The other day I joined a field trip hosted by the Wildlife Gardening Forum to a nursery specialising in growing and selling plants for bees. Set up in 2012 by Rosy Rollings, the nursery comprises a large polytunnel in which plants are grown, and a research bed where Rosy counts the number and types of bee that visit the plants.
I was looking for long-flowering and late-season plants, and also something new. Rosy's studies reflect those done by the University of Sussex and the RHS's Plants for Pollinators research. As a wildlife gardener, I naturally observe insect visitor numbers to flowering plants and much of what I see is representative of current research results. From my own observations the all-time favourite plant is regular pot marjoram, Origanum onites, and I largely leave it self-sow and grow where it will. It attracts bees of all kinds as well as butterflies and moths, so is a good addition to any wildlife garden. Sneezeweed, Helenium autumnale, is also high on the list for attracting bees and I too adore the plant, so have planted another six in my garden.
The new plants - new to me anyway - that I chose are lesser calamint, Calamintha nepeta, and germander, Teucrium hircanicum. Calamintha nepeta is a compact bushy perennial of the mint family with clusters of small white or pale lilac flowers. The flowers don't look significant, but many pollinators prefer small flowers and they provide attractive, airy ground cover. The plant is strongly aromatic.
Germander is a more striking plant, clump-forming and producing many spikes of dusky purple flowers reminiscent of Veronicastrum. It is known to self-sow freely so will need deadheading regularly, though that ought to prolong the flowering period. I'd like to see it growing alongside a grey-leaved Miss Willmott's ghost, Eryngium giganteum, or with some of the new Helenium.
At home, there has been some welcome rain, but it seems to be only a brief respite as the forecast is returning to one of hot and dry weather. The shallow dishes put down for the wasps and bees are proving very popular, while the deeper dishes for the birds have a steady flow of visitors.
As the twigs in the dishes of shallow water - put there to create platforms for the wasps to drink from - break down, the water has attracted hoverflies, which are laying eggs in it. I believe they may be drone flies (Eristalis tenax), as I see many of the adults on the plants at home. The larvae are strange little creatures that look like slugs with a long tail and are known as 'rat-tailed maggots'. More often found in drainage ditches and the pools of water around manure piles, the larvae make use of the nutrient-rich run off. I suspect that the water won't be nutrient-rich enough for the larvae to develop, so I shall simply leave them alone.