The third best exotic marigold hotel

A treat for the guests of our insect hotel in the form of a new, bright alpine garden

Insect hotel and new gardenI usually have a long to-do list during the summer months, and it can often happen that some of the more interesting jobs fall further and further down the list as the weather improves and we get busier. So I was very proud of myself last week for making time to tick-off one of these jobs; planning, planting and labelling the bed next to the insect hotel in one corner of the Plant Centre.

This is a sunny spot and really lends itself to alpine planting as the soil is well mixed with gravel and is therefore very free-draining. I wanted the bed to be bright and pollinator-friendly during the summer so I used some prolific flowerers such as Erigeron karvinskianus and Helianthemums such as H. ‘Ben Heckla’ throughout the bed.

Aiming for a palette of reds, oranges and yellows, I then built up the bed with a selection of upright alpines including Hypericum olympicum and Penstemon pinifolius, some mat-forming species such as Delosperma congestum ‘Gold Nugget’ and Sedums such as S. acre ‘Minus’, which will eventually create blocks of colour. Then I added some plants with a trailing or spreading habit including Thymus serphyllum coccineus ‘Major’ and Campanula garganica ‘Dickson’s Gold’, to soften the outlines of the bed.

New alpine garden with new labelsA Potentilla fruticosa ‘Red Ace’ and perennial wallflower add some height and structure to the bed, while evergreens such as Erica arborea ‘Albert’s Gold’, Santolina rosmarinifolia and a selection of Sempervivums add all-year-round colour. Finally, to brighten up the stone wall at the back of the bed, I planted one of my favourite clematis, C. tangutica, which will not only produce a mass of yellow lantern-like flowers and unusual seed heads through late summer, but also provide some protection for the residents of the wall as it matures.

With regular watering while the plants establish, this bed should prove to be fairly low-maintenance, needing only some light pruning, the occasional weed and some protection given to the more tender and succulent plants such as Lewisia cotyledon, which don’t like winter wet.

Hotel residentsHappily, I’m already starting to see the fruits of my labours, with the residents of our hotel using their new garden to collect pollen and nectar. If you watch and wait for long enough, you get the pleasure of seeing a gorgeous little fuzzy bee returning to its bamboo cane and disappearing into its depths. Though I’m no expert, I believe we have Red Mason Bees staying with us at the moment. These solitary bees are creating a series of cells within their cane and filling each with pollen and an egg before sealing up the entrance with mud. But these hotel guests are not here for a short stay, as the larvae within the canes develop and hibernate over winter before emerging next spring. Let’s hope when they do reappear, their new garden is looking better than ever!

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