A flower is an intricate design whose primary objective is reproduction and, for us gardeners, the more pollination our plants get, the better the chance of a productive fruit crop. Gardening makes us feel good and flowers are the icing on the cake which can be enhanced with a level of biodiversity that many people don’t even think about. In my garden, gone are the days where everything has to be manicured and I now practise what I call “gardening with purpose”. Neat is not always best when it comes to creating a habitat for my insect friends.
Pollinators include butterflies, bees, flies, wasps, beetles and many other small insects, even birds and spiders. They perform their function by travelling from flower to flower, picking up pollen and transferring it as they go.
We need flowers and many of our local native plants are by far the best because they attract species that are endemic to our area. The flowers of some weeds also provide benefit and encourage pollinators to our garden. Weeds can be beneficial as they often have a desirable feature. They may be edible, they contribute to the health of the soil, and they often grow and flower when many other plants are out of season. Some of my favourite weeds are stinging nettle, milkweed, dandelion and capeweed. Allowing some of our vegetables to flower and set seeds as well not only provides food for beneficial insects, but also nesting spaces. Examples of vegetables that are perfect to allow to go to seed are brassicas, carrot, parsley and chives.
I have seen male native bees roosting on a kale seed pod and others sleeping in calendula flowers, completely enclosed as the flower closes for the night. Spent flower heads and the pithy stems of flowers such as Lantana, Hydrangea and Buddleia actually provide spaces for these unique Australian bees to shelter. By the way, did you know Australia has around 2,000 native Australian bees? Many of them are so small they go unnoticed but, believe me, they are out there. Blue-banded bees are attracted to many blue flowers; they are the main pollinators of tomatoes and other members of the Solanaceae family, so plant borage around your vegetable patch to invite them in.
Tips for creating a pollinator pathway or insectary garden include planting a low border of Alyssum and thyme which are a wonderful attractant for beetles, lacewings and their their larva. Ideally, plant in blocks so these plants are easy for the insects to find.
Caterpillar pests in the garden can become a host or food for the developing young of beneficial wasps, so have no fear and let nature take its course. Plants that attract beneficial wasps, hoverflies and robber flies include fennel, dill, daisy flowers and a variety of mint. Small flowers produced in abundance are extremely attractive to small insects and can be more favourable than a single large bloom, but the key is variety. Other pollinator attracting plants include Aster, Ageratum, marigolds, Cosmos, sage, Calendula, Queen Anne’s lace, hollyhocks, tansy, Abelia, Duranta and lavenders. There are, of course, many more – so keep your eyes open when you see any flowers and let nature be your guide. To further encourage beneficial insects to take up residence in your garden, build a simple insect hotel. You can find further information here.
Plant different levels of flowering plants that will flower in succession and allow them to set seed. Remember to allow some of the garden to go a little wild and you will have your own pollinator pathway in no time. I hope that you can discover the joy that I feel in a garden watching all our visitors.
About the Author – Faye Arcaro
Faye is a passionate gardener who owns a four-acre Perth property, aptly named ‘Botanic Obsession’. She enjoys sharing her knowledge through writing, radio and TV presenting.