The wildlife-friendly garden in June is awash with potential stories, there are so many things happening. But for today, I'm going with the plant that is screaming out to be noticed at the moment in my garden: the poppy.
In fact, I may have jumped the gun in terms of visual spectacle because, although my swathe of Opium Poppies (above) is already pretty dramatic, there are hundreds more blooms to open.
Next door to them in my Seaside Garden is a poppy that offers quite a contrast, my Yellow-horned Poppies, collected as seed from a beach in Norfolk.
Elsewhere in the garden, my Welsh Poppies are now over, but were a welcome splash of yellow earlier in the season, and I'm hopeful that my cornfield annual mix will put on a display of Field Poppies starting in a fortnight or so, although I doubt I'll quite manage a display like this that I took in a field up on the South Downs a couple of years ago.
So, what value do poppies have for wildlife? Well, they are great for various pollinators, especially bees. It has been quite chilly and sunless here this week so all I was able to photograph for you was some Honeybees visiting the Opium Poppies:
However, there have been various solitary bees and hoverflies in the flowers, too, and that is typical with most poppies.
The term 'pollinator' is particularly apt with poppies because they are unusual in having no nectaries and hence no nectar. It is that great ring of pollen-laden stamens you see in the photo above that is the lure, looking like an Elizabetham neck ruff around the bulging carpel (the female parts of the flower).
It can surprise people that hoverflies will eat pollen - with only a sucking tube for mouthparts, you might think they were only fit for taking in liquids, but they will quite happily hoover up pollen, too.
It is also likely that birds and maybe Wood Mice will eat the seeds that poppies tend to produce in copious amounts.
Of course, the other brilliant thing about poppies is that they look amazing to our eyes, and they can be pretty easy to grow. Those crepe petals (typically in fours), the stunning colours, the decorative seedpods make them justifiably popular.
The main types to try are:
Given that so many arable weeds have been eradicated from our fields, to the vast detriment of seed-eating farmland birds such as Turtle Doves, it might come as a welcome surprise to see the great masses of Field Poppies that sometimes turn whole fields red.
The reason for this is because the Field Poppy has developed resistance to herbicides. However, in 2018 a new herbicide was brought onto the market that contains a 'ground-breaking molecule' that will kill the poppies and a whole range of other arable weeds. Enjoy scenes such as this (below) while you can:
It seems our gardens will become ever more important in holding onto the flowers - and hence the wildlife - that once filled our countryside. I fervently believe that our role as wildlife-friendly gardeners has never been more important.
I have a large red oriental poppy and while it looks nice it has been a bit of a disappointment as it hasn't really opened fully, the flower is starting to fade now and the bees always seem to go for the Welsh poppies I have near it instead.
I will indeed, thanks Russell. Expect something soon
Would you consider doing an article on Knepp, and how it can be applied to the garden? I especially like their philosophy on leaving things alone as much as possible which I am trying to reproduce in my garden! It is obviously difficult to replicate wild horses, boar and cattle, however digging up a few clumps of grass, divots, not filling in holes and churning things around a bit should help. I'm already mowing my lawn much less to allow it to become a bit of a meadow, which I hope my wife doesn't notice!
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