Friday, 14 June 2013

How does your garden grow?

… With dandelions, daisies and violets?

What do you think of when you see dandelions and daisies scattered over a patch of grass – Pretty? Wild? Messy? 

It is a pity that many common wildflowers, like dandelions, are not always welcome when in fact they are important sources of nectar and pollen. Many insects that we have caught or have seen around whilst sampling have been on common wildflowers like dandelions, which unfortunately are plagued with such a poor reputation. However pollinators of all different shapes, sizes and families will use them to gather nutrition – we have seen bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies, butterflies, large flies, beetles etc., so these plants can cater for a big variety of insects; an important point when quite a few pollinator groups have been experiencing population declines recently. Also within cities and towns for example, little patches of them within a heavily built up area can provide a welcome ‘pollinator pit-stop’, plus adding a little colour to dilute the surrounding bricks and concrete! Additionally, what we view as a ‘single flower’ is in fact lots and lots of little tiny flowers (see picture below) all clumped together into one unit of inflorescence, with each little flower (or floret) within the whole unit providing nectar and pollen. So, whilst these might not be a favourite of gardeners, they definitely score well on a pollinator’s radar!

Solitary bee (Andrena sp.) enjoying a hearty meal on a dandelion flower (Taraxacum agg.).

And what about daisies? Again these are units made up of lots of little individual flowers together and can look very striking and pretty in areas like city parks or verges where the grass tends to be mown very regularly, as well as providing pollinator provisions!

Pretty daisies next to one of our recently sown annual meadows in Armley park, Leeds.

So why not let your grass grow a little and leave a bit more time between when you mow your lawn. Or perhaps you could leave a corner to grow longer and see what interesting plants you may get there. In a sunny corner of the University of Leeds campus, there is a patch of grass (which we have previous photos of – 'Our week in pictures - May 2013' ) which had lots of pretty cowslips and violets growing around it and also lots of solitary bee nests too! In 2012 the University of Leeds showcased a gold medal-winning Chelsea Flower Show garden promoting sustainability and biodiversity. It recommends many different ideas including leaving a ‘messy’ area in your garden that encourages more pollinating insects - 'Making a mess can improve your gardening'.

Cowslips, daisies and violets at the University of Leeds in April 2013.

Whilst this lovely verge near Pudsey Railway Station was covered in buttercups, purple clover, bush vetch, mouse-ear, forget-me-nots and plantain and was quite a spectacular sight on a sunny day at the roadside.

We found 9 different flowering plant species on this verge outside Pudsey Railway Station, and caught lots of pollinators too!
Wildflowers can also brighten up children’s play areas as well as providing a soft landing!

Another interesting idea that has been on the news recently and is in one of London’s parks, is having ‘grass-free’ lawns whereby the normal ‘lawn’ area is planted over with low growing flowering plants instead – see 'BBC News - Grass-free lawn opens in London park'. This could be very good for pollinators with such an abundance of different flowers to choose from and also provide a pretty contrast to the swathes of closely cut lawns that you quite often see in city parks and amenity areas which do not support a diverse range of species and hence are comparatively species-poor.

So whilst you may feel like you see dandelions and daises around every corner or consistently popping up out of your lawn, perhaps they don’t deserve such a bad name if you think of all the good they can do for our wildlife!

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