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Gardening: How to learn to love the ugly bugs in your garden

It is not all about the bees
It is not all about the bees

Bees and butterflies always get plenty of attention in the garden - but what about the less attractive insects?

Moths, beetles, hornets and ants are all important for biodiversity, insists top garden designer Tom Massey, whose Royal Entomological Society Garden at this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show will feature a plethora of plants which act as magnets for insects.

The show garden will also incorporate hard landscaping designed to be permeable and habitable to insects, including retaining walls made out of recycled materials using things like deadwood and crushed and graded construction waste. There's a lot which gardeners will be able to take from it for inspiration, he stresses.

"Gardens and gardeners can make a huge difference. There are an estimated 30 million gardeners in the UK and that number is growing all the time, particularly after Covid. Gardeners need to be thinking about gardens as part of a wider landscape, not in isolation.

"If you think putting a bug hotel on your city balcony seems like a small measure, think about 30 million people across the country doing it. It can make a massive difference to creating a network of food and habitat for insects."

He offers the following tips on gardening with insects in mind.

 

Accept less attractive insects

"Wasps and ants, for example, may be seen as the enemy, but they are actually really important to break down material and are a valuable food source for other important garden animals such as frogs and birds," he notes.

"People get very angry with wasps, but certain wasps are pollinators and are very important in terms of the food chain. Show an interest instead of thinking that a wasp is there just to steal your food or sting you. Examine them a bit closer and you may find something that will inspire you about that insect.

 

"Ants are really fascinating, when you see the complex network of tunnels they create. Ants clear and degrade waste material."

 

Embrace weeds

Plants including dandelions, clover, vetch and knapweed which have historically been the gardener's bugbear are important food sources for insects and will all feature in Massey's show garden.

"Dandelions, for example, provide one of the earliest sources of pollen and nectar and are one of the fastest developing plants in the UK, going from seed to flowering plant in just 10 days," he explains.

HeraldScotland: A jewel wasp
HeraldScotland: A jewel wasp

A jewel wasp (Image: PA)

Create a range of habitats

Massey's Chelsea show garden features rammed earth floors, log piles, rubble, bare sand and gabion walls. "Choose permeable, natural hard landscaping materials such as dry-stone walling and woven willow fences that provide crevices and gaps where insects can shelter," he suggests.

 

Find city solutions

"Habitat loss is a big reason for insect decline. You've probably seen trendy bug hotels which are a playful way to have an insect habitat. They are just arrangements of materials which allow insects to crawl inside.

"You could have a tiny bug hotel which might include bits of wood screwed together and some material placed inside in a creative and interesting-looking way. Stack up bug hotels on a balcony or have a few pots with plants for pollinating insects, providing some sort of green space within your plot.

"Anything which is long-flowering, such as salvias, will provide a good source of nectar and pollen for a long time. If you have a shady area, hardy geraniums can have a very long flowering period. Geranium 'Rozanne', for example, flowers from April through to November."

HeraldScotland: A ladybird and an aphid
HeraldScotland: A ladybird and an aphid

A ladybird and an aphid (Image: PA)

Mix up your urban pots

"If you've space for five pots, five different species of plants would be a good way to go, just to give a range of different food sources for different types of insects," he says.

 

Use meadow turf

Instead of having a neat, manicured lawn, allow an area to grow longer or use a meadow turf product to have a wildflower meadow with much more biodiversity which will be more beneficial to insects, he says.

 

Strike a balance between nature and rewilding

"Everyone's got their own threshold as to what's acceptable. If you want tidy, neat and organised, perhaps you could have an untidier area that you can't see from your house. It's creatively thinking about how to design your space."

At the end of the show, Massey's garden will be relocated to IQL Stratford next to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London where it will open to the public, and become a place for people to study insects in urban spaces.

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from May 23-27 in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea SW3.