Less than two miles from the Chelsea Flower Show, I am cultivating a very different kind of ‘garden’. It’s a patch of land on a luxury housing development that was so densely planted with evergreen ornamental shrubs, and overrun with brambles and buddleia that no light could get in until the developers, St George, gave us the go ahead last July to turn it into a bee haven.
I know bees love brambles and buddleia, but to boost biodiversity we had to clear much of it to give other wild flowers a chance to flourish and to provide nesting sites for solitary bees.
I wrote a blog at the start of this project on Chelsea Creek.
So how is it looking 9 months on?
We had no idea what may grow, so I was pleased to find a pretty, yellow daisy has sprung up all over the sunny part of site. It turns out to be Oxford Ragwort, (Senecio squalidus), introduced from Sicily, which is known to colonise disturbed soil along railway lines. And our site backs onto the Overground. It is harmless, unlike Common Ragworth (Senecio jacobaea), which is thought to be harmful to livestock. (Not that they are any horses here!) I didn’t see any bees or other pollinators on it, but according to Buglife, it is a good nectar source for insects.
There are a few patches of dandelions – excellent food for many small mining and furrow bees – lots of the delicate, pink Herb-robert (Geranium robertianum) – a foodplant and nectar-source for many invertebrates including bees, hoverflies and the barred carpet moth – and stinging nettles that caterpillars of the small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies use as foodplants. I saw some ladybirds, which feast on aphids that shelter among the nettles.
Lots of grass has grown and unfortunately Goosegrass (Galium Aparine), also known as Sticky Grass or Sticky Willy is taking over. My research found that although its tiny flowers have been observed being visited by a wide range of insects, including various flies, small wasps, Lepidoptera, ants, bees (both short- and long-tongued) and beetles, it has also been noted that insects visit flowers only “sparingly.” Additionally, self-pollination is common due to the minute structure of the flower—“when the stigmas mature… they always touch the anthers.”
One area I’ve manged to keep clear of it, is where I planted dwarf comfrey and balm-leaved deadnettle in July. And I’m delighted to report that these patches of flowers are doing well, flowering and attracting hairy-footed flower bees and common carder bees which I was very excited to observe.
The Lambs’ Ear (above right) is also thriving in a sunnier part, so I hope to see Wool carder bees in July when they collect the hairs on the underside of the velvety leaves.
Other plants, including Rosebay willowherb, Greater Knapweed and Big betony seem to have been swallowed up by the grasses, or strangled by the sticky willy, and neither Hollyhocks, nor Vipers bugloss have yet emerged from the seeds I sowed.
We left some of the Mexican orange blossom (Choisya) shrubs, the hawthorn and holly trees, which all adorned with white flowers. I hope to see a lovely little hawthorn mining bee (Andrena chrysosceles), on it, or the dandelions, one day.
As yet, no bees appear to have checked into the bee hotels, wooden logs with holes drilled different diameters, or the sand tower block that we’ve created for them, but it’s early days.
So what next?
I planted four Common Bugloss (Anchusa officinalis), which I bought from Bee Happy Plants. It’s website says “Research points to the concentration of sugars in its nectar (61%) as being considerably higher than another member of this family also popular with bees (Symphytum officinale). Similar, though much hardier, than its annual cousin Borage. This is an ideal subject to allow to self-seed in your wild garden (each plant producing many hundreds of seeds).” It adds: “Not to be confused with its cousin Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) which is a well-known weed, and has perhaps also given Anchusa officinalis a ‘weed’ label by some.”
But the bees adore Green Alkanet, so it gave me great pleasure to plant two seedlings transplanted from my garden.
The Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) it about to flower and hopefully the Bastard Balm (Melittis melissophyllum). I will return in May to clear the Sticky Willy, to observe the bees and other pollinators visiting our rewilding project, see if any have taken up residence, and observe what else is emerging through the grass…
Disclaimer: I’ve used one of Penny Metal’s photos of a Male hairy-footed flower bee on Comfrey (above) as it is so much better than my blurry pics