I realise Hampton Court Flower Show was a few weeks ago now, but I can't resist one last post from it.
Have a look at this...
It;s a nice looking garden, with plenty of wildlife-friendly features such as a dry stone wall, a 'pond' in the form of a water tank (ok, it's not ideal for wildlife but is better than nothing as long as it has the means for creatures to get in and out of it), and pollinator-flowers such as salvias and monarda (bee-balm).
And then you notice that they've done something clever with the hedge, which looks like it is multi-coloured yew or something.
But then one of the staff on the garden thrust a leaflet into my hand and I realised that this was the garden of the British Heather Growers Association. That hedge...it can't be?...surely not?...that's not heather, is it?
Well, it is! The designers had used irrigated vertical growing systems that are getting ever more available commercially. I'm not yet completely sure of their environmental credentials in terms of water use. But the concept of living walls sure does appeal from a wildlife point of view.
I spoke to one of the team who built the garden to find out how realisitic this is in a real garden, and they said it was prefectly do-able.
"And as the heather matures, does it go leggy and woody?" I asked, wondering if the perfect chequerboard effect would become a straggly, holey mess. They reckoned not.
And they claimed that when the thing blooms, it is the most glorious, purple-and-pink bee-filled wall imaginable. Now that is something I wholeheartedly approve of!
One of the things that pollinating insects seem to like is massed planting of their favoured species. Instead of just having a snack and then having to wander off to find something else, which is what happens when there are only a few flowers of each type, they can just concentrate on one particular type.
It this way, insects don't have to learn a new technique to extract the nectar or pollen from each plant they visit. It's like us having to master new and complex drinking vessels for each sip - far better if we can stick to our favourite mug.
A few weeks ago I visited the lovely Waterperry Gardens near Oxford, where they let the public wander around their herbaceous nursery beds. Here you can see individual plants grown en masse, which is the perfect way to spot which ones are working wonderfully for pollinators and which are devoid of life.
Those species that were packing in the bees and bumblebees were predictably the excellent catmints (Nepeta), especially 'Six Hills Giant' and 'Walkers Low', and the Salvias, especially Salvia x superba.
But the one I'm going to pick out is this gorgeous Eryngium.
It's Eryngium bourgatii, which originates from the Pyrenees and is closely related to our native Sea-holly. It is a perennial that grows to a couple of feet tall at most, with really spiny leaves, and little balls of tiny flowers surrounded by a savage star of silver-blue bracks. They look rather thistle-like, but are actually in the carrot family.
Bumblebees were loving it, as they do with so many of the Eryngiums. You may also be familiar with Eryngium giganteum Miss Willmott's Ghost, and I like the tale of how Miss Willmott loved it so much that she used to surreptitiously spread seed in the gardens of people she visited.
Most cultivated Eryngiums are hardy, and like moist but well-drained soil. Eryngium planum is also commonly grown, and its smaller flowers are also good for Honeybees and hoverflies. So if you're after something which is quite dramatic in colour and prickly architecture, AND good for insects, these are definitely plants for your border.
Each January in recent years, I have chaired the Sussex Ornithological Society's Annual Conference, and so I get to meet all sorts of interesting speakers.
The highlight for me this year was a talk about a project that is trying to find out where some of our migrant birds go to in Africa. Birds such as Cuckoos, Spotted Flycatchers and Turtle Doves are declining alarmingly, and if we are to look after them we have to understand their needs not only here in the UK but in their passage and wintering quarters too.
The speaker was Dr Danae Stevens, who heads up this project for the RSPB. I'd really recommend that you check out what she and her team are up to - it's such vital work. And thank you for your RSPB membership which helps support projects like this.
But I was extra delighted to find out that Danae is a keen gardener. And she has been kind enough to send me a little piece about her garden, and the inspiration she gets from it.
"I moved in last spring when the garden was just all mown grass. The difference in a year is so exciting - it just shows you what you can achieve in a short space of time.
"The pond has been there a year and a week. Here it is in June 2010...
"and a year later...
"Construction of the bog garden only started this April...
"...and here it is by June.
"Yesterday, I had my second species of newt when I saw some young Great Crested Newts for the first time. "The amount of wildlife visiting the garden has just rocketed – there are masses of birds (there was a Turtle Dove calling in the field behind the garden when I took these pictures on 19 June), but also lots of other wildlife, including loads of invertebrates."The insects just love the wild flowers and the self-seeded Purple Toadflax and Borage that is all over the place. "Later in the summer the long grass is alive with crickets and grasshoppers – a lovely sound on a warm summer evening!"
What can I say, Danae? I love it love it love it!
There are some types of plant that have proved to be supremely 'mouldable' in the hands of plant breeders - think of what they've managed to do with dahlias, selectively breeding and crossing various species to get amazing shapes and colours.
Quite often (although certainly not always), these cultivars lose some of their goodness for wildlife, often because the pollen, nectar and seed production is affected.
So I had instinctively been wary of the heucheras. Here is a group of plants which seem to be being tugged and pulled to the limits of their genetic variation, just to achieve every shade of leaf colour from black through purple to red and acid green.
But I've found that this kind of prejudice can actually blind me from the truth in front of my eyes. Gradually, gradually, I began to notice that heucheras are actually pretty good for nectar-hunting bees.
Here is one that was on the Loros Hospice show garden at Hampton Court, which those staffing the stand thought was 'Amethyst Mist', but I'm not convinced - I think it might be 'Jade Gloss'.
Here are those leaves that people love (I think this one might be Amethyst Mist)
I took the chance of speaking to the people from the specialist heuchera nurseries to find out if they could advise whether some are better for bees than others. Interestingly, they hadn't noticed - their attentions are clearly on something else other than wildlife. But what they could say is that their cultivation houses are FULL of bees.
Being a woodland plant from North America, I'm going to give them a go in my difficult woodland garden and see how I do. The green-leaved varieties are known to be best the shadier you get.
And my advice at the moment, from a bee point of view, is to avoid the x Heucherellas, a hybrid with Tiarellas which I find less bee-friendly.
And any experience you have of the value of Heucheras for wildlife, and varieties you'd recommend, I'd love to know.
The only pink thing that normally ever makes it into my garden is me when I've been gardening for rather too long on a sunny day.
So I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this show garden at Hampton Court called 'A Matter of Urgency'.
Shield your eyes...
Go on, admit it, you rather like it too!
As with so many show gardens, it had been sponsored by an organisation trying to get across a message (in this case about overactive bladders) but for most visitors like me, the only thing I'm interested in is the plants, the planting and the design.
And this one did not disappoint from a wildlife gardening point of view.
First of all their brochure revealed that they had used peat-free compost.
And then the actual plants themselves were mostly great pollinator plants, such as salvias, kinfofias, astrantias, lavenders and coreopsis.
Or how about this Helenium 'Wyndley', loved by Honeybees.
And for good measure this was the showgarden with the best visual 'joke' too - a running tap, pink of course, apparently floating in mid air. People were standing there for ages, baffled!