And it's all over...

Well, what an adventure! Back around Christmas I decided to design a beautiful border for BBC Gardeners' World Live, not thinking anything would come of it. Six months on I have a silver merit, have met some amazing people and learnt so much.

Big thanks to everyone who helped me in big ways and small, and special thanks to my sponsors/supporters who made it financially possible: Cotswold Garden Flowers, BHGSPerky BlendersJim's Mowing and Borrowed Light Florals.

But there is no rest now as I have some new client projects, lots of college assignments plus am volunteering at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, including planting for Mr Piet Oudolf himself.

BBC Gardeners' World Live opens in six days!

Not long now until my border: 'Useful and beautiful' features at BBC Gardeners' World Live! The plants from Cotswold Garden Flowers are picked, packed and waiting for me at the NEC. BHGS has kindly supplied the equipment I'll need for the week. Perky Blenders has designed and printed my leaflets - and along with Jim's Mowing - have provided me with some financial support. And Kevin at Gardeners Beehive is ready and raring to build one of his beehives for me. 

And I'm really pleased to also be incorporating some beautiful artwork made by Sarah at Borrowed Light Florals. Sarah has made a series of tansy flowers from beeswax. The sculptures were originally part of the Chelsea Fringe festival at Walthamstow Wetlands in East London. Aren't they spectacular?!

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Follow me on Instagram for all the updates @alexaryanmills and Twitter @alexaryanmills for the highlights. Looking forward to it and hope to see lots of you there. There are still a few tickets available online if you haven't got yours!

The key and the lock – attracting certain flies to your garden

Flies or dipteria covers quite a gamut of flying insects. Here I’m not talking about blue bottles but insects like hoverflies, drone flies and bee flies. These eat nectar and/or pollen of certain flowers and help us with pollination.

But that’s not the only reason why they’re a welcome addition to the garden. Although adult hoverflies are mainly flower specialists, consuming nectar or pollen, hoverfly larvae are mostly carnivorous. The larvae of some hoverfly species eat aphids. Hurrah! While the larvae of some other species, such the drone fly, live in stagnant pools of water where they consume bacteria. Points for them too. Also some files are an essential part of the food chain that support insectivorous birds such as warblers and robins.

Typical diptera mouthparts are made up of a short fleshy tube they use to suck up liquid or semi-liquid food. Some also ingest pollen. Because the tube is quite short, diptera tend to visit small, flat flowers which present their nectar openly.

Many flowers of the carrot or umbellifer family (Apiaceae), are like this. A few great ones for the garden – that are also really easy to grow – are:

  • Orlaya grandiflora – finely cut foliage and produces umbels of tiny pure-white flowers surrounded by showier white petals. 
  • Ammi visnaga – forms flat, dense heads of green-white flowers set against ferny, green foliage.
  • Bupleurum griffithii 'Decor' – lime-green with tiny flowers surrounded by a ruff of zigzagged bracts. 
Hoverfly on  Euphorbia  by D. J. Martins

Hoverfly on Euphorbia by D. J. Martins

Other flowers that are attractive to the short ‘tongues’ of the dipteria include some members of the Euphorbiaceae family, and members of the Asteraceae that have very small florets in the central disc of each flower. A few good ones are:

  • Euphorbia conigera – a compact summer-flowering perennial with lime flower-heads that brighten shady corners. Wear gloves when handling though – the sap may irritate your skin.
  • Aster amellus – showy, rich purple-blue flowerheads that have golden yellow centres. Great for end of summer and autumn interest.

Finally, and worth a mention is the bee fly. They are common in gardens during the early months of the year so really need early flowering plants to feed from such as Aubrietia and Primula.

Come back to my blog to find out how to encourage other insects to your garden. This is in the run up to BBC Gardeners’ World Live in June where I’ll be exhibiting my border: “Useful and beautiful.”

The key and the lock - attracting wasps to your garden

I imagine you’re thinking why and earth would I want to do that. Wasps have a bit of a bad rep. You probably think of them as bothering you while you’re tucking into your picnic on a late summer afternoon. Ok, they do do that, but there’s lots to be said in support of the wasp - it really does make a valuable addition to the biodiversity of your garden.

The biggest difference between bees and wasps is how they feed their young. Wasps actually provide animal food for their larvae in the form of other insects they've hunted down. Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds like it could be useful. 

Those insects – we should respect them all of course – but those that really make your life difficult as a gardener. Aphids are top of the list for me and almost put me off growing roses or sweet peas. Another is grey fly which goes crazy for my lupins! Wasps also play an important role in helping pollination as they visit flowers too. Adult wasps of most species drink nectar.

Like bees, most species of wasps in this country are solitary and live in specialised habitats. These might be gaps in dead stems, dead wood or the ground. I’m building a wasp house for my border at BBC Gardeners’ World in June. Hopefully it will be a talking point!

Wasps have short tongues and a few plant species have evolved to attract them. Some top plants on their menu are:

  • Ribes uva-crispa or the gooseberry – one of the first soft fruits to ripen in UK gardens, its fruits are great for humans and wasps love its flowers for nectar. (Pictured above left)
  • Nectaroscordum – these beautiful bulbs in the allium family are very attractive as a nectar source for social wasps, which are possibly their main pollinator. (Pictured above right)
  • Hedera helix – more commonly known as ivy, flowers in late summer and autumn and produces exposed nectar that is particularly attractive to social wasps and their short tongues. 

Keep coming back to my blog to find out about how to help other insects in your garden. This is all in the run up to my BBC Gardeners’ World Live where I’ll be exhibiting my border: “Useful and beautiful.”

Image credits: Richard Becker/FLPA/Minden Pictures and picssr.com

The key and the lock – attracting butterflies and moths

You’ll know many insects use pollen, nectar, or both to feed themselves or their young. But did you know that not all insects can get food from all flowering plants? The mouth parts of insects vary in shape and size and this determines the types of plants they can use to get their food. Think of it as matching the right key to the right lock.

That’s why when planting wildlife or pollinator gardens, we need to use a combination of plants with different sizes and shapes of flowers. We want to be able to attract not only honeybees – which aren’t too fussy about where they get their food – but other insects such as butterflies, moths, wasps, flies and beetles. These insects are far more particular.

Helping out butterflies and moths

Let’s start with butterflies and moths. While their young feed on leaves for their energy – anything from the cabbage family is a real hit – the adults feed on nectar. Butterflies and moths have evolved to have a very thin feeding tube – or proboscis – that they use to suck nectar out of flowers. These fit nicely into flowers made up of small tubular flowers, often grouped together.

Favourites on the menu for butterflies and moths are:

  • Verbena bonariensis – tall, with wiry stems and purple flowers, it gives great structure to a border and can be used as a see-through screen. There’s also a shorter version, ideal for smaller gardens called V. bonariensis ‘Lollipop’. (Pictured above first left.)
  • Matthiola incana alba – this needs constant deadheading but is worth the effort as these beautifully scented white flowers attract early butterflies from late spring onwards before a lot of the flowers they love really get going. (Pictured above second left.)
  • Buddleja davidii – its common name is butterfly bush, which says it all really. It’s available in different varieties so you can pick a few to keep the butterflies and moths coming through summer and autumn. It can be a bit of a thug if not managed, so cut back after flowering and you’ll get new flowers on new growth each year. (Pictured above second from right.)
  • Hylotelephium spectabile – botanists have changed its name recently and you might know it as Sedum. This is a great variety that flowers in pink well into autumn and also looks lovely dusted with frost in winter.  (Pictured above far right.)
  • Nicotiana alata – also known as the tobacco plant, attracts larger visiting moths such as the Convolvulus Hawk Moth. Its lime/white colour shines out at night and it produces scent in the evening, too. It’s also very elegant, fairly easy to grow from seed yourself and prefers some shade.

Come back to my blog to find out how to encourage other insects to your garden. This is in the run up to BBC Gardeners’ World Live in June where I’ll be exhibiting my border: “Useful and beautiful.”

Image credits: BBC Gardeners' World and Habitaid.co.uk

It's all coming together nicely

Things are coming together nicely for my border at BBC Gardeners’ World Live in June. I now have the support I need to make it all happen! Phew...

Cotswold Garden Flowers, a specialist nursery in Worcestershire, is lending me my plants for the weekend. They’ve got a great reputation for easy-to-grow and unusual hardy herbaceous perennials. Ed Brown, who is the son and heir of the nursery owner Bob, generously spent a couple of hours with me showing me some of the hundreds of varieties they grow (see pics below). If you're wondering, that's an agave plant on the right, artfully protecting staff with polystyrene chips.

BHGS, who supply all kinds of gardening products, are kindly donating me the bits and bobs I need to make it all ship shape. From making sure I can properly water the plants throughout the show – let’s hope for sun! – to the hi vis jacket I need to keep me safe as everyone prepares for opening.

Perky Blenders – a coffee company, based in my local corner of London and quickly growing way beyond the M25, is also sponsoring me and helping with the print and design of leaflets. They do subscription and their coffee is gorgeous! Have a look!

Last but not least, Gardeners Beehive is lending me one of their beehives to add some extra interest to my border. Owner and designer Kevin is even coming early to build it for me so I can make sure it seamlessly fits in with the planting design.

Over the coming weeks I’ll publish more about the different types of pollinators I want to attract to my border and how I’m using different plants to do just that. I won’t really know what I’m using until a couple of days before – I need to make sure everything looks ready and perfect for the show. But keeping different pollinators’ needs in mind will keep me on the right track in the run up and avoid me acting like a kid in a sweet shop at Cotswold Garden Flowers!