Cheap and easy ways to help pollinating insects in your garden: ideas from the RHS Cardiff Show

RHS Cardiff Show 2017 -Betsy the Bee
Betsy the Bee
What can you do to attract pollinating insects and other wildlife into your garden?

The desire of the RHS to encourage gardeners to help halt the decline of British wildlife was clearly demonstrated at their Cardiff Show in the form of giant willow sculptures like Betsy the Bee. 

There were numerous exhibits highlighting the important role us gardeners can play in providing a variety of suitable habitats for a range of creatures. 

I found several great ideas for simple and inexpensive ways to attract pollinators to your garden.

It's important to attract pollinating insects to your garden. Many plants rely on them for fertilisation to produce the fruit and seeds we are trying to grow. 

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Some pollinators further help gardeners by eating smaller insects that we consider pests. Some  in turn become food themselves, for other wildlife which are consequently attracted to your garden. These include birds, frogs and toads, hedgehogs and bats.
To bring pollinators into your garden, there are three main things you need to provide approaches to designing your garden for pollinators - food, shelter and water.

Food for wildlife

A great way to start is by choosing the right plants. Look for nectar rich flowers and those that provide the natural environment the insects have evolved to thrive in. This could be a wildflower meadow, or an area of your garden left wild and undisturbed. 

Stinging nettles will attract numerous insects and caterpillars, for example. So will long grass. 

If you aren't keen on your garden being quite so wild, just keep a small area out of the way where you leave it to it's own devices.
The winner of the Best In Show award at RHS Cardiff, Chris Myers, perfectly created a piece of natural woodland in his garden "Blodeuwedd". As a show garden this was a representation rather than the real thing, but it was so effective that it really did feel like a slice of the countryside dropped into Bute Park. Were it a permanent garden it would certainly offer plenty of habitats for wildlife. And it demonstrated clearly how beautiful a natural or wild garden can be.
Blodeuwedd by Chris Myers: Best in Show at RHS Cardiff
"Blodeuwedd" by Chris Myers:
Best in Show at RHS Cardiff
Alternatively, if you are keeping things more manicured, fill your borders with plants that will bring in the insects. At the RHS Cardiff Show, the Bridgend College show garden, based on a medieval monk's garden, included a flower bed full of nectar rich Lammia, Scabious, Pulmonaria and Aquilega. As well as benefiting the insects, these fit beautifully together visually, with their complimentary shades of blue, purple and violet.

RHS Cardiff 2017 Bridgend College Life of a Hermit Garden
"Life of a Hermit" Garden by Bridgend College

Shelter for wildlife

Insects need somewhere to hide from predators, breed, keep warm and dry, and in some cases, to hibernate in winter. You can start with a simple bug hotel like the one below, which is just a log drilled with holes. Hang it in a tree with the holes facing the warm sun, and plenty of insects will take up residence. 

Simple bee hotel mafe from a log drilled with holes.
Simple bee hotel
made from a log
But the show provided some wonderful examples of much more impressive insect accommodation, albeit ones that can still be recreated easily in your own garden.

Skeps - medieval beehives - in the Bridgend College Garden RHS Cardiff
Medieval skeps (beehives)
I was fascinated by these strange looking cones of mud in the Bridgend College garden. They are called skeps and they are medieval beehives. They have a woven framework inside, that can be of willow or hazel, or anything else that can be woven in that way. 

With a hole left for bees to enter, they can use it as a hive and create their combs inside. I haven't yet tried to make my own, but I suspect a wicker cloche or even a laundry basket could be used. Do let me know if you have a go yourself, it would be great to see the results!
I also loved this build by Eggseeds. They created a lovely children's area at the show, featuring this bug hotel which proved very popular with the toddlers. 
Eggseeds display at RHS Cardiff
Why not make a bug hotel from an old doll's house?
It appears to have been specially constructed, but an old doll's house could easily be re-used for this purpose in any garden. Fill it with twigs, straw, moss, canes and the like, and you'll have plenty of potential visitors from the insect world, as well as a good looking garden feature.

Certainly the grandest of the bug hotels on view were these in the display by John Cullen Gardens, described as "Pollinator Palaces". They certainly look regal enough with the classical urns on top, but the idea is a really simple one.
Pollinator Palaces - John Cullen Gardens RHS Cardiff
Pollinator Palaces by John Cullen Gardens
The structures are effectively gabions, or wire cages, filled with all sorts of things that create nooks and crannies which are ideal insect hideaways. These are built tall but they could be any size and shape you like, stuffed with broken pots, stones, shells, pine cones, bits of wood and so on. Insects will take up residence in all the little gaps.

The urns make them a more impressive feature and are planted with Ajuga, Armeria and Erysimum, all of which attract  bees and butterflies.   

Water for wildlife

Don't forget insects need water too. 

A pond is the single most effective way of attracting wildlife to your garden. 

Not everyone has the space for one though. Much simpler is this dish of pebbles on the John Cullen display. 
Shallow water dish with 
pebbles, beautiful with a purpose!
However small your garden, there is no excuse for not having one of these! It provides a source of drinking water for bees and other insects, but isn't deep enough for them to drown. I think it also has an elegant, zen garden quality to it. I have already added one to our Japanese style area!

So some great, simple ideas that will make your garden more interesting, for humans and insects alike. See what you can add to your garden, and please share the results via the Green Fingered Blog facebook page, or using the comments box below. If you have your own ideas for simple ways to bring in pollinators, let me know.


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