What a lift to have warm and sunny weather! It reaches those parts that nothing else can reach.
Such a busy time of year: keeping weeds at bay, planting out tender plants, watering, feeding, protecting against pests both furry and slimy.


I had to squash a New Zealand flatworm (pictured) the other day. It arrived on a plant from a friend. Check your pots carefully and show the flatworms no mercy. They feed on our native earthworms and in some parts of the country the flatworms are reported to have decimated their populations.


I don’t like squashing or poisoning or killing things by any methods. However, and I’m sure imagination comes into it, there is something that radiates evil about the flatworms, and I feel no regrets.


On a brighter subject, are you thinking about ways of providing food year around for the many beasties we want to support in the garden? ‘Colour year around’ is a target that many aspire to, and inevitably there are gaps that we would like to fill. Fortunately, CYA (sorry!) also means food year around.


It comes down to growing as large a variety of plants as we can.
Over the winter and early spring months, we can provide snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils. There are early daffodils and late daffodils. They are followed/overlapped by scillas, chionadoxas, fritillarias, and many more bulbs.


Early spring perennials tend to be drawn from plants that are naturally accustomed to growing in deciduous woodland. Their lifecycle reflects the times when light levels are high. So up they come in the spring, when light can still come streaming through the as-yet leaf-bare trees: there are primulas and bluebells (ok, these are bulbs), trilliums, epimediums, montias, red campions, corydalis and lots of others. They grow, flower, set seed and start to die back as the tree leaves above develop and the ground below is plunged into deep shade. Some perennials are adaptable and will grow in full sun.


Perennials come into flower continuously from early spring onward and will provide food for early and timely emergent insects. Moths, butterflies, beetles and others lay their eggs after a good feast and their offspring emerge just as the woodland birds (the tits, blackbirds, thrushes, warblers etc) are hunting for food for their babies. Each bird can bag hundreds of caterpillars a day.
Many trees have early flowers. Willows and sallows have catkins; cherries, pears, rowans and maples are followed by oaks and ashes. Each in their time provide pollen and/or nectar for insects. Some trees are very showy.


Many of our garden trees have been bred from native species to be a more ornamental (bigger flowers, better autumn colour) or be a more suitable size for gardens. I’m not a purist as regards planting only natives, though I would be sure that any tree I planted had wildlife value, which many of the ornamentals do.


Avoid any that have double flowers, i.e., those with lots of frilly petals. The extra petals are produced at the cost of the sexual parts of the flower. While they look lovely, they have no style, stigma or anthers. This means no pollen or nectar is produced and they are useless for insects needing food. And since they have no seeds, they provide no food for birds, either.


Some shrubs begin to flower in March. The forsythias are good ballast, and the shrubby loniceras have the wonderful perfume that honeysuckle (a close cousin) has. I find I value scent in the garden more each year. It lifts my spirits. I wonder at times whether insects or birds have the same reaction? The plants’ scent is produced to attract pollinators, not for us, and they provide a good food source.
Which brings us to June, when it is time to plan ahead at herbaceous level and the biennials start to shine now. Biennials complete their lifecycle within two years.


Sown now, they grow a rosette or a low plant which overwinters. Then in early spring the plant is well ahead of the game. It already has a good root system and lots of leaves photosynthesizing like mad, so it has all the energy it needs to produce flowering stems. They have a head start competing for light and nutrients and are well ahead of weed seedlings.


Honesty, foxgloves, sweet williams and many others start opening out. They are a useful gap-filler until the summer annuals and perennials kick in. Many of them self-seed, so with a bit of judicious weeding we can save seedlings, move them about, and save ourselves sowing new seed year on year.


Summer is usually provided for. We have our hardy annuals (candytuft, sunflowers, night scented stocks, poppies, calendulas); half-hardy annuals (petunias, cosmos); perennials, shrubs, trees, roses and climbers all getting into the act. Even the mosses and liverworts are flowering.


Late summer may need a little thought as flowering plants may have ‘gone over’ (stopped flowering). They may be geared to develop their pollinated flowers into seeds and fruits (containing seeds) so that the next generation is assured. We can go with that. Many seeding and fruiting trees are very ornamental and attract birds in great numbers.


But there are many herbaceous perennials and some shrubs that could be flowering into late summer and onward. If you feed them occasionally and regularly dead head your plants (which means snipping off the flower head once it has finished flowering), the plants often produce more flowers.


Some plants such as some roses have a very definite flowering period, and nothing will prolong it. But they may form rose hips, a fruit which looks attractive and is eaten by birds.
Buddleia is a classic for attracting wildlife, and benefits from deadheading. We had 17 peacock butterflies on a single buddleia a few years ago. There were sedums nearby, the big fleshy Sedum spectabile, and some rudbeckias, all flowering. It was a feast for peacock, red admiral, and tortoiseshell butterflies, all enjoying the spoils.


It is a good idea to plant such a group in full afternoon sun as it is more likely to attract the butterflies for a longer period. A nettle patch in the sun is also beneficial. Make sure it is a metre square as a minimum.
By late summer/early autumn the fruit starts to ripen. Many of our plums dropped last year or were blown off the trees, and the wasps and butterflies were in seventh heaven. Wasps are carnivorous in the early part of the year as they are feeding their young, who need protein. Later in the year they are (allegedly) much more vegetarian and nectar oriented and also enjoy rotting fruit.
I say ‘allegedly’ as we allowed a nest to develop in the eaves of the house. After a while they found their way in, and we both had a daily job of catching and ejecting them from inside the house. And we both got stung. Sigh. It is more painful than I remembered, and fortunately we have not got an allergy to bee or wasp sting.


Ivy flowers in late autumn and provides late food for wasps and moths. Seed heads and flower stalks provide both food and shelter for insects right through the winter months. Leave them as long as you can before cutting back.
Any windfall fruits are much appreciated by birds when the ground is frozen, so don’t compost them. Elders ripen berries in autumn, and these can be frozen for hard times. Apples store well in trays in a cool shed/garage. We have a fig in the polytunnel. I freeze excess fruits for the birds. Humans prefer them fresh.


So, keep adding flowers and looking out for gaps, and you will find ways to fill them. Let’s do what we can to support our smaller neighbours.