Our government does sometimes, make good decisions for nature.

In 2014, as a response to the worrying decline in pollinating insects, and how their loss would affect reduced food production, DEFRA set up a 10 year project, the “National Pollinator Strategy for Bees and other Pollinating Insects”. It has been well funded and 18 partner organisations from across the countryside spectrum have been involved. The aims and objectives of DEFRA are available on line. For gardeners in particular, there were five specific things that were listed under the “Bees Needs Call to Action” statement. The first of these “Needs” was to grow more flowers, shrubs and trees for nectar and pollen. This has been very successful.

The dormant season between November and February is the best time to plant bare rooted shrubs and trees and a good time to plan your garden for next year. There are some important things to consider when choosing the most appropriate plants. For a given area of ground, a shrub with its

cascading flowers, will provide more flowers than a group of herbaceous plants. Similarly, a small tree will be better than a shrub. If the garden is too small for a tree, then a pergola or obelisk with climbers could be a substitute. It is important to aim for all three, so the garden provides a layered structure of vegetation, starting with the lawn or herbaceous border. This replicates best the features of a mini natural landscape.

Next, grow a mixture of flower types. Plants with hooded flowers such as foxglove, members of the sage and legumes families or any flowers with fused petals and a long flower tube, are specialised to attract bees, butterflies and moths. More open flowers such members of the daisy or rose families are suitable for all insects including wasps, some beetles and some flies.

Nectar is produced in a nectary at the base of the petals. Sometimes it can be seen as a group of swellings but more often it is a circle of glandular tissue. If the plant is double flowered, then it is more attractive to us but not to the insects. The second set of petals occurs where the nectaries would be and so there is no nectar and no point for most insects to visit them. Bees may still visit and also some beetles as they feed on pollen. One group of beetles, the aptly named pollen beetles eat pollen and lay their eggs in flowers where their larvae also eat the pollen. Despite some damage, they do little long term harm. Bees collect pollen and feed it to their young in the nest.

If there is a third set of petals then they replace the pollen bearing structures and no insects visit. Therefore, choosing single flowered plants is essential for attracting insects. Very floriferous flowers will have no reproductive structures at all and can only be multiplied by artificial vegetative propagation.

2024 is near and I wonder if the government will report on the results from the past decade. Will pollinators have increased or has it just slowed down the loss? A recent “State of Nature” report by a combined group of non-governmental conservation bodies seems to indicate that all is not well. There are certainly more insects in my garden but most are passing through and not breeding. Gardens are not just for insects and have to be multi-use, for our all around pleasure and convenience. Many front gardens have been paved over as a car park, and the natural flow of lawn to flower bed to shrubbery in our back gardens changed to raised beds with artificial soil and wide barren paths between them? But somehow we have to make room for nature.