After consultation with residents of Newitt Place, KW is currently investigating what types of Lavender to use to enhance the already attractive gardens while attracting declining pollinating insects and butterflies. Karen Westcott explains, ‘Lavenders can be planted five feet apart and grow quickly, preventing weeds whilst flowering at differing times of the season. Consequently we are now in the process of identifying the ideal locations and which plants to use. ‘It’s all part of our social responsibility policy, we just don’t cut, prune and clear up, we like to plant, enhance and encourage the use of colour at different times of the year. Residents also appreciate the wildlife and all told, it stimulates a happy and healthy environment’.
Pollinating insects are globally declining, with one of the main causes being the loss of flowers. With the value of countryside reducing, urban areas, particularly gardens, are increasingly recognized as of benefit to wildlife, including flower-visiting insects. Many gardeners specifically select plant varieties attractive to wildlife. Given the wide public interest, many lists of recommended varieties have been produced by both amateurs and professional organisations, but appear not to be well grounded in empirical data. These lists, however, are not without merit and are an obvious starting point. There is clearly a need to put the process onto a firmer footing based more on data and less on opinion and general experience. Experts spent two summers counting flower-visiting insects as they foraged on 32 popular summer-flowering garden plant varieties in a specially planted experimental garden, with two smaller additional gardens set up in year two to check the generality of the results.
With many thousands of plant varieties available to gardeners in the United Kingdom, it would have been an impossible task to make a comprehensive survey resulting in a complete and authoritative list. Results are proving invaluable and encouraging. Garden flowers may well be attractive to the human eye, but for insects they’re over 100 times more attractive. Insects, especially bees and hover flies, can be attracted in large numbers with clear differences in the distribution of types attracted by different varieties.
Data clearly shows there is scope for making gardens and parks more bee and insect friendly through planting. More importantly, plants are highly attractive to humans and can dramatically and positively affect life for residents in blocks of flats and apartments, where there is huge scope for ambitious planting whilst helping insect pollinators. Furthermore, the methods of quantifying insect-friendliness of plant varieties trialled in this study are relatively simple and can form the basis of further research, including ‘citizen science’.