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To help better our understanding of how to garden for wildlife, the RHS led research into whether native or non-native plants best support garden invertebrates. Here we look at the findings on planting for pollinating insects such as bees, butterflies and hoverflies.
Hoverfly on Verbena bonariensis
Gardeners in the UK often use a combination of plants from around the world.
Some plants grown by gardeners are classed as native, meaning they occur naturally in the Britain (i.e. have not been introduced by humans). Other garden plants originate from regions outside Britain, perhaps only from elsewhere in Europe or similar temperate regions of Asia or North America. Or they may originate from southerly regions such as South Africa or Australia where the climate and habitat may be very different from that in Britain. We have such a rich choice of plants in UK horticulture, thanks in no small part to the legacy of plant hunters who brought back many new and interesting plants from their travels.
When talking about plant origins we have divided them into three categories - one native and two non-native;
Many gardeners are keen to encourage insects into a garden, especially those that help pollinate our flowers and fruit. Some of these pollinators have been in decline so the more we can optimise a garden for them through our plant choice, the better.
Native plants would seem to be the obvious choice to support our native pollinators but with so many non-native plants also grown in gardens and little known about their benefit to wildlife, the answer to this question has remained unclear. Below are the findings and recommendations to gardeners from recent research.
Enhance your garden for pollinators through plant choice:
Our research is not prescriptive on exactly which plants you should plant in your garden but to help get you started we have put together a shortlist of 100 Plants for Pollinator plants. These are listed by region of origin to help you optimise your garden for pollinating insects - simply download RHS Plants for Pollinators: Plants of the World.
Plants for Bugs was a four-year study into wildlife gardening, which was undertaken at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, and supported by the Wildlife Gardening Forum. Read here for more about the design of the experiment and plants used in the study. The second scientific paper reported on invertebrates living on the leaves and stems and the third paper reported on invertebrates living at ground level.
Results from the first scientific paper focused on pollinating (termed 'flower-visiting') insects. These were recorded through observations when weather conditions were favourable for flying insects such as bees, wasps, butterflies, flies (including hoverflies) and adult beetles. An observer noted on a record sheet those seen landing on flowers.
Bees in your garden
Bee's Needs: Defra initiative
Butterflies in your garden
How gardeners can help our declining bees and other pollinators
Moths in your garden
Native and non-native plants for plant-dwelling invertebrates
Native and non-native plants for ground-active invertebrates
Pollinators: decline in numbers
RHS The Garden article Plants for Bugs: all in the mix
RHS Plants for Pollinators
RHS Plants for Bugs research
The British Beekeepers' Association
Trees and shrubs: native to Britain
Wildflower meadow: establishment
Wildlife in gardens
Use of the term wildflower in horticulture
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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.