Weed or Wild Flower?

Weed or Wild Flower?

Shaking Aquilegia seed heads. Photo Kevin Line.

Some plants tip the balance as to what is regarded as a weed/wild flower or a cultivated plant. But I think we should embrace them for their value to wildlife, and not as gardening misfits!

I observed in shock and horror recently at the brutal destruction of the bright yellow flowering perennial Lysimachia  vulgaris  (yellow loosestrife) from a beautiful mixed flowering border. The plant is native to the wetlands and damp meadows and forests of south and east Europe. 

It's just one of those brightly coloured perennials that gardeners/horticulturalists, love, or loath! Certainly, just for its bright coloured yellow flowers alone, which doesn't always sit well into the colour pallette of some gardeners, it's despised, coupled with that of it being classified as a weed. 

The perennial is  one of those flowering subjects you will spot in country hedgerows and lanes, and indeed we have it just beyond our garden boundary, but it also adorns the local Quaker Meeting House garden (wonderful). It's easy to tax the mind and explore, does it seed from hedgerows to garden, or visa versa? Maybe we need to come back to that on another occasion!

I love to keep it in any garden, and it's so important to appreciate the value to wildlife. The flowers have no nectar, but they are packed with pollen which attracts bees, and mainly hoverflies. 

Spot the hoverfly on the image. This image was taken early morning between 5.30- 6am, the gentle hum of the hoverflies was incredible, and although their comings and goings were like a busy train station, it still took me a good 15 mins to secure this image.

The image of the Lysimachia in the foreground of the mossy stump is a great example of a gem of a garden corner for attracting insects. The combination of the plant and stump is a fine example of a natural haven for wildlife.

But it's not just the pollen that draws them in. I've undertaken some research and patient observation which also shows that insects are attracted to brightly coloured flowers too in the colour spectrum. 

If the Lysimachia becomes too invasive in the garden, for the sake of preserving insect life, it's a good idea to just trim the stems and flowers back to localise its position to work with the other plants, and still attract the bees and hoverflies. The situation I recently witnessed has now greatly reduced the hoverflies and bees from that garden (sorry, but that's not gardening!). 

Referring back to the May blog, let's just take a look at the action since, in the unmown lawn, because it's interesting to analyse all that's happening. 

Various bird species are coming in to feed from the seeds of the vetch, the pistils of the oxe-eye daisy interestingly form landing pads for butterflies. The black knapweed is currently in full flower and really bringing in the bees to do their work. In the depths of the unmown grass I have spotted slow worms and frogs! 

Seasonal planting to encourage bees

I have recently been planting Agastache Blue Boa (giant hyssop). This perennial is full of beautiful deep violet blue flowers, excellent for attracting insects. This Agastache flowers from July to October in any good soil in full sun to form part of a perennial flowering border.  Just look at the perianth (outer petals). Why wouldn't any bee or insect be attracted to that? Apart from flower colour attracting insects, it's the plant morphology (structure) that also plays a part, (a fascinating in-depth study) - I pay reference to: The Pollination Of Flowers - Michael Proctor & Peter Yeo, 1973 (New Naturalist Series).

From the plantsman's perspective, I like to keep monitoring the flowering perennials that are attracting the bees, butterflies etc. It's important to build up a catalogue of plant records for this purpose. 

Agapanthus from Africa are now in flower, these are great for attracting bumblebees and solitary bees. 

I caught sight of this hoverfly within the throat of this Penstemon flower. Penstemon are great for insects flowering from May to October, a good nectar source and attract bees, ladybirds and lacewings too! 

The Monarda didyma (bee balm) is living up to its name attracting the bees onto the amazing flowers. 

Seasonal Task 

A very satisfying and rewarding job to undertake is to shake and rattle out the seeds of Aquilegia. It's a prolific self seeder, but if you have it in your garden,  by undertaking  this task you can encourage it to grow in more desirable  areas to attract beneficial insects from next spring if lucky, at the most, two years to flower from seed.

I'm shaking the seeds into a bare/worn shady grass area. Get cracking for wildlife!


Shaking Aquilegia seed heads. Photo Kevin Line

Shaking Aquilegia seed heads. 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 works as a freelance horticultural plant consultant which includes advising clients on planting for wildlife friendly  gardens. He was previously the plantsperson at Lakeland Leisure Park, Flookburgh, 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, Botanical Society Of Britain & Ireland and the RSPB. His passion and deep-rooted interests extend to wildlife & habitat conservation.