How to get Bees, Butterflies and other Insects into your city garden

Don’t use pesticides in the garden

As I lived in my new house, and read about gardening and bee colony collapse, I became conscious of the role that gardens can play in keeping bees alive. However, unfortunately, the same pesticides that threaten bees in agriculture, are also used to keep the plants we buy free from bugs.

I found this out too late, but it strengthens my resolve to rely only on plants that can last several years, so even if pesticides were used by the cultivator, at least the chemicals will not be added to the soil every year – just in the year I planted the plants. New plants will be either home grown or bought from an organic cultivator.

Needless to say that I am not using pesticides in my garden.

The sunflowers and hollyhock are especially good for bees, so I hope they seed themselves out and stay. The hazelnut, aronia and hawthorn will be good for bees and butterflies as well, when they mature. This year none of them have flowers yet. I also have lavender and heuchera. Unfortunately, I bought the lavender before realizing that pesticides are commonly used in their cultivation.

A home for ladybugs and bees (and other insects)

The Dutch nature foundation ‘Natuurmonumenten’ sells homes for insects. It’s a bit like birdhouses, but meant for wild bees, butterflies and ladybugs.

This one is specifically designed for bees (the top) and ladybugs. On one of the websites I read that ladybugs will like to have some dry leaves in their home, so I’m putting some in the bottom half of my insect-home.

I put it up last night, and the first insects have indeed moved in. However, they are neither ladybugs nor bees, but Earwigs – also, so I’m told, essential to the natural order.

More about insect homes (aka insect hotels)

Allowing for a messy corner

A healthy ecosystem includes rotting plants and insectlife

A messy corner
A messy corner

This is one of my messy corners, hidden behind a large shrub. Plant material that left over from the garden is stacked and allowed to decompose in it’s own time. My garden doesn’t have a handy corner for a compost heap, but this is a decent alternative. The result will not be compost, but the soil will be enriched and all kinds of bugs and insects will call it their home, creating a nice little biotope.

The reason insect-homes have become a thing is precisely that people tend to have such clean gardens. In my case I decided to have both: messy corners AND an insect-hotel.

I have also put a few stray brick under bushes – hidden from people who may want to use them to break into my home, and nice for insects.

Allowing for ‘weeds’


In the back of the main garden, where I planted sunflowers, hawthorn, hazelnut and aronia (all plants that can become quite large), I’m not weeding out what naturally shows up. Instead I just let this corner of the garden be a bit wilder.

Again, this is part of the organic nature of my garden. It means plants that naturally occur in this climate will grow and give seeds to birds as well as help butterflies and bees. As these plants die in autumn, they will enrich the soil, binding nutrients and improving the structure.

Does this create problems?

No, because those weeds will never really compete with the plants I planted. Those bushes will make roots deep in the soil, so they’re not competing for food or water. And as for light: weeds will never outgrow a hawthorn bush. It just doesn’t.

Bee and Butterfly friendly Flowers

When getting new plants, check out whether they’re the kind that bees can feast on. You’d think it makes no difference, but it does. Here are some of the variables:

  • Avoid plants with double or multi-petalled flowers. Even if they do have nectar and pollen, insects often don’t have access to it.
  • Use plants native to the area: local insects will know what to do with them. Extra points for planting local plants that are becoming rare and host to rare types insects and bees.
  • Combine plants that flower in different seasons, so that bees have food throughout the year.

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