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Wednesday, 15 August 2012

My 'Wildflowers for Pollinators' meadow

It's high time I gave an update on this as I've only touched on it in a veg patch post back in July and so much has been happening since. Both this and the bee hotel have been my new experiments this year and because of both, I've been taking far more interest in all the pollinating insects in my garden, and learning tons about them, which has given me a whole new interest!

As you probably know, I bought a packet of mixed flower seeds designed especially for pollinating insects which I sowed in a strip in the veg patch about 4 metres by 1 metre wide back on 1st May. It was starting to flower about 7 weeks later!

First to flower were three plants that were adored by bees. All sorts of bees from honey bees to all sorts and sizes of bumble bee (that I can't begin to ID), and probably solitary bees too. These most popular flowers are Viper's Bugloss (Echium), Phacelia and the good old common blue Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus). I'm starting these photos from 17th July onwards. There are rather a lot of them but it's taken me ages to compile the best for showing out of hundreds that I've taken over the last month or so!

N.B. As I can't be 100% sure of my identification of certain hoverfly species, I'm just giving the genus name rather than the specific species name. I don't want to mislead anyone with my images in case the ID is incorrect, as many are very similar.

General overview 17th July
Mostly Phacelia and Viper's Bugloss flowering, with the tall heads of Dill towering above.

A bumble bee comes into land on a Phacelia flower,
where a Common Red Soldier Beetle (Rhagonycha fulva) is lurking.

Bumble bee and a Syrphus hoverfly on Phacelia

Blue Cornflowers have been a big hit!

A few yellow Lupins appeared, which nothing seemed to be
actually interested in, except as a perch. The flowers were short lived
so not even very visually interesting.

Oedemera nobilis beetle - male. Note his huge thighs!

I think this is a similar insect and probably the female, maybe another Oedemera.
Of course being female she has dainty thighs!

A harvestman on a Cornflower. They are not spiders but are part of the Arachnid family.
But what caught my eye was the tiny black and white bug on the middle right!
No, I haven't a clue!

Thankfully my fingernails were cleanish! These are flowers of an unknown umbellifer -
I'm not sure if it is just a 'weed' that came up or was in the seed mix.
It was obviously liked by these tiny flower bugs (which may be Pirate Bugs (Orius),
good beneficial insects which eat red spider mites and thrips).

Colourful bug on Phacelia (not yet identified)

Another interesting bug on Phacelia, also still to be identified

Both the 'don't know' bugs and a bumble bee on Phacelia

This bee is confusing me by its black pollen sacs/baskets.
It's very odd. I've googled but can't find any info or images of any bee
showing black pollen sacs.

Same bee, the pollen sacs look like huge rounds of cheese that have been dipped in black wax!

The tall orange Marigolds haven't been a hit in general,
but the occasional insect lands on them, such as this Syrphus hoverfly.

Another hoverfly (Eristalis) taking a rest
and having a wash and brush up on a Marigold!

Overview of progress 27th July

I tried to get a decent shot of the only Lacewing I saw on a Corn Marigold,
but I seem to do best at shots of bums! All the rest were bum shots ;-)

Hoverfly (Eristalis)

I really love these sunny flowers, and I'm not the only one!

Dill flowers and a hoverfly (Eristalis)

8th August with pink and white Cosmos flowering

Orange Cosmos and a bicolour Coreopsis which I love towards
the bottom left corner!

14th August. Corn Marigolds and seeds waiting to be collected on the Cornflowers

Orange Cosmos and an annual bicolour Coreopsis


Would I do this again? You betcha! As far as I'm concerned this has been a roaring success, as not only are all these insect species pollinating flowers all over my garden, but some of them and/or their larvae are beneficial insects for another reason. Lacewings, Red Soldier Beetles and the larvae of the Syrphid hoverflies eat 'bad bugs' such as aphids, thrips and red spider mite, so all the more reason to encourage them into the garden and the veg patch! 

I would recommend to anyone with a veg patch or allotment to find a space, even just 1x1 metre, to sow a mix of flowers like this to encourage these insects in for the benefit of your veggies! Not to mention how even on a dull day this sunny mix of flowers makes you smile.

Would I do it differently? Yes, for the following reasons:

1. As I'm growing these plants in a veg patch with crop rotation, there is little use having plants which are biennial or perennial in the mix. As it is, with dense planting anything short would be really crowded out and not get any light, so I doubt they'd be growing particularly well. What is needed here are plants which all grow tall together and flower during the same season.

2. So I will be collecting seed from the annuals which have proven particularly popular with the pollinating insects - predominantly Cornflowers, Viper's Bugloss, Corn Marigolds, various Cosmos and Phacelia, which together make a riot of colour. I'm certainly not paying €6 for a packet of seed again!

3. As I found that these tall plants tend to flop over very easily, particularly after heavy rain, I need to sort out some staking early on. I'll grow in shallower drifts around the edge of the veg patch, so they have the fence wire to lean on on one side, and I'll stake and string on the other side.

4. I also found that due to the dense planting they do need watering! I know in the wild annuals would still do their job of flower, set seed and die if it is dry but I want to prolong the colour and usefulness of the flowers, so I need to be able to get at them to give them a good watering now and again.

5. Although on the seed packet there was a silhouette of a butterfly, indicating that they would be attracted to these flowers, I haven't seen any butterfly actually feeding on any of them. There are plenty flitting about in the veg patch, and flying around these flowers and even resting on the leaves, but I don't think there is anything here that interests them nectarwise. I'm not worrying about that as I have tons of butterfly friendly plants elsewhere (including the occasional Verbena bonariensis in the actual veg patch itself, as it self seeds everywhere).

6. I'll certainly add Dill again if it doesn't self seed of its own accord (I don't believe it was in the seed mix but just self seeded itself here). It has worked really well visually in with these flowers and attracts certain species such as the Striped Shield Bug (Graphosoma) and is a food plant of the Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio machaon) larva. And look what I discovered yesterday - there were two of them. Absolutely tiny at the moment but I'll be keeping an eye on them!

Early instar of a Swallowtail caterpillar!

Of course my little meadow is far from over yet, so who knows what else I may see. I'll keep you posted!

Update for October:


  1. Gorgeous... I bought a packet of mixed wildflower seeds and never sowed them but I'm kind of glad I didn't bother now. I'm afraid I've just about written this year off. Veg plot is so overgrown with weeds and anything legit that is growing is being eaten, bolting or rotting. Bah. Lovely to see Summer actually working somewhere (no really. I'm not gritting my teeth...) It's inspiring me for next year and I love that harvestman (what a great name).

    1. Maybe the wildflower seeds would have just got on with it on their own whereas the veggies need a lot of TLC! You did at least seem to get quite a few veg to start with. I think you have a lot on your plate this year with all the new livestock you keep acquiring so maybe something has to give. Don't be disheartened, every year is different!

  2. This post is a true fire work ! J'ai du fenouil aussi, mais pas du tout de chenille de machaon. Before having caterpillar you must have a couple of butterflies, it's the same story than the one of the hen and the egg.
    I discovered la phacélie last autumn in a field, it was almost like a lavander field and I found it was smelling very good.

    1. Hi Cergie and thanks! I've only seen the one butterfly but maybe there were a few more around that I didn't see. Phacelie is grown in many fields here during the winter as it is a green manure which is then ploughed into the field to fertilise the soil before planting crops.