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

Allendale, Northumberland: It’s taken a lot of careful planning, but our corner of this sunny valley is teeming with bees, beetles and butterflies

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.

‘Seventy species of native wildflowers are interwoven with garden plants.’
‘Seventy species of native wildflowers are interwoven with garden plants.’ Photograph: Susie White

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.

• Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary


Susie White

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Country diary: a butterfly boom out of the barren land
Crook, County Durham: Fast-forward half a century and few casual visitors would suspect that this was once a scene of industrial dereliction

Phil Gates

04, Oct, 2018 @4:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: lured by a love for elusive butterflies
Isle of Portland, Dorset: I’m supposed to be down in the cove, but the dance of this powdery pair is leading me astray

Nic Wilson

13, Aug, 2021 @4:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: where the bee sucks there danger lies
Durham City: The teasel’s leaves form a little cup that traps water – and unwary insects

Phil Gates

07, Feb, 2019 @5:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: following the sun and an awkward ballet of bumblebees
Claxton, Norfolk: Two plants make completely separate responses to the sun and draw an array of flying insects

Mark Cocker

19, Jun, 2018 @4:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: ivy's weird flowers exert a magnetic attraction on insects
Claxton, Norfolk: You forgive ivy its smothering tendencies when you hear it humming to the drone of feeding bees

Mark Cocker

17, Sep, 2019 @4:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: quarry spoil is dingy skipper heaven
Hawthorn Dene, Durham: Only bird’s-foot trefoil flourishes here – but that suits these picky butterflies and the green tiger beetle that preys on them

Phil Gates

15, May, 2019 @4:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: this spring belongs to the red dead-nettle
Claxton, Norfolk: The unexpected super-abundance of one particular plant at this time of year is always a welcome surprise

Mark Cocker

16, Apr, 2019 @4:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: spawn to be wild
Reach, Cambridgeshire: A mini rewilding project brings exquisite new amphibian life to the garden

Emma Mitchell

15, Jul, 2019 @4:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: a parasite for sore eyes
Otley, West Yorkshire: one of autumn’s oddest fruits, cherry galls are a reassuring sign of new life

Carey Davies

16, Nov, 2020 @5:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: Not even a digger could rid our garden of hedge bindweed
Crook, County Durham​: ​This rampant climber has the blackcurrant bushes in its spirally grip. There are, however, a few striking benefits

Phil Gates

03, Aug, 2022 @4:30 AM