HORDES of butterflies may well have been conspicuous by their absence this past summer but the same cannot be said of hoverflies and bumblebees.
This has been the best season in years for the hovers, as lots of gardening acquaintances have hastened to point out.
Several factors could account for it but let’s just celebrate the fact that one of our best allies in the struggle against aphids is doing so well.
Easily recognised by their capacity to hover in mid-air and manoeuvre like a search and rescue aircraft, the adults are attracted to flowers in search of pollen, nectar and the sweet honeydew which aphids release whilst feeding on plant sap.The larvae are voracious aphid eaters and generally found near the soft tissue at the tip of plants.
The liliums in particular have had a swarm-like proportion of hoverflies surrounding them.
Apart from those planted in the borders on a permanent basis, there are 10 large pots that contain a few favourite cultivars, and they prove invaluable as the season progresses.
They play a mobile display role by standing next to benches at the front and back of the house or filling a mid-season gap in a border.
Star Gazer and Lovely Girl are rather special, having proved their worth in terms of attraction over time, and they are absolutely hardy, coming through the past winter with flying colours. When the show is over the pots are lined up in the lee of a west-facing house wall – a strategy that has not failed so far.
Star Gazer is one of those iconic varieties that will never let you down. Surprisingly it has no scent to speak of but the flowers become so intensely red and eye-catching as they age. Good for the border or vase, and grown for several years, there was a question as to whether anyone else had discovered its beauty, until a visit to the Basilica in Assisi, where it was found on St Francis’ tomb.
Lovely Girl is just that, with large, creamy white trumpets and heavenly perfume. No wonder the hoverflies have been flying in from all corners of the garden to inspect it.
Unlike the summer-loving hoverflies, bumblebees are an almost constant presence in the garden for eight months of the year. It follows that they rely on several key plants as the seasons progress. Heathers are in flower from January to October. Lavender blooms from late June until autumn tints appear, and a host of herbaceous perennials offer backup throughout.
This said, the greatest bee attractant in recent years has been the herb marjoram and don’t we know it. This plant is the last word in self-sowing, popping up everywhere in the garden.
Because of its bee-pulling power we’ve turned a blind eye to little groups appearing here and there, especially the golden-leaf form oregano.
But enough is enough, a decision has been made to halt the invasion and dig out the majority once flowering ends. Our local garden club members spring to mind. There must be a few who still haven’t received divisions of this plant in recent years!
It’s too early to start one of my favourite autumn gardening activities – moving plants that are clearly out of place or have outgrown their welcome. But it is certainly a good time to be making notes and planning.
There is a tall comfrey (Symphytum caucasicum) standing by the pond and it’s a haze of blue in summertime but goodness knows where it came from. The point is, we love it, as do the bees, so it is sure of a place in the front border once dormancy comes.
Aruncus Sylvester, commonly called goat’s beard, grows up to one metre high and offers long panicles of creamy white flowers in midsummer. This fellow has always addressed it in private as Uncle Sylvester but they’ve changed the name (as they do) to dioica. That is useful to know from a horticultural point of view but I can’t use it, the plant has had enough changes recently.
It started summer surrounded by old friends in a border that enjoyed partial shade from a silver birch tree. But old was the operative word for the companions so it was time to let light and air into the area. Everything was moved out to make way for turves and an extended lawn. This left Uncle Sylvester high and dry but just about to flower. Now it’s over he looks rather forlorn but will perform again once replanted.
Pyrethrum is another lovely old plant name that used to trip off the tongue so easily but has now given way to tanacetum. Our plant, which thankfully hasn’t changed, is a summer flowering herbaceous perennial with yellow flowers. There is one growing amongst a group of herbs, which is fine because it has the same pedigree. But we feel it has more of star role to play in a front border so that`s where it will go at the end of October.
Never be afraid to move herbaceous perennials or deciduous shrubs around the garden once they’ve entered a state of dormancy. Dig the hole for the new position, adding decayed organic material and spent potting compost plus a sprinkling of bone meal. Dig the plant up with a good ball of root attached, and if it proves too heavy to lift, use a plastic bag to slide it there. Then water it well in.
A group of three plants that is not moving anywhere comprises, sidalcea, catmint and achillea, a lovely combination of pink and blue just front of house, proving it is so rewarding when you get the balance right.