Tag Archives: Bees

Wonderful Winter Smells

We have a pretty small front garden, basically only about 15′ wide down to the lane, but the size doesn’t stop it giving the most wonderful fragrances even at this time of the year.

These are the shrubs whose lovely smells really cheer us up every time we go out into the cold.

This is Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’

Viburnum 'Dawn'

This lovely shrub grows over the years to about 2.5 metres, but long, long before that it will be giving you lovely fragrant flowers right through the winter. Very tolerant of all soils, just likes a bit of drainage and will even tolerate a bit of shade.

The next shrub is which really cheers up each winter’s morning is a honeysuckle,  Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty

Lonicera purpusii

Again this lovely shrub, which also can grow over 18 years or so 2.5 metres, is not very fussy in liking most soils.

Will also put up with some shade too.

It flowers from about January to April, and it never fails to surprise with its lovely fragrance – even on the most miserable day !

Witch hazels are lovely veratile shrubs, and we are lucky enough to have a mature Hamamelis mollis to cheer us up right through these long, cold mid winter months.

Hammelis mollis

These lovely shrubs can grow up to about 4 metres though, our mature one is about that. Although as the branches are quite delicate it certainly will not be overpowering.

They are pretty tolerant, though prefer acid to neutral soils.

Lastly we have two lovely Box’s in our small front garden, both giving colour and the warmest of fragrances on the coldest, greyest of a winter’s day.

The first is Sarcococca confusa.

Sarcococca

It will grow eventually to about 2 metres, and its small creamy flowers have such a cheerful, almost sweet, smell (and I think the really shiny black berries are attractive in their own right.)

Again pretty tolerant, although tends to prefer shade over bright sunshine, although prefers a bit of shelter from harsh winter winds.

The other Box we are really chuffed about is another ‘Sweet’ Box Sarcocca hookeriana

Sarcococca hookeriana

We have this planted next to the ‘confusa’ and both are now mature at about 1.5 metres. They are pretty similar and tolerant in requirements, but are not very happy in full Sun.

With all these shrubs, happily sitting amongst the snowdrops, the long, essential (but to me sometimes frustrating) dormant period of winter seems a bit more bearable.

Also don’t forget how you will be helping those early rising bees – they will be even happier than you with your oasis of winter colour and fragrance !

Take some cuttings from amenable gardeners in the Spring or Summer, and in a couple of years you could have a fragrant garden on the darkest of days !

Dreaming of …….anything but mud !

“Really welcome the seasons, each has its joys”, that’s what I’m supposed to say.

But really I hate being cold, surrounded by greyness and constantly having my wellies pulled off in the mud !

O.K., O.K. I know it’s essential, that this dormant period really is part of the overall ‘design’, and  so many plants needing the cold – but I don’t have to like it.

Particularly needed cheering up today as we have had to take down a lovely old apple tree that grew outside our back door.

People who know, practical people, said it was causing the cracks in the wall, causing subsidence ; they were right of course, practical people nearly always are.

But where are the blue tits and sparrows going to squabble when they wait in the queue for the bird table ?

        OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And what is that beautiful, wonderfully smelly, Musk Rose now going to grow up ?

Mind you, it was when I thought of this glorious, if short flowering rose, that I began to cheer up.

Cheer up by planning what plants, what climbers, I could plant on perhaps a trellis or pagoda to if not replace at least partially compensate for the loss of our old tree.

(And I’m sure the birds will squabble quite happily on the ‘cross’ pieces – sorry terrible pun !)

There are so many to choose from, and here is just a few ‘contenders’.

I love the fragrance of Woodbine (Lonicera periclymenum) and Fragrant Virgin’s Bower (don’t you just love the old names – we call it Clematis flammula)  although I know I would have to keep both under control.

             Clematis - Virgin's Bower

         ‘Virgin’s Bower’

But there are so many others, Forsythia Vermont Sun (Forsythia mandschurica), Chocolate Vine (Akebia quinata ), Lemon Vine  (Aloysia triphylla), Pink  Jasmine ( Jasmine x stephanese), a  lovely Honeysuckle (Lonicera delavayi )

                                              lonicera delavayi                                                            Lonicera delavayi

or then there are  roses: the ‘Dublin Bay’ with so many flowers, the ‘Maigold’  really cheering us up with early flowering and then on to ‘Golden Showers’ which will bloom well into the Autumn.

But then thinking about Autumn made me think of winter again, and was warmed by the idea of another Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), which blooms when Spring seems so far away.

  Winter jasmine

Winter Jasmine

Broadly though, for both colour and beautiful fragrances, I think I will concentrate on three particular families, Jasmine, Honeysuckle and Roses.

But which to choose ?

Think I have decide – for today at least !

Jasminum officinale ( Poet’s Jasmine – so much nicer than calling it ‘Common’ Jasmine) with its summer long white flowers would be wonderful, particularly if planted with  Lonicera x heckrottii ( Goldflame Honeysuckle) as both really release some wonderful fragrances in the evening – or white wine time as the period is also known . Evergreen ( ‘ish’ in the case of the honeysuckle) and easy to care for, both love the Sun but will tolerate a bit of shade at least – I just can’t be doing with fussy plants ( or kids !)

An added bonus is that birds love the red berries of the Lonicera, and so that got me on to roses, or rather rose hips.

One of our summer evening delights, as well as sipping chilled white wine surrounded by fragrant climbers, is watching the birds feed.

So next I think it will have to be, as I say for now at least, a ‘Francis E. Lester rambling rose.

This is a really tough, strong rambler which may need a firm hand and, as with most roses, you must watch out for the thorns.

But it is so beautifully fragrant in the summer, the dark foliage really setting off the pale pink and white flowers, and in the Autumn there are simply masses of small orange/red rosehips which the birds will absolutely love !

So these are my three choices on this particular grey winter’s day – birds, bees and us all catered for.

But I may have other ideas tomorrow !

The choices we have are so wide, and so wonderful, that thinking about planting new fragrant plants is a perfect way to put grey, damp, cold days into the background.

There is one thing about these winter days in this dormant period though, it is the best time to plant your bare root shrubs and roses.

Just drop me a line if you need any help, but one thing I would definitely recommend is organic Mycorrhiza for the roots.

(O.K. I know, we just happen to sell it http://bit.ly/mj7NKw  – but buy it anywhere you like because it really is one of nature’s ‘wonder drugs’ !)

On to tomorrow now…… perhaps on reflection something really practical would be a real boon, a real addition –  and I love the flowers of runner beans ….. sound of the bees ….

Runner bean 2

Help Wildlife In Your Garden this Winter (Then wildlife will help you in the Spring!)

It is estimated that there are over 15,000,000 gardens in the UK, can you just imagine how much we can contribute to wildlife (or destroy it!)

Us gardeners can transform the environment, can really help those bees and other pollinators so, so easily.
How ? With wildlife havens.
Cost ? An odd pallet,few piled logs,couple of sandbags, a natural patch – BIG money !

(The photo shows a real luxury hotel, but could give you a few ideas – although couple of logs mouldering away could be Shangri La for a lot of beasties !)

wildlife-trust-insect-hotel

We can just stick on another jumper or, to be honest, turn up the heating when the weather becomes really cold.

Beneficial insects and animals chilling out the winter months can’t, and many will not make it whatever we do.
But it’s so simple to offer a ‘home’, a haven, to at least help them survive. Survive and get busy in the Spring and Summer pollinating your garden ( or getting stuck into your slugs and aphids !) 

Bumblebees ( hibernating bees are always potential ‘Queens’) hedgehogs, butterflies*, toads, ladybirds …. just so many of beneficial animals which you will really appreciate in your garden.

So it’s definitely in your interest to make sure they do wake up !

Curb all that enthusiasm to cut back and make ‘tidy’ as well, what’s scruffy to you is a well ordered garden city to them.
(And don’t forget to moan at your council next year – we don’t want those verges cut!)

* Some of our favourite butterflies overwinter as adults: Peacocks, Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals and Brimstones for example, but many others try to hang in there as eggs, or even caterpillars.

Peacocksmall tortoiseshellred AdmiralBrimstone

Edible Plants You Should Treat with a Little Caution

In my earlier blog I mentioned lots of lovely garden plants that can be eaten to make a really beautiful and edible garden.

Deliberately I left out a few that can be eaten but could in some way cause problems, but now I’m adding what I know about these plants in case I’m accused of ‘nannying’!

These ‘be careful’ plants come in all shapes, colours – and flavours.

Agastache anisata/foeniculum – I think these are really lovely ‘all rounders’. They not only look lovely, and have a beautiful delicate scent of aniseed, but bees, butterflies and lots of birds really, really love them.

Both flowers and leaves can be added to cakes, desserts, and yoghurts for a subtle flavour and fragrance of anise.

It really is best avoided though if you are pregnant  ( its a real shame that pregnant ladies  have to miss out on stuff so often !)

anise-hyssop-agastache-foeniculumAgastache

Begonia – but only the tuberhybrida, and only the petals. Delicate lemony taste, and the crispy texture is nice, but as they have a high content of oxalic acid so don’t make a pig of yourself ! (And if you have a tendency to gout, kidney stones or rheumatism then avoid altogether.)

Begonia_x_tuberhybrida_1005Pink1

Borage – Another lovely flower I think (although I am partial to blue flowers.) Mix the flowers into salads, fruit salads or drinks to add a cucumber taste, plus they really add to the look of any dish.

Again though, best avoided by pregnant ladies and mums who are lactating . They can also have a diuretic effect, so would suggest no more than 7 or 8 flowers at a ‘sitting’ !

Borage

Catmint – Nepeta cataria is another of my favourites (blue again you see) and its flowers have quite a strong flavour combining mintiness ( surprise) and spiciness.

Goes beautifully with lamb and can pep up vegetables and pasta dishes, but for pregnant women though, the ‘Nepeta’ is definitely best avoided.

Heb_Catmint

Daisy – You can play ‘Love Me – Love Me not’ as you pull the flowers apart to make a lovely petal garnish to all sorts of dishes from soups to salads. Not much flavour, although some people think they are bitter, and be careful if you a subject to allergies or hay fever.

They can trigger both.

Daisy

Daylily – Admit I do not grow these, they really are so short lived (‘Day Lily’ the clue is in the name !)

However, they really are versatile, almost like a vegetable. The early foliage (tasting a little like delicate onion when fried) later flowers and buds (raw or cooked adding sweetness) and even the rhizomes (nutty flavour) are edible – all are often found in Chinese cooking.  What’s to be cautious about then ?

Well nothing so long as you only consume Daylillies Hemerocallis , just hate anybody to think that all lillies (Lillium)are edible – they’re not, they are poisonous !

Striped_daylilies

Garland Chrysanthemum – coronnarium. There is nothing to be cautious about here either really. The strongly spiced flowers add  pep to salads, and ‘Japanese Chrysanthemum’ soup can be a real signature dish. But I just feel the same as I do about the Daylilly and Lillies in general, only ‘coronarium’ is safe – avoid all other Chrysanthemums.

Chrysanthemum - coronarium

Phlox – paniculata. Really beautiful fragrant flowers, with a spicy flavour that adds real pizzaz to fruit salads. (Some people crystallize them as they look so lovely decorating cakes and pastries.)  Nope nothing wrong at all with the perrenial paniculata, but do not confuse it with the annual creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) this is NOT edible, and this is the only reason it’s on my ‘caution’ list.

paniculata

Poppy – Papaver somniferum and paeoniflorum. Well all poppies are poisonous, and it is only the seeds from these two species that are edible, nothing else. I do love them though baked into, or sprinkled on the top, of bread (they always go everywhere when I’m cutting a slice though !)

Unless you know exactly which poppies are safe though, think they are best left in the garden.

Think every garden should have these cheerful plants though, do you know of any flower which is so poignant, evocative and beautiful ?

Papaver_somniferum_flowers

Hope this blog gives a few more ideas for your ‘Edible Garden’.

Treat cautiously and all of the above plants will really add to your environment, and your kitchen !

 

Edible Garden – Beautiful Too !

Edible Flowers

Loads of us grow our own fruit and vegetables, and happily there are more gardening converts every day, but has anybody planted an edible flower garden?

Your vegetables give you a really worthwhile, satisfying, harvest but how about a garden, perhaps surrounding your vegetable beds, where all the flowers are edible, as well as being beautiful, and probably beautifully fragrant too ?

We know that the flowers of lots of vegetables and herbs are delicious.

Basil, Chives, Courgettes and Marrow, Fennel,  Mint, Onions, Peas, Squashes, Radishes, Rocket, Strawberry, Rosemary,Sage, Borage and so many other herbs and vegetables have edible flowers which generally have a milder, subtler flavour (with the possible exception of Mint and Basil) than the actual vegetable – and mustn’t forget apple blossom too.

Bee

Yep, we know about them – but how many flowers from garden plants can you name that can be eaten, and enjoyed, safely ?

Most could probably mention Nasturtiums, lovely with a peppery flavour, which are often added as garnish to salads. Rose petals too may come to mind (best remove the white bit at the bottom of the petal) and the more fragrant the rose the better generally, but how many others can you mention ?

Well there are loads and loads; and here are a few which can really add a little something extra to your food and drinks, as well as looking lovely in your garden.

Bergamot – pretty and with a lovely spicy flavour you can use them to flavour everything from salads to pasta. (The leaves can be used to make a tea too.)

Busy Lizzie – garnish your salads with these brightly coloured flowers.

Cape Jasmine and Jasmine- the wonderful fragrance still comes through when you pickle or preserve them, cakes take on that extra something too. Tea has always been made from Jasmine flowers, but it does compliment fish dishes I think.  ( Avoid the ‘false Jasmine’ – Gelsemium sempervirens –  though, it’s a bit poisonous! )

Carnations, Sweet Williams and Dianthus in general – difficult to describe the flavours; floral, spicy, almost like cloves or nutmeg even. Again the more fragrant the better, but they can be added to all sorts of things from cakes to stir fries. (Best to remove the white bits, as with roses it can be a bit bitter.)

Cornflowers – lovely I think, so make a great garnish.They taste a little like cloves too

Evening Primrose – really these can be treated like a salad leaf, add them to the salad for a bit of extra colour.

Fuchsia – so lovely and delicate, look wonderful as a garnish or even added to jellies.

Hyssop – add to your salads again, or make ‘tea’ with it. Try the flavour with chicken, pork, or fish.

Lavender – they add a lovely flavour to cakes and biscuits, and can be added to the topping, but also try adding it to your stock, it can really give something extra to sauces for duck, or poultry in general.

Lilac – beautiful garnish, but also it has a subtle lemon flavour. Try it with ice cream or yoghurt perhaps.

Pansies and Violas – Lettucy flavour can be used like Evening Primrose to really perk up a salad. They look really pretty decorating cakes too.

Polyanthus – Added to salads they give colour and a hint of sweetness or again, crystallised or fresh, they make lovely cake or pudding decorations.

Pot Marigolds – gentle, peppery taste that can be added to soups, or savoury baking. Again they can add that bit extra when added to salads.

Pelargoniums – both the flowers and the leaves have citrus flavour and fragrance and are ideal added to all sorts of desserts and puddings.

Sunflowers – real cornucopia as the buds, seeds and petals are all edible. The nutty taste of the petals adds wonderfully to salads, while you can treat the buds similarly to courgette flowers and toss lightly in butter. The seed kernels can be eaten raw, but I like them fried as a cold snack. Leave lots for the birds though !

Tagetes (Marigold) – as well as being ideal companion plants, and controlling soil born pests too (commercial break – take a look at http://bit.ly/1sa1dUi ) the flowers and leaves of this family have a citrusy flavour which make them ideal all rounders, everything from salads to seafood sauces. Eat sparingly though, not too much in one go or every day!

Yucca – the white petals are a crunchy and sweet tasting addition to salads.

There are other plants that are edible, but may have some drawbacks, for example some people are strongly allergic to Tulip petals (which taste like a slightly crunchy pea) or there are sure to be some I have missed altogether, but you get the general idea.

You can have a beautiful garden and really enjoy a fragrant harvest to enhance loads of your favourite dishes.

Not to mention that lots of the plants above are ideal for encouraging bees and other pollinators – rosemary, fennel, cornflowers, fuchsia, lavender, angelica, crab apple , apple, thyme, lilac, shrub roses, catmint, violas and pansies are just a few flowers that will attract bees and help your garden grow. (Perhaps take a look at my earlier blog, a simple tip bees love purple!)

Remember that not all of your garden is tasty though, and some beautiful plants can be downright dangerous – but that’s another blog!

The Buzzing Borders Revolution

Over the past few years we have seen a change in the way our customers lay out and tend their gardens.

Gone are the days of pristine borders, immaculately pruned with the symmetrical, square edges you could play a game of snooker on. No, there has been a border revolution in recent times. A revolution that has seen an end to the manicured edges that mirrored the expansive hedge gardens of Britain’s stately homes.

Instead there has been a slow but steady movement towards the natural, unclipped borders of beautiful meadow flowers, busy with bees and insects which entice local birds and fill your little patch of heaven with the wonderful sounds of nature at work.

And my-oh-my, are we pleased! Not only are wild or meadow flowers a delight to the senses, particularly with their vibrant variations of colour, but they play a hugely important role in nature. It’s a role that simply cannot be recreated with the manicured mini-hedges that had seemingly become the norm in our gorgeous gardening world.

flowers 2

Long may this revolution continue because it’s with a heavy heart that we share the statistic that 97 per cent of our meadows have disappeared over the past 60 years. That’s an incredible number and we are only just starting to understand its effect, particularly when it comes to the loss of some of our wildlife.

Which brings us neatly onto bees, the beautiful buzzing creatures made famous by their honey, a cherished commodity for thousands of years, and yet despite this need for the sweet succulent stuff, there numbers have been depleting rapidly for decades.

We’re not saying that bees have been disappearing at the same rate as our meadows, nor that this is the reason, but we can say this – if you want to see more bees in your garden, then plant more bee-friendly flowers.

bee-friendly

It’s a good time of year to sow the seeds that will reap masses of wild flowers come spring but it’s not just flowers that will brighten your backyard. There should be a myriad of butterflies fluttering around your borders alongside the bees and other insects, and who doesn’t love butterflies?

It’s true there are some flowers preferred by bees and butterflies which are sometimes hard to find on the seed shelves of your local garden centre, but do not despair. Our packets of bee-friendly seeds are just the thing for our buzzing friends to enjoy all summer long. They’re also fortified with Mycorrhiza to ensure their roots grow strong and healthy to produce the best possible harvest of beautiful bee and butterfly-friendly flowers for your borders.

So go on, give them a go and enjoy the wonderful sounds of nature buzzing around your garden next spring. Sowing seeds couldn’t be simpler for the weathered gardener but for those that are new to this, we can help.

flowers

Although normally done in September, there’s still time to sow now so prepare the soil by clearing all existing plants and grass, paying particular attention to perennial weeds such as stinging nettles, docks and couch grass. Then dig the soil over, firming it well before raking to create a level bed. This is where you need to ignore the urge to fork in fertilisers or manure because this will encourage plants that will crowd out the wild flowers.

Now, when it comes to sowing, one gram of wild flower seeds is enough for one square metre of soil. All you have to do is spread the seed, rake over to cover and then place some protection over the area to keep away the birds and cats. Then, as the winter months turn to warmer weather, make sure you keep the ground moist. Once the seeds start growing, you may want to add a bit of our organic liquid biohumus fertiliser to give them a little helping hand.

We promise that next summer you’ll be absorbing the sights and sounds that wild flowers bring. Not only will that be a wonderful addition to your garden but you’ll be helping nature as well, and that’s every gardener’s dream.

Enjoy.

Garden Jobs For October

Autumn is definitely here at last following the remaining few days of warmth we saw this September. It already feels colder but this is our favourite time of year with the beautiful variation of colours and the knowledge that warm cosy nights by the fire aren’t far away.

Despite the colours on show, we also understand that autumn often means endless raking only to watch as the wind blows a fresh batch of leaves across your lawn. It can be taxing but just think of all the scrumptious, nutritious leaf mould you’ll be making.

It’s not always raking and sweeping leaves though, there are plenty of other jobs to keep you busy in the garden now autumn’s here. Not only is it time to start preparing for winter, there are also plenty of jobs to get done ready for next spring, and don’t forget about all the ways you can help the local wildlife too.

We know for some gardeners autumn can be a depressing time as the realisation dawns that summer has gone and the flowers will no longer bloom. That’s why we’ve put together this list of jobs to help keep you entertained and ensure you don’t lose that love for your garden.

Look after your lawn:

Autumn is the last chance to cut that green grass and prep the soil if it has a tendency to become waterlogged over the winter months. This can be done by spiking the lawn and raking in some course sand. If you don’t have a hollow-tined aerator to spike the lawn, then stick to your trusty fork.

lawn

It’s also the time of year to begin the regular raking of leaves. If you don’t, you risk damaging that gorgeous lawn which has been getting greener and healthier over the sun-drenched summer months.

If there are any patches in your lawn, repair them now with our unique Supreme Green grass seed, which is fortified with Mycorrhiza to ensure roots grow strong and healthy to stop any patches re-appearing.

It’s time to prune:

Pruning is an important way of improving the growth and flowering of your garden plants so prune your climbing roses if you want to give them the best chance of looking fabulous again next summer.

rose

Harvest:

After taking your last truss of tomatoes, don’t forget to untie the plants from their supports and lie them down horizontally. This will allow them to mature more quickly.

As autumn comes into full swing, harvest your apples, pears, grapes and nuts if you have been growing any. If you don’t get a chance to harvest them all before they begin falling from the branches, make sure you collect up the apples if you want to keep the garden tidy but be sure to put them somewhere for the wildlife to enjoy.

apples

Get planting:

There is plenty of planting to get done now we’re in October. That includes planting new rhubarb crowns, herbaceous perennials and clematis, your spring bulbs and any lettuce you want to grow under some protection (so long as it lets in the light).

You also need to get planting lilies in pots if you want them to flower in May and June inside or July and August outside. If you haven’t done it already, get sowing those spring cabbages as well.

bulb

Store tender plants in greenhouse:

If you’ve got tender plants, such as canna, bring them indoors before they get killed by the frost. If you have a pond, don’t forget the aquatic plants either.

Choose a frost-free place which still gets plenty of light, like a greenhouse or coldframe, and keep the plants dry during the winter so they don’t grow too much. You can start watering them more in spring to gradually bring them back into growth.

Help the wildlife:

This is the perfect time to give the visitors to your garden a little extra help and birds are no different so replenish bird feeders regularly. Now the mating season is over, you can fill your bird feeders with all kinds of seeds and nuts including peanuts.

It’s also a great time to place our handmade nesting boxes around your garden ready for baby chicks come spring, by then your scent should be long gone.

birdbox

Another important animal in your garden, especially if you want your plants to enjoy a fairly slug-free existence next spring, is the humble hedgehog. Why not build a simple hedgehog hibernation box to help keep them warm, dry and out of danger this winter. A few stacked logs could be all that’s needed. The smaller cracks will offer bumble bees and toads a welcomed place out of the wind as well. They’re not fussy about the decor but a covering of some of those leaves you’ve swept up would probably be welcomed during those coming icy nights.

If you don’t mind your garden looking natural, or untidy as some may argue, then don’t cut back seed heads because these will feed the local wildlife that’s so important for your garden’s survival, especially at this time of year.

Tend to your compost:

It’s the perfect time of year to turn your compost regularly and get some air to the damp bits.

Getting air into the compost will encourage it to rot down quickly, although it’s worth remembering that the rate of decomposition naturally slows with the colder weather. So long as it has been slowly breaking down over the cold months, it will soon speed up when the warm weather returns.