’t find it!) Hoverflies found it easier to push apart the petals. Some species of Hoverfly produce larvae that feed on Aphids and the adults feed mainly on nectar and pollen.

Hoverflies on Sweet Peas

Marmalade Hoverflies (Episyrphus balteatus) on annual Sweet Peas

The Wildlife Trusts report that in the UK we have at least 1500 species of insects designed to pollinate plants, including Bumbles, Solitary and Honey Bees, Hoverflies, Wasps, Butterflies, Moths, Flies and Beetles. They are mostly pretty tricky to identify correctly, there is so much to learn and some are far easier to identify than others! We see most insect pollinators here in the Summer months where I try to provide as wide a variety of flower types with nectar and pollen.  And places to provide some shelter for them in my exposed garden.

Pollen Beetles on Calendula

Pollen Beetles on Calendula

These Pollen beetles fall into the ‘others’ category for my post, In my veg garden they are most happy on the Calendula and as the name suggests they feed on Pollen. The charity Bug Life reports that in the UK we have 27,000 species of insect of which the Pollen beetles account for 36 species. When I cut any flowers to bring indoors, I have learnt to put them in water in dark place overnight, usually the garage, as a Kitchen full of Pollen beetles is not ideal. The RHS reports Pollen Beetles may assist with pollination. Frankly I would rather have more Bees and Hoverflies of which in Europe 38% are in decline and I know for sure they are pollinators.

Hoverfly on Curry Plant

Hoverfly on Curry Plant Helichrysum italicum

The RHS have just released a report “Plants for Bugs”. They set up trials at RHS Wisley to analyse the native versus non-native debate. Is it only natives that will help our beleaguered Pollinators? Of course on our comparatively small island we have fewer natives than over in the USA. The RHS found that a greater range of flowers from across the Northern Hemisphere will help pollinators far more than if we stick to natives alone. My top plant throughout August for pollinators was Verbena bonarensis, originating from South America, on my dry sandy soil it pops up rather obligingly everywhere. I don’t care if its a non native, I love it, so do my insect visitors.

Bumblebee on Verbena bonarensis

Bumblebee on Verbena bonarensis

Verbena bonarensis and Honey Bee

Verbena bonarensis and Honey Bee

Please visit Tina our marvellous Wildlife Wednesday meme host and her wonderful site “My Gardener Says” for more Wildlife Wednesday Posts.

Happy Wildlife Watching!

65 thoughts on “Wildlife Wednesday – Summer Pollinators and others

  1. welcome to the virtual world again, I had wondered if you were just enjoying summer, an interesting post about pollinators, like you I am not mad about fly pollinators, a few years ago I heard someone on the radio talk about beetle pollinators and when he was asked why are some plants only pollinated by beetles, the answer I was surprised to hear is because the plants originally grew when were no flying wee creatures, so the flowers developed to attract small creatures that can walk up the stem and into the flower, I have forgotten now but he did say some of the flowers that are pollinated this way, I was slightly in awe of these plants having been around so long,
    the RHS trail, did it include information about food value, as I have heard that although pollinators will go to non natives, they do not always have the correct food balance and this is a problem for some migrating creatures like butterflies, apparently the same thing has happened with birds, some of the non native berries do not give enough energy for them to complete their flight, I think though it would be hard having only native plants, we all have non natives, a good mix of both, Frances

    • Frances, thats such an interesting point I had not considered. The RHS started the trials in 2010. The report is in this months ‘Garden’ Magazine and is a precis of the full version. It doesn’t mention food value, but that certainly makes a lot of sense. Apparently there will be further studies. I have an issue with their ‘Plants for Pollinators’ logo which can be purchased under license from the RHS but should the plant be grown from seed using a fungicide or plant grown using insecticide containing transferable neonics, then even like oil seed rape it can provide nectar and pollen it also transfers damaging chemicals to the pollinators. One thing that is coming out of their study though is that they are encouraging folk to study local pollinators and plants and keep records, which can only be a good thing.

      • thanks Julie, I didn’t know the ‘plants for pollinators’ was purchased, I thought they had checked the plants and awarded it, sounds like it is no more than a money spinner for the RHS, we have to be so careful with chemicals, agree that it will hopefully encourage more people to become involved, which is good, Frances

      • Frances, I have just looked again and it seems its not now purchased. The logo can be downloaded for free from the RHS website and applied to plant labels. They ask that any supplier only use it on plants the RHS designate as Good For Pollinators, rather than it being awarded to good growing practise. There appears to be no regulation – that would come at a cost – and can be used on plants not grown organically and with insecticide or pesticide. So I guess at least its highlighting which plants do attract pollinators. We buy organically grown seeds but I am yet to find a good nursery growing plants without chemical use. Even buying in plants using peat free compost is still hard to find. However, it is all a step in the right direction.

  2. I wondered where you had got to and here you are with such a wonderful post; informative and with amazing photos. Pollen beetles may be good pollinators but we had a plague of them in June, particularly on white or yellow flowers.
    They looked awful, crawling with them.
    I really enjoyed reading this, thank you Julie. I always learn so much about the insect world from you.

    • Thanks, its lovely to be able to get back online, technology is frustrating but brilliant when it all works smoothly. I am trying to love all creatures but Pollen Beetles really do take the biscuit!

  3. It is certainly a happier internet with you back in the mix. You were so patient with slow loading (or even a lack of) photos. I’d never have lasted.

    What a great WW post! I’m fascinated with your discussion of native vs non-native plants for pollinators. Here in Central Texas there is a stretch of August where very few natives are in flower. I purposefully cultivate a few non-native plants that bloom profusely during that time span, and keep them planted close to the few natives in flower that time of year, hoping to keep everybody happy and well supported.

    There are raging debates here in the US about migratory butterflies, specifically monarchs, and whether the planting of non-native milkweed helps or hinders efforts to stabilize their numbers. There are no firm answers yet but it is encouraging to have studies underway and should certainly be helpful if gardeners will help keep track.

    Thanks for posting!

    • My family are delighted too as they will no longer have to listen to me yelling expletives every time my laptop crashed through lack of broadband speed. For me its like getting my first pair of glasses age 11 and seeing leaves on trees for the first time. I have read about the milkweed debate and I agree it is encouraging to have studies underway. Where Industry and agriculture have destroyed habitats, Gardeners have much to contribute to help preserve our wildlife.

  4. Beautiful, beautiful post, Julie–so glad you’re back and blogging. I love all your photos–just stunning. Like you, I’ve had to learn to love some insects that before…let’s just say I didn’t love so much. But they’re all part of the complex web and important for nature’s balance. I certainly agree that we all should plant natives, but the pollinators need as much help as possible and in many cases, non-native plants work very, very well. The Verbena bonarensis grows here too, though I’ve never tried it. Thanks so much for joining in!!

    • Thanks Tina, I really enjoy your posts and this meme, its brilliant to have a place to share and learn about each others wildlife. Frances from Island Threads said how much she enjoyed the research for your meme and I whole heartedly agree. You would really like Verbena bonarensis too, we find a whole range of Bees and Butterflies like it and its a good plant for late Summer and Autumn. Thanks so much for hosting!

    • What is that with safe places! Its a bit like going up the stairs only to find you’ve no idea what your doing up there. Your garden sounds a great place to be Charlie.

    • Thanks Su, its amazing how reliant we all are on the internet now. My handwriting has become quite scruffy through lack of letter writing but my typing is pretty speedy. 🙂

  5. Your photographs are beautiful. I like the idea of planting the native plants for pollinators, I know they are very into it in the States where many places have suffered from invasive plants which started as garden ornamentals. I don’t have any idea of good native plants in this area although it should not be too different from the U.K. I leave most of the wild flowers outside the garden as they can be invasive. I love your sweet peas. I can grow peas here but have tried and failed for years with the flowering varieties. I have now renounced trying. Amelia

    • This has made me think more carefully about the plant origins in my own garden, I realise I grow many non native species of plants in my own garden and others I work in too. I think that if its grown organically without any chemicals and the source is reliable, then thats at least a really good thing. We have so many introduced species from across the globe in the UK. I notice on some American blogs lists of nurseries growing ethically, that seems to happen far less here. Maybe its the closeness to Holland where plants are grown so cheaply and shipped over. Perennial Sweet Peas are much more drought tolerant than the annual types if you ever fancy another go!

    • Thanks, I find it all quite absorbing. The one with the spider was one of my favourites too, I loved being able to manual focus and peer right in. Just found the link to your blog, its really informative, looking forward to reading more.

  6. So happy to see your return. These are gorgeous shots! I love love love annual sweet peas. So much so that I keep trying to grow them in Texas. They haven’t a chance in hell during the summer so I plant them in the fall instead. Most years it is a disaster but for that one year in five when we don’t get a hard frost it is pure heaven. But a perennial you say? hmmm … (rushes off to do a search for more info)

    • My soil is sandy and poor, the perennial Sweet Peas put down really deep, thick roots, so much so that moving them is hard work even on my soil, they are very drought tolerant, they only down side is that they are not scented, but none the less still very beautiful.

  7. Really beautiful photos and you captured them at their best! I got a kick out of you putting it in a safe place but you can’t remember-OHMYGOODNESS-that is me all the time! I usually ( after misplacing too many things to mention)either tell my husband or write it down and then I can’t find where I wrote it done-LOL
    Great post and informative. I feel sometimes when I observe our local bees in the garden they enjoy the natives and have some of their favorite non natives that they cover as much as the natives:-) Very interesting you mentioned the lack of natives. It helps me to feel less guilty when I put my fun plants in that the pollinators like too:-)

    • Last week I bought some Eupatorium maculatum a non native and originating from North America, we were visiting some beautiful gardens with huge long borders and the plant most smothered with Bees and Butterflies was the Eupatorium, but there they had room for one of the much larger ones. Hoping this smaller one will do as well with pollinators. I don’t mind non-natives or natives if they are grown responsibly and are beneficial to wildlife.

  8. Your hoverfly photos are marvelous. I find it takes a lot of patience to get pictures of these little guys! They move around so much. And your bumblebee is wonderful. It’s been years, I think, since I’ve actually seen one. Love the Sweet Peas. Its too hot here for those, though I’d love to have them in the garden. Such wonderful color. A very enjoyable post! Thanks for sharing your pollinators!

  9. It was well worth the wait for your post Julie! Beautiful photos and so much interesting information. I have grown Verbena bonariensis for years and agree that it is very popular with bees. I haven’t grown it this year however, as my plants were getting old and woody and the flowers weren’t as good. Even the inevitable seedlings were more stem and leaf than flower. I’m giving it a rest for a couple of years and then starting again with fresh plants. I also have a perennial sweet-pea growing up the side of the shed. I managed to get it to climb quite well for weeks and it looked so good! Unfortunately while we were away in the Lakes a strong wind knocked it about and when we got home it was crawling over the lawn.

    • Those perennial sweet peas are so tricky to keep neat, I always end up with bits of string wrapped around in a Heath Robinson manner. I hope you do get some success again with your Verbena, I found cutting the stems back on the new seedlings at about 6″ tall so they form branches really helps to get a better flowering plant. Sounds like you’ve had the wind and rain we’ve had here. Hoping this is not the end of the summer.

  10. Wow, such beautiful and interesting photographs. The spider down its funnel is absolutely fascinating. Sorry to hear about your long trial with the internet. We lost ‘Infinity’ for the last two days and the entire family went mad!

    • Thanks, the spider was eating and didn’t stop as I peered in with my camera. As for the internet, we’ve had “speeds”of 0.3 for years then this summer down to 0.1. My children couldn’t come back from uni if assignments were due. I work on a mac and in the end I bought an iPad but couldn’t use wordpress on it for some reason unknown to me. I work as a gardener so no office computer but some very nice flowers and birds and we just muddled along. But now hoo blooming ra at last BT has put a fast broadband connection into our village.Its almost life changing!

  11. I love all your wildlife photos and I agree with Shirley … the spider is amazing. I also enjoyed reading your post and all the comments too. It’s very interesting to find out what other keen gardeners think about the sort of plants we should be growing. It’s take me a while to figure out what I think. Of course I want to do as much as possible for wildlife and a post I wrote in April 2014 helped me to clarify my thoughts about plant selection. Here’s the link http://countrygardenuk.com/2014/04/09/what-should-we-grow/

    • Hi Gillian, I have just followed your link and read your article, you were very thoughtful in your approach, like you I grow a mix of natives and non natives. Recently though I have become more concerned with how the plants I grow for wildlife are produced. We buy organic seed but I find it quite hard to find nurseries who grow plants organically. I watched a lecture on you tube with Dave Goulson yesterday after following a link on the BackLane Notebook blog. There hasn’t been any proper research yet on garden plants, although there has been much publicity on the effects of neonics used on agricultural plants on Bees.

      • Yes I agree Julie that it’s a problem. I grow most of my own plants from seed and cuttings and never use chemicals. I’d like to say that I garden organically but I buy in compost, manure and some special plants. I am never really be sure what has happened to them before they arrive in my garden. Even if the suppliers claim that there are no chemicals present we don’t really know do we? Every thing you bring in has risks associated with it it seems. Massed produced plants (even if grown in the UK) are often started off in glasshouses as plug plants on the continent. Many are treated to produce short uniform plants that look good in pots at the point of sale. All I know is that there was virtually nothing living in our garden when we arrived 12 years ago and now it is absolutely full of creatures from bees to foxes. Many gardeners don’t know how easy it is to produce their own plants or what they can do to help wildlife in their location. Perhaps it’s up to garden bloggers to spread the word?

      • Plus the air miles of shipping in from cheaper producers abroad. Your garden sounds really lovely Gillian. A garden is a sterile place without any wildlife to enjoy and its a much healthier place with a balanced ecosystem from the soil upwards. There are so many uplifting health benefits for people too in watching the interaction of wildlife on garden plants.

    • A perfect plant then! Its still going strong here and makes a lovely contrast to late oranges and reds. We visited Wimpole Hall again a couple of weeks ago and they had some really lovely cultivars of Verbena I had not seen before, I wrote the names down and now for the life of me cannot find them. An excuse to go back though.

  12. Hello Julie,
    Wonderful photos of challenging subjects! Interesting to hear of your challenges with internet access. I’d always assumed that living where you do, you’d have had better access before now. But I’m sure it will make a huge difference. Here we have to battle on with pretty slow and expensive satellite.
    It’s great that so much work is going on with looking at pollinator interactions with plants, but I wonder if you’d tried to read the actual RHS Plant For Bugs paper? It left me rather cold, and not half as enjoyable as Dave Goulson’s efforts in books at communicating with enthusiasm his passion for the subject. And in stripped down version in the RHS Garden magazine, the conclusions seemed to me a little banal, and lacking in practical usable advice – though I agree that the suggestion of better local insect flower preferences is probably the best way ahead, to build up local preferred floral favourites.
    But a brilliant post. Thank you.
    Best wishes

    • Hi Julian, I have just read it and it appears to be really disappointing both in its source quotes and conclusions. Including the quote that Honey Bees are not natives and are were thought to have arrived here 4,000 years ago. “The honeybee is unlikely to be native to the UK although it has been present for more than 4000 years (Carreck 2008). It is therefore possible that its preference for near-native plants is a consequence of its origins”. Surprise was expressed in the report that Honey Bees preferred natives and near non natives.I thought the stripped down version was dumbed down for mass consumption, but really its just a precise of the original. I may be very cynical but the report seems to be for the benefit of all plant growers regardless of how they produce plants. I have been reading up on the debate in the US on Milkweed and wether the widely sold introduced tropical milkweed cheaply sold and mass produced is creating more problems for Butterflies than native Milkweed. This week I watched the Linnean Lecture with Dave Goulson on You tube after following the link from another blogger. https://youtu.be/WDkpVWzFnK0
      I thoroughly recommend it.
      But I do agree that encouraging folk to study local plants and conditions can only be a really good thing.

      • Hello Julie,
        I did think after posting my comment, that I was maybe being a bit unfair …and open to criticism of denigrating a valid project, so I’m glad in a way that you formed a similar opinion. I do get fed up by such dumbing down to the point of removing any real value. But my other thought is that all the real pioneers in such ecological work, like say Darwin and Wallace, were brilliant patient and hard working observers, and original thinkers. Dig into the RHS project, and you’ll see that each plot was ‘observed’ for just 5 one minute sessions during the year. That’s all. Not perhaps a great way of gaining a lot of information. Also neither Darwin nor Wallace seemed burdened with the need to write up their ideas in such frankly dull as ditch water jargon filled prose as most of these contemporary scientific papers seem to use. I’m sure if they had been, their ideas would have sunk without trace. …
        Rant over, I shall see if I can watch the lecture…I’d love too, but may have to store it up, until we’re somewhere with proper unlimited data download limits!
        Best wishes

      • I wonder if this is also about funds for such a project. I hope they go on to properly encourage and support local observations as well as the field trial in the south of the UK and that there is a proper format for collecting future information. Its too important a topic to leave this here. Already I am glib with our new broad band speed, I hope you do get watch, I feel very sure you’d be very interested.

      • Thanks Julie. We are promised fibre broadband here within 12 months…but of course it will only reach the village. As you’ll see in October, if we then relied on overhead cables up our track I fear we could well have frequent issues with fallen branches on the line causing problems. Have you heard of a group called the Wildlife Gardening Forum? I’ve ‘signed up’ and they have initiatives to study areas like this, but I think you’re right that in some way there needs to be local collation of information from keen gardeners/naturalists who can share what they find as the best flowers in their areas – and not to dismiss such observations of “not statistically significant”. But as you say there probably has to be some sort of funding to support such an initiative!

      • Thanks Julian, just googled them and have signed up, this feels like a great start, its empowering to think as gardeners we can take steps to help. I hope the transition to faster speeds is smoother than feared. Very much looking forward to October. Julie

    • The Curry plant flower heads are really very small but this insect does seem especially long and narrow, I haven’t been able to make a positive identification yet but I’m on the case!

  13. So glad you have returned to the 21st Century! Amazing photos, especially of the hoverflies. Is there really a species called marmade hoverflies? If so, I fervently hope that they pollinate orange trees.

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