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  • Writer's pictureTony Kendle

Timing is everything

Everything you see happening in the garden happens for a reason, millions of years of evolution has creatively solved a problem.

One common problem that all life faces, is how to share resources and get to them safely, birds and insects time their flights to when there are few potential dangers and when food is readily available. Flowers too adjust their behaviour to suit their pollinators. One consequence is that different flowers choose different times to open.

This was proven in 1745 in Sweden when Carl Linnaeus made the world’s first flower clock. In Uppsala he planted a clock with different segments of flowers, by which he was able to tell the time of day. Here are the patterns of flower opening he observed, although this can be disrupted by poor weather. 5:00 am: Poppy, 6:00 am: Bindweed 7:00 am: Coltsfoot, Dandelion 8:00 am: Cowslip 10:00 am: Sorrel 11:00 am: Common sow-thistle 12:00 pm: Iceplant 4:00 pm: Marvel of Peru 8:00 pm: Evening primrose As evening approaches the flowers that are moth pollinated begin to open and the bee pollinated flowers often close.

Who are the really early risers?

If flowers really do open as early as 5am, what could the point, surely it will be too cold for pollinators? Amongst birds, the earliest risers are those with the biggest eyes - robins and blackbirds are good at hunting in twilight. Many small bees are not hairy, in fact they look like flies, you will tend to find them flying later in the day. There is some speculation that bumblebees evolved their shaggy coats to keep themselves warm in early spring and early mornings.

The first insects to emerge

Usually the first insects to emerge in the spring are the hibernators, the ones who fed on the last of the flowers (often ivy flowers) and found a warm dry place to lockdown through the dark cold times.

There are many hibernating insects we find in Britain. No surprises that spiders are among them, a few butterflies are on the list - peacock, comma, brimstone and small tortoiseshell may all be found sleeping in a quiet place, in sheds, holes, log piles and sometimes in the house.

Bumblebees, wasps and mining bees (wall bees or those that live in holes on the lawn) are also among the earliest to return to flying.

Honey bees can survive in their colonies, feeding on stored pollen and honey, and keeping each other warm by exercising.

To support these hardy creatures we should ensure our gardens have the earliest or latest flowers, ivy, Michaelmas daisies are vital for late autumn, pussy willow, celandine and dandelions are life givers in the spring.

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