Country diary: The garden is alive with insects, despite the heatwave

·2 min read

Early morning in my garden and the catmint path is already noisy with bumblebees. They hurry from one open-lipped mauve tube to another, their wings back-lit silver by the new day’s light. Sprigs of catmint bend under the weight of the bees before bouncing up again. The hazy billowing plants on either side of the gravel path have met down the middle; they brush against my legs as I walk, making insects fly up all around me.

In the borders, small skipper butterflies feed from lavender and pink betony. Common red soldier beetles mate on the domed heads of wild carrot. Wasps crowd on metallic grey domes of sea hollies. Bright winged red admirals colour the buddleia and hoverflies dart and skirmish among Mexican daisies. I am astonished by such richness, by so much abundance.

This garden is planted for insects. Day-flying, night-flying, crawling, foraging, hunting, chewing, egg-laying insects. I’ve chosen plants that provide them with nectar and pollen, but also the leaves and roots that support their larvae. Seventy species of native wildflowers are interwoven with garden plants, so there’s food for every stage of their lives.

Like many, I’m concerned about how our warming climate will affect wild and garden plants. The Royal Horticultural Society has said the traditional British garden is “under threat”. But there are things we can do. Down here in the sun-filled bowl of the valley, the recent heatwave would have been a stressor to plant and animal life. After barely any rain for months, the river is the lowest I’ve ever seen it. The flower garden has not been watered at all. Yet when I filled in a RHS survey, I could list only two plants as heat damaged: rodgersia and shuttlecock fern. The deep mulch laid down in early spring protected the soil, the thick cover of leafy plants gave cool refuge to wildlife.

In addition, for the past few years I’ve been chopping up perennials and, instead of composting, using them to form a moisture-retaining straw mat that is gradually recycled by slugs and worms. Huge meadowy borders, 8 metres squared, are a sanctuary. In their shady depths, blackbirds flick through the mulch with their beaks, toads lumber, partridges raise chicks, mice and voles scurry from owls, while above it all, the vitality of insects is the thrum of a garden that is alive.

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