— Nan Sterman
On the last garden tour I led to England, I was impressed to see how all the gardens, both formal and informal, included spaces for bees and other pollinator insects.
Every private garden we saw included wild grasses and blooming wildflowers – what US gardeners would regard as weeds – along the edges, in the centers, and growing beneath and between fruit trees.
Moor Wood in Woodmancote, Gloucestershire, is home to the English national collection of rambling roses. As our group chatted with Susie and Henry Robinson, the husband and wife farmers whose family has worked the property for genertions, they explained that a government program pays them to leave portions of their farmland wild. The native vegetation in these hedgerows is critical habitat for pollinators that service the Robinson’s farm, along with all the neighboring farms.
Botanic Garden Swarm
As I walked from garden room to garden room at England’s famous Hidcote Garden, I heard a persistent buzzing. The closer to the heart of the garden, the louder the buzz. One pathway opened up to a huge, vortex-shaped bee swarm. In a US garden, the bees would have been removed as soon as they showed up, but in England, they were simply cordoned off from the public by a split rail fence. A sign explained why the bees were important, and warned people to stay clear. The implied message was, “These bees are doing the important work that bees do – respect them and they’ll respect you.”
Space for Wasps
One afternoon, we visited the historic gardens at Sissinghurst Castle. We’d been touring for many hours by then so I was relieved to see an inviting bench. Just as I sat down, someone pointed to a note pinned above the bench. It said, “There’s a wasp nest nearby – please don’t sit here at the moment.” In the US, those wasps would have been eliminated, but in an English garden, even wasps deserve their space.
Topiary + Pollinators
At Great Dixter, the renowned garden of late garden designer and writer Christopher Lloyd, a blooming wildflower and grass meadow was the background to oversized, bird-inspired topiaries that Lloyd’s father planted in the early 1900s. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators flitted about. It was beautiful.
It just makes sense to welcome bees and other insect pollinators into our gardens. The better we care for them, the more we benefit from all their hard work. It’s time we showed these insects some respect.