An insect friendly garden

by frankbeswick

The Chelea Flower Show this year is displaying an insect friendly garden, what a delight.

Britain is renowned for flower shows, ranging from small, local events to major cultural institutions, but the apex of them all, the show of shows, is Chelsea. Horticultural creativity blossoms on its crowded aisles.Every year saw a visit from the horticulturally knowledgeable Elizabeth the Second,who loved it.. But of the several show gardens produced by artistic and horticulturally talented designers, one stands out to mind, a garden that is designed to let insects thrive.

Photo of a bee courtesy of NIL-Photo, of Pixabay

Insects in Need

Many people regard insects as creepy crawlies and look on them with disgust, but l am reminded of a line from the New Testament when God says to Simon Peter that he is not to call anything that God has created unclean.Insects are essential to the thriving of ecosystems, and their preservation is ecologically vital. I will not kill an insect unless it is necessary to do so, and I have compassion for their short and vulnerable lives. Thus it was a delight to discover that the Royal Entomological Society is sponsoring a show garden at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show this year. It is in the process of development, so I have no picture to show, but words can describe well, and that's enough.

Chelsea is a show entry to which is by invite only, and exhibitors have to meet stringent criteria. I have been in teams at other shows, but never Chelsea. But you cannot have everything. 

Show gardens are designed as movable displays. Here is how the task is done. A piece of ground is cleared and suitable plumbing is installed. Plants grown specifically for the occasion are produced at specially selected nurseries, but they are grown in pots. These are laid in place according to the designer's specifications, and then the whole lot of them is covered with a concealing layer of compost or whatever material the designer has chosen to make it appear that the plants are growing in the ground. Hard landscaping, such as walls and sheds, etc, is then put in. Everything is designed to be dismantled and parts of the hard landscaping are numbered so that reassembly will be more easily facilitated. This show garden is to be reassembled and recreated to make a permanent display at the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Headquarters. It is to be a permanent educational feature in the Society's environmental educational programme. At the centre of the garden will be a laboratory with microscopes linked to a computer screen so as to show the public the insect world. Its roof is designed to resemble the complex insect eye, with steel plates placed to appear like lenses.

As insect populations are in steep decline worldwide the garden is an important resource, a tool in the horticulturalist's armoury against the threatened ecological armaggedon.

The Layout of the Garden

Even the garden fence has a role in the entomologically designed garden project, a testimony to the skill of its designer Tim Massey. The fence is designed to last, as its lower sections are pebble gabions, which create a sturdy foundation, befitting for a feature designed to endure. But the wooden sections are more than single panels, for they are designed with spaces for insects to enter and burrow their nests. This will attract mason bees and other insects of a solitary disposition. 

The garden contains a range of plants, mainly British natives, such as hawthorn and silver birch, along with other plants, such as borage, a large plant whose nectar makes it attractive to bees, and hardy geraniums .Plants whose place in the cycle of nature involves attracting pollinators have an important place in the flora of this garden. There are good reasons for selecting hawthorn and silver birch, for both can host three hundred species of insect, thus broadening the insect flora of the garden. Mediterranean plants are to be included. Moreover, both of these trees are easily available and can be available when the new owners restock the garden at some future time. A range of  soil types is to be integrated into the garden's structure so as to maximise the range of creatures that exhibitors hope will be attracted to the site, and compost  and leaf mould add to the soil's variety.. Obviously dry soils suitable for the Mediterranean plants will be part of the garden, and there is a typical woodland edge soil of the kind found in British woodlands. This hopefully will provide a home for a range of insects. Various examples of soil types found In Britain will be included, and one original feature is an area where there is an aggregate made of urban rubble, whose cavities can provide  a number of spaces for insects to make their homes.

Dead wood will also be a feature of the insect garden, as it is a home for a wide range of insects, this will be a feature that will need restocking over the years.

Insects expected and needed

Obviously a garden of this kind would be defective if it lacked space for bees, as many kinds as possible, so a honey bee feature will be included, though whether this happens before the garden is moved I know not,as honey bees dislike disturbance. But bumble bees are an endangered animal in Britain,some species of them being critically so. It is hoped that the garden will attract bumble bee colonies.  There is hope that butterflies and a variety of moths will take to the garden, though the designer is wise enough to realize that in the matter of stocking the garden's fauna we must leave things to nature. The dead wood will hopefully attract a vast variety of insect types, some of which will come to the garden as new pieces of wood, e.g. dead stumps, continue to be introduced over the years.

It must be made clear that in this garden there are no insects classed as pests, not because they are excluded, but because the concept pest is inapplicable in this garden. Clearly there are no malaria prone swamps in the garden, but there is no room for swamp fauna in this garden. It is not big enough.I must also point out that though I have used the word insect, which applies to six-legged creatures, other animals, such as spiders and mites, cannot and should not be unwelcome. Many people are scared of spiders, but the vast majority of spiders found in Britain are harmless, and the only poisonous ones are imports. I used to have a spiders' nest under my back doorstep in my previous house, and suffered no harm whatsoever.

This garden will be a great asset to the ecological project of protecting the nation's environment. I look forward to seeing it.


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Updated: 02/26/2023, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick 13 days ago

Mosquitoes are uncommon where I live, so I have not seen any.

DerdriuMarriner 13 days ago

The daffodils bloomed last week.

That week and the week before black cherry and serviceberry bloomed even as Callery pear, which usually blooms along with the other two white-flowered bloomers, bears nothing yet.

This week grape hyacinth, pink-flowering dogwood and redbud bloomed. Chamaecyparus, forsythia and spirea also brought out their yellow leaves.

The spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) croak half the day and through the night in the vernal pool.

Yesterday I saw a Virginia white (Pieris virginiensis) butterfly in the morning near the creek and a gray spring moth (Lomographa glomeraria) on the outside glass of the kitchen window.

But then a mosquito -- ;-{ -- walked across the windshield this morning! Good thing I was watching from the interior, not the car exterior.

Would mosquitoes be out on you all's, eastern side of the (Atlantic) pond?

frankbeswick 24 days ago

Very true. Diversity in planting introduces checks and balances into the garden.if we introduce a variety of predators some insects that trouble us will be eaten. A varied ecosystem is conducive to health.

blackspanielgallery 24 days ago

Some small creatures hide eggs below leaves, and this is important for their survival.

The only problem I see is too many insects that eat leaves to the point plants die. Is there a way to keep populations at an acceptable level so the garden survives?

I finally got a chance to read the entire article, and it is enlightening. Perhaps the next level garden would be for a garden where edible vegetables are grown, is to use plants to harmlessly redirect insects away, such as the onion family and marigolds. Scents can redirect insects without poisoning them. Thus we can still respect them, even though we want the vegetables for ourselves.

frankbeswick 25 days ago

The decision about seeds or cuttings has not been made yet, but birch and hawthorn are easy to grow. Birch self seeds, as does hawthorn. Borage is a big seed producer, so you could get your own seeds from borage plants.

DerdriuMarriner 25 days ago

The second subheading describes The Layout of the Garden as having "a range of plants, mainly British natives, such as hawthorn and silver birch, along with other plants, such as borage, a large plant whose nectar makes it attractive to bees, and hardy geraniums."

Is the initial planting the result of cutting or seeding? And if so, will seeds be retrieved to ensure future generations or for some other purpose?

frankbeswick 25 days ago

The practice is si liar on both sides of the pond. In the park where I garden we have some dry stone gabions. These are made of ,milestone pieces, but have no mortar, and are kept stable by metal grills.

DerdriuMarriner 25 days ago

Thank you!

Your second subheading, The Layout of the Garden, identifies a fence whose lower sections are "pebble gabions, which create a sturdy foundation, befitting for a feature designed to endure."

This, western side of the (Atlantic) pond may have a tendency to use concrete in such situations.

Gabion structures generally please me more than concrete counterparts, which show more wear-and-tear.

Online sources suggest rectangular or rounded granite, quartzite and sandstone as gabion-friendly materials.

Would those be what prevails on your, eastern (Atlantic) pond side?

frankbeswick 25 days ago

The show ground at Chelsea is equipped with piping and a good water supply from the water mains. So plumbing is a matter of fitting the garden's piping to the mains. We do not use many sprinklers. They can be wasteful, but hoses are the preferred option.

DerdriuMarriner 25 days ago

The third paragraph under your subheading Insects in Need indicates that "A piece of ground is cleared and suitable plumbing is installed" and that "Everything is designed to be dismantled and parts of the hard landscaping are numbered so that reassembly will be more easily facilitated."

The second sentence quoted above leads to the assumption that the "suitable plumbing" in the first sentence quoted above may not be a plumbing system on the order of businesses and residences.

Would "suitable plumbing" -- ;-D -- be bottles of water on hand or a hose or sprinkler system?

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