July is a time of abundance in the garden. Flowering plants provide nectar and pollen for pollinators, while leaves offer a meal for caterpillars and other larvae – an essential part of the garden food chain. In my garden, grasshoppers chirp, bees buzz and caterpillars munch. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
More July wildlife gardening advice
July wildlife gardening inspiration
Lavender provides food for a number of different pollinators, including honeybees, bumblebees and butterflies. Popular varieties include Lavandula ‘Munstead’ and ‘Hidcote’ but recent hybrids provide more flowers and bloom for longer, and therefore provide more nectar and pollen – Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’ is loved by bees in my garden.
Some of our most favourite garden plants provide a range of uses for wildlife, including sunflowers, which are loved by bees now, but if you leave the plants standing so the flowers develop seeds, you’ll attract a range of birds which will feast on the seedheads.
Honeysuckle, too, has a variety of uses, being an excellent nectar plant for long-tonged bees such as the garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) here, along with night-flying moths – keep an eye out for the caterpillars of the 20-plume moth, which are pink and nibble on its leaves and flower buds. In autumn, its berries are eaten by thrushes.
Buddleia is also coming into flower this month. Known as the ‘butterfly bush’ it attracts a wide range of butterflies, including the peacock and gatekeeper (pictured) as well as the small tortoiseshell, comma and red admiral. Its long panicles of individual florets are perfect for the long tongues of many butterfly species.
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Many herbs are also great for butterflies – simply letting a few, such as chives, oregano and thyme, flower – can provide them with a great meal. I always leave a bit of oregano to flower, and it’s absolutely loved by several butterfly species. The flowers look beautiful, too.
Don’t forget that all butterflies start their lives as caterpillars, and many of the most colourful butterfly species that visit your garden have caterpillars that feed on nettles. Growing a patch of nettles in a sunny part of the garden can attract a variety of species including the small tortoiseshell here, along with peacock, comma and red admiral. The nettles needn’t be in a prime location, I have a small patch tucked away by the shed.
Plants can help other species to breed, too. I always know when the leafcutter bees are active as the holes start appearing in my rambling rose ‘Frances E Lester’. Here, a leafcutter bee is cutting the perfect piece of rose leaf to seal her nest. Look out for bees carrying pieces of leaf beneath them – if you have a bee hotel you may be lucky enough to have them nesting with you.
Stachys and red campion
Hairy leaved plants like lambs’ ear (such as Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’) and red campion (Silene diocia) provide nesting material for the the wonderful solitary wool carder bee (Anthidium maculatum). Watch closely and you’ll see the bee collect hairs from the leaves into a ball, which she carries back to her nest and ‘cards’ to make a structure not dissimilar to a woolly sock. Wool carder bees do nest in bee hotels but very rarely – if you have one nesting with you you are very lucky indeed!
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