As the Chelsea Flower Show runs from 25 to 29 May this year, we thought we’d get Kenneth Freeman, Head of Ambius University and International Technical Director of Ambius to talk to us about the show itself and constructing the perfect garden for attracting some lovely insects.
An introduction to the Chelsea Flower Show
Ambius used to be a regular exhibitor at Chelsea and the Hampton Court Palace flower show. We started by exhibiting in the education and science section (Lifetime Learning in the Garden), where we won several medals, including our Chelsea Gold medal.
In 2002, we were asked to fill in a vacant space in the main marquee, which we did, but only on the condition that it was judged. It was, and we won the first of several Silver Gilt medals.
Our last exhibition was in 2008. We stopped exhibiting in 2009 due to the long-term ill health of our exhibit designer, and changing market conditions which made exhibiting at Chelsea less important for us.
Still, Chelsea is the premier flower show in the world.
It is incredibly prestigious. Not only that, but it is the apex of horticulture – only the best are invited to exhibit (and exhibition is strictly by invitation).
My favourite plants have always been the ones displayed by the Kirstenbosch botanic gardens in Cape Town. They never fail to produce the most stunning displays and their Proteas are the plants that make the display extra special. There are always some impressive displays from the various Caribbean islands as well, all out to compete with each other.
The ideal garden for attracting insects
If you want to attract insects, you might feel like you have to choose between native and non-native plants. But the line between native species and introduced plants is very blurred.
There are plants that we grow and have been naturalized for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, such as those brought to England by the Romans. Are they native or introduced? Many introduced plants have immense benefits for wildlife, and I have no problem with them being here.
What we must be careful of is the introduction of species that we know little about.
I suppose risk assessments would be needed these days, but that is probably not a bad thing if it prevents introductions of species as damaging as Japanese knot weed or Himalayan Balsam.
So which plants attract “good” insects like bees and butterflies and which ones attract “bad” insects like wasps? Well, I would dispute the anthropromorphic view of “good” and “bad” insects – all insects do what they have to do, and we shouldn’t apply our human values to them.
As for attracting bees and butterflies, flowers are clearly important, especially those with nectar and pollen.
It is likely that wild species (weeds) are better at doing this as they have not been bred to produce other attributes at the expense of natural pollination. Plants co-evolved with pollinating insects, so those that are most naturally in tune with the local insect fauna will be best able to attract the many insects found on the planet.
I don’t know of any plants that attract wasps as such – they tend to have biting jaws rather than nectar-sucking mouth parts, so they tend to eat woody materials.
Overall, my ideal garden would be bigger and not spoiled by dogs and children. And preferably tended by a gardener. Seriously, a garden such as Great Dixter, with its daring combinations of plants, including some hardy exotics, would be great.
Thanks to Kenneth for supplying us with images from Ambius’ previous displays at the Chelsea Flower Show.