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

The first Foxglove blooms in the garden

The first foxglove opens in the new garden, along with some Dianthus, and the birds flock to my new bird feeders.

I transplanted (at least) two Foxglove Excelsior Hybrids Mixed from my old house, and put them into my new garden close to a tall fence. This part of the garden gets the sunshine in the morning, before being thrown into shade by lunchtime.

This is fine for foxgloves, they quite like a bit of shade, and so this was the natural position for me to plant them both. One has just come into flower, and the bees are already exploring it’s bell-like pink flowers.

A pink Foxglove 'Excelsior Hybrid Mixed' on flower
The Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrid Mixed’ survived the garden transplantation and is now on flower.

About a foot away is what I think will turn out to be a creamy white one, but it won’t be long until we know for sure.

The garden is so busy now – not only with things for me to do – with planting out, and trying to keep on top of cutting my lawn, but it really has come alive.

Meanwhile, a couple of Dianthus plants that I was given, and that have been tucked away under the canopy of the now-passed Tulips, have begun to flower, adding a nice pinky colour against their dark lush leaves.

Pink Dianthus flowers
The Dianthus flowers look great against their dark green foliage.

I put up two bird feeders last week, and since then I’ve seen Sparrows, Gold Finches, BlueTits, Starlings, Blackbirds, a Robin, Great Tits, a dumpy curious Pigeon, and a sinister big Crow or Rook thing that clears the garden of all other birds when it flies its loop around my neighbourhood.

Fluffy baby Sparrows have been fluttering around, Blackbirds have been inspecting my fence move and every new border and then fighting over my garden (proud!), and large baby Starlings have been sat on the lawn making that awful sound with their beak open expecting the world to be poured in by the plateful.

Plants vs Snails – the endless war

Snails.
Yes, SNAILS. Where the hell do they all keep coming from?

This week has been hot and sunny. This weekend is going to have to be one of planting out and potting up.

I came home the other day to discover that the plants on one of my windowsills had all wilted, but they’ve all seemingly recovered again after a quick soak. Phew! These plants are going to have to be planted out, or they’ll become too lanky or stressed to do anything.

In my last post I noted that I’d planted out my new Lupin ‘The Governor’ plant. Prior to this, there were no snails to be seen. However, knowing what they’ve been like previously, I decided to circle the new lush green plant with some special ‘fizzy sweets’. It worked a treat. The next morning I checked the plant and it was relatively unscathed, but surrounded with abandoned shells.

That evening, I checked again, to find 15 snails within 1 foot of the plant. I swiftly aided them on their way, but it begs me to ask where the hell do all these snails come from?

Despite this, and through the desperation they’ve show to escape my windowsill, I have planted out some of the Sweet Pea ‘Candy Cane’, and the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ plants. This fills one of the cane structures nicely, and again i have circled each plant with those special treats for the snails. I’m hoping that the plants will soon become established, forcing the snails to leave them alone in favour of more tender juicy plants (ie weeds, or something in my neighbour’s garden).

Foxglove 'Excelsior Hybrids Mixed'
One of the Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ plants.

I came home a littler earlier today, to find that some of my Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ plants that I had sowed back in June 2011, and had flowered in 2012, are flowering again. These are welcome in my garden. Not just because of their flower-coated spires that reach upwards, but because they are quite happy in the shade – something my garden gets a lot of.

Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant'
Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ – its stems reach up, with flowery bits every so often

Not far from the foxgloves, is my Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ plant with its soft blue flowers. I’ve checked back to see when the Foxgloves and Nepeta flowered last year – given that we’ve had some pretty rough weather in the first 4 months of the year, and it seems that they’re only about 10 days behind 2012.

This weekend should see the planting out of the rest of the Sweet Peas, the potting up of the Courgettes and Tomatoes, and perhaps the planting out of the Nasturtiums too. Fingers crossed for sunshine, please!

Sunshine coaxes the Foxgloves and I am bee-seiged by ‘friends’

The garden has grown a lot thanks to rain and lots of sunshine – with Foxgloves and others coming into bloom… plus a surge of bees cause a problem!!

After weeks of dreary rain, and then days of hot sunshine, the garden has rapidly grown.

Foxglove 'Excelsior Hybrids Mixed'
The first Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ flowers

Today has seen the first flowers emerging from the lush green growth that has flourished in the recent weather conditions. The Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ that I sowed last year and have spent months nurturing, have finally opened the first of its flowers, having spent the last couple of weeks reaching skywards with long prongs of tightly closed buds. The first of these opened today, but many others have their buds ready to uncurl in the next few days.  It’s very satisfying to see these finally come into flower.

Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant'
The Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ survived the winter.

These Foxgloves were joined by the return of the Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ with its gentle blue flowers that lure bees, and the bright white of the Caraway ‘Carum Carvi’ herb – another survivor of the winter, which probably disgusts mistaken passers-by who wonder why i’m growing ‘Cow Parsley’ (Anthriscus sylvestris).

Caraway 'Carum Carvi'
The Caraway ‘Carum Carvi’ on flower

Anyone following me on twitter will know that after all my efforts to encourage bees to the garden, I have somewhat overdone it…. by getting bees in my loft. Whilst they pose no immediate harm, a bee-keeper will soon be venturing through the loft hatch to coax them out before they do any damage.

In the meantime, their night-time buzzing and strange noises are fascinating, and there’s a distinct warm spot on my ceiling, caused by their nest, which gives an agitated buzzing reply if you gently tap it.

I’ve also planted out some of the Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’, the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ and the Nasturtium ‘Jewel Mixed’ – the latter two no doubt causing great joy amongst the snail herd.

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…

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.

Being Bee Friendly

Bees play a crucial role in the garden and also in the food production industry. Crocuses make the perfect early food for them.

It’s no surprise to anyone who has read my earlier posts, or who knows me, that I love bees and I dream of having my own hive one day. I bought a book called ‘Keeping Bees: Looking After An Apiary’ by Vivian Head some time ago, and watched with interest when Alex Langlands tried bee-keeping on the Victorian Farm series.

Bees are enchanting, and the benefits of their work really are significant in food production. Yet we have taken them for granted for so long.

According to the Cooperative’s ‘Plan Bee’ campaign:

“bees pollinate a third of the food we eat, so without them there would be no apples, onions or even tea!”

A Bee at work
The only bee that I managed to catch on camera.

I’ve been trying to consciously pick plants that bees really like – this has ranged from visiting garden centres and following the buzzing sound until I find the plant they’re going crazy for (as has been the case with the Salvia ‘Nemerosa Ostfriesland’ and the Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’), and reading up on different plants that attract them.

Today I managed to plough my way through the Christmas shoppers (!!) to pick up 70 Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs whilst on a visit to Huntingdon Garden and Leisure. Crocuses are great for bees, because they flower early in about February or March when there are very few other flowers in the garden. This early bloom gives bees the perfect source of food as they hungrily emerge from hibernation.

Crocus 'Ruby Giant'
The Crocus ‘Ruby Giant’ bulbs need to go in now for Spring 2012 colour.

According to Vivian Head, bees also appreciate Winter Aconite, Snowdrops, Gorse, Hazel, Willow and Yew in the spring. I know that I don’t have any of these other plants, trees or bulbs in the limited space that I do have in my garden, so these crocuses will be crucial.

By the time that their flowers begin to die off, my other plants like the Nepeta and Salvia, as well as the 50 Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ that I’ve grown from seed, should be coming into bloom. I only had one foxglove in the garden in 2011, but my shady garden should be awash with towering spires of irresistible bell-shaped flowers for the bees to climb in to.

It’s important to leave a little water out for bees too – even just a shallow dish with a few pebbles in it so that the bees can have a drink without drowning.

Do your bit. Bee Friendly.

The Aubergines Awake

The Aubergines finally wake up; Next year’s colour is ready to plant out; and spiders wrap the garden in their webs.

I’m feeling a tiny bit paternal today having just discovered that one my the seven Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ plants has finally started producing a berry (apparently they aren’t botanically classed as ‘fruit’).

aubergine-plants-awake
The Aubergines begin to emerge…

Having sown seven seeds back in March, all of which germinated and then giving three plants to my mother (who has grown hers on in a greenhouse), and tended to the remaining four in a large basket in my garden, this will be the very first ‘berry’ from all six plants (one plant collapsed and died a month or so ago).

The clock is now ticking though, with night time temperatures sometimes coming in at about 8C degrees and all these foggy mornings, it won’t be long until the cold snap comes and kills the plants off.

Will this aubergine be worth harvesting?

Elsewhere in the garden, I bought some Wallflower ‘Ruby Gem’ the other weekend from Twenty Pence Garden Centre, so these need planting out, as do the 50 or so Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’  which I have carefully tended to from seed. The Foxgloves will love the shade, and in turn the bees will love them. Both of these will bring colour to the garden next year.

Spider!
One of many garden spiders (Araneus diadematus, apparently)

About 15 beautiful spiders have been covering the garden in very large and strong cobwebs. There’s few birds in my garden, so these beautiful arachnids (Araneus Didadematus) spend their day sitting in the middle of their webs. I’m struggling to catch a good photograph of them though – their colourings are amazing and the photo above just doesn’t do them justice.

Everywhere I step I seem to be just a few inches away from a spider web or a spider – sometimes at face height.

The Rose returns and next year’s garden is growing

The Rose returns to bloom; the Foxgloves for next year have been potted-on; the Rocket is almost ready to pick.

This week, the inherited and anonymous Rose bush has started its second season of flowering. It’s first season tends to be more pinky before having about 6 weeks off, and this second session (which the camera just couldn’t cope with accurately portraying) is a bright near-fluorescent orange.

A red/orange Rose on flower.
The mystery Rose bush begins to flower.

I’ll need to keep an eye on the Rose as I don’t want it to bring the aphids back, especially as the Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ have recovered and begin flowering on mass.

Today I discovered a secret courgette hiding in amongst some large leaves. It’s really knobbly. Maybe this is down to it having been growing on the plant for too long? I’ll be putting some of my Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ to good use again soon with the discovery of Lemony Courgette Cake (thanks to the Horticultural TV Channel) and to making some more Eden Project Garden Courgette and Tomato Chutney, which my parents have been enjoying. I ‘rebranded it’ as ‘Tomato Chutney’ as my Dad “hates” courgettes, despite enjoying the chutney. Don’t tell him (my mother is in on this).

Foxglove 'Excelsior Hybrids Mixed'
Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’

I’ve also been pricking-out the Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ seedlings that I sowed in a tray back in June. In total, there’s about 60 plants now, which can grow on and be potted up again before being planted out for next year’s season. This might seem a bit laborious but when the plants are expensive to buy individually, I’ve essentially got 60 foxglove plants for the price of one – and there’s still a lot more seeds left – I got them from Thompson & Morgan. The bees seem to love them.

The Rocket ‘Skyrocket’ is almost at picking stage – which is good news as the hot weather has been creating a salad shortage in my local supermarket. Seeing as I live on salads all year round, having my own crop is great.

A week of firsts

The garden has really progressed this week with a few ‘firsts’ too – the Courgettes are forming, the Aubergines are budding up, and next year’s Foxgloves have germinated.

This week has been one of ‘firsts’ for my garden and this growing season.

Despite the weather being roasting hot, resulting in a very limp garden and some emergency watering, and some pretty violent thunderstorms and torrential rain, the garden has been busy.

Courgette Flowers

The Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ have been growing rapidly over the weeks but this week they’ve really taken a big step forward. The two plants have thrown out some big new leaves and have the characteristic golden yellow flowers too.

I was talking to my colleague Laura at lunch and she told me that she’s growing courgettes too but that she’s only growing them for the flowers. I found this curious as I’m definitely growing them for the courgettes! Apparently the flowers are really sweet and even better when deep fried. I’m guessing that deep fried courgette flowers won’t count towards your 5-a-day routine.

Needless to say, Laura won’t be getting anywhere near my plants, as I want the courgettes themselves.

Yesterday I brushed aside the leaves of one of the plants to find that a small courgette is now forming (on top of a dandelion!). This is great news as I’ve been making sure that the two plants are well watered and I’ve been feeding them with some ‘Doff Portland Tomato Feed’ which comes with seaweed and magnesium.

The first courgette

I’ve also been feeding my four Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ plants with the same feed and they are now budding up – so the pressure is on to resolve how i’m going to plant them out as they can’t stay on my windowsill forever. Will it be a wicker basket with liner, or pots?

The Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’, which I had planted on 19th June are now germinating in a propagator on my windowsill. These plants will be grown on and potted up so that they will be planted out for next year’s season. I’m really wishing that I had bought some more Foxgloves, rather than just the one. Still, there’s quite a few bees in my garden in these sunny evenings – buzzing round the plants (they love the Lavender). I’ve been trying very hard to catch a photo of the bees on the Lavender but I just can’t get anything other than a bee-less photo or a blurred mess.

Thank you!

Thank you for all the comments that I’ve had on here and also verbally from friends who have got into reading this blog so far. Some are surprised that I’m green fingered in this way, and others have become fascinated in the evolution of the garden.

You can join in on Twitter @TheGardenGang or continue posting your feedback here!