Bees and insects in the garden

Encouraging insects in the garden

Did you know it was National Insect Week last week? It is well known how important insects are in the pollination of food crops, and recently honey bee colony collapse disorder has brought new fears of a decline in this vital insect. There is much information available online about encouraging insects and the National Insect Week website has hints and tips for a more insect friendly garden year-round.

Photographing insects in my garden

Being a keen amateur photographer, I have spent many hours in my garden photographing the flowers and insects with mixed results.

ladybird insect grass

An early ladybird climbing grass this March

blue butterfly herb garden

Common blue butterfly on a leaf of golden hop

rose chafer beetle insect

Rose chafer beetle on spirea

Of course local weather has a large effect on the populations of insects. The early ladybirds I saw in March could have been severely affected by late snow, although this year we were lucky here in the South East.

Rose chafer beetles love it in my garden. I have a large clump of Rosa Mundi they often visit, and I find their large c-shaped larvae in my compost heap (these are often well over an inch across, not to be confused with vine weevil larvae which are a similar shape but much smaller at nearer 1/4″). But last year was a very cold Spring: they emerged too early and missed my roses by about a month. Luckily they resorted to our spirea bush, but this year there have not been so many of this handsome creature.

Bees in the herb garden

I’ve been using the Wildlife Trust bee identification pages to spot bees in my garden as I’m no expert. But even I can tell there are quite a few different ones about! If any of these are incorrectly identified, please let me know and I’ll correct it.

borage herb carder bee

Common carder bee in my herb garden this year, enjoying the borage

red tailed bee hardy geranium

Red-tailed bee on a hardy geranium

bee comfrey

Early bumblebee piercing comfrey flower

Industrious bees have bitten a hole in the comfrey Hidcote Blue flowers in the image above, to reach the nectar more easily. I spotted the holes but it took a while to get a picture of one actually doing it!

Other bees I have seen in my garden this year include buff-tailed bumblebees and honeybees, in fact I have a neighbour a few doors away who keeps hives. I think the only reason I haven’t photographed them is that they are so fast moving!

Bees and the Herb Society

The Herb Society has taken a great interest over the years in the importance of bees in the environment, and our website has a wealth of information on the subject: Herb Society bee aware. A herb garden is a perfect place for bees. Many of the plants are nectar-rich and native (or developed from native species), meaning that the local bees and plants have evolved together. Herbs that are grown for their medicinal or culinary uses are less likely to have modified flowers (such as doubles), which are of less use to the insects.

Send us your insect pics! If you have an insect photo you are particularly proud of, do email it to ruth@herbsociety.org.uk and I’ll give you a mention!

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Flowering herbs in my garden | Spring

Many herbs in my garden are now in flower

I live on the Sussex coast in a Victorian terraced cottage about a mile from the sea. I have a small town garden and try to squeeze in a few herbs wherever I can. From March onwards you can see a succession of traditional culinary herbs flowering in my garden such as thyme, chives and rosemary. Chamomile, comfrey and violas have their uses too, and I love my jasmine and scented leaf pelargoniums flowering under glass.

front door

Making herb tea

I am not knowledgeable about the medical uses of herbs, but I enjoy flowers and my garden, and use the plants wherever I can. I enjoy making fresh peppermint, lemon balm and chamomile teas. Chamomile flowers are a big favourite of mine with their apple-like fragrance and simple blooms. Once dried, they can be used in a sleep pillow in a similar manner to lavender. In fact my main hobby is using flowers from the garden in craft, and that often means drying them for use later.

harvesting chamomile herb flowers

Harvesting chamomile flowers to make tea – I dry them for use year-round.

Herbs under glass

scented leaf pelargoniums

My friend Mercy is an avid collector of scented leaf pelargoniums so there are always a few overwintering in my lean-to. Sometimes I dry the leaves and flowers for potpourri.

jasmine flowers

Jasmine flowering in my greenhouse – I don’t make use of it in any way other than to enjoy the enveloping fragrance, but I do hear it has a role to play in hormone regulation.

Flowers in my garden

garden flowers violas

Violas are such a cheery plant in early Spring. I press them for art projects or crystallise them to decorate cakes.

early comfrey flowers

This yellow comfrey (traditionally named knit-bone) is one of the earliest herbs in my garden, flowering from early March.

blue comfrey herb

This comfrey Hidcote Blue grows up to five feet tall and greatly improves the quality of my compost when I cut it down after flowering, due to its high nutrient levels.

early rosemary herb flowers

Rosemary flowers: my plant is still small, but I am looking forward to being able to harvest straight twigs for use as skewers on the barbeque.

Herbs later in the year

As I write this in early June, my pots of lavender are just coming into flower. My favourite flower, the ancient stripy rose Rosa mundi has two buds just thinking about opening, with many more behind. Other herbs such as borage and calendula are on their way. So perhaps another post later in the year!

Do you have any herb pics you’d like to share?

Do email them to me at ruth@herbsociety.org.uk and I will share them with other herb enthusiasts on Facebook and Twitter.