Putting up a little Bee ‘n’ B

The bees might be hibernating at the moment, but it won’t be long until they’ll be looking for food and places to stay. It’s time to get the garden bee-friendly.

Once again, family friend Anne gave me a fantastic gardening Christmas present last month.

A bee hotel

It’s about the size and shape of a standard bird box, but instead of being sealed with one hole at the front, it is open with dozens of holes at the front – as it’s filled with bamboo. The RSPB have a nice guide on making one.

A bee hotel attached to my shed
My new bee hotel is up and ready for guests. Breakfasts are not included, but can be found nearby.

The idea is that bees (like solitary bees) will come along and seek shelter, and they’ll be able to check-in at my bee hotel whilst they wait for safety, and can then resume their visit to my garden.

I’ve never had one of these before, but I’ve often seen them around in garden centres, so I will be interested to see how this fares in my garden. It was a bit tough to get it onto my shed – not through any fault in the bee hotel’s design, more of a lack of opportunity on my shed’s part, so for now it’s on an end. Hopefully it won’t blow off in the inevitable March/April gales.

Last year she gave me a pair of shears and loads of packets of seeds, the latter of which made my garden pretty with some new sowings – particularly the Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’ and Monarda ‘Austromontana Bee’s Favourite’ flowers.

Sweet Sultan Mixed purple flower
Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’ were wonderful – and a new plant for me in 2017.

The shears will certainly come in handy when my persuasion hedge wakes up and has grown a bit more, but I guess I can practice on the inevitable Blackberry growth at the bottom of my garden.

Early food for emerging bees

For now though, it’s far too cold for the bees, but in a few weeks they may begin to emerge. In the last couple of years I’ve always tried to meet them with Crocuses, so that they get that essential early food, and I’m pleased to say that my first planting of crocuses in my new garden are up… I just hope the rest are on their way too. I managed to lift some of the Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs from my old house before I left, and I hope to see them again real soon.

Crocus 'Giant Ruby' on flower.
Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ on flower.

I also intentionally and coincidentally brought some of the Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrid Mixed’ X-generation plants with me too, and I’ve planted these into suitable areas. Hopefully their colourful spires will soon begin to shoot up too.

I’m now in the depths of garden planning, and raring to go, whilst bingeing on allotment videos. My Friday night was spent mostly watching a chain of YouTubers explaining how they sow and harvest turnips!

Anyway, wrap up warm, and get those seed catalogues out – I’ve already heavily thumbed the Suttons Seeds Catalogue. It won’t be long until we need to start sowing again.

Thanks for reading, and happy gardening

Andrew

A Crocus fanfare for 2017

A fanfare of Crocuses usher in Spring.

Spring has arrived.

The sun has put in a few appearances, and the birds are singing. The bulbs are up, and the depressing morning scrape of the early morning car windscreen seems like a distant memory already.

Of course, it could easily revert back to give us the coldest winter since records began. In late March 2013 for example, my garden was covered in snow, and my Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ flowers were peeking out from under it.

Thankfully, they’re not hidden so far this year, and their cheery purple flowers are an uplifting dash of colour every day, as well as acting like massive advertising billboards for any sleepy and hungry bee that’s emerging from its nest.

Crocus 'Giant Ruby' flowers
My Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs have brought colour and bee food to the garden every year without fail.

In October, my uncle died. His garden was packed with pots – all blank, alluding to mysteries beneath the compost. In a bid to move these pots, my mother and I emptied the whole lot – discovering tulips, daffodils, Crown Imperials, and even a few potatoes. Whilst most of these bulbs have now gone off to my mother’s garden, I shared some of the pots, and these are now home to the bulbs that I’d recently bought.

Whilst clearing out one of his sheds, I found a plastic bucket with some random bulbs in – I couldn’t identify them – some were small and round, others were long straggly and thin. It felt right to let life carry on, and to enjoy whatever these were on his behalf. So, I’ve planted them in a pot labelled ‘mystery bulbs’ and I guess we’ll find out in a few months.

Are bulbs on flower in your garden yet? Any new ‘first-time’ blooms?

Happy gardening.

Andrew

Welcoming Spring with new plants and a splash of colour

Now that we have proof that Spring is actually coming, I’ve been tidying up the garden, planning ahead, and uncovering the colourful bulbs.

Finally the sunshine has come and it now begins to feel like Spring has arrived. It’s time to get the garden moving again.

On Saturday I sat having breakfast with the windows open, enjoying the sunshine and non-arctic fresh air, and I could hear the Sparrows chattering on the roof, and some Doves cooing somewhere off in the distance.

Inspired by this sudden heatwave, like probably thousands of others, I ventured off to the garden centre to look for something new for the garden.

Rosemary Upright
My new upright Rosemary plant. I often use Rosemary in cooking.

I found a new upright Rosemary plant to replace the one that was killed during the Winter before last (feels good to say that – adds a sense of distance!).

I also decided to go and look for some new flower seeds – something cheerful, but also something that can handle the partial shade of one end of my garden.

The Light in the shade

I’ve chosen some Aubrieta ‘Cheeky Mix’ – a perennial that spreads and comes out in a range of colours. These aren’t likely to flower this year  – these will come into their own in 2014, but need to be sown now.

Next up was three Begonia ‘Prima Donna Pink’ bulbs which apparently have ‘strong stems for pots or gardens’. These will flower in a bright frilly pink in about July time, reaching a high of 10 inches. The bulbs look near lifeless, but i’ll get them started in pots and hopefully they’ll soon spring to life and be ready for planting out in a pot in the garden – to brighten that partially shaded spot.

I also got outside and tidied up a few stray branches and seed heads and stumbled across a blue Hyacinth in flower. It’s come up right next to the Buddleja – too close really.

Hyacinth
The welcome blue of the Hyacinth, but it’ll have to be moved a bit for next year.

And finally, the Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ and some Narcissi have recovered from the snow, and are looking bright and cheery. So far, i’ve spotted one bumblebee!

Crocus 'Giant Ruby' meets some Narcissi
Looking much happier without the snow.

Snow Wars: A New Hope

Despite the constant onslaught of snow, the bulbs are determined to put on a good show.

Saw these peeping out from the snow. There is hope yet!Crocuses in the snow

These crocuses  are ones that I planted in 2012 (the yellowy ones – Crocus ‘Golden Bunch’) and 2011 (the purple ones – Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’and whilst the yellowy ones have been leading the way up until the last few days, the purple ones have caught up.

However, whilst they’re poised to bloom like last year, but they’re now covered with snow. Snow fell again yesterday whilst I was in London, seeing me return to a ‘good’ 3″ covering, and it’s snowing right now as I type.

Crocus 'Giant Ruby' in bloom
These were the same purple crocuses ‘Giant Ruby’ on 11th March 2012. A slight contrast.

Crocuses and Tulips usher in the warmer weather

Making the most of a sunny February day, I have ventured into the garden to check on the new bulbs and see which plants survived the -11C weather.

The Crocus and Tulip bulbs that I planted in Autumn 2012 are making great progress in the garden.

Today has seemed like the first time in a long long time that it hasn’t been so bitterly cold, snowy, icy, or rainy, that everyone has been forced to stay indoors and peer longingly outside at their garden.

In this last week, I have been able to have a quick look at its progress, but today has been sunny and dry enough to actually go and explore properly.

The yellow Crocus ‘Golden Bunch are ahead of the purple Crocus ‘Giant Ruby that I planted back in Autumn 2011, and are poised to open up and provide that essential early food source for bees.

Crocus 'Golden Bunch' on flower.
My Crocus ‘Golden Bunch’ flowers emerge.

Joining them are two types of Tulips (also planted last Autumn) – Tulip ‘Negrita (a deep crimson red), and Tulip ‘Madonna (a later flower white flower with green edges).

Tulip 'Negrita' and Tulip 'Madonna'
Tulip ‘Negrita’ and Tulip ‘Madonna’
Bulbs for 2013
The bulbs were planted in Autumn 2012.

Also, I have amazed myself at having actually seen that for the first time in this garden – the Strawberry plants have survived a winter. Despite the -11C temperatures and being buried under snow, they’ve held on, including the new plants that I raised from the runners. Fingers crossed they can hold on for a bit longer and eventually provide the tasty fruits that they managed last year.

Is your garden now waking up too? Did you lose much in the cold weather? How well are your bulbs doing?

Crocus Giant Ruby welcome Spring 2012

Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ on full flower – spring seems to have arrived.

Crocus 'Giant Ruby' on flower.
Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ and now all out on flower.

Just wanted to quickly share this photo of a few of the Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs on full flower.

This morning the windows have been opened, the birds are singing, and it’s intermittent jumper weather. Yes, it feels like Spring has arrived (for this weekend at least).

These were planted back in October/November.

The Crocuses awake!

The Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs have grown and are about to flower, and some of the veg are already growing.

The Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs that I planted back in October, are now right on the cusp of opening after months of growing up through the soil – and for a few weeks, snow as well.

Crocus 'Giant Ruby' bulbs about to flower
Some of the Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs that have grown and are ready to flower.

I planted around 70 bulbs and it would appear that most are doing something. Many have the dash of purple as above, whilst the ones that I planted during November are somewhat behind (I planted them because the Antirrhinums just wouldn’t die!).

I’ve seen a few bees around (including a big fat bumble bee inside a Tube train on the District Line of London Underground the other day!), so hopefully those that have woken early will find these and feed on them – as it’s absolutely crucial for bees to get this early food in order to survive.

Getting a head-start with the vegetables

I sowed some seeds back in the middle of January, and these have been busily growing in my propagator. The Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ have grown very fast and I have been busy nipping out the tips of the plants so that they grow strong and sturdy (and don’t grow too much before i can plant them out). Hopefully these will be far enough ahead that they will survive if/when the aphids swarm again.

Pepper (Sweet) 'Friggitello' seedlings
Pepper (Sweet) ‘Friggitello’ seedlings

The Pepper (Sweet) ‘Friggitello’ seedlings have been steadily growing, alongside my second attempt at growing Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’. I have high hopes for these Peppers, and as I sit here typing, I’m reading the packet which describes them as ‘small, very sweet, conical fruits. Perfect for stir-fries’, I’m looking forward to them even more.  These should be ready to harvest between July and October (about the same time as the Aubergines) – so they’ve got a while yet.

I do believe spring is here!

jobs for the weekend

This weekend I aim to do the following:

  • Remove weeds and any dead foliage from the garden.
  • Sow Chives and Parsley indoors (remember that Gardeners’ World kit?)
  • Check up on the Strawberries – the cold weather once again gave them a hammering and I’m not sure how well they’re coping at the moment.

A dash of colour in the snow

Snow and severely low temperatures have come as a shock to some plants, whilst others carry on regardless.

Heavy snow and very low temperatures have struck the garden in the last few days. The Wallflower ‘Ruby Gem’ plants that I planted out recently took a real battering from the severely low temperatures, and my Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ (that i’d grown from seed) have met with a real shock too.

Blue Polyanthus flowers peek out from the snow.
The blue of the Polyanthus peeks out from the snow.

Despite these wintery conditions, there have been some flashes of colour – the blue Polyanthuses have been peeping out, and the Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs are reaching upwards with their lush green growth out. Other bulbs are also happily growing too, and even the Daylily ‘Hemerocallis Bonanza’ are beginning to wake up.

How is your garden faring? Is there colour in your borders? Are there plants living far beyond their usual life expectancy? Let me know in the comments below…

The Crocuses arrive

The Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs have begun to peep through the soil.

Remember those crocus bulbs I bought and planted out a few months ago? Well, they’ve just started to peep through the soil, and it looks like a pretty good success rate too.

Crocus 'Giant Ruby' begin to peep through
Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ begin to peep through

I planted 70 Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs back at the end of October (a few in November too, once those Antirrhinums had *finally* given up and made space for them)  so that they would provide much-needed early food for the bees that would be coming out of hibernation.

Snowdrops do pretty much the same job, but I’m not really a big fan of their pale flowers. Hopefully these crocuses will fill the garden with some early colour whilst preparing the bees for another busy year.

Planning the garden for 2012

Andrew looks back at the successes and failures of 2011, and plans for 2012!

This weekend, I once again found myself buying seeds for next year. This is a fairly addictive habit of mine. So whilst my local Huntingdon Garden and Leisure was thick with shoppers, pushing and shoving their way round calendars and Christmas decorations, I headed off into the opposite direction towards the pots, propagators and seeds.

2011 wasn’t great for my courgettes with both of the Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ plants succumbing to a mildew. This is perhaps partly because I planted my Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ so thickly, that air wasn’t able to circulate around the courgette leaves to dry them and avoid the outbreak.

The Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ plants were reluctant. Out of 7 plants (3 kept in a greenhouse, 4 grown outside), 1 died outside suddenly, leaving 6 plants. None of them produced a harvestable Aubergine, with one of the outdoor plants producing a fruit that you could practically inhale instead. It’s still there. The fruit hasn’t grown and the plant hasn’t died. It’s almost as if it’s just switched off!

Finally, the first Aubergine begins
Seven aubergine plants, and not one harvestable fruit!

Blogging chum ‘Scyrene’, who has a tomato addiction and writes the brilliant ‘The Gourmand’s Progress’, suggests that I sow the Aubergine seeds in a propagator in January in a bid to get that little bit further on. So, I will try again (on a smaller scale). If you have any tips on growing aubergines, please let me know in the comments!

My Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ took a real hammering from those pesky aphids / greenfly, with ladybirds moving in far too late to deal with them. This aside, I will try growing them again, as they tried hard to recover from the ordeal.

Speaking of ‘sweet’ – my little collection of Strawberry plants (Strawberry ‘Fragaria x ananassa Elsanta’ in particular), did well. Okay, so I only have 4 plants, but they kept going even when there wasn’t a great deal of sunshine around. I’ll hopefully find myself with an expanded crop of these in 2012.

Blue is the colour

My observations this year, is that everyone’s friend the bee, loves blue flowers. With this in mind, I took cuttings of the existing Lavender that was in the garden already, as it was very popular with them. In addition, I have one of those freebie packets of Thompson & Morgan Lavender ‘French’ from the Amateur Gardening magazine, which seems to be the same type.

Added to this will be Salvia ‘Farinacea – Victoria’ from Suttons Seeds – giving the garden another shot of blue. My Salvia ‘Nemerosa Ostfriesland’ was very popular with the bees this summer, so hopefully this will build on it.

…and the rest…

Foxgloves are ready to escape
The Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’, grown from seed, have been planted out.

Already planted out are the now matured Foxglove Excelsior ‘Hybrids Mixed’Wallflower ‘Ruby Gem’, and the Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ which should be flowering early next year.

I also picked up a packet of Suttons Seeds Night Scented Stock ‘Matthiola Bicornis’ – as I would like to see if I can get some plants that are fragrant. The Sweet Peas are supposed to be, but I never smelt anything (perhaps they were just stressed by the aphids?).

Having read many praises for their fragrance from Sean James Cameron on Twitter (a presenter on The Horticultural Channel), I’ve decided to give them a go too.

All set!

So, I’m already set up for 2012! 2011 has been great for learning in a new garden – which is both windy and shaded, and despite some failures, it has been very enjoyable to grow things from seed, nurture them to maturity and then see them grow and bloom for both myself and the wildlife to enjoy.