Jean Vernon Attracting Garden Pollinators
Award winning author Jean Vernon introduces her second book 'Attracting Garden Pollinators.'
After the phenomenal success of 'The Secret Lives of Garden Bees' Jean has pursued her fascination with insects to delve deeper into the wonderful world of pollinators and explore what we can do as gardeners to encourage these beneficial insects into our own plots. Her book enlightens readers to the diverse range of insects that clasify as pollinators ...it's not just bees.
I join Jean on a sunny summer's day to chat about her beautiful new book. Find out what inspired her to write it and why are pollinators so important?
Great to catch up with you Jean to talk about your exciting new book 'Attracting Garden Pollinators.' Why did you decide to write this book? What inspired you?
All our insects are in trouble, but most people regard them as creepy crawlies and pests, when in fact they are an essential part of our ecosystem. If the insect layer in the food chain collapses everything will crash.
We are already seeing this starting but so far the message isn’t getting through. In some areas of China the locals have to pollinate their fruit trees by hand. If we don’t step up and recognise not only the worth of our garden pollinators, but also what damage we have created with our pesticides and habitat destruction we will be heading down the same path. Rather than bash people over the head with the same doom mongering that really doesn’t seem to be working anyway, I decided to try and show the beauty and intricacy of some of our pollinators to help more people fall in love with them instead.
We need to appreciate these creatures, because we cannot replace them, we cannot replicate them and when they are gone we are doomed.
Since lockdown there has been an influx of enthusiatic, keen gardeners; what are your top tips for new gardeners with regard to creating a pollinator friendly garden?
Weirdly, start with the soil, because it is at the bottom of the food chain but actually the most important layer of our gardens. We need to nurture it and keep it healthy in terms of mini beasts and microbes. We can do this by making compost and incorporating it into the soil. By using organic compost and materials to grow our plants and by feeding the plants naturally with seaweed based fertilisers and organic plant food via the soil. By building up a healthy soil that feeds our plants we prepare our gardens to support wildlife and pollinators.
Then grow things that you love first. Herbs are a great place to start because you can harvest the leaves for your menus and allow the plants to flower for pollinators. Many vegetables not only flower, but also need pollinators to crop, so grow fruiting plants for you and the pollinators like apples and pears, peas and beans, courgettes and lots of tomatoes. Interplant with borage (replenishes its nectaries every twenty minutes so it’s an all day bee bar), calendula and cosmos to attract hoverflies and other pollinators.
Choose single flowers where possible so that access to pollen and nectar isn’t restricted and remember to grow a diversity of flower shapes so that different pollinators can feed.
Tricky question - if you HAD to choose one, which insect is your favourite pollinator and why?
Eeeeekk that’s almost impossible to answer. They are all so important. I suppose I love the bees first, probably because they are cute and fluffy and got me into this subject. Solitary bees are fascinating with their incredible stories like the bee that nests in snail shells, or the wool carder bee that shaves the fluff off stachys to weave sleeping bags for her babies.
But then the hoverflies are really the unsung heroes of the garden, not only pollinating but also for pest control because they devour so many garden aphids and other bugs. And that’s true of the wasps and the hornets too.
And who can resist a flutterby, just beautiful in all their forms or the spectacular moths and their greedy grubs.
Wasps get a bad rep so how can you convince me that I need more wasps in my garden?
Wasps and hornets have a terrible PR agency. Bees evolved from wasps so if we didn’t have wasps we wouldn’t have bees! But if we didn’t have wasps we would be knee deep in all the things gardeners hate in their gardens because the social wasps gather up the caterpillars, grubs and aphids and feed them to their larvae. And they are pollinators too.
Yes they can be a nuisance in the summer, but we need to embrace them as part of nature’s essential biodiversity. Invite them to your picnics. Keep the last bit of jam in a jar and place it somewhere else in the garden a few hours before you start your party. It won’t fool them all of the time but it just might help.
Do you have any key messages for gardeners that we should all take on board?
Yes - three simple things.
1. Dump the toxins. If you have a ‘pest’ problem wash them off with the hose for the ground eating birds to eat. Everything is a meal for something. If you can wait nature will move in and feast on your pests.
2. Grow a diversity of flower shapes so that you can cater for all the different pollinators that might visit your garden.
3. Artificial grass has no place in our gardens; there are many, many more beautiful ways to enhance your garden and support nature and wildlife.
And finally can you share your top pollinator friendly plants?
Thanks to some great research from Bristol University and PhD Student Nick Tew we can now really harness the power of plants to support our pollinating pals. If you are short of space plant power plants like Viper’s Bugloss and Borage, both replenish their nectaries regularly.
Shrubs with masses of nectar rich flowers like flowering currant and pieris offer a generous buffet to our pollinating pals. Each pieris flower has seven times more nectar than a primrose and one small flowering currant with 3000 flowers has as much nectar as 16,000 primroses.
Plants like Erysimum ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ flowers for up to eight months providing vital food for many pollinators. Globe thistles flower as the new queen bumblebees emerge looking to feed up fast; one globe thistle has as much nectar as 32 cosmos or 349 lawn daisies.
Find out more about Jean Vernon and pollinators at her website www.addictedtobees.com.
'Attracting Garden Pollinators' is published by White Owl Books an imprint of Pen and Sword Books.
Hardback RRP £25
Illustrations: 100 colour illustrations
Published: 21 April 2022
If you want to find out more about Jean Vernon's first book 'The Secret Lives of Garden Bees' read my book review and interview with Jean from April 2020:
All photos © Debi Holland 2022
I'm very proud to have the two flower landscape photos featured in this article appear in Jean's wonderful pollinator book.