A cold snap this April

There is a definite chill in the air as I write this in the first official week in spring.

The soil is taking longer to warm up, and nature is uncertain in its timing of how insects may respond to unusual changes in seasonal temperatures. I believe much of this is learned from simple and patient observation, just taking the time to link with nature, and one thing is sure, nature always finds a way. 

On some of the late winter warm days in March, I could hear a positive buzz from bees within our large flowering Pieris japonica shrub. The flowers are a rich source of nectar and pollen for bees. The bees are visiting earlier as the flowers normally appear from April into May, but this year the Pieris has been ablaze with its creamy white flowers from early March.

I have learned in gardening that extra cold snaps in temperature followed by earlier rises in temperature can induce early and better flowering in some tree and shrub species. I think this effectively changes the whole pattern and sway of ecology within our garden spaces. It would definitely be interesting to keep monthly and annual records on this and observe how your garden space evolves in relation to the wildlife within it.

There are a good number of spring flowering shrubs and perennials that will encourage the marauding insects into our garden in early spring. Here is just a select number of some that will really set the pace for  the insect wildlife.

Crocus

I spent a productive autumn planting crocus corms in swathes within grassy areas. These are one of the first spring flowers, bees love them, the beautiful shades of purple, blue, and white filter through the grass. These little gems provide lots of pollen and nectar bathed in a sunnny spot. Spot the bee on this image.

The bees will happily take flight from the croci into a semi shady border or grass area planted with Primula vulgaris. This classic yellow spring flower gives hungry bees a welcome feast of nectar early in the season! There are rich pickings of pollen and nectar to be had which aside from bees also pulls in butterflies, moths and other pollinators.

Grape hyacinth

Grape hyacinth (muscari) are now emerging with their striking blue flowers which are studding this area I planted with bulbs in the autumn, a semi wooded area in dappled shade, muscari will also thrive in sunny spots too. The spikes of tiny blue downward bell-shaped flowers will attract pollinators during April and May. Some of the muscari are also scented which adds a wonderful sense to the surrounding wildlife garden at the onset of spring.

Grape hyacinth. Photo Richard Burkmar

Grape hyacinth. Photo Richard Burkmar

Hellebores

Hellebores are an excellent source of pollen for a variety of insects early in the season. They do seem to largely attract bumblebees as the winter flowers (sepals) work their wonder into spring. One of my personal favourites is the beautiful Helleborus orientalis (Lenten rose). It's a prolific self seeder, so it's great to nurture this in shady spots of the wildlife garden. A free draining soil, with the addition of organic matter will suffice for these ever visually engaging perennials that are members of the Ranunculaceae family (buttercup). Hellebores will grow favourably in alkaline soils but will also thrive well in slightly acidic soil too. 

If you are able to develop a semi woodland garden within your natural garden space I would strongly recommend planting various mixed species of hellebores to envelope the insect population. 

Hellebore. Photo Kevin Line

Hellebore. Photo Kevin Line

Red flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)

This ornamental shrub with its deep pink flowers is ideal for attracting pollinating bees, and provides early spring nectar for butterflies. Some species of Ribes will bring extra seasonal interest for the wildlife garden with the addition of small black berries in the autumn, great for the birds to feed upon ! This attractive flowering shrub thrives best in full sun to partial shade. 

Red flowering currant, Photo Kevin Line

Red flowering currant. Photo Kevin Line

This red flowering currant is ideal for attracting pollinating bees, and provides early spring nectar for butterflies

April Task

I'm currently taking a pair of secateurs to the various grass species in the borders, pruning them hard back to rejuvenate new growth for the spring and summer, contrary to previous beliefs in gardening techniques to cut hard back in the autumn/winter for the sake of tidiness. Indeed some gardeners may still follow this theory of the seasonal winter tidy. 

I leave grasses such as Miscanthus, Stipa, etc because they add such beauty and structure during the winter months when decorated with early morning frost. But first and foremost the grasses provide refuge for wildlife during the winter, in particular excellent ground cover for birds, and also frogs and toads. In fact this week I have had to be extra vigilant whilst undertaking this spring pruning by gently lifting out a few toads to another shady spot in order to complete the task! 

Ornamental grass. Photo Kevin Line

Ornamental grass. Photo Kevin Line

Kevin Line

Kevin Line

Kevin is a lifetime Plantsperson, Horticulturist, Gardener & Conservationist, whose work spans over 40 years. He has worked for the National Trust, BBC Gardeners World and as a Head Gardener (North Cotswolds). Kevin is currently the Plantsperson at Lakeland Leisure Park, Flookburgh, and is also working in the area of conservation and ecology. Prior to that he developed a wildlife garden in Bowness On Windermere for three and a half years. The garden opened in 2019 under the National Gardens Scheme and proceeds were raised for Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

Kevin has a strong passion for wildlife gardening and is a member of Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Butterfly Conservation, and the RSPB. His passion and deep-rooted interests extend to wildlife & habitat conservation.

Kevin plans in the near future to start his own Wildlife Gardening Consultancy business.