First published 12 July 2019 on the Dorset Wildlife Trust website.

Potty about pollinators: It started with a red girdle…

I’d just turned 39, it was 2004 and I’d taken over a fairly large, and fairly overgrown garden in Corfe Mullen, Dorset.

To say I was floundering is an understatement. In that first year I cut everything back at the wrong time, dug up plants thinking they were weeds and ran away from a slow-worm (thinking it was a snake). I was in over my head but I was loving it.

It’s taken a while but slowly I’ve learnt the more time you spend in a garden the more it gets under your skin, and under your nails.

I’ve got to know the plants, have added new ones, learnt about weeds (aka “wild flowers”), and the garden has morphed into a sanctuary for me and the wildlife.

…if you’re imagining a neat, tidy garden, forget it.

I work full-time so if you’re imagining a neat, tidy garden, forget it. I’m going for the ‘semi-wild’ look – mainly because I don’t do ‘neat’ and like a lot of people I don’t have masses of time.

But that doesn’t stop me from nailing my free Dorset Wildlife Trust Wildlife Gardening Champions plaque proudly to the front gate. Wild flowers constantly pop up in the path and drive. I didn’t plant them there but as long as I like the look of them they can stay.

My love of pollinators happened by chance. It was April and I was tidying an overgrown flower bed and kept noticed a little flying insect. It was perched on a leaf next to a white, star shaped flower, a pretty spring bulb called Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum).

At under a centimetre long it looked like it was sporting a very fetching white mustache, red trousers and tiny black socks. Very strange.

I carried on gardening, trying to ignore it, but every time I looked up it was there, staring! This happened the next day and the next. Always on the same leaf, always just ‘hanging around’, waiting and staring.

This bugged me and I decided to find out what it was, and emailed a photo to a friend who’s a bit of a whizz at insect identification.

To my amazement he told me it was a male Red-girdled mining bee (Andrena labiata), a solitary bee (as in, they live a solitary life) and was one of around 250 species of solitary bee in the UK. Apparently Ms Red-Girdle is rather partial to the pollen of Star of Bethlehem flowers and he was hoping for an ‘encounter’. Who knew? Definitely not me.

… tiny but very cute bee hanging around waiting to get his leg-over

It sparked a curiosity. Up until then I’d thought there were just flies, bumblebees and honeybees, but now, here in my semi-urban garden, was this tiny but very cute bee hanging around waiting to get his leg-over. I had to know more.

I bought books, I trawled the internet for useful websites, I joined Facebook pages and groups and took hundreds of photos of crawling, flying, nesting insects and gradually (very gradually) my knowledge of wildlife grew.

15 years later and I’ve now spotted over 400 insects and wild plants in my garden, which includes 57 species of bee and wasp, 36 species of moth, 23 species of fly, 18 species of butterfly, 16 species of beetle and 65 species of wild plants.

So whether you’re at the stage of just discovering your garden, or you’re a seasoned gardener, get ready to be truly amazed and enthralled if you dare to delve into the wonderful world of pollinators.

Once you start seeing them (and they WILL be there) I guarantee that a walk around your garden will never be quite the same again!

Andrena labiata - Red-girdled mining bee
Andrena labiata – Red-girdled mining bee